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San Diego mayoral candidates Bry and Gloria tackle homelessness and police reform at La Jolla forum

Moderator Jason Bercovitch (top left) and San Diego mayoral candidates Barbara Bry and Todd Gloria participate in a forum.
Moderator Jason Bercovitch (top left) and San Diego mayoral candidates Barbara Bry and Todd Gloria participate in a forum presented by La Jolla’s Congregation Beth Israel.
(Courtesy)

Addressing everything from reducing homelessness to whether a hot dog is a sandwich, San Diego mayoral candidates Barbara Bry and Todd Gloria squared off in an online forum Sept. 9 presented by La Jolla’s Congregation Beth Israel.

The forum tried to balance the personal with the professional and humanize the candidates through largely positive questions. But certain heavier issues could not be avoided, such as their plans to improve law enforcement operations.

Bry, a La Jolla resident who is currently the City Council member for District 1, said her diverse life experience would influence her decision-making if elected in November.

“I’ve been a journalist; I worked at the Connect program at UCSD, helping start high-tech and biotech companies, which are the future of San Diego; I became an entrepreneur in my own right; I’ve served on several nonprofits; I’ve started two organizations that empower women; I’m a wife, a mom and a grandma,” she said.

Gloria, a third-generation San Diegan, served on the City Council from 2008 to 2016 (including six months as interim mayor) before moving on to the state Assembly, representing the 78th District.

“The next mayor is going to have their plate extremely full, with the pandemic, the recession, racial injustice, climate crisis, affordable housing, the list goes on and on,” he said. “This is going to require a professional, someone with relevant experience to lead the city forward.”

Both candidates are Democrats, though the mayor’s post is officially nonpartisan.

Issues-based questions

The 200 people attending the event were given the opportunity to submit a series of questions, not all of which were answered in the hour-and-a-half forum.

On reducing homelessness and increasing affordable housing in San Diego, both stated an interest in using performance metrics to determine which programs are working effectively and efficiently, and allocating funds accordingly. But both had additional steps they would take.

“I want to set a goal for us to be a city that ends chronic homelessness,” Gloria said. “I know that sounds like an audacious goal, but the fact is, cities across the nation have been certified by the federal government as having accomplished that. Sadly, San Diego is not among them. … I would bring the homeless services under the mayor’s office to make sure the people who work on this issue every single day have to look me in the eye and explain what they are doing to solve this horrible problem.”

Due to his involvement in the Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Community Development, “I am uniquely qualified to work on this issue,” he added.

Bry countered that while Gloria was on the City Council, the number of homeless people in San Diego increased.

“My opponent promised to end chronic homelessness when he was sworn in for his second term on the City Council,” she said. “At that time, there were 600 unsheltered individuals in the downtown area. That more than doubled during his last four years on the City Council. During my time on the City Council [since 2016], that number has reduced dramatically.”

As mayor, she said, her homeless plan would focus on “addressing the root causes. Sadly, for a growing number of people, [those are] mental health and substance abuse issues. … I will make sure we have a system that addresses individual needs. We will have a seamless structure where there is one number you can call to access the resources you need. I will put trained professionals on the street and talk to homeless individuals rather than police officers.”

Moderator Jason Bercovitch said many questions posed by the audience centered on police accountability and integrating law enforcement and social services.

Neither candidate said they support the concept of defunding the police, and both said part of the problem with current operations is that police officers are asked to do jobs for which they are not trained, such as mental health crisis mitigation.

To improve police operations, Bry said: “I want to start by thinking about law enforcement in total. How many calls do we get, what are they for, who is the right professional to respond? Then we can staff appropriately … and make sure we have the appropriate trained professionals, that we continue to work with the county … to get people the social services we need.”

Gloria said: “We have PERT [Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams], in which a law enforcement officer is teamed up with a mental health clinician to respond to mental health emergency calls. [On the City Council] I did what I could to steer more money to expand those kinds of teams, understanding that training could be the difference between life or death. Continued investment is important. The data exists — it is evident in our 911 calls that the number of emergency mental health [calls] is through the roof — and with COVID it will only get worse. I see this is as a cost-effective solution to invest in the clinicians to make sure they are the front line in responding to these calls, appropriately backed up by law enforcement.”

Personal questions

Throwing a “curveball question” that made both candidates laugh out loud, Bercovitch asked whether a hot dog is a sandwich.

Still laughing, Gloria said, “It is not a sandwich, but it is delicious.”

Bry didn’t offer an opinion but said, “I grew up with Hebrew Nationals with sauerkraut … watching the Philadelphia Phillies.”

Given the tension associated with campaigns, Bercovitch also asked the candidates what they admire about each other.

Gloria said he came to know Bry through her daughter Sarah and that she “reflects extremely well on council member Bry. [Sarah and her other daughter Rachel] are two fine women, and she should be applauded for her raising of them.”

Bry said she admires that Gloria “cares a great deal about the city he grew up in and truly wants to make it a better place, and have dedicated your life to that effort.” ◆