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Horn And Gronke Debate Over District 5 Seat - Join The Live Chat At 9 A.M.

Bill Horn and Steve Gronke, candidates for San Diego County Supervisor, 5th District
Courtesy of the candidates' campaign websites
Bill Horn and Steve Gronke, candidates for San Diego County Supervisor, 5th District
Horn And Gronke Debate Over District 5 Seat - Join The Live Chat At 9 A.M.
The conclusion to the race for the County Supervisor's seat in the 5th district is not as foregone as in previous years. For the first time in years, incumbent Supervisor Bill Horn is facing a runoff -- with Steve Gronke of Vista.

Listen live by clicking on the red listen icon at the top of this page, and share your opinions during the debate with our live chat.

For the first time in years, incumbent San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn is facing a runoff -- with Steve Gronke, a Vista teacher and city council member. We ask each of them about their positions on the county's recently released new general plan, the availability of social services, the supervisors' discretionary fund and county fire services.

GUESTS: Bill Horn, San Diego County Supervisor, District 5


Steve Gronke, teacher, Vista City Council member

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Election coverage continues on KPBS this morning with a debate between the candidates for the District five seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The county's District five is located in north San Diego, stretching from Oceanside and Carlsbad east to the Borrego desert, District 5 has been represented by Bill Horn since 1995, he's running for his 5th term on the Board of Supervisors. He's being challenged by Steve Gronke, a school teacher and Vista City Council member. Good morning.

BILL HORN: Good morning Maureen, thank you for having us.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Steve Gronke, welcome.

STEVE GRONKE: Thank you Maureen.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We will not be taking phone calls, but if you want to participate in a live chat about the candidates and the important race for county District five, you can go to the thesedays pages on, click on this segment to join the discussion. I'd like to give each of the candidates about a minute to introduce themselves, tell us why they're running for county supervisor in the 5th district, and Bill Horn, let me start with you.

BILL HORN: Thank you Maureen. As the North County times said this week, my opponent and I couldn't be more different on the issues issue while other county governments are suffering from mismanagement, San Diego County has healthy reserves, and it's recognized as one of the best run governments in America. We have balanced the budget every year without raising taxes. In fact we did away with the business license tax. My opponent endorsed a campaign for a sales tax hike in Vista that was gonna cost the two payers in Vista over $2 million. The county can invest in park, sports fields, roads, community centers, and public safety. We have a well equipped sheriff's department and have created a fire authority to combat wild fires. The county is creating local jobs by enabling federal grants. We created a alert system that alerts people of sex offenders in the neighborhoods, and during these tough economic times we need experienced leadership that will continue to fight for the taxpayers and I ask for your vote on November the 2nd.


STEVE GRONKE: Thank you Maureen. For the 50 time in 16 years, the voters in North County have a chance for their voices to be heard. For too long big developers have had a lock on our supervisor, Bill Horn, by supplying him with thousands of dollar in campaign contributions. He has spent nearly $400,000 just in this campaign. I am Steve Gronke and I oppose Bill Horn and his unethical behavior, he's given our tax money to special interests groups through slush funds, and he has received fund raising events and money in return for that. He has contacted a developer illegal low to make sure his developing got through the county planning process. And when he questioned, he denied and said only staff was involved. He has even defied the laws he claims to uphold. It is time for the voters of north county to say enough is enough. We will no longer tolerate a county supervisor who puts his financial interests before our own. We have had enough urban sprawl. We need someone who will listen to our concerns issue not the concerns of special interests who bank roll his elections. These are difficult times. It is time to make difficult decisions. People have lost their jobs and their homes, and they need help. Families no longer feel secure, small businesses are hurting, and they need to see their county officials working in their interests.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you for that opening statement. And let's get onto the first question. Let me pose it to you, Mr. Gronke, Steve, as you'd allow me to call you. This week marks the first anniversary of the devastating witch creek fire in 2007. A plan to consolidate fire protection services for the back country has been approved by the Board of Supervisors. But do you believe we are any better protected under this plan as we were before?

