Candidates squared off before a packed house at a Feb. 17 mayoral forum at La Jolla Community Center two weeks before the March 3 primary election.
The six candidates — Gita Applebaum Singh, Barbara Bry, Todd Gloria, Scott Sherman, Tasha Williamson and Rich Riel — answered queries on everything from homelessness and affordable housing to short-term vacation rentals.
Only the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, will go on to the November runoff, where San Diegans will select a new mayor to replace termed-out incumbent Kevin Faulconer.
The public event, sponsored by La Jolla Town Council, was moderated by Town Council President Ann Kerr Bache.
The ensuing debate turned testy at times. City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry, from District 1 (which includes La Jolla), went on the offensive against two of her competitors, Democrat Assemblyman Todd Gloria and Republican City Council colleague Scott Sherman. Bry attacked them for allegedly accepting special-interest money to fuel their campaigns.
“This is not a debate, this is a candidate’s forum,” cautioned Kerr Bache, who asked candidates prepared questions.
The first question sought candidates’ views on what to do about the growing homelessness problem.
“Homelessness could be any one of us,” said Applebaum Singh, a nurse practitioner. “It is someone who is one paycheck away from being on the street. I propose creating a team to go out and address the root cause of homelessness.”
“We need to focus on the root causes of homelessness, which include mental health and substance-abuse issues,” Bry said. “If we don’t address those … just giving someone a place to live will not be a long-term solution.”
Candidate Riel, who has been employed with the San Diego City Housing Commission said, “Homeless should be in mental health facilities, not jail. That’s a mistake. They need special treatment for addiction.”
Gloria, 78th District Assembly member representing La Jolla said, “We need to break with the status quo. Ending chronic homelessness starts with leadership from the mayor’s office making it the top priority in the city. We need to spend money on what actually works.”
“We’ve been doing some things at the city that have been working — homeless shelters, permanent supportive housing,” said Sherman. “We also need to focus more on the enforcement side. Crimes committed by people who are homeless are still crimes and need to be enforced.”
“Look around the room, see who’s not here,” answered Williamson, a community activist working with families who’ve lost members to police violence. “People of color are disproportionately impacted.”
Regarding short-term vacation rentals (STVRs), a hot-button issue especially along the coast, candidates were asked if they would enforce existing municipal codes forbidding rentals in single-family neighborhoods.
“I would enforce the law,” said Gloria. “If you don’t like the law — change it.”
“I’ve advocated regulating STVRs to allow primary homes and one other,” said Sherman.
“I don’t want strangers in our neighborhoods,” answered Applebaum Singh.
“We need to bring people to the table,” said Williamson. “The city is failing to do that.”
“San Diego government has failed you,” said Bry. “I will enforce our municipal code. Short-term rentals are not allowed in single-family neighborhoods.”
“We need to address the underlying cause, the accelerated rate of housing prices in San Diego,” concluded Riel.