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Barbara Bry shares her views on running for City Council

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Barbara Bry during an interview with La Jolla Light
Ashley Mackin / Ashley Mackin

Although San Diego City Council District 1 candidate Ray Ellis (R) has withdrawn from the November run-off race, sole candidate and La Jolla resident Barbara Bry (D) is still actively campaigning. Bry sat down with the La Jolla Light staff to talk about her plans for the all-but-clinched four-year term, and discuss Village issues and how a high-tech entrepreneur from Philadelphia could become La Jolla’s next City Council representative.

What prompted your candidacy?

“I’ve lived in San Diego for 35 years, mostly in La Jolla, and I’ve been involved in the community … and I’ve been involved in politics (for other candidates). In 2008, I started Run Women Run, which is a non-partisan group to elect qualified San Diego women, and that got me more engaged in meeting elected officials and learning what they do. With a business in La Jolla Shores for 10 years, I’ve watched the street be torn up a few times, and after the scandal in City Hall (over women’s sexual harassment claims against former Mayor Bob Filner) it all came to a head at a family dinner when I was talking about these issues with my two daughters. They turned to me and said, ‘Mom, you should run for City Council.’ That was in February 2014.”

What do the next few months of the campaign look like for you?

“I still want to learn as much about District 1 as I can. (A few weeks ago), I spent three hours canvassing University City, and my team and I participated in a community clean-up. I plan to continue to do (outreach like) that as much as possible. In the early part of our campaign, our Neighborhood Coffees were extremely important, we did 45 of them in different parts of the district and we’ve scheduled new ones. They are an important way for me to meet, in small groups, community residents and learn more about their issues and concerns. At the same time, I’m trying to learn more about the issues the City will be confronting. I’m just starting to set up meetings to learn more about that. So it’s pretty much non-stop until November, but my husband and I will take a few days off after the election.”

How will you handle issues where the community and City disagree, such as with DecoBike? The community unanimously objected to the kiosks, but the City may still proceed with their installation.

“When it comes to DecoBike, the community has some valid points. But the reason we want something like DecoBike is we want people to take bikes to reduce air pollution … and I know we have a lot of neighborhood bike shops that rent bikes, so what if there was an app that coordinated all the neighborhood bike shops, so you could rent a bike at one spot and return it at another?

With neighborhood bike shops, the bikes would be more customized depending on your size, and they can provide helmets, so why don’t we get the bike shops to join together in some way? Technology makes that very easy today, that could make everybody happy.

There are more ways to answer something than what people might see as the obvious. (In cases where constituents and the city disagree) my approach is to get everyone in the room and around the table, where hopefully, there would be some sort of workable solution. What I know about politics is that it is the art of the possible. Everyone usually makes a concession and every situation will be unique, but the way I operate is to hear every point of view and try and get everyone to come to a consensus.”

What are your thoughts on the city permitting process, through which La Jollans will spearhead a project, and then wait while it takes years to see it completed?

“I have not had personal experience with this, but I hope we can do a better job.”

In campaigning, you said you want to keep District 1 safe, clean and prosperous. How will you address these issues in La Jolla?

“Safety is mostly related to police. We have around 170-190 unfilled vacancies in the San Diego Police Department and I want to work with the Police Department on a plan to recruit and retain officers. Hopefully, that will allow a more visible police presence in the Village area. ... Secondarily, Bird Rock has a great Neighborhood Watch program … but my neighborhood doesn’t have a Neighborhood Watch and I thought I would start one in my community and encourage other neighborhoods do the same.

Clean: When you go to the beach after a weekend, there is trash everywhere. So keeping our beaches clean, means getting better trash cans at the beaches, and I don’t understand where there aren’t recycling bins right next to all the trash cans. That’s a big priority for me.

Prosperous: That’s related to jobs. District 1 is the heart of the innovation economy and biotech, in particular, is centered in La Jolla. I really care about making sure this world continues to succeed, but one of the major issues for these companies is access to capital, which comes from all over the world. Many of them feel investors don’t understand the amount of innovation taking place in San Diego, they think of the Zoo and the beaches, they don’t think of us as an intellectual and scientific powerhouse. I want to work on changing that, and as a city official, I have a platform to stand on I wouldn’t have as a private citizen.

I can talk to investors from all over the world as to why this is a good place to do business. Since this is the world I come out of, I have a credibility that a normal elected official doesn’t have. I also want to work on establishing more internship opportunities for high school and college students with high tech and biotech companies. So as more and more finish college, they will stay here.”

Our roads are already saturated and it’s hard to get here from other areas. Do you have any transit or transportation plans?

“The trolley is coming to UTC … hopefully that will help that area a lot for those who work on campus or the hospitals; they can use the trolley to get to work. But for the Village, the first part of the traffic synchronization system has gone in (at La Jolla Shores Drive), I don’t know what the results are, but I’d like to see that system expanded up Torrey Pines Road.

Another idea is to (support the use of Coastal Access and Parking Funds to) pilot a program to run shuttles from UCSD to the Village during the summer. People who work in the Shores or the Village, or tourists, can park at UCSD and take the shuttle around. Maybe we could use UCSD busses that aren’t used as much in the summer. I’d like to explore that and at least try it in the summer to see if that might alleviate some things.”

Working in La Jolla Shores, do you have any ideas to address sea level rise?

“I don’t have a solution right now, but I’d like to learn more.”

What is the one thing you’d like to see completed or solidified during your term?