STEVE GRONKE: No, we have gone through two devastating fires in the last decade, and I believe the bandaid approach that our county is giving to this be Mr. Is not enough. I definitely have talked to a number of people within the fire departments within the county and they agree that the best way to approach this is to continue with the process that we have in place already, and that's called drop your boards. Carlsbad Oceanside and Vista have already started it, I hear the same discussions going on in Solana beach and Encinitas, I believe Escondido -- excuse me, El Cajon and La Mesa are doing same thing. It's this continuation of dropping the borders, which will give under the circumstances reduced response times, and efficiencies. We'll save money in the process. And I think ultimately what we'll have is a major fire agency within the county that can absorb those smaller agencies in the back country that are ill Equipped, under trained and don't have enough equipment. So I think what we'll ultimately have as the year it is go by is a major fire consolidation within the county. And I'll be there to make sure that happens.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Bill Horn, tell us what your tax on the consolidation of the fire protection services plan that the Board of Supervisors adopted I believe this summer. What's different about this plan and does it make us saver.

BILL HORN: Well, the county has spent $212 million since the 2003 fire. We spent $15 million a year on back country districts. It's called the Amador contract with cal fire. We keep our stations open 12 months out of the year. Using their staffs and their equipment. Of we bought communications equipment for all the volunteers in the departments. We've supplied them with fire engines, fire jell, we have purchased two firefighting helicopters. And woo actually need more. We're better prepared today than we have been in the past. And I think we're gonna keep improving on fire protection. The volunteer districts are extremely important because they are boots on the ground when it comes to fire. And we're going to continue to support the volunteers in getting them the equipment that nay need. I think we are in far better shape than we have been in the past and we'll continue to improve that. We just sent out a mail out disaster preparedness guide to every counsel in the county, and we have provided a red guide, which helps in recovery. And it helps the taxpayer, and the landowner in the recovery process, if that's necessary.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And let me stay with you, Bill Horn, and move onto the next question, and that is the county Board of Supervisors is in the process of updating its general plan. That plan will affect growth in the region, it could affect growth over the next 40 years, especially in the 5th district. For the most part, the new plan directs development away from the back country and towards areas with established infrastructures. Do you support the general concept of this new plan.

BILL HORN: Well, there are problems with it. The general plan affects really my district accident the 5th district, and supervisor Jacobs district, which is the seventh district, we are basically the unincorporated areas of the county. What I have is a problem with is down zoning. If you start downzoning their land, and their credit base is based on the carrying capacity of their land, not necessarily the crop they grow, if you restart reducing their credit ability, you're gonna put them in a world of hurt. That's an industry during this recession that has not turned down. And one of the reasons, people always need food. So the general plan has a huge effect on agricultural. And in my district the fourth largest industry is in my district, I think I need to be very protective about that. So I'm really concerned about the down zoning, and I think the current general plan -- I just listened to an entire day of testimony, and we have another day coming up, I think I've heard from so many people over this issue that we're gonna have to tweak this man so we don't down zone these areas that are depending on the economy.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Steve, what's your take on this general plan?

STEVE GRONKE: I think people are tired of urban sprawl. They saw what happened to Los Angeles. I'm in complete support of the new general plan update. The reason for that is, I sit on Sandag, and I be the new model is called smart growth. I've seen my sister cities along the sprinter line in the 78th corridor embrace this and bring if higher density into their corridors, I believe this will help with mass transit. I think the reason that Mr. Horn is so opposed to this is because he's getting a lot of money from large agro business in the county. And I can only say from my discussions with those people in the business that things are changing and they're not changing because of a general plan. They're changing because of a lack of water. And so they are changing the types of crops that they grow in order to adapt to that lack of water. And so when it comes to his idea of somehow making some equity when it comes to land rezoning, I think it's illegal, I don't think there's a plan out there that he can afford to give money to one landowner from another landowner. I think it'll be tied up in litigation for years.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Would you like to respond Bill Horn.

