- What does a San Diego City Councilmember do?
- What issues is the San Diego City Council facing?
- Who are the candidates for District 1?
- Who are the candidates for District 3?
- Who are the candidates for District 4?
- Who are the candidates for District 5?
- Who are the candidates for District 7?
- Who are the candidates for District 9?
- Find this race in your virtual ballot ↗
- Quiz: Where do the candidates stand on issues that matter to you? ↗
What does a city councilmember do?
The city council is the legislative body of the city of San Diego. They can review, amend and adopt new laws in the city, either at the suggestion of the mayor's office or on their own. The council is meant to act as a check on the mayor's power. Two offices — the Office of the City Auditor and the Office of the Independent Budget Analyst — aid the council in their oversight of city operations.
A major part of the council's duties relate to the budget. Every year, the council spends parts of April and May reviewing the mayor's proposed budget and suggesting changes before a final vote in June. They also review quarterly reports on how actual revenues and spending line up with the budget and can make mid-year adjustments, if necessary.
Another important part of a councilmember's job is constituent services. Constituents often contact their councilmember about a broken sidewalk, a tree that needs trimming or a street that needs traffic calming, and they expect the council office to help address their concerns.
What issues is the San Diego City Council facing?
Many of the complaints councilmembers receive from constituents related to homelessness: such as encampments blocking sidewalks or trash being left in neighborhoods. Councilmembers may or may not do direct, on-the-ground engagement with homeless people, but they and the mayor are responsible for larger policies around homelessness.
Examples of those policy questions include: Where should the city place new homeless shelters? How should shelters be operated and funded? And what role should police officers play in managing the homelessness crisis?
The council, in concert with the mayor, is responsible for planning where the city should allow new housing to be built. The council adopts community plans that set the zoning for every property in a neighborhood and determine the configuration of streets and other infrastructure. The council can also adopt citywide housing policies that preempt a property's zoning and allow for more density in exchange for affordable housing.
Nowadays, most housing projects fall within the city's development regulations and can get permitted without a public hearing. In some cases, a developer may seek a permit to build something that goes beyond what the zoning and other development rules allow. When this happens, the council often holds the power to approve or deny that development.
San Diego would have to raise an additional $4.8 billion in revenue over the next five years to fully fund all its infrastructure needs. Those include streets, streetlights, sidewalks, parks, libraries, police and fire stations, stormwater channels, city office buildings and more.
The mayor and city council can ask voters to raise taxes so the city has more funding for infrastructure. But California law requires such taxes to win a two-thirds majority to pass. Without more revenue, the mayor and council have to prioritize which infrastructure needs are the most urgent and which ones have to wait for funding.
Who are the candidates for District 1?
- Running unopposed after challengers failed to qualify for the ballot
- Registered Democrat
- Elected to represent District 1 in 2020
LaCava is a San Diego native who also previously worked as a civil engineer. Here's where he stands on some of the city's most critical issues.
“What I also focused on was the encampment ordinance. A bit controversial, but I saw that as an important driver for the city to step up to create the emergency shelters, the safe parking, and the safe camping, and which we have really begun to deliver on. We've got a lot more work, but I had not really seen us really step up previous to that ordinance being brought forward."
Streetlight cameras in San Diego have been off-limits to police for three years. But the City Council last August said they’d allow police to start using them again to capture video that could be used in investigations. The council voted 7-2 to approve the plan.
“We brought back smart street lights, which I think is an important component, especially for my constituents, who are always concerned about public safety. Of course, it had a little bit of a checkered history, but I think we brought it back in the right way. We'll see the rollout, I believe, this year going forward."
Lacava said his budget priorities are to maintain fiscal discipline, while ensuring public safety, health and addressing homelessness.
“This is going to be essentially the first budget that this council will face in which we do not have the relief dollars from the federal government. And what it will expose is the fact that we have a structural deficit in our budget. And, of course, we have to deliver a balanced budget."
He also said the city also needs to fill over 2,000 vacancies and retain skilled personnel to deliver essential services.
"We're starting to change some of our hiring practices to kind of streamline it so that we don't lose good candidates.”
LaCava said recent weather events, including King tides, storm surges and the storm on Jan. 22 highlighted the city's weaknesses in preventing flooding and ensuring stability in coastal areas.
