District 1 Council Race Could Impact All Of San Diego
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Aired 9/19/12 on KPBS News.
As the countdown to Election Day continues, most San Diego voters are focused on the mayor’s race. But there is another seat up for grabs, and it’s one that could determine the political leaning of the San Diego City Council.
SAN DIEGO On a breezy Sunday afternoon, crowds of people gather at University City’s Stanley Park to take in one last community concert, perhaps have one more picnic and to just generally enjoy the dwindling days of summer. University City sits in San Diego’s 1st City Council District, and voters at the park on this day are smart to take a moment to enjoy the sun. Because, come this fall, they’ll likely be inundated with mailers and TV commercials asking for their votes.
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Council District 1 spans San Diego’s picturesque coast from La Jolla up to Torrey Pines and inland to Rancho Penasquitos. And this sprawling district will determine the political leanings of the San Diego City Council.
Facing off are current councilmember and Democrat Sherri Lightner and Republican challenger Ray Ellis. And it appears to be an evenly matched fight. Lightner has the advantage of being the incumbent. But Ellis received more votes in the primary. Some also view him as being part of a slate of candidates supported by City Councilman Carl DeMaio, the Republican mayoral candidate. Ellis shrugs of that characterization.
“I certainly don’t see myself as part of a slate. It was never discussed that way. I never took that into consideration when I decided to run,” he said. “You know, the first mayoral candidate to endorse me was Nathan Fletcher. Carl came and endorsed me later on. “
Beginning next year there will be nine City Council seats. Eight of those seats are already filled--four by Democrats and four by Republicans. District 1 is the only one still in limbo and will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the council. Despite that, Ellis insists he doesn’t want to get involved in partisan rhetoric. And he said he wouldn’t come at the job from a political slant.
“I believe, in District 1, we need a more proactive, engaged leader on fiscal issues, on pension reform, on growing our economic base, on taking care of the businesses that we have in our community and our city and then adding to that,” he said.
Lightner also said she doesn’t see the office as being highly political. She stresses the bipartisan nature of her accomplishments.
“We brought the neighborhoods to City Hall. We restored the fiscal stability,” she said. “I mean, when you think that when I took office we had a $200 million deficit and now we can go out and secure bonds to finance infrastructure improvements. We are current with our financials.”
Lightner said she’s not concerned that Ellis won the primary, but she did have a bumpy road. Some unions actively campaigned against her in the June primary. But Lightner said she’s not focused on making the unions happy.
“My special interest is my community,” she said. “And so, some of the positions I take do not hold sway with some of the bigger power interests in town and so I do expect some repercussions, but, then again, my community is very important.”
And the community is also very vocal about what it sees as important. Pension reform is a big deal. Proposition B passed with 74 percent of the vote in District 1. Both Ellis and Lightner supported the measure, though Ellis criticized Lightner for waiting until Spring to come out in favor of it. She said she was waiting for a complete analysis to be done.
In University City, the issue of building a bridge across Rose Canyon to connect Regents Road stirs up passions. Lightner is adamantly anti-bridge. Ellis said he’s not pro- or anti-bridge, but pro-solution. Though he said a bridge is not at the top of his priority list.
The two also differ on their support for the Plaza de Panama plan in Balboa Park. Ellis serves on the Balboa Park Conservancy Board and is a supporter of the project, which includes building a bypass road and parking garage in the park. Lightner was the sole councilmember to oppose the plan, primarily taking issue with charging for parking in the garage.
While both candidates downplay the political aspects of the technically non-partisan position, each could end up influencing which direction the city goes on those issues and many more.