Councilwoman ready to get back to local issues
By Kathy Day
Councilwoman Sherri Lightner thought she might be able to focus on mundane things like water and potholes during the City Council's August recess.
But surprise! Instead she and her colleagues jawed about a sales tax and pension reform as they struggled to come up with a plan that they think voters will buy to help plug the city's impending deficit. The city dealt with a $72 million deficit a year ago and another $179 million this past December and still faces a gaping hole.
One of six councilmembers who voted to put a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot once they agreed that it be tied to fiscal reform measures, she said in a wide-ranging interview last week that she backed it because she believes "voters should have the option of having the choice."
Meanwhile, she has set her sights on three key issues for the coming months:
- Establishing a task force to develop a local coastal plan,
- Defining a unified water policy that looks at more than just setting rules about what days you can water, and
- Developing an economic development strategy for the city, something she noted is supposed to be done every three years, but hasn't been.
The coastal plan, a topic she raised when the city council met in La Jolla to come up with a plan for the seals at the Children's Pool, is important so the city can stay ahead of any situation that could arise, she noted.
She said residents have thanked her for the new rules at the Children's Pool, telling her this is the calmest summer in recent memory.
Moving forward, she said, she's pleased that the mayor decided to remove the proposal for a new city hall from the ballot because with the "monetary situation, it's not a good time. I recognize concerns exist (about the safety of the current facility), but I don't subscribe to that. "
It's more important, she added, "to spend money on water and sewers and streets than a new city hall. ... We need to get the lines replaced before they break."
On her immediate list of things to get done is moving forward with designs for an improved Torrey Pines corridor and solving not just the pothole problems on La Jolla Parkway, but also dealing with stormwater running down the parkway that, along with invasive species in the area, threatens the Area of Special Biological Significance off La Jolla Shores.
As for the potholes, which continue to grow along the parkway, she said her staff is pushing for the work to get done. However, it's not that simple because it would have to be done at night and is further complicated by La Jolla's summer construction moratorium that reaches to Labor Day.
"Maybe La Jolla Parkway can be the poster child for potholes," she said.
Meanwhile, she said, a preliminary design for Torrey Pines Road may be presented to community groups as soon as September that will outline ways to slow traffic, increase safety and walkability within the corridor, and beautify and enhance views.
While these projects are on Lightner's office agenda, she said, the tax measure pushed them to the backburner as the council sought a solution to the larger deficit problem.
"I heard from Rancho Penasquitos residents who are most affected by the brownouts (because their stations are covering Mira Mesa) and also from some folks who have called relative to lifeguards," she said, noting that their concerns helped her make the decision.
Now, she said, she's "hearing mostly from people who don't like the tax."
But with the reforms built in, which she hopes can be at least partially accomplished by December, she thinks the proposition is fair.
While she backs the measure, she said she does not plan to actively campaign for it because she wants to focus on working on the reforms and to encourage people to vote for the amendment to what's known as Proposition M that impacts Carmel Valley. All San Diego voters have a say on it, not just Carmel Valley residents, so Lightner wants to make sure they know that it's not about taxes.
None of the November ballot measures have names yet, but the Prop. M amendment would remove restrictions placed on the Pacific Highlands Ranch development along Highway 56 to construction of the Interstate 5-Highway 56 interchange.
As it stands now, until that connector is built, the community's developers cannot proceed with a shopping center promised when homes were purchased.
"The message is clear," the councilwoman said. "If it is not approved the community won't have any amenities until 2020, if then."
She said she's particularly concerned that an anti-tax mood could put voters in a "no" mood across the board. Her message, she said, will be that "this doesn't cost taxpayers."