“Whether it is ensuring we don't have flooding in our residential or business areas, how stable our coastal bluffs are, how stable our beaches are that make San Diego special, and how vulnerable all that is … has now risen in an unfortunate, dramatic and tragic way to the greater attention of the public.”
Who are the candidates for District 3?
- Philanthropy writer
- North Park Planning Committee member
Callen's website says she decided to run for city council after watching the city remove street parking and install protected bike lanes on 30th Street in North Park. She opposed the bike lanes and has opposed other higher-density housing developments in the area.
Callen says she wants to roll back the city's ADU bonus program, which allows homeowners to build small apartment buildings in their backyards if they agree to limit the rents on some of the units to affordable levels for middle-income households.
- Public interest attorney
Cusack is a law professor, substitute teacher and attorney who has represented homeless individuals pro bono. She opposed the city's camping ban, which was spearheaded by District 3's current councilmember, Stephen Whitburn, and the management of the city's designated campsites on the outskirts of Balboa Park.
Cusack's platform on her website says she believes the city should treat the homelessness crisis as a public health crisis, not a criminal matter.
Ellis California Jones
- Home energy inspector
Jones is the only candidate for any city office that won the endorsement of the San Diego County Republican Party. In an interview on Youtube, he said he grew up poor and experienced homelessness as a child before winning a football scholarship to San Jose State University. He didn't discuss city policy or why he's a Republican.
In 2006 Jones committed several armed robberies by posting fake Craigslist ads, using a taser on the victims and stealing their cash and electronics. He was convicted in 2011 and served several years in prison. His website says his time behind bars "ignited his passion for justice and paved the way for his journey into public service."
- City councilmember
Prior to his election in 2020, Stephen Whitburn worked as a radio broadcaster and nonprofit executive. He currently serves as the board chairman for the Metropolitan Transit System. He spearheaded the city's "unsafe camping ordinance," which allows police to cite and arrest people for camping in public. The law can only be enforced if suitable shelter is available and the person declines, or if the person is camping near a school, park or other sensitive area.
Whitburn has a big advantage in the race due to his incumbency and endorsements from deep pocketed interest groups such as local labor unions and business groups. But his tenure has not been without scandal: Whitburn's former chief of staff, Jesus Cardenas, was indicted on felony charges relating to a Paycheck Protection Plan loan he received. Prosecutors allege the loan application was fraudulent and that Cardenas used the money for personal expenses.
Whitburn has not been implicated in the criminal case. However, Whitburn did lead a push in 2021 and 2022 to relax regulations on marijuana shops — all while his chief of staff, Cardenas, had an economic interest in that policy reform because he was moonlighting as a consultant for cannabis retailers.
Who are the candidates for District 4?
Henry Foster III
- Chief of staff, San Diego County Supervisor Monica Montgomery Steppe
- Owns a local construction company
Foster said the city has a role to play as an employer in the development of District 4.
“The city, at one point in time, was the employer of choice for our region,” he said. “We need to get back to that. And the way that we do that is to make sure we have competitive compensation, that we have competitive benefits, and that we have competitive retirement plans.”
Foster said the city relies too much on the private market.
“I think one thing where we have missed some opportunities is actually looking at how can we directly impact the market,” he said. “Currently, if you look at what has been in place, we have consistently done what we have continued to do, and that's rely on the private market where I think as we approach the housing issues from a regional perspective. I think we also need to approach every component of housing from a regional perspective, meaning how do we address the materials that go into the projects? I think we need to look at a regional approach in how we buy the commodities. Right? The lumber, the windows, the doors, the concrete.”
Foster said the city needs to lean more on the county to address homelessness.
“The City of San Diego core services are that of infrastructure, are that of parks and rec, libraries, things of that nature, picking up our garbage,” he said. “I think we need to do more to lean on our regional partners, the other agencies. The county of San Diego is the public health agency of the region. I think the county needs to own a bigger part in the homelessness situation. Oftentimes you find the county likes to just deal in the unincorporated areas. I think they need to do a better effort of coming into the incorporated efforts and looking at how they can assist. They need to directly invest in the problem, and I think that has been an issue.”
