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Public Safety

San Diego City Attorney Candidates On The Issues

The candidates running for San Diego city attorney. From left to right: Mara Elliot, Gil Cabrera, Rafael Castellanos, Bryan Pease, Robert Hickey.
Courtesy Photos
The candidates running for San Diego city attorney. From left to right: Mara Elliot, Gil Cabrera, Rafael Castellanos, Bryan Pease, Robert Hickey.

The race for San Diego city attorney is among the most crowded for the June 7 election, with five candidates vying to replace termed-out Jan Goldsmith. Four Democrats are in the race — Gil Cabrera, Rafael Castellanos, Mara Elliott and Bryan Pease — and one Republican, Robert Hickey.

KPBS asked all of the candidates the same three questions. Because the city attorney traditionally does not advocate policy, the candidates were asked open-ended rather than yes-or-no questions.

The City Attorney's Office offers legal advice to city officials and departments. It also prosecutes misdemeanors, including domestic violence and fraud cases.


RELATED: Candidates For San Diego City Attorney Emphasize Experience

What role should the city attorney play in crafting a policy on the storage and public release of police body-worn camera footage?

Gil Cabrera: The City Attorney should play a key role in helping the city craft this policy. Primarily, the City Attorney should encourage the policy makers to create a consistent policy that encourages transparency and the release videos of public concern at set milestones (like at the end of the District Attorney’s investigation) while balancing the due process and privacy rights of all involved.

Rafael Castellanos: The city attorney should be very engaged and work diligently with all interested parties, including the Mayor, City Council, San Diego Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies, and community members and other stakeholders, to craft a policy that will successfully promote transparency and police accountability, weighed against the substantive and procedural due process considerations that exist during the course of criminal, civil and personnel investigations, as well as protection of the privacy rights of citizens. This is essential if we are to have mutual trust between the community and the police, and maintain the integrity of City Hall.

Mara Elliott: The public has a right to know what’s happening on its streets. I’d like to see police body camera footage posted in a searchable online database all residents can access 24-7. We need to ensure footage from any incident that involves lethal force or officer misconduct is publicly released immediately.


Robert Hickey: I’m a strong proponent for transparency and the public release of body-worn camera footage at the appropriate time in the legal process. We need to balance public access to information with due process and victims’ rights. Although the City Attorney should not be legislating policy, the next City Attorney needs an understanding of criminal investigations and prosecutions to help assist the policy makers.

Bryan Pease: I will always immediately release footage whenever there is a question of improper use of force. I will do this independently and not ask for approval from the mayor or city council. If the police refuse to release the footage, I will take legal action against the police to protect the public interest.

How would you use the City Attorney's Office to help the city close its infrastructure deficit?

Gil Cabrera: The City Attorney should be providing advice and counsel to the Mayor and City Council as they work to close the deficit. The City Attorney should work to provide the policy makers with as many options for funding and working on the infrastructure deficit as possible, while also advising the policy makers on potential liability risk of aging infrastructure and the importance of addressing those risks as quickly and effectively as possible.

Rafael Castellanos: I will use my career long finance and development experience, as well as my experience as a Port Commissioner working on large public infrastructure projects, to immediately evaluate the city’s ability to finance or otherwise pay for infrastructure repairs and improvements and then provide a menu of options to the Mayor and City Council. As part of such evaluation the city’s potential loan collateral, payment revenue streams, and bond issuance capacity will need to be analyzed working in partnership with the City’s Chief Operating Officer and the Independent Budget Analyst’s Office to make sure the legal analysis is based on sound economic assumptions that will protect the taxpayers.

Mara Elliott: I’ll work to strengthen the economy and attract jobs so we can invest more city revenue in fixing neighborhood infrastructure, without raising taxes. I’ll create a Business Development Unit in the City Attorney’s office to focus on supporting local businesses, attracting new industries and investing in underserved communities.

Robert Hickey: Timely and reliable legal analysis and advice are critical for any complex project, including infrastructure. With infrastructure issues in particular, time lost either to litigation or analysis costs taxpayers money and extends. My priority would be ensuring that the City avoids delays.

Bryan Pease: I will advise the mayor and council about all of the money being paid out in damages for people who are injured and property damaged by potholes, predictable flooding due to storm drain blockage, and other correctable problems that would save money in the long run to solve now.

What would you do as city attorney to address the potential statewide legalization of recreational marijuana?

Gil Cabrera: I would encourage and assist the policy makers in drafting legislation that creates a clearly defined, fair and efficient process to get appropriate permits for legal dispensaries consistent with state law, and responsive to neighborhood concerns.

Rafael Castellanos: I will immediately upon taking office provide an analysis of the potential issues that recreational marijuana legalization will create so that the Mayor and City Council can proactively begin to consider potential policy measures to address those issues now instead of the city being caught flat footed upon legalization. Analysis and proposed policy will have to take into account both the recent local ordinance passed by the City Council to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation & Safety Act that went into effect at the beginning of 2016. Regulation of recreational marijuana and medical marijuana must occur in a way that legally and effectively addresses the competing interests of adequate access to medical and recreational marijuana, public safety, licensing and enforcement, and neighborhood and trade industry concerns.

Mara Elliott: If California voters legalize marijuana, I’ll work closely with city officials and law enforcement to implement measures that regulate, tax and control marijuana. We must keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and away from schools and churches, create stiff penalties for DUIs, and ensure that tax revenue is put to good use in our communities.

Robert Hickey: The City Attorney will need to advise policy makers on the implementation or the new state marijuana laws as well as any local ordinances that may follow. Depending on what direction the policies go, code enforcement could play an important role in implementation. The Code Enforcement Unit in the City Attorney’s office was created to enforce a variety of land use regulations affecting the quality of life in San Diego and I intend to manage enforcement fairly, with an eye to ensure that every resident is provided the protections afforded them under local ordinances.

Bryan Pease: I will not enforce any laws against any use or possession of marijuana unless coupled with some other act that can harm someone, like driving while high or use near a school. So you could say that under my city attorney administration, there will be de facto legalization of recreational marijuana in San Diego, except if it rises to the level of a felony, in which case you can be sure (District Attorney) Bonnie (Dumanis) will prosecute the hell out of it.

Corrected: September 21, 2022 at 1:40 PM PDT
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reversed Rafael Castellanos' answers to questions on police body cameras and marijuana laws. It's been corrected.
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