Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Control Of County's Board Of Supervisors Hinges On Third District Race

San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 3 candidates Republican Kristin Gaspar and Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer are pictured in this undated graphic.
KPBS Staff
San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 3 candidates Republican Kristin Gaspar and Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer are pictured in this undated graphic.
Candidates show little common ground as they vie for a pivotal seat which will likely determine control of the county Board of Supervisors.

This November's election outcome could change the political balance of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors for the first time in recent memory.

The District Three supervisor race pits incumbent Republican Kristin Gaspar against Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer, a first-time candidate and an economist who worked in the Obama administration.

The world changed dramatically after the March 3 primary. Right after the two candidates were chosen for the general election, COVID-19 thrust the county health system into the spotlight.


Gaspar has often been at odds with the county’s response. In June, still very early on in the pandemic, Gaspar publicly called on the county to loosen restrictions on backyard gatherings.

“It is really easy to look back at any point during the pandemic response and point to, 'OK in this month we have felt a different way,' but we have learned a lot,” Gaspar said.

Control Of County's Board Of Supervisors Hinges On Third District Race

She continues to push for San Diego County to break with the state and make its own reopening plan as the virus continues to spread.

“We need our control back from the governor,” she said. “California is a large, diverse state. The thought that we can treat every county exactly the same with this peanut butter approach is the wrong one.”

Gaspar said she suspended her campaign during the summer to concentrate on the COVID-19 response. She said that is one reason why even as an incumbent, she is trailing her challenger Lawson-Remer in fundraising.


The pandemic disrupted both campaigns. Lawson-Remer, who is an attorney and college professor at UCSD said she repurposed her phone banks so they could perform wellness checks on seniors in the district. Lawson-Remer is also critical of the county’s response for a different reason, believing the county was caught short-handed by not having enough staff to handle the pandemic, even after a Hepatitis A outbreak swept through the county from 2016 to 2018.

“They just didn’t have the resources,” Lawson-Remer said. “There had been an under-investment in staff for so long that they were just not able to keep up with the demand. And they just did an extraordinary job with the limited resources they had, which fundamentally falls on the prior leadership.”

Aside from potentially turning the board of supervisors from red to blue, the third district is likely to tip the balance of power on regional planning agency SANDAG, where Gaspar now holds a seat. SANDAG is creating a 30-year plan which concentrates on mass transit and moves away from road widening projects. Gaspar wants those road projects, she said.

“How much are we willing to dedicate solely into mass transit while continuing to ignore the rest. How about we look at a balanced way to continue making those investments,” she said.

The county’s climate change plan has ended up in court. Lawson-Remer is running on replacing it with what she calls the gold standard of climate change plans, but she hasn’t taken a position on SANDAG’s plan, she said.

“The first thing you have to do is a feasibility study. How is this really going to bring the solutions that we need to our community? As well as an economic study. What is going to be the impact in terms of job creation,” she said.

In the latest campaign finance report, Lawson-Remer has brought in $162,000 more than Gaspar. Actors Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin recently held a virtual fundraiser for Lawson-Remer. Fonda is supporting candidates who take a strong stance to stop climate change, Lawson-Remer said.

During a recent debate before the North County Chamber of Commerce, Gaspar criticized the amount of money coming from the Service Employees International Union Local 221, saying the union is trying to take over the board of supervisors.

“This is not the time to siphon precious tax dollars over to labor union bosses,” Gaspar said.

Lawson-Remer says she is proud of her union support. Instead, Lawson-Remer continues to hammer away at Gaspar’s support for the Trump administration including trips to the White House.

“My opponent has been a strong supporter of Donald Trump since day one. She’s one of his earliest endorsers,” she said.

The district runs up the coast from Solana Beach to Encinitas and up Interstate 15 from I-8 to Escondido. Once reliably Republican, it now has more registered Democrats. The third district is the best hope for Republicans to hold onto a three-to-two majority on the county Board of Supervisors after a second seat went to Democrats in the primary.

We are launching a brand-new newsletter exclusively for North County. It'll be your bi-weekly guide to all the news coming from North County, plus a handpicked selection of events and trivia tidbits.