BILL HORN: Number one, I point out in the ag business, we have over 500 farmers in the county of San Diego, and most of those are ten acres or les, you're looking at $1.8 billion a year, and water is an issue. But at the same time if you down zone these folks and take away their credit ratings, they're not gonna be able to borrow money, and if anybody's been in agriculture, they know you have to be able to borrow between crops to make it happen. So you're gonna wind up with a huge number of layoffs, a lot of land that cannot be used. So I think it's extremely important.

STEVE GRONKE: I disagree. I believe that there's a way that the county can work and try to get some type of loan guarantees, because it is true this these individuals that owner properties back there and run their businesses are in jeopardy when it comes to getting loons, but I think there's a way we can work through that. Again I just go back to the argument that Mr. Horn has that he will help out his buddies in the ag business that have contributed to his campaign by somehow finding some way of replacing value in one property in another property. And again, if I was a property owner and I somehow got a wind fall, I would be reluctant to give that away. So I'd be willing to take that to court, and I think that's exactly what's gonna happen in this case. His case doesn't hold true because I think that illy it's unsound.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's move on. San Diego is still suffering from the effects of the recession. Unemployment is high, many are still struggling to make ends meet and relying on social services more than they ever expected to. Bill Horn, should the county use its significant reserves to back fill social service programs that are cut by the state to help people in San Diego during this extraordinary time.

BILL HORN: No. One of the reasons we passed proposition A a couple years ago, that is if a state refuses to fund a program, the county has every right to drop the program. I know my opponent would say look at your reserves. The reserves stand as one of the reasons we have a triple A bond rating. We pay far less for money because of that credit rating. The moment you start using that reserve to back field programs the state has abandoned, you start using up your general fund, and once you do that, you're on a death spiral, just like the city of San Diego, just like the State of California. We cannot afford to do that. And I think part of the fiscal management that we've produced in this county has really helped keep the taxpayers very solvent in the county government. We have landed at the county a hundred and $20 million in stimulus money which has helped us create local jobs. We received an additional 25 million dollars to train healthcare workers, one of the largest grants in the concern of this type. We're putting San Diego back to work. And I'd much rather have people getting a paycheck than getting a welfare check. So excuse me, I think -- with unemployment at ten percent, it's extremely important that we keep investing in capital projects and we keep improving the county of San Diego of we're currently working on the county operation center. We've created over 2000 new jobs just by the hiring on this project.

STEVE GRONKE: Temporary jobs.

BILL HORN: I just left the green roof event for the Fallbrook library, which we are building with cash.

STEVE GRONKE: Temporary jobs.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, let me -- may I -- let Bill Horn complete his thought. Then it'll be your turn. Of.

BILL HORN: We had a business with North County kind of like development councilman. We had a local fair that showed folks how to bid on government jobs, how to bid on county jobs, how to bid on Department of Defense jobs. And these aren't temporary jobs. Camp Pendleton has more than $2 billion to spend. I think we want local businesses to be involved in that bidding process.

