Communities are being shortchanged and deprived of basic services like libraries, road maintenance and recreation centers, according to San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez and former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who addressed an audience of more than 40 at the Point Loma Masonic Lodge.
But the two parted ways when outlining their solutions to the ailments.
Echoing a theme expressed by disgraced, departed Mayor Bob Filner, Alvarez’ comments reflected the view that too much emphasis has been placed on downtown redevelopment, to the detriment of community needs.
“Our city is really at a crossroads,” Alvarez said. “We have this opportunity to build a city that is based on our wonderful neighborhoods. The question we need to ask is: ‘Are we going to keep giving away money downtown or are we going to spend it in the neighborhoods where we can actually reach the citizens and make an impact?’” he asked.
Aguirre said the city treasury is being drained by pension obligations and he asserted he was the only candidate to face the facts.
“I have a major difference with the other three candidates,” Aguirre said. “As mayor, I want you to know we don’t have enough money to pay for everything [because] we’re spending $275 million on pensions.”
Aguirre and Alvarez, both Democrats in the officially nonpartisan election, were the only candidates among the four hopefuls invited to the forum to actually appear in person.
Nathan Fletcher, a former Republican state assemblyman who switched parties to Independent and now Democrat, is a senior director of corporate development for Qualcomm. He was represented at the forum by Rachel Laing, the campaign’s communications director. Fletcher apparently could not attend due to a work-related commitment, Laing said.
The only Republican candidate, District 2 City Councilman Kevin Faulconer, reportedly declined because of a prior engagement, said Jon Carr, the Town Council’s corresponding secretary. Carr said he emailed back to suggest sending a representative, as Fletcher did, but received no response from the Faulconer camp. After the forum, Faulconer aides did not respond to an email from the Beacon.
Candidates or their representatives were offered five minutes to make a statement and five minutes to take questions.
Alvarez underscored his support for the city’s town councils and said the lack of mechanisms for community input spurred his activism in his Barrio Logan community.
“We didn’t have any of these councils, because nobody had taken the initiative. I got involved in government because I thought I could make a difference,” Alvarez said. “When the community is involved, and you can voice your concerns. It can really make a difference.”
Responding to questions, Alvarez said he favored medical marijuana dispensaries but wants zoning that allows better geographical distribution of such facilities. On the issue of a new Chargers stadium, he said he opposed using public funds.
Aguirre was also wary of public spending for a Chargers stadium and pointed out he filed a lawsuit as city attorney to try and end the infamous ticket guarantee. But he said that amount of money was “miniscule” compared to the city’s pension obligations.
Aguirre said he still believes pension benefit increases granted during the mayoral administrations of Susan Golding and Dick Murphy were illegal, but that he no longer favors a court-ordered remedy.
“Every single investigation into the pension benefits concluded they were given illegally,” Aguirre said. “I’m not saying we should have a lawsuit about it. I’m saying we need a mayor who is going to come and tell you the truth and then work together to have a consensus.”
Laing said Fletcher often bucked the Republican party during his time in the state legislature and worked with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to close a corporate tax loophole during budget discussions.
“He could have been one of the minority-party naysayers that doesn’t get anything done,” Laing said. “He got a lot of grief from Republicans.”
Fletcher, who switched his party affiliation to Independent during his mayoral campaign last year and has since re-registered as Democrat, boasts endorsements from labor groups, environmental groups and several Democratic office holders, Laing said.
In other Town Council news
• San Diego could become the second city in the county to ban plastic grocery bags and charge 10 cents for paper, said Roger Kube, chairman of the county chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. The ban would not apply to plastic bags in the produce section, said Kube, who was invited to address board members about an ordinance under consideration by the San Diego City Council. Only five percent of the 500 million single-use plastic bags used annually throughout the city gets recycled, Kube said.
• Terri Wyatt, who is running for San Diego County district attorney next year, introduced herself to board members. Wyatt had been a deputy district attorney for the county until retiring last month to devote herself to campaigning. She described herself as a “career prosecutor, not a politician” and said expanding the elder-abuse unit is one of the changes she would make, if elected.
• A new slate of officers for 2013-14 took their seats for the first time: Gretchen Kinney Newsom, president; Stephen Grosch, vice president; Melinda Therkalsen, treasurer; Marin Green, recording secretary; and Jon Carr, correspondence secretary. Committee chairs are: Jim Musgrove, Community Enhancement; Anthony Palmiotto, Community Relations; Jody Thompson, Membership; Dave Cieslak, Public Relations; Jenn Avoledo, Ocean Beach MainStreet Association liaison; and Giovanni Ingolia, Ocean Beach Planning Board liaison.
• Citizens curious about “Life Journey,” a proposed memorial to replace the current Veterans’ Plaza at the foot of Newport Avenue, can get more information at the Ocean Beach Planning Board’s next monthly meeting Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave. Grosch said he will make a presentation and ask for support. More information is available at obcdc.org.
• Members of the Ocean Beach Elementary PTA and OB Kiwanis Club were on hand to accept grants presented by Musgrove for service to the community, including help during last month’s annual Pier Breakfast fundraising tradition.
• Roughly 100 works of art from local Great Depression-era artists will be on display this month for the first time in decades. The Ocean Beach Historical Society’s program, “Landscapes Rediscovered Featuring John DeBeck” will take place Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. at the United Methodist Church, 1984 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. DeBeck, a former longtime board member on the San Diego Unified School District, found out local schools had acquired paintings created by acclaimed San Diego artists Charles Reiffel, Maurice Braun and others, commissioned under the Works Progress Administration as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal Program.” DeBeck found out the donated art had disappeared or was set aside, said Kathy Blavatt of the Historical Society.
• There’s a new addition to the list of local government representatives who give monthly reports to the Town Council. Chet Barfield, community outreach aide to interim Mayor Todd Gloria, introduced himself to the board. “I’ll be working with the Town Council over the coming weeks and months trying to find out what we can do for you guys,” Barfield said.