Meet District 1’s New Councilwoman, Tech Entrepreneur Barbara Bry
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Photo by Milan Kovacevic
Barbara Bry represents La Jolla, Carmel Valley, University City and other northern San Diego neighborhoods. She plans to focus on addressing homelessness, building more housing and boosting public safety.
Barbara Bry remembers the exact moment she knew she'd be District 1's newest council member. Unlike most candidates, it didn't come on Election Day in November. Instead, it came in August.
"My husband and I were coming back from vacation in Wyoming and were sitting in the Salt Lake City airport," she said. Her phone rang and the name on the screen was Republican Ray Ellis, who had advanced with her past the June primary and was supposed to run against her in November.
"I had a feeling why he was calling," Bry said. She was right. He asked her to meet the next day, and when they did he told her he was suspending his campaign.
"I knew it was going to make my life a lot easier going through November," Bry said.
She easily won the November election with 65 percent of the vote. Now she represents northern San Diego neighborhoods including La Jolla, Carmel Valley and University City.
Bry has a background as an entrepreneur. She was on the founding management team of Proflowers.com and was the first associate director at the tech incubator Connect. Then she said she felt pulled into running for public office.
"The street in front of my office in La Jolla Shores had been torn up a few times and had to have the same work done over and over again," she said. "And I was at a family dinner almost three years ago and my daughter Rachel was visiting from Chicago and my daughter Sarah was there and it just evolved. They said, 'Mom you should run for City Council.'"
FIRST WEEK ON THE JOB:
Bry faced her first big decision: who to support as City Council president. There was a contentious race between David Alvarez and Myrtle Cole, and Bry cast a deciding vote for Cole.
"I respect Myrtle a great deal, she's done a lot for her district, and I felt she'd bring very effective leadership," Bry said.
She said she's specifically looking for leadership on building more housing and addressing homelessness. For example, she wants the city to continue to work on a central database of all homeless people in the county.
Councilwoman Barbara Bry
Represents: District 1, which includes Carmel Valley, La Jolla, Pacific Highlands Ranch, Torrey Pines and University City
Family: Husband Neil Senturia, daughters Rachel and Sarah, stepdaughter Rachel, stepson Ethan, grandson Colton, another grandchild coming in April
College: Bachelor's in sociology from University of Pennsylvania, master's in business from Harvard University
Career: Reporter for the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times; was on the founding management team of Proflowers; associate director of Connect and co-founded Atcom/Info; founded Run Women Run, a non-partisan group that recruits San Diego pro-choice women to run for elected office.
Other interests: Reading everything from mysteries to nonfiction, yoga, spending time with her family
Fun fact: "I don't cook," Bry said. "My husband is a great cook."
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"So if Joe or Jane had an interaction with a police officer or a social worker in Escondido yesterday and in downtown San Diego today, we would know that it was the same person and what the interactions were," she said.
Bry supports the "housing first model" that gives people a home and then helps them with treatment for mental illness or addictions if they need it, instead of requiring them to be sober before getting shelter. She also said the multitude of organizations that work on homeless issues need to come together.
To build more homes in San Diego, Bry said she supports denser housing, including projects already underway in her district: University City's Garden Communities development on Genesee Avenue and La Jolla Village Drive, and a project in Carmel Valley's Pacific Highlands Ranch.
But if new dense projects in her district were proposed that people didn't like, would she stand up to her constituents?
"Listen, you're going to look at each project on its own merits," Bry said.
ON WHAT TO DO WITH QUALCOMM STADIUM:
One of the next challenges for the City Council is deciding what to do with the stadium now that the Chargers are leaving.
Bry hopes to give some of the land to San Diego State University.
"SDSU is landlocked, they can't provide enough housing for their students," she said. "So I would hope that an educational complex including SDSU is part of the conversation. Plus a river park, housing for students and faculty and perhaps other housing. But I think what's most important is that we have to have a community conversation. It's not something any one person can dictate."
Bry said she'd need to carefully study the recent proposal to build a soccer stadium at the site before deciding whether to support it.
AS A NEW COUNCILWOMAN:
Bry has a busy schedule of community events. She plans on holding "office hours" in her district once a month and community coffees once a quarter. She also has plans to attend community meetings and wants to create advisory boards of residents on issues such as public safety. Lastly, she's working to set up neighborhood watch programs, and is starting one on her own block as a model.
On a recent Sunday, Bry's schedule was packed with a 5K race in Carmel Valley and a reception honoring women who ran for office put on by the organization she founded, Run Women Run. Then she visited The League of Amazing Programmers, a class that teaches kids how to code.
There she checked out a crime app made by ninth grader Matthew Smith that illustrates all crimes in the city with graphs and maps.
"This is theft, this is car theft, blue is drugs," Bry said, peering at Smith's phone. "This is fantastic!"
Then she stopped by the desk of sixth grader Dasha Zerboni.
"So what project are you working on?" Bry asked.
"I'm working on this robot tortoise thing," Zerboni told her. She walked her through the computer code she'd written to program a robot.
"Well I'm very impressed with what you're doing and you should stay at it," Bry said.
"I definitely will," Zerboni said.
Bry plans to stay at it on her job, too.
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