“I’ve been focused on neighborhood issues and wanting to work with each community on early things we could actually achieve. In La Jolla, I think that would be (regulation of) Short-Term Vacation Rentals and a solution to the stench at The Cove. In University City, it’s building at least one more fire station. In Carmel Valley, it’s monitoring the construction of One Paseo and ensuring the community has access to emergency services and appropriate response times as traffic increases.

Overall, I’d like to build more housing in the city in areas that’s appropriate. It’s not really a District 1 issue because we’re built out and zoned for what we’re going to have. But I’d like to work on both housing and moving the innovation economy further south from downtown. There are already about 120 small software companies downtown and there is a shortage of office space, and these are companies that pay well. I’d like to move it from downtown to further south to past Barrio Logan, where land is less expensive.”

Do you have any worries about becoming a city council member?

“When you do something new, there is always a pit in your stomach, and you are always nervous. In my career I’ve usually been — especially the early years — either the only woman or one of a few women in the room. I’d always have a pit in my stomach and I’d ask myself if I belong here and ‘can I do it?’ So I have some of that now, I will be honest, I think it keeps you on edge and keeps you from being complacent. But every time I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone, my life has been enriched enormously.”

What are your thoughts on feminism today and women in leadership?

“I am a feminist, and so are my two daughters, who are in their 30s. ... In my daughters, I see the younger generation. The opportunities they have at a younger age are more than was available to me when I was their age. I think that’s a good thing.

I know I’ve been a trailblazer and a role model for many other women and I’m proud of that. One of the things I’m most proud of is that my campaign had a very robust high school internship program; they turned out to be some of our best volunteers, especially at The Bishop’s School (and there were other schools as well). We were very fortunate that they got out the third week in May, so they were out two weeks before the election. For those two weeks, they were with us full time, and they were amazing. Many of them volunteered over the summer, and many of them were young women. They were partly motivated by the fact that I am a woman running, and they liked my values and the fact that I was an entrepreneur and what I stand for. I want to take that high school fellowship program to City Hall.

I’ve always believed when you have diverse voices at the table you get better results. It’s my goal to have a team at City Hall … that will help me make better decisions.”

What was your upbringing like and what brought you here?

“I grew up outside of Philadelphia in a suburb called Bala Cynwyd, and I went to Lower Merion High School, which became known later because Kobe Bryant went there. I graduated from University of Pennsylvania (before going) to Harvard Business School in the fall of 1974.

My parents got divorced when I was a teenager, and my mom worked for a large Philadelphia ad agency, where she was paid less than a male in the same role and there was nothing she could do. She became a psychologist and best-selling author and moved to La Jolla. My mom had a small house on Westbourne Street, right near La Jolla High School. She was very involved here and in the author world and the psychology world. She was memorable. She was Auntie May. She was ahead of her time. Her name was Adelaide Bry. She died in 1983 from pancreatic cancer, but she was my most important role model.

I met my first husband in 1977 and he was also here, and I moved here full-time in 1981.”

What do you want people to know about you that they probably don’t?

“I feel like my life has been an open book the last year. … But I’d like people to know I have a good sense of humor, I like to laugh, I like to have a good time and I’m not just all serious. They probably know that the most important thing to me is my family, including my two daughters and my grandson. I often say my life has exceeded my expectations in terms of getting to San Diego and being able to do all the things I’ve been able to do.”

How will you work with residents and La Jolla’s 13 community boards to keep up with the issues here?

Barbara Bry: I’m a very accessible person and I want to continue to be accessible. I will have team members who attend community meetings in the same way most councilmembers do, but I want to call them Community Engagement Coordinators. They aren’t there to passively take notes, they are there to engage with the community.

I want to attend as many meetings as I can, but it’s a big district. I don’t want to be a person who sits behind a desk at City Hall five days a week. If I do that, I am not doing my job.

I plan to knock on doors once a month or so, to ask, ‘What’s on your mind? What’s going on in your neighborhood?’

I also want to have office hours out in the community, which we would rotate among the libraries in the district. Sometimes on a Saturday, sometimes on a weeknight, but at least once a month I want it to be easier for people to talk to me rather than having to come downtown. Don’t even make an appointment, just come by.

Do you think there’s a sea lion problem at The Cove that’s not being handled?

Barbara Bry: Yes. We have to keep them away from people and we can keep them off the beach. I moderated a panel recently that had many types of constituents represented … it was amazing. We had all read the Hanan Report and knew that he believes they are there. There was a consensus … (to implement) a six-point program:

1) Implement a docent program to educate people on what they can and cannot do around the sea lions.

2) Have better signage at The Cove in multiple languages.

3) Implement legal measures to shoo the sea lions off the beach and keep them off the stairs to make sure the beach is accessible to people and swimmers.

4) Apply for a permit to be able to spray sea water on the rocks to reduce the stench. It may work or it may not, but until we try it, we don’t know.

5) Scientifically monitor the water and sand quality in terms of what pollutants are there and how to deal with them, to make sure it’s safe for people.

6) Lifeguards cannot be shooing the sea lions off the beach, they are busy doing their jobs, we need trained personnel hired by or contracted with the city to do this.

I think it’s viable to do all of this. Since then, I’ve talked with other people who think we could raise private money to do this, or it might be done through La Jolla Parks & Beaches, but I don’t know. I’ve talked with many people since the panel and as much as I can do at this point, trying to push this along, and I’ve shared this information with the Mayor.