Foster said the police department needs to be held accountable for data showing racial disparities.
“There's clear data that shows we have issues, that shows that the issues that have been brought up for decades, specifically in Districts 4, 8 and 9,” he said. “There are biases that need to be addressed, and specifically when it comes to African American individuals or Latino individuals, we need to step up and do what's right. Now, that's a very challenging conversation, but I think we need to have accountability. We need to sit down with our police officers, and they need to acknowledge that they have issues that need to be addressed and they should be leaders in the communities and step up to come ready to address those issues.”
Key endorsements: Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber; Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber; Supervisor Monica Montgomery Steppe; Council President Sean Elo-Rivera; Council President Pro Tem Joe LaCava; Councilmember Kent Lee; San Diego County Democratic Party; Municipal Employees’ Association; AFSCME Local 127; Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club; Democrats for Equality; Black and African Women Rise Democratic Club
- Executive Assistant for State Senate District 39
- Prior, worked for civil rights nonprofits and city and county government
Suseberry said the key to economically developing District 4 is supporting small businesses.
“Small businesses used to be the fabric of our community,” she said. “They were thriving along this corridor and now they're vacant, they're abandoned. There's no one there. And so for me, I want to bring that back. And I think working with the San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, together with our office, we can do that. We can bring back more entrepreneurship, we can bring back young minds, we can bring back this community so it can thrive again.”
Suseberry said the discussion around affordable housing needs to be tailored to the demographics of the district.
“When we talk about affordable, affordable for who?” she said. “When they talk about affordable, it's not affordable for the median income that lives in this area. So for me, again, when you talk about affordable and housing, we need to look at the demographics. We need to look at who's here. Our children won't be able to buy a home here. And so that's heartbreaking when you raise your children here. I have two adult children that I raised here. They won't be able to purchase a home here. The housing market is just out of range.”
Suseberry said the city should lean both on the county and on local nonprofit organizations to address homelessness.
“Homelessness is a county issue,” she said. And I think (we should) work closely with the county ... to bring wraparound services here. There's a lot of organizations here currently working with our homeless. I think we need to tie in faith-based organizations. I think we need to tie in nonprofit organizations.”
Suseberry emphasized better training for the police.
“Training is really important to me with homelessness,” she said. “We have a lot of mental illness also. And when our young people, as well as old people, are being picked up by police in the community, I think that we need to do more with training so they can understand that some of our community members are ill. But I would love to cultivate a relationship with the police department for us to work together to strengthen their relationship with our community as well.”
Key endorsements: No public endorsements yet
- Boards and Commissions Director for Mayor Todd Gloria
- Owns a media and marketing company
Endorsed by: Mayor Todd Gloria; U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas; California State Senator Steven Bradford; San Diego City Councilmembers Jennifer Campbell and Marni von Wilpert
Warren-Darby said the city council is doing what it can, but could do a better job engaging the public in the process.
“There's a lot of things that are going on that people do not know about,” she said. “They have issues with finding out about the council meetings, committee meetings, trying to tie it all together, seeing where they fit in the process. And I feel like if we can communicate better with constituents, they'd be better informed and they'd better inform us about what they need. And so it just wouldn't be a big top-down approach, but they would genuinely be included in what we're doing, and they'd understand the progress that's being made, the work that's being done, and they can see some results.”
Warren-Darby said the city is working to address the issue.
“The steps that have been implemented are steps that need to be taken,” she said. “We're definitely behind in our housing builds, and so we're working on that. We have our Housing Action Package 2.0 plan that's going to kind of alleviate some of the red tape in that area. But I think the city is taking steps towards that, and it takes time to build housing. Unfortunately, the work hadn't been done in administrations past to get us up in numbers, but we're making do with that. So, catching up.”
Warren-Darby emphasized the county’s role in addressing homelessness.
“I definitely believe in a compassionate approach,” she said. “I think we need to make sure we have a lot more resources available and continue to strengthen our partnership with the county. A lot of this does fall under the county's purview. I think the city has done a great job at stepping up and providing resources to help supplement some of the things that maybe the county isn't doing or can't do. Sometimes people do come to the city for resources, not really understanding the difference between city and county government.”