STEVE GRONKE: Let's face it. We have been in a long-term recession, and all the indications, I've talked to realtors, I've talked to people in business, I've talked to other people, and this is gonna be long-term. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is gonna go on for another several years. So is there an opportunity for us to use money that we have banked? I think so. I've sat down with bill owner the last several months and he keeps on touting this thing that he's balanced the county budget and they have a triple A rating and $700 million in the bank. Never once did he say, you know, at the same time we are supplying the best social services we can possibly supply. Because it's a lie. You know, they bank the money and they don't give opportunity to those people who need opportunity. There are people that are losing their jobs, they're losing their homes, they're losing their social stability. It's time for those services to be available. And these are services that the county doesn't pay for. They're pass through services from the fed down to the state and to us. We need to be taking advantage of that. I think the taxpayers of San Diego County should be irate with the fact that we pay our taxes to the state and federal government and they don't come back to us. The county continues, continues to vote against these types of programs. And in doing so, that's why we have a problem with unemployment. That's why we have people that are homeless. It's because the county is not doing their job. It is time, and I'm not saying that we dip right into the seven hundred million and take it all. Because I said before, this is it a long-term problem. This recession is not gonna go away for a couple years. So yes, we can take some of that money and use it, but be discrete and be discretionary.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gentlemen, we have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue our debate for the 5th district seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors between Bill Horn and Steve Gronke. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. And we are holding a debate between the candidates for the District five seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. With me this morning, Steve Gronke who is a school teacher and Vista city councilman member, and incumbent supervisor Bill Horn. And we are also not taking phone call, but we are having a live chat about the candidates and the important issues that we're discussing so you can go to the These Days page on, click on this segment to participate in that live chat. Steve Gronke, let me start with you with this next question. In the June primary election, voters passed proposition B, that opposed term limits on county supervisors. What do you think that says about the performance of the supervisors on the board now? Do you think the voters were sending a message?

STEVE GRONKE: Of a strong message. I think they're sending a message that the county board of supervisors are out of touch. All of them are out of touch. It seems to me that they have been over there for almost 20 years and in their capacity have a disregard for what the needs of their constituents are. My opponent, Bill Horn, has shown over and over again that he is unethical and that he doesn't listen to the people that he represents. You know, ly just represents big business, he represents big developers, and it goes on and on. I've talked to people over and over again. And let's get this straight: I've been at this for about a year and a half. Honestly, I must have talked to or -- on the phone, at their door, an event, about 10000 people, and I hear the same thing over and over again about Bill Horn, he's out of touch, he's in the pockets of large developers, he doesn't represent us anymore. He's unethical. And I -- so it's not a message that I bring to the table. It's a message brought to the table by the people of North County. And I think it's gotta end. And I think it's representative of many of the county supervisors. And if nothing else, my victory will open their eyes to their neglect.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bill Horn issue how do you respond to the passage of the term limits on county supervisors and what message the voters may have been sending the board?

BILL HORN: Well, that was the voters' choice, obviously. I think one of the reasons for the fiscal health of the county is the fact that you've had consistent conservative leadership in this county that has brought with the triple A bond rating. And I realize my opponent doesn't think that's a big issue. But it's an extremely big issue when it comes to money. Now --

STEVE GRONKE: I think a balanced budget is something that's required by law.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm gonna ask you not to interrupt if you would. And let Bill Horn finish his answer. You will have time to respond if you'd like to.


BILL HORN: I think the biggest issue in my area, and I do spend a lot of time in my communities, I do spend a lot of time with the local folks. Public safety is the biggest issue we have in North County. Highway 78 is a corridor for gangs, number one. I've been combating gangs with the North County gang task force since we created it in 1995, we have a gang commission, I was just on operation allied shield two, which was in Vista, for over 300 arrests looking for crime and weapons and drugs. Crime at the current level is at a 25-year low. And that doesn't happen by chance. That happens because we have kept the pressure on the gangs, and kept the pressure in these neighborhoods. I think that's extremely important. Another issue we mentioned earlier was the wild fires. I represent 35 communities. Not just the big cities, but, you know, the sunshine summits, and the warner springs and Borrego springs. These little communities, they have a lot of needs. And when you're the county supervisor, you're their mayor and their city councilman. North County has over 1800 square miles. We have the largest road division in the county. So there are a lot of other issues, bodies just giving up food stamps, but it was the voters' choice to bring about term limits I don't think it was the wisest choice for the state of California nor for the city of San Diego. But maintaining the triple A bond rating, I have to give my colleagues credit for keeping that discipline. And there have been times when we're like to break it, but when I closed the North County landfill and the recycling plant and saved the county over 65 million a year in debt service, I think that was an extremely important issue.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'll give Steve Gronke.

