Candidates Discuss Top Issues In Race For County's Fourth District
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re hosting a forum today for the candidates running for supervisor in San Diego’s 4th District. That district encompasses a wide area of the City of San Diego from University City to Clairemont out to the College area on the east and south to Paradise Hills. The seat in question is one of five on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. That board controls a $5 billion budget. The board’s decisions affect county public safety services, the county court system, emergency and fire services, health and human services, including food stamps and welfare, to name just a few of the board’s responsibilities for San Diego County. There are four candidates participating in this forum. I’d like to welcome first, incumbent District 4 Supervisor Ron Roberts, who is seeking his 5th term on the board, and good morning.
RON ROBERTS (Supervisor, 4th District, San Diego County Board of Supervisors): Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And Stephen Whitburn is communications manager for the American Red Cross in San Diego. Stephen, welcome.
STEPHEN WHITBURN (4th District Candidate, San Diego County Board of Supervisors): Good morning, Maureen. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Juan Del Rio is a local housing counselor. Juan, it’s good to have you here.
JUAN DEL RIO (4th District Candidate, San Diego County Board of Supervisors): Thank you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Shelia Jackson of the San Diego Uniford (sic) School Board Trustee, she was – is scheduled to join us. She is, I hear, on her way and will be joining us momentarily. And a fifth candidate who is officially running in the 4th District is Margaret Moody. She declined our invitation to participate. So let’s start by giving each candidate about a minute to introduce themselves and tell us why they’re running for county supervisor in the 4th District and, Ron, let’s start with you.
ROBERTS: Okay, thank you. Well, first of all, I – Maureen, I think you know that businesses and governments at all levels are facing kind of a crisis right now. Tax revenues are down, property taxes are down, sales taxes are down. At San Diego County, we’re in much better shape than most. We’re working very hard to create jobs while maintaining public safety and other important services, and currently the county is rebuilding our operations center on Kearny Mesa. It’s a project that will be over $500 million and it’s creating thousands of jobs right now when we need them. There’s a new medical examiner’s building, new office buildings, new parking structures, old facilities that needed replacement and a good time to be building. We also, unlike any other agency in San Diego County, have zero fees for solar installations as we’re trying to stimulate the green economy. We continue to work on summer jobs for our youth and at the same time we’ve expanded access to healthcare, we’ve boosted the number of people receiving food assistance, we’ve created programs for kids and seniors, and we’ve improved air quality. With your support, we’re going to continue to do these things.
CAVANAUGH: So that’s why Ron Roberts is running for his fifth term on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Stephen, if you could introduce yourself and tell us why you’re seeking this position.
WHITBURN: Absolutely. My values come from my family. I think that’s true of many of us. My grandfather was an iron ore miner in the upper peninsula of Michigan who worked in awful working conditions initially but he worked successfully to unionize his mine and improved working conditions for the people around him and, in fact, the whole town benefited from that. My grandmother was a public schoolteacher. My father, when I was young and we lived in Texas, he was the chapter president of a small chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. My mother today continues to remain active in the League of Women Voters. So I come from a progressive family. I’m a Democrat, and I’m challenging a Republican, Ron Roberts, on the County Board of Supervisors because, in my view, our county does a poor job of providing the services that it’s responsible for providing.
CAVANAUGH: And let me welcome Shelia Jackson. Good morning, Shelia. Thank you for coming.
SHELIA JACKSON (4th District Candidate, San Diego County Board of Supervisors): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: And I’ve asked all of the candidates, we’re in the process of introducing the candidates and explaining to us why you want to be on the board of supervisors.
JACKSON: Well, good morning, and thank you. The board of supervisors has really failed to connect with the most vulnerable citizens of the county. That’s why I think I’d be a better supervisor than the current supervisor. In 2005, when we was looking – I was looking at the number of free and reduced students we have in the Unified School District, we have more than 60% of those students. Looking at how do we support those students after hours, I found that the county was not providing their families the services that they need. In order for us to have a vibrant economy, an educated workforce, we must take care of those families. That means providing their basic needs, that means providing the food stamps they may need, the housing they may need, and the county has not done that. In addition to the CalsWORK (sic) program, it needs to be strengthened. They’re pulling students out of school to put them to work for temporary jobs. When those jobs are gone, guess what? They’re back in school again, going back on subsistence again. And the goal should be to really get them educated, get them in a qualified job, a quality job, that they can sustain themselves and not a revolving door.
CAVANAUGH: And Juan Del Rio. Introduce yourself, please.