Warren-Darby said the city needs to do a better job at creating a pipeline to the police force for District 4 residents.
“I believe in policing that's for us, by us,” she said. “Our police force needs to reflect more of the constituents in our community, especially our communities of color. We could do better at creating a pipeline to employment with the police department.”
“I know when I was growing up in District 4, I knew all the officers. They knew us,” she said. “You don't really have that anymore. So we need to get back to that. We need to make our police force a lot more appealing. That includes paying well. That includes making sure that mental health is addressed and that they're better supported.”
Key endorsements: Mayor Todd Gloria; U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas; California State Senator Steven Bradford; San Diego City Councilmembers Jennifer Campbell and Marni von Wilpert
Who are the candidates for District 5?
Marni von Wilpert
- Running unopposed after challengers failed to qualify for the ballot
- Elected to represent District 5 in 2020
- Registered Democrat
Von Wilpert is a San Diego (Scripps Ranch) native. She founded a legal clinic associated with the Mississippi Center for Justice and worked as an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board. She also served as a staffer on the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. Before being elected in 2020, she served as deputy city attorney.
As the chair of the public safety committee at city hall, she said ensuring public safety is her top priority.
Previously a deputy city attorney, one of her most significant achievements was drafting a law prohibiting the sale of illegal ghost guns and unserialized gun parts. The law was drafted after a tragic mass shooting in April 2021, where the shooter, unable to pass a background check, used a ghost gun.
"Now, to buy weapon parts in the city of San Diego, you need to have serialized gun parts so that you have to pass a background check to buy the unassembled parts of a weapon, just like you do to buy a fully assembled firearm."
Von Wilpert said constituents have been grappling with potholes and failing roads citywide after more than a decade of road underinvestment. After being elected in 2020, she said she called for a comprehensive study to assess road conditions and proposed the implementation of a five-year plan.
“We can't just keep throwing money at a problem blindly without having actual data to show which roads need help, which don't. But we're going to have really tough conversations on the budget and the city is going to need to do some belt tightening to make sure that we continue to provide services, but figure out how we're going to fill those gaps.”
Homelessness and housing
Von Wilpert said she supports the camping ordinance approved by city council and signed into law last year.
"We saw the death rate of unsheltered people in San Diego skyrocket, especially because of fentanyl and predatory drug dealers that were preying on unsheltered people on the street. So we said, health and safety. You cannot sleep on the street. We had a Hepatitis A outbreak years ago. It's not a safe place. At the same time, if someone has nowhere to go, we do have an obligation to provide a shelter as a city. So we opened the first safe camping area in all of California to its scale. It's incredible — 400 spots"
She said she advocates for prioritizing affordable and middle-income housing over market-rate development. She also said she supports repurposing some city-owned properties for affordable housing.
"I personally want to see the indoor skydiving center that the city bought years ago before I was elected, I want us to sell that property, demolish it, and instead build affordable housing on that site," she said. "We're not going to solve this crisis if all we do is permit buildings that have 10% inclusionary affordable housing."
Who are the candidates for District 7?
- Running unopposed; no one filed to run against him
- Elected to represent District 7 in 2020
- Registered Democrat
Campillo is a San Diego native and worked as a 5th grade public school teacher in North Las Vegas before attending Harvard Law School, where he received his degree. Before being elected to city council, he worked at the San Diego City Attorney’s office. He currently chairs the Mission Trails Regional Park Task Force.
In 2021, Campillo supported establishing the Office of Child and Youth Success, which, he said, has helped support city employees and external organizations in increasing child care slots. He said childcare costs rank high in family budgets, and addressing this has been a priority for him.
"I'm a new father as of twelve weeks ago. So even before I became a dad, it really mattered to me that people could find that affordable option near their home.”
He said he's proud of the work the city council has done to pave more than 230 roads.
“That's actually a big accomplishment because that's a public safety issue. It's a community beautification issue. People feel more comfortable and happy in their neighborhood, so I think that reverberates a lot more than just a paved road and the state of their tires and axles. And so I'm very proud of that.”
Campillo said since passing the camping ordinance last year, the city has increased shelter options for people experiencing homelessness. He said that has helped reduce the number of unhoused people Downtown, "and that means a lot of the businesses and their employees feel more comfortable going downtown."
