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Different Backgrounds, Different Politics Separate San Diego City Council District 7 Candidates

City Council candidates Noli Zosa (left) and Raul Campillo in undated campaig...

Credit: Campaign photos

Above: City Council candidates Noli Zosa (left) and Raul Campillo in undated campaign photos.

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Noli Zosa, a Republican, is a co-founder of the restaurant chain Dirty Birds, while Raul Campillo, a Democrat, is a deputy city attorney for the city of San Diego. Both ... Read more →

Aired: October 20, 2020 | Transcript

The race for San Diego City Council District 7 is one of just two council races with a Democrat and Republican facing off. And the candidates have very different stances on key local issues, from the COVID response and relief for businesses to public transportation and changes to zoning laws.

This gives voters in the district a clear choice. The Republican is Noli Zosa, a co-founder of the restaurant chain Dirty Birds. Raul Campillo, a deputy San Diego city attorney, is the Democrat.

The outcome of the race could impact the power dynamic on the City Council. If Campillo replaces the Republican Sherman, it would mean Democrats pick up an additional seat. In the March primary, Campillo came in slightly ahead of Zosa, with 35.9% of the vote to Zosa's 30.5% of the vote. Two other Democrats took the remainder of the votes.

Currently, 42.8% of the registered voters in District 7 are Democrats and 26% are Republicans. Also, 25% of the district’s voters are decline to state. The district covers central San Diego neighborhoods including Linda Vista, Mission Valley, Allied Gardens and Del Cerro.

Reported by Claire Trageser

Backgrounds

Zosa, 47, grew up in Huntington Beach but has lived in San Diego for the last 30 years. He now lives in Linda Vista. He earned his undergraduate and law school degrees from the University of San Diego.

Along with his work as a founding partner of Dirty Birds, he has served on the San Diego Parks and Recreation Board, the city’s Mobility Board and as chairman of Linda Vista Planning Group.

Campillo, 33, is originally from El Cajon and lives in Mission Valley. He earned his undergraduate and law school degrees from Harvard.

Before becoming a deputy city attorney, he spent time as an elementary school teacher and working on political campaigns.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

City Council candidate Raul Campillo poses after delivering a yard sign to a supporter, Oct. 1, 2020.

COVID response

Earlier this summer, Zosa was criticized for saying during a social media interview that the media "love" the pandemic because it increases ratings and clicks.

"They want this to continue as long as possible and that means sensationalizing the story to make sure the crisis continues as long as possible," he said.

Zosa has since apologized for making the comments and said he does not stand by them. He said early on, he was frustrated as a restaurant owner that the county was allowing big box stores such as Wal-Mart to stay open while forcing businesses like his to close.

"We could have operated under those same guidelines and we are operating under them now," he said. ”But during those critical two or three months when we were shut down completely, a lot of small businesses folded unfortunately permanently."

Zosa said he does not think the countywide mask rule should be enforced with citations.

"I think fines should be a last resort for the most egregious violations such as those individuals throwing large parties at their homes," he said. "My restaurant and other businesses have done a very good job enforcing mask use within the guidelines of county health officials."

He also does not believe schools should be open right now, saying schools first need a "coherent plan to address safety."

Meanwhile, Campillo said the county's response to COVID has not been strict enough.

"When new policies come in place, if they aren't enforced early, the public is not going to take it seriously," he said. "In San Diego, we don't have a culture of jaywalking because for so long people have known you will get ticketed for jaywalking."

"When it comes to COVID, the county should have made sure they were going to cite people who were violating health orders early on," he added. "I'm not talking drastic, punitive measures, just simply citations where people knew I'm going to be paying a small fine if I violate this."

Campillo also does not think schools should be open right now.

"As a former teacher, I am as eager as anyone to see our children back in a safe and COVID-free learning environment," he said. "But without proper and equalized sanitation and spread prevention across our schools, it is unsafe to re-open them at this juncture."