DEL RIO: Please, yeah, thank you. Well, I’m proud to be the only Latino Democrat in this District 4 race, and if elected, the only Latino ever elected to the board of supervisors. I started off being a paperboy for the San Diego Union-Tribune for about six years when I was from 12 to 16. I’ve – seven days a week, you know, it was a very good entrepreneurial project there, knowing the community, serving the community, understanding the communities. I’ve been the first in the family to graduate from college with a bachelor and a master’s in urban planning, and I’ve worked for over 30 years in nonprofits and public – as a public servant. I’m proud to be a foreclosure intervention counselor, NeighborWorks certified at Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista, my home community. Also proud to be a visiting teacher for the San Diego Unified School District. It’s time for new ideas and a new generation. I’ve been in San Diego all my life and I know San Diego very well. I’ve worked in Linda Vista, San Ysidro, Golden Hill, City Heights. I’ve worked at the state level with the State of California as a project manager for 550 units of affordable housing. Also, I’ve worked on the national level under a HUD SuperNOFA and gave technical assistance to three states in affordable housing. It was a great experience going through Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., giving technical assistance to nonprofit organizations to start, you know, creating affordable housing, also Washington, D.C. And I’m very qualified for this position.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you. Thank you for that introduction, all of you. And I want to start out by asking Ron Roberts a question but I also want comment from the rest of you, if you would. So, Ron, the county board of supervisors is very often praised for making San Diego one of the best financially managed counties in the nation. But critics say the board is more concerned about balancing budgets than in meeting its responsibility to provide services to the people, especially the needy in San Diego. So I’m asking you, what do you think is the primary role of county government?
ROBERTS: Well, I think there are a number of main issues. First of all, the county government has to keep – become solvent. We’re seeing, right now, a meltdown at the state level and certain cities here in San Diego County where they can’t handle their basic responsibilities. So you have to be financially strong, and we’re doing that. And when you do that, you save money and you can spend it on programs, you can have more services. When a five – We have a $5 billion budget. It’s easy to focus on any one little piece of that but, for us, right now we’re doing everything possible to try to create jobs in San Diego. That is fundamental, and I shared some of that with my opening statement, and we’re going to continue to do those things. But public safety, it remains – that is right at the top of our list. We don’t want to release deputy sheriffs, we don’t want to have our jails not being used properly. We want to make sure that people in their neighborhoods can be safe, and we’ve seen some things recently up in the northern part of this county that I think is every parent’s worst nightmare. We want to make sure we have the resources and the manpower, and I’m delighted to share with you that that’s why the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and the Police Officers’ Association have endorsed me. But then there’s all of those other programs. And let me just mention a couple of things, you know, the most needy, the homeless people on the streets, the county is spending over $150 million a year providing services to homeless people and we partner with groups all over the county. Recently, we opened a new facility at 5th and Beech. 5th and Beech, it was part of a CCDC program downtown. The County has $5 million in that facility. Nobody knows that. People don’t see these things. For me, the person – the Veterans Village over on Pacific Highway, I’ve worked on for years. I was part of starting that years ago. The County puts money into that every single year. These are things that, you know, the critics are out there, they want to seize on one or two little things in a $5 billion budget, but we’re working hard so we don’t cut services and we continue to do the things that are required of us.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, go ahead, Shelia.
JACKSON: Yes, I appreciate that response but Health and Human Services is more than a third of the budget and, to me, it just equates to a family saying we’re going to save our money while the kids are starving. And – But if you’re a good parent, you make sure you take care of your children, and the county has not been doing that. So it’s nice to say that we’re solvent but if you have a house but your kids are starving, then guess what, your kids are not going to be successful in the future. This is about making San Diego the best it can be during economic crisis. That means when we come out of this crisis, the county is able to have produced a better educated workforce by ensuring that their basic needs are met and that the people that are in CalWORKS are getting their education. This is not a small piece of the county. This is the county’s major role, okay…
CAVANAUGH: And let me ask you, Stephen, what do you think is the major role of county government and is – are the board of supervisors fulfilling that role?
