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San Diego Mayoral Candidates Lose The Rules In 'No BS Debate'

Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis greets the audience at the "No BS Mayoral Debate."
Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis greets the audience at the "No BS Mayoral Debate."

Voice of San Diego's Tuesday night "No BS Mayoral Debate" tossed out the usual debate rules: There were no opening statements and no 30-second sound bites. Instead, Voice CEO Scott Lewis led the candidates in an engaging debate that produced several heated moments.

Full Audio For 'No BS Debate'
The full audio for Voice of San Diego's "No BS Debate" with the four leading candidates for San Diego mayor. Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis moderated the debate.

Lewis started out by telling the audience that although there were no time limits, when audience members felt one candidate was "droning on for too long," they should stomp their feet. The audience put this system to use repeatedly during the debate.

Lewis then told the candidates there would be no physical combat, to which former state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher responded, "Darn."


City Councilman David Alvarez, former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, City Councilman Kevin Faulconer and Fletcher had back-and-forths over wonky topics ranging from the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update to a fee to support affordable housing to the Property Value Protection Ordinance.

In one of his first questions, Lewis asked Fletcher what exactly his job is at Qualcomm.

Fletcher said someone at Qualcomm took a "screenshot of a database I don't use that said I hadn't logged on in for 31 days," and then conservative group The Lincoln Club used it to send out mailers saying Fletcher doesn't show up for work. That's not true, Fletcher said.

When Lewis pressed Fletcher on what his job is, Fletcher said he works on business development projects like a carbon reduction program, education projects and public safety projects.

Lewis then asked Faulconer about a quote from UC San Diego politics professor Steve Erie in a KPBS/inewsource story that said Faulconer is "all about scrubbing off the Republican label."


"I can help you do that," Fletcher joked, referencing his switch from the Republican Party to being an independent to the Democratic Party.

"I won't be changing my party tonight, once or twice or three times," Faulconer fired back.

He said party labels don't matter, that instead his focus is "about putting San Diego first."

Lewis asked Faulconer about a television ad promoting his plan for neighborhoods that said San Diego communities have been neglected for too long. Lewis asked Faulconer if he was referring to specific communities.

Faulconer said "many, many communities" in San Diego are struggling because of bad financial decisions made by the City Council in the past.

"We've had to make some very tough and difficult decisions that now allow us to start talking about, OK, where do we invest those dollars?" Faulconer said. "That's my Neighborhood Fairness Plan, which Mayor Sanders is talking about as well. It says we're going to invest those dollars into our streets, into our sidewalks, and that's where I'm going to invest my priorities."

Lewis asked Faulconer if some neighborhoods were more neglected than others, and Faulconer said some were, including Barrio Logan and Clairemont.

Fletcher then cut in saying the City Council "did make bad decisions, and Kevin, you were on that council for seven years, making those bad decisions."

"Which decision was that, Nathan?" Faulconer asked.

"I'm going to tell you," Fletcher said. "We've gone from the eighth worst roads in America to the fourth worst roads in America. There's been 37,000 911 calls, as reported by the Voice of San Diego, in the last two years alone, that were not answered in time. And during that time frame, you could say there was no money, but you found hundreds of millions of dollars through commissions and task forces and tax increases and other things to fund other things, and the communities that got left behind are primarily poorer, lower income communities of color."

"This is all coming from the guy who lifted the cap for downtown CCDC redevelopment to give more money to downtown," Alvarez added, referring to Fletcher's so-called "midnight deal" while he was a state Assemblyman. "That's Nathan Fletcher. Instead of the other communities."

Lewis also asked about a developing trend of referendums being used to reverse decisions by the City Council, the most recent of which is an attempt to bring the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update to a citywide vote.

"There's people with a lot of special interest money that are funding those campaigns," Alvarez said.

Fletcher said that it's too easy to put referendums on the ballot, and that groups with money can pass a referendum too easily.

"If you have enough money, you don't have to negotiate," he said.

But Aguirre responded that making it harder to pass referendums would hurt groups with less money.

"You're not going to be able to raise standards so high that rich people won't be able to put things on the ballot," he said.

"Nathan, I want to say something to you," Aguirre added. "You have recently joined the Democratic Party, and I want to, as a lifelong Democrat, give you a short exercise, a short education on, as a Democrat, we do not come out in favor of doing away with the direct democracy rights of the people."

Faulconer said he thinks the referendum process works well now.

All four candidates said they'd support an open data policy soon to be under consideration by the City Council's Rules and Economic Development Committee, but said they might chooser cheaper options to make data publicly available.

None of the candidates said they support paid parking at the beach, nor keeping bars open downtown until 4 a.m.

An audience member submitted a question that asked, "would you agree to resign if seven of nine city councilmembers called for you to resign?"

None of the candidates volunteered a promise to resign under those circumstances, which referenced former Mayor Bob Filner's initial refusal to step down over sexual harassment claims.

Alvarez was the only one to speak up, saying, "you've got serious problems if seven of nine councilmembers are calling on you to resign."

Corrected: February 25, 2024 at 5:21 AM PST
An earlier version of this story attributed the word "darn" to the wrong candidate. It has since been corrected.
The 2024 primary election is March 5. Find in-depth reporting on each race to help you understand what's on your ballot.