STEVE GRONKE: That was a really great thing for you to do. Take our money and give it away. Mr. Horn, you mustn't be listening because I never said anything about food stamps today at all. I can only say if you you're the mayor and city councilman, for these particular agency, I feel sorry for them. Let's talk about the slush fund for just a second if you don't mind.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I wanted you to respond to what Mr. Horn was saying about the term limits. We are gonna move onto the --

STEVE GRONKE: Oh, I started that conversation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Would you like to respond or move onto another question?

STEVE GRONKE: I would like to move onto another question. Because I think I've already stated the supervisors are definitely out of touch with their constituents.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Tell us your time on the supervisors' discretionary fund. First of all, this is the amount of money, $2 million that each member has to spend on projects in his or her district, it's been count temporarily to one million per supervisor. And it's all yours are Steve.

STEVE GRONKE: I didn't realize how big an issue this was until I started getting into this combine. And I went out with friends of mine in Vista and said, I'm thinking of running for county supervisors, would you help me out? And they said, boy, we think you'd do a great job, Steve, but the reason we can't go public is because we'd lose that slush fund of the intimidation that's going on with the slush fund is unbelievable. One of my peers on the counsel came up to me on the councilman and said, Mr. Horn is looking for three agencies within our city of vista that he can give money to so he can buy votes. Isn't that sad that they have to buy votes by using their slush fund? The slush fund has been used by the county supervisors over the last decade, and I imagine they gave away almost a hundred million dollars of our tax money. They're complaining about not having a fire agency, they're complaining about having a homeless problem, about not being able to employ people. That's people that are in line for social services, and sometimes don't get their services for 3 or 4-month it is. We're not talking about welfare recipients, we're talking about people like you and me that have lost their jobs. People like you and me that have lost their homes through foreclosure. It's not them, it's us. It's us. You know? In the return, the county supervisors have got gifts, they've got trips, any time they try to clean this up. And they tried to clean this up republic, they've fallen short?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me get Bill Horn's response to the use of the discretionary fund.

BILL HORN: I would point out areas where it's come out, in my district, we've built over eight libraries with a lot of this money goes into that. We've built sheriffs substations, one in Fallbrook and one in Valley Center. The community enhancement money has gone to Chris Meggeson's North County solutions to help the homeless. We spend currently at the county $160 million a year on the homeless. So I think these are important funds. The backbone, however, of our gang program is these after school programs that the boys and girls club run for us. I think it's important that we continue to support them. They're doing a job for us and doing a job for the taxpayer.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wording, though, what about specifically the allegation that the moneys are used to support -- to build a political power base for the supervisors?

BILL HORN: These are all 501 C3s. They are nonprofits. I don't think if you look at your campaign reports you'll see any donations from the boys and girls clubs or any of these other organizations. These folks are all out hunting for money. And the best way to return to the taxpayers in a locality is the money that comes out of this community enhancement funds. I'd point out that in the unincorporated areas of the county, the county collects 25 to 27 million a year in sales tax. Normally if you live in a city like the city of vista or of Escondido or city of San Diego, they goes back into their eligible fund. In the unincorporated area it does not return to these communities unless it's through these community enhancement funds. I would point out to the libraries wee supplied, sheriffs is stations we supplied, after school programs, I think is a very good use of the taxpayers' money.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Steve Gronke, I know you want to respond. But I also want you to answer the question about whether or not if you were elected to the board, you would completely get rid of the discretionary fund.