WHITBURN: Well, it’s pretty clear to me that the major role of county government is to provide services to those that it’s responsible for providing the services to, and Mr. Roberts talks about public safety and social services, both of which are crucial areas of our county government and our county is facility in both areas. San Diego County fails to provide adequate fire protection for its residents. Unlike other counties, San Diego County doesn’t even have a fire department. So we have fires starting way out in the back country that blow all the way into the city because they leave it up to small, rural fire districts to try heroically but impossibly to battle huge wildfires. We need a county fire department to protect the residents of the back country and protect our city. And the county fails to provide adequate social services. San Diego County’s food stamp program has been recognized as the worst in the nation. It’s embarrassing. And I just found out yesterday that the county has begun—get this—fingerprinting and photographing senior citizens and the disabled who qualify for In-Home Supportive Services. I think that’s outrageous. Not only are we not providing the services, we’re creating barriers and intimidating those who are eligible to receive them.
CAVANAUGH: And, Juan, let me ask you, Juan Del Rio, to comment. What do you think is the primary role of county government?
DEL RIO: Well, I’m looking at the overall organizational chart and looking at best practices, so I’m going to talk about the overall, you know, best practices basically versus, you know, you know, going into specifics on – except for a couple of issues that both Shelia and Stephen had talked about. I’m looking at the County of Los Angeles’ organizational chart. It’s much different than the San Diego County organizational chart. There is – As a veteran, I’m looking at there’s no military and Veterans Affairs department in the county structure. I think they’ve got 8 employees in Veterans Services and that’s it. I mean, we’re in a military town, we’ve got 20% to 30% at least homeless veterans. Ron Roberts is talking about how much money is going into homeless and, you know, it’s – the county is missing in action at every step of the way in terms of right now the City of San Diego is looking at resolving an immediate issue, going into the homeless areas and trying to do something in the downtown area with the World Trade Center, which is really, I mean, just an exorbitant expenditure for 225, 250 beds. That doesn’t even replace what’s going on out there with the temporary shelters. There’s no emergency shelters per se. So I really beg to differ with that – that issue there, that county’s never, you know, is not avail – I mean, they sure are – they’re with the monies but in terms of actual, you know, concrete what are they providing? I don’t know.
CAVANAUGH: We do have to take a short break. I’m sorry. It feels like we just got started but we have to take a short break, 90 seconds. When we return, our Candidates Forum for the 4th District San Diego County Board of Supervisors continues here on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. We’re hosting a forum today for the candidates running for supervisor in San Diego’s 4th District. My guests are incumbent District 4 Supervisor Ron Roberts. Shelia Jackson, San Diego Unified School Board Trustee; Stephen Whitburn, communications manager for the American Red Cross of San Diego; And Juan Del Rio, a local housing counselor; And, Stephen, I’d like to start off with you on this round of questions. You know, unemployment in the county is at around 11%. What would you do, and what can the County Board of Supervisors do, in your opinion, to bring more jobs to the San Diego region?
WHITBURN: Well, we’ve seen the county board of supervisors cutting jobs on the county level, and that has restricted our ability to provide the services. I mean, they go hand in hand. The federal government recently said that San Diego County is leaving $40 million on the table because it does such a poor job of providing recipients of food stamps with the food stamps that they’re eligible to receive and part of the reason for that is they’ve consolidated positions and they’ve created a situation where food stamp recipients don’t have the same case worker all the time. It becomes a very bureaucratic, very cumbersome, difficult process for recipients to go through. And in that way, it is a barrier to access for people who ought to, and are eligible to, take advantage of these services. So by failing to provide the services, they – the county has lost eligibility for another $40 million from the federal government and part of the reason that they’ve done this is because they have consolidated positions and reduced staffing at the county level. Mr. Roberts likes to talk about job creation, well, we can create an adequate number of jobs at the county level to provide the services that the county is responsible for providing, and that would be a big part of the solution right there.
CAVANAUGH: And, Shelia, creating jobs, how does the San Diego County Board of Supervisors do that? How would you do that if you were elected?
JACKSON: Well, again, I do agree with doing some development, which the county’s responsible for, some smart growth development, which would also add to the jobs. But, again, it’s educational component. In the CalWORK (sic) program, the jobs that people are being assigned to are temporary jobs that will require them to go back into the system. The best way to not only develop jobs but to keep people in jobs is to educate them and put them in the right jobs to start with. And this is not just about providing jobs for the people that work for the county. We want to support those people as well, but the county’s role in development of families is extremely important. So the educational piece, we – they – and we are part of the Workforce Partnership already. We need to strengthen that piece and look at the numbers. So what is happening is, we are saying we’re doing things on paper but when you look at the actual numbers, it’s not really happening, so it’s an accountability piece that has to take place that’s not happening at the county. That accountability piece will strengthen the jobs that we have and even create new jobs.
CAVANAUGH: And Juan Del Rio, what do we do about unemployment? What can the San Diego County Board of Supervisors do?