“Looking back on that vote, we all wondered, what is the impact of this going to be? And I think that in the last seven months, we've seen a lot more unhoused individuals taking services, a lot more choosing to go from a sidewalk to a tent that the city helps operate and connect them to food and showers and health care and social services, and to take up those options that we have for them.”
Campillo said San Diego needs more senior centers and amenities for the aging population.
“If we're going to have people living longer, we have to provide them with the community health and wellness that everybody gets. So in my second term, I am definitely going to be emphasizing a lot more on how we can help our retired and aging population because that is an issue that is going to carry on beyond the four years of my second term.”
Retention of city employees
He said for two decades, city employee treatment was poor. Now, with improved conditions, people want to work for the city of San Diego. Campillo said the recent substantial raises for public safety employees and ongoing contract negotiations reflect this progress.
"I don't want anyone to think that means I am satisfied by any measure. And I know Mayor Gloria is not satisfied. No council member is satisfied with where we're at. But we know the last three years have changed the direction of this ship, that it's far better off than it was."
Who are the candidates for District 9?
- Elected to the city council in 2020 and serving his third term as council president, re-elected by a 5-4 vote
- Former trustee of the San Diego Community College District
- Registered Democrat
Homelessness and housing
Elo-Rivera said when he entered office in 2020, he declared homelessness and housing his top priorities. He said despite the city taking multiple steps to tackle these issues, homelessness persists on the streets of San Diego. Real progress, he said, requires effective prevention strategies to match the scale of the issue.
"I just don't think that we've been able to do it with the sort of scale that we need to match the problem ... We will not begin to make the progress that everyone should expect to see and wants to see until we get better at prevention.”
Elo-Rivera said communities severely affected by the recent storm had been long-neglected. In his district, he said, many face displacement and homelessness.
“We have a lot of folks who are in a really tough spot right now, and we're going to need to figure out how to support them, how to keep them from falling into homelessness or from having to move from San Diego, because how tragic is that? These folks who know invested, these are families with children. These are seniors who spent their lives trying to buy a home and then working to keep that home and now have lost that home. They shouldn't be displaced from San Diego as a result of an act of God. And so we've got some serious work cut out for us.”
Tension on the city council
Elo-Rivera said, as council president, it's crucial to challenge the status quo and make sure work is done for communities that need it most.
“And there were hard feelings afterward. And would I prefer that there have not been? Sure. But I also know that those additional resources that went to those communities were really important. And so there is an ever challenging and ongoing balancing act, right, of ensuring that we are not creating so much conflict that we're not getting work done."
Getting through COVID and making progress
He said when he started his term amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the council faced challenges in connecting and collaborating. If elected, he's eager to address unfinished work on this issue, foster relationships and build upon a collective vision.
“I look forward to, as someone who spent years working with community to make change on tough issues, being able to be in the room with people for another four years, I desperately want to do that because I know that when you get in the room together and you work on creating a collective vision, you can find ways to work together, even if you might disagree on some of the ways that we might want to get there.”
- Running to unseat Sean Elo-Rivera
- Registered Democrat
- Retired San Diego police officer
Hoskins most recently worked as a community relations police officer. He also served 26 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Why he says he should replace Elo-Rivera
Hoskins said he's actively addressed quality of life issues with community members, organizing meetings on homelessness and crime. He said he understands community frustrations with elected officials.
“The majority of the community that I interact with at all the community meetings, all the planning group meetings, they feel like they've got no representation since Marti Emerald left. I want to make District 9 the people's district. San Diego is what? America's finest city, right? We would all agree to that. District 9 is the most diverse district in San Diego. District nine should be San Diego's finest district, but it isn't. We're going to change that.”
He said ensuring public safety is his top priority, extending beyond funding to fostering a supportive relationship with law enforcement.
“When COVID was going on, the only groups that went to work every day as if nothing was going on was law enforcement, firefighters and medics. The city originally didn't even give us any protective equipment. We had to go out and buy our own mask. So the number one thing I would probably do is revitalize that relationship between the elected officials and law enforcement."
Hoskins said there are suitable areas for affordable housing with proper infrastructure and placing them in high-rises within single-family neighborhoods lacks supportable infrastructure — like parking.