STEVE GRONKE: Don't get me wrong. My wife and I have given away thousands of thousands of dollars to charity. And we will continue to do so. And that's the way it should be done. It should not be done by a corrupted system where our elected officials use our tax money to buy votes. I'll give you a couple of examples, 50 of all, Bill Horn got himself in trouble with his own peers not about a month ago when he tried to give away money unconstitutionally to a certain group. Even his county councilman told him not to do it, and he went ahead anyway. When he made the motion, they sat there stone faced because they knew it was illegal. I sat down with someone from a group cowled mainly Mozart, and that individual told me about -- this is not in his district, it's out of his district, it's an opportunity for him to give money to that group, then they were gonna hold a fundraiser for him. Corrupting. Completely corrupting. That thing about them, it is a power base. There's a plaque over in Valley Center that has his name on it, and it has his name on it because he spent our tax dollars on it. I was at a function about a year ago that really brought this to home. When I saw his name and likeness plastered all over a brochure that invited us to a event hosted by Mike Chandler, and I was really, really upset when I saw that because I knew that was our tax dollars. Would I get rid of it? I would stop it for now, clean it up and maybe retry it again. But if my peers on the counsel or on the board consider it to be their entitlement, then I'd say, get rid of it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Before we go to our closings, I have a question for each of you. And my question for you, supervisor horn is that there was a report this summer that you allegedly built on your property without getting a proper permit. The North County times pulled its support because of that. You're accused of flouting county regulations before. Why do these accusations keep coming up.

BILL HORN: Well, I'm sorry that the repair of my 37-year-old roof on my barn, I didn't realize that a small project was gonna get into a bigger project. And I apologize for that. I don't think it however should over shadow the years of service that the county's provided North County. And I have hired an architect, and he's taking me through the process, and I've paid all the fees. So --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You think the people made too much of it? Is that what you think.

BILL HORN: Yes, I do. It was a political issue.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Steve Gronke. My question for you is that you were a long time Republican. You switched to a decline to state independent before this election. Are you changing your party?

STEVE GRONKE: I'm changing my party simply because I'm looking at the way politics is being run right now, and it's being run in a very nasty way. And I don't like it. Ir think it should change. This is a nonpartisan position. So that's why I went in this direction.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to give you both time to tell the voters why they should vote for you. And since I started with you, I believe, Bill Horn, let me give Steve Gronke the first say.

STEVE GRONKE: Thank you, Maureen. You know, all I can say is going against a long-term career politician is never an easy task. Especially one who has pulled in all his favors on this race from all his rich cronies and special interest groups they know if I win, they will no longer be able to ignore the local residents and continue destroying North County's back country as they reap their profits. Bill horn is tied into this corrupt governance and has been for 16 years. Is time for it to stop. Now is the time to help our neighbors who are in financial terrible. Now is the time to protect our environment from greedy developers and urban blight. Now is the time to protect our property and our lives from wild fires that have devastated the county twice over the last decade without any major improvements from our county fire response due to the lack of action by our supervisors. Please vote for me, Steve Gronke, because now is the time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you. And Bill Horn?

BILL HORN: There are three reasons where I would like your vote on November the 2nd. First, I will continue the fiscal responsibility that we have shown here and not raise your taxes. My opponent on there has already proven he's willing to raise taxes. Secondly, public safety will remain my top priority. San Diego County is better prepared for any natural disaster and we will continue to improve our fire protection. Crime currently is at a 25-year low and our deputies are well equipped to protect you. Finally, the county will continue to create local jobs. Whether it's federal funds, county dollars or public or private partnerships, the county will put this region back to work. My opponent, and I couldn't be farther -- different on these issues issue at a time when local governments are mismanaged, the county has earned a national recognition as one of the best run governments in America, and I stand on that record. We have resisted union special interests, not allowed them to get into a gold plate the pension plan, nor have we raised wages. It doesn't happen by accident, and I'm proud of the record, and I believe the county needs experienced leadership to stand up for the taxpayer.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both so much, Bill Horn, Steve Gronke, thank you for speaking with us today.

STEVE GRONKE: Thank you Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let our listeners know that we will be hearing arguments for and against San Diego's Proposition D, that half cent sales tack, tomorrow at that time. And a reminder, election day is next Tuesday, November 2nd. You've been listening to These Days on KPBS.