DEL RIO: Well, first of all, the percentages under debate, I mean, the actual – being a demographer and looking at the numbers, they don’t really represent the true numbers. They’re talking, you know, 11% and that is without counting those that have dropped off of the chart, so to speak. And those are the people that are losing their homes, those are the people because of the down, well, the downsizing or, you know, the – just a lack of jobs that are out there. So I beg to differ with the percentage. It’s much, much higher, especially in the Latino and the African American communities. There, we’re looking at, you know, 25% unemployment and even more. So that’s the first issue. The second issue as far just specifically on IHSS, the people that are taking care of our frail elderly and our disabled—my mother’s one of those—the people that are working, the home care service people, are getting $9.00 an hour, not even a living wage. They get $13.00 an hour but by the time the state and the county take their piece of it, they’re getting $9.00 an hour. That’s for one thing. There should be much more employment there and I concur with Stephen about this fingerprinting and stuff, it’s a necessity because there are – I’m sure there are some small thefts and – and all that, so I can understand where they’re coming from on that but I think that it’s onerous on especially those people that are there to serve the fair, frail elderly and the disabled. I mean, there should be expansion in that. I mean, we’re talking about, you know, people that can – a lot of people. Talking about unemployment, how to employ people. I mean, there’s a lot of like the W works – I mean, I’m sorry, the WPA, I mean, we’re in an economic crisis. I mean, there should be some creative ways of employing the most vulnerable people out there, and I see that that’s really amiss here with the county and it’s just not – they’re not really using their powers in a productive way in the sense of getting more and more jobs.
CAVANAUGH: Ron Roberts, what do you think the county is doing or should be doing to create more jobs during this time of high unemployment?
ROBERTS: Well, first of all, I started off earlier saying this is a concern. Maureen, when I was much younger, I lost my job, I collected unemployment, I know what that does to a family. I know what – You want people working, you want qualified people to get into jobs. I mentioned earlier that we have now embarked on over $500 million worth of construction on Kearny Mesa. That is providing thousands of jobs, not hundreds but thousands of jobs. There’s no state money in that. There’s no federal money in that. We’re not asking somebody else to come in and bail us out because they’re not there right now, but we’re going ahead with things. We have moved over $100 million into local banks so banks would have money to lend because that helps indirectly to create jobs. We have training problems – programs. We’re involved with the military. We have a program – I’m part of the Workforce Partnership, I’m one of the board members there. We are doing a number of things to retrain military spouses and to help them get – be in a position to be able to get jobs. We focus on areas where there are shortages of jobs and trying to train people specifically for the areas where we know there will be jobs. The county has a lot of programs. I’ve mentioned – I mentioned the Summer Youth program. We say temporary jobs are not what we’re after. No, we’re after permanent jobs but we want to help people to understand what employment’s all about and get ready for that and learn you’ve got to be able to show up for work on time, you’ve got to do these fundamental things to help youngsters to – so they prepare for a lifetime of work, not just a temporary job. But the best thing is to provide them, get them started somewhere. In the green economy, we are the only entity in San Diego County that doesn’t charge for solar installations. We want – we’re trying to build the green economy and we know that if you tax things, you get less of it, so we try to incentivize these things. We’ve expanded our – every program I can think of. These are important issues for us and not theoretical. You know, government doesn’t create jobs in terms of hiring people. For every person we hire in the government sector, we could probably create three jobs in the private sector. And that’s why we work with our nonprofits and nonprofits leverage dollars. If we give them ten dollars, they turn it into twenty dollars. That’s why we do these things. It’s not a – Expanding government staff is not the way to create jobs. That’s a very inefficient way to create jobs in San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: Stephen, you wanted to respond?
WHITBURN: Yes. I mean, if you hear the current supervisor speak, everything about San Diego County is colored in economic terms. Job creation, financial stability, these are all good things. But the role of county government is not to be the bank of San Diego County. The role of county government is to provide the key county services that only it is charged with providing. It is charged with providing all the programs for seniors and families and children, the poor, the infirm, our veterans. That is what we pay taxes for the County of San Diego to do, and it fails time and time again to accomplish that. We have inadequate fire protection, we have an awful food stamp program, we intimidate the very people, senior citizens, the disabled, people who are cared for in their homes through the In-Home Supportive Services program. Our county views that as an economic problem so they are sending fraud investigators into these people’s homes with no suspicion whatsoever of any problem and photographing and fingerprinting them under the guise of fraud prevention. In fact, they are deliberately creating barriers to access to these programs because they don’t want to pay for them. It’s an outrage.
