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Politics

Whitburn Leads In San Diego's District 3 City Council Race

San Diego City Council District 3 candidates Stephen Whitburn, Toni Duran and Chris Olsen are picture in this results graphic, March, 4, 2020.
KPBS Staff
San Diego City Council District 3 candidates Stephen Whitburn, Toni Duran and Chris Olsen are picture in this results graphic, March, 4, 2020.
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UPDATE: 7:53 a.m., March 4, 2020:

With 30% of the vote and all precincts reporting, Stephen Whitburn is on his way to the general election. Toni Duran, who has 22.5% of the vote, appears likely to be his November opponent but CHris Olsen is just behind with 20.7% while Michelle Nguyen trails with 18.2%.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters estimated there are still 350,000 ballots to be counted.

Original story:

San Diego City Council District 3 is the epicenter of the city's homelessness crisis, and the issue has taken center stage in the five-person race. The district includes downtown, Banker's Hill, Hillcrest, Mission Hills, North Park, University Heights and Normal Heights.

Four Democrats are running in District 3: Chris Olsen, Adrian Kwiatkowski, Stephen Whitburn and Toni Duran. All have have been actively fundraising and campaigning. A fifth candidate, Republican Michelle Nguyen, raised very little money and did not attend most of the district's candidate forums.

The incumbent in District 3, Chris Ward, is leaving his seat to run for the state Assembly. The top two finishers in the race will compete in a November runoff.

Olsen works as a lecturer at SDSU and a policy analyst for the city's Independent Budget Analyst's Office, though he is on leave from that job to focus on campaigning. He has argued his intimate knowledge of city finances sets him apart from his opponents, and that the city has yet to match its promises of improving homelessness outreach and shelter accommodations with adequate funding.

"My approach will be all about coordination and data," Olsen said on his website. "In order to make meaningful progress and get thousands of people off the streets into permanent supportive housing, we need more resources at the local level to continue to leverage federal and state dollars."

Kwiatkowski, a local lobbyist who helped craft the city's "strong mayor" form of government, has suggested the city needs a "tough love" approach to homelessness. He said the council should ask the City Attorney's Office for options on how to use law enforcement to crack down on issues related to homelessness like sleeping on sidewalks.

"The voters want to see some sort of positive action," Kwiatkowski said. "They are tired of the talk, and the constant issue just getting worse and worse."

Whitburn, who works for the American Cancer Society and won the coveted endorsement of the San Diego County Democratic Party, said the city has failed to adequately involve residents in its approach to homelessness.

"That's what frustrates people in our neighborhoods, is that people make decisions before consulting with them," Whitburn said. "I'm not going to do that. I'm going to consult first, and then we'll come up with a solution."

Duran, a staff member for Senator Toni Atkins, said the city needs a more compassionate approach to homelessness. She supported a proposal by the mayor to make the vacant Mission Hills library property available for permanent supportive housing. Some in the neighborhood have opposed the plan, fearing it would draw in crime and vagrancy, but Duran argued it is the most effective and proven solution to get people off the streets for good.

"Granted it would only help 28 people," Duran said of the site's relatively small size. "But helping 28 people get off the street, get housing, get support services that they need so they can thrive — that's important. This is what we need to be doing."