Photo by Matthew Bowler

City Council candidate Noli Zosa poses in his campaign office, Oct. 1, 2020.

Police reform

Both candidates have talked about the need for further reforms to the San Diego Police Department.

Campillo said he wants to see "continual training on unconscious bias and de-escalation to reduce violent conflict." He also wants to reform and expand what he calls "proactive, decentralized community policing."

Zosa supports the idea of creating a program on college campuses to train future police officers that is similar to the U.S. Military’s Reserve Officers Training Corps, or ROTC.

Neither candidate supports defunding the police department.

Budget cuts

The next City Council will likely be dealing with further budget cuts in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Campillo said he would cut spending by eliminating outside planning and engineering consultants and outside representation, which he said costs more than $200 million annually.

"We should bring in-house the engineers, surveyors and other experts who we pay massive amounts for their outside work," he said.

Campillo said he is against any budget cuts that cause reductions in city workers’ pay.

Zosa said he would cut "any money spent that is spent on converting our streets and roads into protected bike lanes at the expense of taking away car lanes and parking spaces."

Off the table for him are cuts to public safety and infrastructure.

COVID relief

Zosa does not support expanding the small business fund for businesses devastated by the pandemic, saying instead the county should relax regulations on all businesses.

"What us small businesses want is to be able to reopen with the same health guidelines and distancing requirements that allowed big-box corporate establishments to be open," he said.

Campillo takes a different view.

"Of course the fund should be expanded," he said. "It began as a $6.1 million package with most businesses receiving $10,000. Helping 600 businesses seems like a good start until you realize that there are 96,000 small businesses in San Diego County and 59% of San Diegans work for a small business."

But, Campillo said, permanent changes to allow outdoor dining should be decided neighborhood-by-neighborhood whenever the COVID pandemic ends.

Zosa said he supports permanently allowing outdoor dining.

"The change in the rules and regulations that allowed our restaurants to expand our dining space into public spaces has been a lifeline for us," he said.

When asked what the city should do to help renters when the eviction moratorium expires, Campillo said the city should reintroduce and expand the rental assistance program.

Zosa said instead that the city needs to make it easier for small businesses to thrive so people can get back to work and pay their rents.

Other local issues

Regarding decisions having to do with housing density, Campillo said he supports allowing duplexes on single-family zone lots, but not quadplexes.

"I’ve lived in cities like Boston that have duplexes, and they work perfectly well when you have reliable public transportation," he said. "We need to plan for five steps ahead when we implement new zoning regulations to stop foreseeable consequences of zoning changes."

Zosa does not support allowing duplexes on a city-wide basis.

"I support additional housing but we must take into account the character of individual neighborhoods," he said.

Both candidates support a privacy ordinance that requires police and other city departments to get approval from a privacy commission before adopting a new surveillance technology.

Campillo does not support a measure to change the authority of the City Attorney; Zosa does support it.

"I believe the city attorney's office has become too political in the last few years, the office needs reform," he said.

Fundraising

According to campaign finance reports as of Sept. 19, the most recent available, Zosa had raised $176,703 and had $95,517 in the bank. Campillo had raised $66,454 and had $54,112 in the bank.

Raul Campillo

Age: 33

Party: Democrat

Family: Father and Mother live in El Cajon; extended family through all of San Diego County.

College: Harvard (B.A. in Government, J.D. from Harvard Law School)

Hometown: San Diego

Career: Attorney

Other Interests: Fan of Padres baseball, FC Barcelona soccer, and hiking Cowles Mountain

Personal Fact: He said he is one of only four attorneys assigned to obtain Gun Violence Restraining Orders in court in the city of San Diego, helping enforce the state's "Red Flag" laws and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and those who pose a danger to themselves and the community.

Noli Zosa

Age: 47

Party: Republican

Family: Single

College: USD for undergrad and law school

Hometown: Huntington Beach, CA

Career: Small business owner

Other Interests: Basketball, Golf, American History

Personal Fact: "I'm a sucker for mindless reality TV"

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

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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