ROBERTS: Maureen, I just – I want to respond. That’s absolute nonsense.
WHITBURN: It is not.
ROBERTS: I – that is nonsense. We have…
WHITBURN: Defend – defend fingerprinting the elderly.
ROBERTS: The County of San Diego took a lead in establishing this program on a statewide basis. We established the contracts, we work with these groups. This is one of the fastest growing programs in the state and the state is – Would you…
WHITBURN: The thing is the fingerprinting and photographing of the elderly.
ROBERTS: Would you be quiet while I’m speaking or do you want me to interrupt while you’re speaking?
WHITBURN: Well, you can. Defend the fingerprinting and photographing the elderly.
ROBERTS: Let me – that is not a routine. The only time anybody is fingerprinting is if there is evidence at some…
WHITBURN: That’s not true.
ROBERTS: …a case of wrongdoing. But let me speak to this. We are – That is one of the fastest growing programs in the state. The state government is talking about doing away with the whole program. They have primary responsibility. We’ve expressed our concerns that there is – there’s many people are being helped that we want to continue helping.
CAVANAUGH: I want to move on now, if I may, and I want to do something – I just want to do a quick yes or no round robin if we could and then you’ll get a chance to respond, okay? The issue of illegal immigration. Here in San Diego and across the nation, the new Arizona immigration law has created a furor and it requires, of course, police to ask for identification from those they suspect are here illegally. So just quickly around the table, starting with you, Shelia, if I may, do you support that Arizona law?
DEL RIO: No.
WHITBURN: Absolutely not.
CAVANAUGH: Now, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors does, however, have a legislative policy on immigration which supports a constitutional amendment to stop the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States from automatically becoming citizens of this country. And, Ron, as a member of that board, do you support that policy?
ROBERTS: No, I don’t. I support the Constitution and the Constitution said if you’re born here, you’re entitled to citizenship and I support that.
CAVANAUGH: Would you feel the same way about that, Stephen? That you would not support that?
WHITBURN: Say that again?
CAVANAUGH: I’m sorry. Yes, that the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has a policy that would stop people being born in the United States whose parents were illegal from automatically becoming citizens of this country. And my question to you was would you support or not support that?
WHITBURN: People who are born in this country should be eligible for citizenship.
JACKSON: The first thing I would do is put something on the ballot at the board, agenda to repeal that and if Mr. Roberts hasn’t done that, then that is a shame, that is shame on him. Because if a child is born here, they’re a citizen here. If the county has that in effect, then it is onus for the board members to change the policies that are not in good keeping with our citizens and it’s not just because it was passed several years ago and the staff says it’s something good, it is what is right for the citizens. And, no, that is not right.
CAVANAUGH: And, Juan, your comment.
DEL RIO: Corporations can cross the border and without complaints from politicians and that’s why there’s so much unemployment because corporations are taking our jobs with them. That’s my position. And, in other words, people are people and corporations are not people but yet they’re super-people, and that’s my position.
CAVANAUGH: I wonder if I could start with you, Shelia, again and talk a little bit about public transportation in San Diego County.
CAVANAUGH: And my question is what would you like to see the board of supervisors do to improve public transportation?
JACKSON: I’d like to see them develop the entire 15 corridor, especially there in the City Heights area where the 15 was supposed to be a major corridor for the people that live in that area. They would like to get out to get to other jobs. I would like to see much more expansion of the trolley to the south, they were doing it to the east but – and to the north but we need to go south with that. So I think those are my two primary items when it comes to transportation. We have to, as we move forward, talking about reducing air pollution and getting people out of their cars, we have to provide them with a different system and right now we haven’t done that enough and we need to. The county should be a leader in that, transitioning people to using good quality transportation.
CAVANAUGH: And Juan Del Rio, if you were elected, what would you do about public transportation in San Diego County?
DEL RIO: Well, transit-oriented housing development is the way of the future, blending the transit – I mean, obviously there’s going to be, you know, more and more contraction of the, you know, just the urban sprawl. So, I mean, that’s one point in the sense of being a planner and understanding that thoroughly. Housing has to be, you know, controlled and along with transportation. That’s why I believe the transportation plan and the housing elements are trying to come together on a statewide level and a local level. But in terms of – I just wanted to comment about managed competition versus, you know, the public service. That’s one of the things that – I’m sorry, I’m totally – I’m at odds with it because, you know, the managed competition is something that is – it’s something new in terms of the public services, is public service. Managed competition, obviously that is an acronym for privatization.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Right.