“Our roads and streets are already so crowded, we don't have parking originally. They're already taking parking away for bicycle lanes that no one ever uses, at least in District 9 area," he said. "But yet they're still minimizing the roads and taking off parking for businesses that rely on street parking. So I would change that. I would make an honest effort to reverse all of that.”
“I think the city made the right choice to put a ban in a humanitarian method. And at the same time, our councilmember (Elo-Rivera) voted against it. But yet his staffers that work in the communities will be the first ones to report homeless encampments that they want to be moved. But yet he voted against it. So I think there's a bit of hypocrisy there.”
Tension on the city council
“This is probably the only council president that I've seen consistently treat people like he has no respect for who's ever talking. He cuts people off. He threatens to silence them. If they're saying that they get out, or if he thinks they get out of line, he doesn't look at them, he looks everywhere else. He turns around, he's laughing with someone in the back. And I think the other councilmembers recognize that if he does that to us, what's he doing to them? Our party, historically, and I still believe it is today, support women hugely. That's what we do. That is what we do.
His own council members who are female, they feel like they're being bullied. Again, I think there's some ethical things that has surfaced at the council level, and I think that shows the rift. I think that change needs to happen, and I hope I'm part of that change.”
- Running to unseat Sean Elo-Rivera
- Registered Independent
- Small Business Owner, owns Schools Solar
Garcia is also a member of the San Diego Association of Realtors and a member of the Kensington/Talmadge Business Association.
Why he says he should replace Elo-Rivera
Garcia said local politics matter to him because, as a representative, he would be able influence "the things that we see every day, day in and day out." He said currently, the city council lacks leadership in District 9
“They're not really listening to the planning groups, they're not listening to the associations, they're not really listening to the community here in District 9. And I plan to change that. And I want to represent District 9 and have an effect on the things that I see day in and day out. And that's why I'm running for city council.”
Garcia said enforcing the camping ban is crucial, but long-term collaboration with the county, state and federal entities is vital.
“We have a policy of enablement as opposed to empowerment, meaning that the streets should not be an option when it comes to people being unhoused. We need to take that away as an option. Shelter or temporary shelter, or what some people might call triage, is the fastest way to get people off the street. And then from there, we can be able to find long-term solutions."
Strategic planning for larger shelters with consolidated services is necessary amid an impending deficit and potential recession, he said.
"One of the things that city council isn't really talking about, they're starting to talk about it, is the deficit that's coming up, and on top of that, the potential of a recession, which is only going to exacerbate the deficit that we currently face.”
Garcia said SB 10 has good intentions but the wrong approach.
"I'm all for building more and making it easier, but I think we need to do it more strategic, more responsibly, because, quite frankly, in many of these neighborhoods, we don't have the parking or the infrastructure to handle some of the things that SB 10 would have brought to San Diego and parts of District 9," he said.
He also proposes incentives for affordable ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units), like property tax breaks.
"For example, if somebody builds an ADU for $250,000, what we could do is we can exempt that from their property tax so they don't pay for that additional property tax. They would get it as long as they agree to rent it at affordable rates. So it's an incentive to the homeowner, not these big builders or developers, and it adds more housing,” he said.
Tension on the city council
Garcia said as an independent, he prioritizes voters over party allegiance. He said even with ideological differences, every voice should be heard.
"That's a big problem that I think Sean (Elo-Rivera) has, because even in District 9, he's really alienating a lot of neighborhoods here by not showing up to meetings or just being dismissive of their concerns.”
Cost of energy
Garcia said he aims to replace SDG&E with a local public utility. He said San Diegans pay the country's highest utility rates.
“And the reason we pay that is because not of the generation of the electricity, but the transmission of the electricity. So by localizing that and really incentivizing people to go solar as opposed to what the California Public Utility Commission is doing, which is killing solar.”
🗳️ Vote-by-mail ballots begin to be sent to all active California registered voters starting Feb 3. The last day to register to vote is Feb. 20. (If voters miss this deadline they can still register and vote in person at any vote center location.) March 5 is the statewide primary election day but many vote centers are open prior to election day. Vote center and drop-off locations close at 8 p.m. on election day.