More than 100 people filled the community room of the La Jolla Village Square mall to hear candidates in the Dist. 1 City Council race pitch their platforms and field questions on everything from ballot initiatives and infrastructure funding to bicycle safety.
The debate, sponsored by the La Jolla Village Community Council, grew toasty from the heat of those assembled in the at-capacity room, many of whom stood or sat on the floor. At times, the discussion became equally heated as the candidates traded barbs on their performance and positions.
During his opening statement, progressive Democrat and pro-seal attorney Bryan Pease took a shot at incumbent Councilwoman and fellow Democrat Sherri Lightner for her reluctance to participate in debates with her rivals.
“This is the first and only debate, from my understanding, that all four candidates will be at,” Pease said.
During a question about library funding, Republican businessman and former city pension board president Ray Ellis also took aim at Lightner. An audience member asked whether the candidates would support reinstating a library ordinance endorsed by former mayor Dick Murphy in 2000. It would have used 4 percent from the city’s general fund for libraries, though the idea was nixed after the city’s pension underfunding scandal came to light.
Ellis cited Mayor Sanders’ managed competition mandate as a tool to save taxpayer dollars that could be used to fund libraries and other city services. He criticized Lightner and some of her council colleagues for not taking full advantage of managed competition, in which city workers bid against the private sector for jobs.
“Ms. Lightner was on the city council for over two years before they even did one (project),” Ellis said. “Thank goodness (Republic Councilwoman) Lorie Zapf joined the team and started to move that forward.”
Ellis noted that San Diego’s in-house fleet maintenance crew was required to bid for their jobs through managed competition last fall, resulting in a projected $4.4 million in taxpayer savings.
“Why in the world did it take so long?” Ellis said. “That would have been $20 million in our general fund if we had done that sooner.”
Lightner said she did “nothing to hold up managed comp.”
“We implemented it as fast as the mayor’s office brought things forward for it and we’ve been very successful with it,” she said. “I’ve been called a leader on managed comp.”
Lightner said she supports reinstating the library ordinance, adding, “It will have to be done carefully. … We have spent a lot of time with pension reform and getting managed comp going … but we can’t go hog wild with our savings.”
Republican candidate Dennis Ridz, who serves as chair of the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board, said he is concerned that library hours have not been restored yet.
“I don’t think those should have ever been cut to start with,” he said. “The library, particularly during the recession, was an important place. It’s a resource for this community, just like the rec centers.”