DEL RIO: And so I’m really at very much odds there, being in nonprofit and public my whole life, and just I don’t – I don’t get it in the sense of the way that the current board of supervisors, including Ron Roberts are looking at that as far as where – you know, we’re here, public servants and we’re not around to create, you know, private enterprises for, you know, all these other organizations.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Juan. And Ron Roberts, to get back to the local public transportation system, what is the board of supervisors doing to improve or expand? What are some of your ideas in that direction?
ROBERTS: Okay, well, currently we are – There’s a number of major efforts that are underway and in which San Diego County should take proud (sic), and I don’t mean San Diego County government but all of San Diego County. We have currently, in fact we’re going to have hearings throughout the county here, workshops—I’ll be at one later today—on the Regional Transportation Plan. And this is a look at where we’re going that will take us through the year 2050. And when we talk about transportation, transportation is not just public transportation, it’s private transportation, it’s both. We want people to be able to move around the city. We want the commerce to be able to move. We want to have effective transportation systems that work for everybody. Probably one of the most major projects that’s going on right now is an expansion of the light rail system. This is going to be the backbone of the future for San Diego County. And I’ve been working on this, I’ve been probably the longest serving member of the transit board. We have – While I’ve been on there, we’ve taken the lines out to El Cajon and to Santee and through Mission Valley. I worked a lot of hours on the San Diego State effort. But now we’re going to be going from Old Town up to the University of California at San Diego across over to the University Towne Centre. This…
CAVANAUGH: And that’s the trolley.
ROBERTS: That’s the trolley. That’s the light rail. That will be the background. That’s a $1.2 billion project. Fortunately, because we have a ballot measure that I supported that was approved several years ago and the voters voted not only to tax themselves a little bit more but also to provide the funds for this project that’s been identified. It is one of the highest priority projects for us. The ridership will be phenomenal. Half of the government will – excuse me, half of the money will come from the state government and will come from – half the money will come from the federal government and half will come from local government. It’s going to create thousands of jobs and we’re very far along in the process. In fact, I expect that construction could start within the next couple of years.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Stephen, do you think the county has done enough for public transportation?
WHITBURN: Well, public transportation kind of flows into the environmental piece. San Diego County has a huge role to play in development decisions, particularly in the back country in transit and environmental protection. It’s my view that further development ought to be concentrated in the already urbanized areas and that we should be very cautious about developing of the back country. It’s an area that all of us enjoy and when you develop – put large developments out there, you get into sprawl, you get into, you know, not getting enough of that water, all sorts of environmental concerns. I was very concerned earlier this year and last fall when the Merriam Mountains development came before the county board of supervisors. I, frankly, don’t think it should’ve gotten as far as it did, but it did. It came before the full board. It was a huge, sprawling development where they would have dynamited off the top of Merriam Mountain and created 2700 homes in a fire area without schools and adequate services and so forth. Ron Roberts was absent from the initial vote. Fair enough, he was in Sacramento for an air quality board meeting. But the board voted two to two. They tied on it. So it wouldn’t have gone forward. Ron Roberts brought that proposal back to the board for reconsideration, something that is a mystery to me. I don’t know why – and he voted against it, ultimately, which I’m glad that he did. But why if you were satisfied essentially with the result would you put taxpayers and the public through all of that to bring that back to the board? And the reasons that he ultimately stated for voting against it were that the general plan had not been completed and that there were some Assembly bills that had to be looked at. The both of those were known before he brought that project back, so I wish he hadn’t have done that.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we have to take a short break. I will give you a chance to respond, Mr. Roberts, when we return. We are hosting a Candidates’ Forum for supervisor in San Diego’s 4th District. And we’ll be back in just a few minutes here on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. This is a forum today for the candidates running for supervisor in San Diego’s 4th District. They – My guests are Juan Del Rio, a local housing counselor; Stephen Whitburn, communications manager for the American Red Cross in San Diego; Shelia Jackson, San Diego Unified School Board Trustee; and incumbent District 4 Supervisor Ron Roberts. And just before the break, we were talking about the Merriam Mountain development, and the question, really, I think to you, Mr. Roberts, is the no vote that you cast. You recalled that vote and you cast a no vote. Some seeing that you did it because you were challenged in the June election. How much does that vote fit into your overall approach to future growth in San Diego County?
