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San Diego Politicos Keep Close Watch On City Council District 1 Race

Reported by Kris Arciaga

The race to represent District 1 on the San Diego City Council is among the most closely watched. It's likely to decide whether Democrats keep control of the council or that power shifts to Republicans.


San Diego Politicos Keep Close Watch On City Council District 1 Race


Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

Four years ago, the race for San Diego’s District 1 City Council seat was closely watched. Ultimately it decided the partisan balance on the council — with Sherri Lightner’s re-election, Democrats managed to keep their one-seat majority.

Now District 1, which includes La Jolla, University City and Carmel Valley, is again the focus of local politicos as Lightner is termed out and two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent are vying to replace her.

Barbara Bry, the main Democratic candidate, calls herself a high-tech entrepreneur. She co-founded the flower delivery website She also co-founded an organization to support women in the life sciences, and another nonpartisan group to support women in politics.

She said in a recent interview at her campaign office that the District 1 race is about the future versus the past.

“I’m the candidate of the future,” Bry said. “The high-tech and biotech industries are the economic engines of the entire region. And this is where I’ve spent the last 30 years creating good jobs. And we need these worlds to continue.”

Photo caption: Barbara Bry, a candidate for the San Diego City Council District 1 seat, gree...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Barbara Bry, a candidate for the San Diego City Council District 1 seat, greets a volunteer at her campaign office, April 15, 2016.

Local elections are officially nonpartisan in California, and none of the five District 1 candidates sounded particularly partisan in their interviews. But a look at their endorsements gives insight into where they all stand. Bry is endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party, labor unions and environmental groups.

Her main opponent is Ray Ellis, who’s endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party, the conservative Lincoln Club and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Ellis, a small-business owner who volunteers for a number of local charities and nonprofits, calls himself a centrist and independent problem solver.

“I want to work with others to make sure that we’re not only dealing with the challenges we have, and we have some challenges, but more importantly to take advantage of the opportunities that we have in San Diego,” he said.

Photo caption: Ray Ellis, a candidate for the San Diego City Council District 1 seat, speaks...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Ray Ellis, a candidate for the San Diego City Council District 1 seat, speaks on the phone at his campaign office, April 13, 2016.

Both Ellis and Bry list mostly the same priorities: fixing the city’s infrastructure, improving police retention, cutting bureaucracy and creating more affordable housing. Asked if she wanted to say anything about her opponents, Bry took a long, pensive pause.

“I trust the voters to know the difference between when a candidate is telling the truth and when a candidate is misrepresenting the facts,” she said.

There’s a story behind those words. Ray Ellis recently accused Barbara Bry of not supporting Proposition B, San Diego’s landmark pension reform that voters approved in 2012. He also suggested she supports spending taxpayer dollars for a new Chargers stadium. Neither of those things is true, and Ellis walked back his statement relating to Proposition B.

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But Ellis said he stands by his accusation that Bry's support for the so-called Citizens' Plan amounts to support for raising taxes to fund a stadium and Convention Center expansion. The Citizens' Plan would raise the city's hotel room tax, and allows for a portion of the extra revenue to be spent on a Convention Center expansion. It also allows for the same site to be used for a sports stadium, but includes language prohibiting using public money to build the stadium.

Asked whether he had anything to say about his opponents, Ellis said he’s interested in talking about issues.

“Again, this infrastructure issue is going to be with us awhile,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re electing people like Ray Ellis who can deal with that issue from a fiscal standpoint. And we’ve also got to make sure that we’re creating good jobs.”

Photo caption: This map shows the location of the San Diego City Council's District 1. It in...

Photo by Susana Tsutsumi

This map shows the location of the San Diego City Council's District 1. It includes La Jolla, University City, Torrey Pines, Torrey Hills, Carmel Valley, Del Mar Mesa and Pacific Highlands Ranch.

For a while, Bry and Ellis were the only candidates for District 1. But in the two weeks before the filing deadline, three more entered the race.

RELATED: San Diego District 1 Candidates On The Issues

Louis Rodolico, a retired architect and Democrat, has made his campaign centerpiece to finally build the Regents Road Bridge. The project has been planned for decades, but some nearby residents oppose it.

Rodolico said District 1 candidates have succumbed to pressures from the Regents Road area residents because they donate money to campaigns, and that the bridge was necessary to reduce traffic fatalities.

"It's really primarily a safety issue, a life and death issue for me," he said.

Bruce Lightner, the husband of termed-out incumbent Sherri Lightner, said he entered because he didn’t want to see Ray Ellis elected. He’s open about his dislike of Ellis, who ran against his wife four years ago. Bruce Lightner is a Republican, an engineer and an inventor, and says he’ll continue his wife’s leadership.

"I watch the City Council meetings, I listen to her, I'm at times her mentor," he said. "I think I really understand the sausage making that goes on in city government."

Also running is Kyle Heiskala, an independent and one of Sherri Lightner’s staff members. He’s 23 — but touts his experience as the only candidate who’s worked at City Hall. He says his six years there give him the inside policy knowledge to lead on Day One.

"My fellow members of my generation are going to be the ones that are most impacted by the decisions that are made today," he said. "I will do a lot to ensure that we are prepared for rising sea levels, increased wildfires (and) longer and more persistent droughts."

With five candidates on the ballot, it’s going to be tough for any one to get more than 50 percent of the vote and win the election outright on June 7. That means Bry, Ellis or maybe one of the other three candidates, could be looking toward a runoff in November.

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