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Stark Differences Emerge In First Forum For County Supervisor’s Seat

Photo by Alison St John

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, left, San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts and Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar at a candidates' forum for the Board of Supervisors District 3 seat, April 21, 2016.

Three candidates for a seat on the powerful San Diego County Board of Supervisors sparred in the race’s first forum Thursday night.

The forum was held at a golf club in Rancho Santa Fe and sponsored by the North County Association of Realtors. The location was chosen to fall halfway between coastal and inland North County since the two Republicans challenging Democrat incumbent Dave Roberts represent coastal and inland cities.

Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar took every opportunity to lock horns with Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, since it is generally assumed that only one of them will survive the June primary to face Roberts in November.

Abed, who has the endorsement of the Republican Party of San Diego County, said in an interview prior to the forum that he expects to raise half a million dollars for his campaign.

Gaspar has the endorsement of the Lincoln Club, San Diego city council members and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

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In spite of the carefully chosen location, the forum was sparsely attended, possibly a reflection of how little voters know about the board of supervisors. The board has a budget of more than $5 billion and significant authority over public safety, land use and social safety net funds.

The forum’s moderator, Logan Jenkins of The San Diego Union-Tribune, asked the candidates about one of the bigger issues at stake: their position on new developments in unincorporated rural areas.

Several major new housing developments, including Lilac Hills near rural Valley Center, are waiting for county approval. The decision could depend on who wins the District 3 seat held by Roberts, who is widely expected to oppose the plan.

At the forum, Roberts said he could not address any project specifically, but added that the county spent $18 million developing a General Plan that limits development in areas where roads and infrastructure don't already exist.

His challengers focused on the housing crisis: Gaspar said she doesn’t know how her children will be able to afford to live in San Diego County without more housing options.

Abed said he is pro-development and the county’s General Plan is too restrictive and needs to change.

What made Roberts vulnerable to Republican challengers was a series of personnel crises in his office during his first term on the board. Several members of his staff left last year and accused him of misuse of county funds and inappropriate behavior that created a hostile workplace. The county paid $310,000 to settle civil litigation, but the District Attorney recently decided to drop a criminal investigation into the allegations.

Abed said Roberts should resign and pay the money back from his own pocket. Gaspar, who has built a business with her husband, said mistakes like that would put her out of business in the private sector.

Gaspar was also sharp in her criticism of Abed, who was accused of paving over a parking lot that he owns without obtaining permits, and violating storm water regulations. Abed called it a “nonissue,” but Gaspar said it was an issue of “not playing by the rules,” something she said elected leaders have a particular responsibility to do.

When asked if they would support the new half-cent sales tax that the San Diego Association of Governments is considering putting on the ballot, Abed and Gaspar were opposed. Abed said too much of it would be earmarked for public transit and not enough for roads.

Roberts said to keep home values high, the region needs to develop its public transit to avoid more gridlock on the roads.

The candidates also split on the question of the embattled Gregory Canyon landfill, a project that has been in the works for more than two decades and is still highly controversial in North County. Both Abed and Gaspar said they believe the project is necessary to avoid trucking trash long distances.

Abed, an engineer, said he would expect technology to keep the landfill from leaking.

Roberts said with new zero-waste policies, San Diego County won’t need another landfill and Gregory Canyon would end up serving Los Angeles. He was skeptical of finding any liner that would not leak eventually, and pointed to the leak that shut down the San Onofre nuclear power plant as an example of misplaced confidence in technology.

When Jenkins gave each candidate a chance to tell something surprising about themselves, Abed was the only one to succeed: by revealing his passion for transparency, which extends to not even having a password for his computer.

In final comments, Roberts congenially reminded his opponents that, due to new term limits, he can only serve one more term on the board, and if they would just wait until 2020, his seat would be open and waiting for them. But the Republican Party is anxious to get District 3 back into conservative hands, and Roberts won't keep his seat without a fight.

Three more candidate forums are planned before the June primary. The next is Tuesday, April 26 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Escondido Joslyn Senior Center, 210 E. Park Ave. It is sponsored by the Escondido Chamber of Citizens and the League of Women Voters.

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