ROBERTS: Well, Maureen, let’s, first of all, a two-to-two tie is not a decision, okay? It’s called a deadlock. The board of supervisors, as long as I’ve been on, I don’t think we’ve ever had that happen. Normally, one or another of the parties involved would say let’s continue this until we have a full board and for some reason, first time ever, there was such animosity, I think, and I felt that wasn’t a decision and that irrespective of how you felt about the project, there should be a hearing at the board of supervisors. I wasn’t a part of the public hearing. That was the first major public hearing we had on the project. So I felt in fairness to everybody involved, we ought to bring that to the full board. It was not a good project, so I voted against it. And I’d vote against another project if it came up and I didn’t feel it met the criteria. There were transportation issues involved, there were air quality issues involved, and I cited that in my comments. But let me share something with you because I hear this nonsense about the board of supervisors’ environment. Myself and other supervisors, going back to when President Clinton was around and his Secretary of the Interior was Bruce Babbitt, we worked with Bruce Babbitt for a long period of time to create a model program for the United States. It’s called a multi-species conservation program. In that, it set a goal of open space, that highly regarded open space, that the County of San Diego would want to acquire by the year 2030. We not only put in place that plan. Unlike the city or any other agency, we have now acquired 70% of the land that is designated as being valuable in wanting to acquire by the year 2030. We are well along with that plan. We’ve had reports and we periodically get reports. We’re doing these things, not because they’re required of us, because they’re the right thing to do long term for San Diego County. They go hand in hand with the planning that we’re bringing about where, hopefully, this year we’ll be at the end of the general plan and we’ll have a new general plan and that will incorporate the overall planning that we want to see for greenhouse gas and every other issue that is out there and needs to be a part…
CAVANAUGH: I want to let the other candidates respond to the issue of smart growth in San Diego. And so, Stephen, what would you do in terms of making sure that San Diego grows in a way that’s sustainable.
WHITBURN: Well, I think that fundamentally we need to drive development toward the already urbanized areas. I mean, I just think that’s a huge piece of it. I think that when you look to develop the back country, as our county board of supervisors sometimes seems more inclined to do than I would be, it just leads to sprawl and stress on services and stress on the environment. Mr. Roberts’ explanation for bringing that proposal back to the board simply doesn’t hold water. He says he was out of town and wanted to see the hearing. You know what, board of supervisors meetings are recorded, they’re televised. If I had been in that position, I would’ve simply flipped on the tape of the board of supervisors hearing, which was held last fall on that issue, and tried to ascertain if I might have reached a different conclusion than was reached. And if I wouldn’t have reached a different conclusion, I would let it be and let the project die. It’s actually pretty simple.
CAVANAUGH: And Shelia.
JACKSON: I think we need to look at smart growth over the next few years, and what that means is looking at buildings that are not just eco-friendly but also their emission control, how they relate to the community they’ve been placed in, is there transportation infrastructure there? So I think that the role of the county has to be more of one not just listening to developers but actually following the terms of smart building in the county, and performance contracting in the county.
CAVANAUGH: And Juan Del Rio, smart growth for San Diego.
DEL RIO: As a project manager for the State of California HCD, Housing and Community Development, the Century Freeway Housing program, I understand it thoroughly in terms of sustaining sustainable growth. You know, the way in which smart growth is done is how – is looking at, you know, the overall development process and then more specifically the county. You know, in terms of the – the statistics, obviously I haven’t been in – Being an urban planner, I understand the overall, you know, plans and all that and more specific plans, and it’s obvious that with the contraction of oil and – It’s obvious that we have to be smarter about growth.
CAVANAUGH: Let me do another roundtable, if I may.
DEL RIO: Sure.
CAVANAUGH: And let me start with you, Juan. Proposition B on the June ballot would impose term limits on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Now currently many board members, including Mr. Roberts, have served longer than the two terms that the proposition would allow. I want to ask each of you do you support term limits on the San Diego County Board of Superivisors? Juan Del Rio.
DEL RIO: Oh, yes, most definitely, I do, and by electing myself or any of the other contenders here, then that’s instant – that’s immediate…
CAVANAUGH: Term limits.
DEL RIO: …term limits.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Shelia?
JACKSON: Oh, absolutely. I was the first elected official to sign on saying that I support term limits. When you’re elected to an office, it’s not for life. And when you’re there so long, you tend to forget about why you’re there. And I think that term limits are very important, especially to the county board of supervisors.
CAVANAUGH: Stephen Whitburn.
