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One Republican, 2 Dems Vie For San Diego City Council District 5, Once A GOP Stronghold

Candidates for San Diego City Council District 5, left to right, Joe Leventha...

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: Candidates for San Diego City Council District 5, left to right, Joe Leventhal, Marni von Wilpert and Isaac Wang speak at Lake Miramar, Dec. 9, 2019.

If you live in northern San Diego including Black Mountain Ranch, Carmel Mountain Ranch, Rancho Bernardo, and Rancho Peñasquitos, you’re represented by the District 5 City Council member.

Three major candidates, two Democrats and a Republican, are running in the March primary to replace termed-out Councilman Mark Kersey. For decades, District 5 was solidly Republican, but that has changed in recent years.

As of the first of the year, 33 percent of voters were Democrats, 31.5 percent were Republicans and 30.4 percent were not registered in any party. Kersey was a Republican when elected, but recently left the party to become a no party preference voter.

If one of the Democrats wins, the party could end up with a 8-1 or 7-2 majority on the City Council, depending on how the race in District 7 goes. Currently, Democrats enjoy a 6-3 supermajority.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

The candidates


Photo by Claire Trageser

San Diego City Council District 5 candidate Marni von Wilpert speaks at Lake Miramar, Dec. 9, 2019.

Marni von Wilpert

Age: 37

Party: Democrat

Family: Parents, brothers and their wives live in San Diego, plus a 100-year-old grandfather in Denver.

College: U.C. Berkeley undergraduate degree; Fordham University Law School

Hometown: San Diego

Career: Deputy City Attorney, San Diego City Attorney's Office

Other Interests: Swimming, water polo and yoga.

Personal Fact: She speaks Setswana, a language she learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana.

Marni von Wilpert is a deputy city attorney for the city of San Diego. She used to work as a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board and was in the Peace Corps.

Her family lives in San Diego, including her parents, who still live in the house she grew up in near Lake Miramar.

"I grew up here and I care deeply about this community," she said.

Photo by Claire Trageser

San Diego City Council District 5 candidate Isaac Wang speaks at Lake Miramar, Dec. 9, 2019.

Isaac Wang

Age: 33

Party: Democrat

Family: Wife and son

College: Duke University, major in public policy

Hometown: Houston

Career: US Navy (Surface Warfare Officer), Urban Planner, Tech Entrepreneur

Other Interests: Data, Design, Cities, Coffee Roasters

Personal Fact: He said he got in trouble with Navy Reserve for "trolling" former White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

Isaac Wang founded a software startup that does geospatial analysis and data visualization for field campaigns.

He also is a Navy veteran and current Navy reservist, has a degree from Duke in public policy and worked in urban design.

Photo by Claire Trageser

San Diego City Council District 5 candidate Joe Leventhal speaks at Lake Miramar, Dec. 9, 2019.

Joe Leventhal

Age: 42

Party: Republican

Family: Wife and three kids, ages 12, 10, and 8

College: UC San Diego

Hometown: San Diego

Career: Attorney and business owner

Other Interests: Family Time, Running, Hiking, Reading

Personal Fact: "On the day I reconnected with my wife after college, I told her we were going to get married. We've now been married over 15 years."

Joe Leventhal is a lawyer who started his own law firm seven years ago. He also served on the San Diego Ethics Commission.

Top issue for each candidate:


Marni von Wilpert: wildfire prevention

"Wildfire prevention will be a huge priority for me on the City Council," she said. "I know what it's like. My parents still live in the house I grew up in, and they were evacuated and a couple of my friends' homes burned. It was terrifying."

To prevent wildfires, she would "make sure our firefighters have the resources they need to adequately cover our communities," she said.

Isaac Wang: Design Safer Streets

"I think you see a lot of poor street design that leads to people driving faster, leads to people running stop lights," he said.

To tackle safer streets, he would add speed tables, roundabouts, cross-walks and angled parking.

"There's a lot we can do to our physical environment to shape safer streets," he said.

Joe Leventhal: Repair Roads

"People still want to see more progress on roads, there's more innovation we need to bring to something as simple as roads," he said.

What types of innovation?

"Some cities and countries have started using Kevlar type material in the roads material which helps them last longer," he said. "UC San Diego is right now experimenting with a stretch of road that has recycled plastics in it."

How each candidate would tackle housing, homelessness

Each candidate also cited housing and homelessness as top issues. But none had any new ideas for solutions.

Marni von Wilpert's solution was "making sure that we're doing what we can to have the housing that everyone can afford to live in," she said.

Isaac Wang talked about reducing regulatory hurdles in the city’s housing market.

"There are fixed costs to labor, to land, to materials, how can we reduce a lot of that other stuff," he said. "I think it's the regulatory hurdles, the red tape, that adds to a lot of the cost and that's where we can reduce a lot of the burden."

And Joe Leventhal is focused on homelessness, not housing affordability.

"We're treating the homeless population as monolithic, and the underlying reasons people are homeless vary," he said. "We need to have people on separate tracks depending on what that underlying reason is. For some, it's mental health issues. For others, it's addiction issues."

He said for people dealing with a short term problem like a lost job, they need permanent housing first. But others need treatment, not just housing.

Other ideas for the district

Each candidate also threw out some other ideas for what they'd do to improve the district.

Marni von Wilpert said she wants to work on setting up more transportation for seniors and veterans.

Isaac Wang said he wants to create an Asian Night Market.

"If we can really bring down the cost and make it easy to have small footprint businesses, we can see a lot of the small food vendors and small food markets that we see in a lot of other countries," he said.

Joe Leventhal said he'd bolster the police department in a specific way.

"Maybe look at using our reserve senior patrol volunteers more than we are now for things like traffic management," he said.

The top two vote-getters in March will face off against each other in the election in November.

Reported by Claire Trageser , Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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