WHITBURN: I support term limits for the county board of supervisors. All five of our county supervisors are Republican, all five have been there for at least 16 years. I think that it is good to get fresh voices on the county board of supervisors. I think it’s good to get different viewpoints on the county board of supervisors. And one of the reasons why so few people are even aware of what the county board of supervisors does is we have five relatively like-minded people who decide what they’re going to do, there’s not a lot of robust debate except in rare circumstances, and it slides under most people’s radar screens. We need some vigorous debate. We need someone in there who’s going to shine a spotlight on some of the things that our county board of supervisors do that fail to provide the critical services its responsible for.
CAVANAUGH: And Ron Roberts, term limits.
ROBERTS: Yeah, I think you should compare the county government with the State of California and with the City of San Diego, both of whom have term limits. We have nothing but turmoil coming out of the State of California. I would in a minute support extending the terms for both Assembly members and State Senators. They should be there longer if they’re doing a good job. The electorate should decide. Term limits are not working. I don’t know how it could be any clearer than look at the City of San Diego. The council people have two terms. Has it brought us stability, has it brought us well-managed programs? 20 years ago, the City was in far better shape than it is today. The term limits have failed us. I don’t support term limits. And, Maureen, this isn’t going to affect me one way or another, so it’s not about me, it’s about bad government. And the county regularly receives high marks compared to any county in the country, for management, for innovative new programs, and for doing a better job in providing services to the residents.
CAVANAUGH: We are up against the clock and I really want to give each of you a chance to tell us why you think you’re the best candidate for this position but you each have less than a minute to do it. So, perhaps, let me start with you, Ron, if I may.
ROBERTS: Well, Maureen, it’s not just the experience, it’s bringing – I was in business, I ran a business. I had my own business where I – You know, I was responsible for a lot of other people’s jobs. I shared with you, I was unemployed once, and I know what that feels like. At San Diego County, what we put an emphasis on is providing services, not in how many employees we hire but providing services. At the end of the year, we don’t get bonuses in terms of what money’s left over, we try to spend the money we have to provide services over a vast array of public requirements here in San Diego County and routinely we’re recognized as the best there is, not just in California but nationally.
CAVANAUGH: Stephen Whitburn.
WHITBURN: This board of supervisors’ seat represents a progressive area that has a two-to-one Democratic registration advantage yet we are represented by a Republican supervisor. We can elect a progressive to this seat and I’m privileged to have the support of State Senator Chris Kehoe, Assembly member Marty Block, Council members Donna Frye and Marti Emerald, the San Diego Democratic Club, the San Diego County Young Democrats, the National Organization for Women, PAC, the League of Conservation Voters. It’s a team effort, and I would ask people to help in any way they can. I would encourage people if they would like to help to go to Stephenwhitburn.com. That’s S-t-e-p-h-e-n-W-h-i-t-b-u-r-n- dot-com. Request a yard sign. Sign up to volunteer. Make a financial contribution. We can win this seat and we can put a progressive on this board of supervisors.
CAVANAUGH: Shelia Jackson.
JACKSON: Absolutely. This seat should belong to people, the people, and I have proven that in my service to the military and in my service to the Unified School District Board. The county has 3 Ds when it comes to social services, deny, demiss (sic) and delay. When it comes to public safety, they have decreased public safety in a time that we should be strengthening it. They have increased their other charges, which is a vague pot of money that can be used for the better good of people. It is time to change the county board of supervisors. I am that hope. We do not have any people of color on that board. We do not have any other elected official that is running for the seat right now except for myself. And you need to know, you know, what it’s like to be an elected official to be in that particular seat, I do believe. But the county has failed its most vulnerable citizens and it is time for a change. Hope is here, and change comes on June 8th when you elect Shelia Jackson as the next county board of supervisor. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Juan Del Rio.
DEL RIO: Yes, thank you. Public servant, that’s what I’ve been all my life with the nonprofit organizations, with the State of California as a project manager, Century Freeway Housing program. I’ve put together 550 units of affordable housing. I understand all the issues that are involved in creating, you know, housing and transit-related housing. I understand the complexity of all that, and I know that that – my technical knowledge of those issues is going to make me a strong candidate for this position. And you can learn more about me on delrioforsupervisor, with the number 4, dot-com. And I appreciate this opportunity to speak to all of you.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. Thanks to each of you for participating in this Candidates’ Forum. The District 4 seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is one of the races on the June primary ballot. That election takes place on Tuesday, June eighth. Now coming up next, we bring you a special broadcast of Sunday’s Republican gubernatorial debate between Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman. That’s next on KPBS.