San Diego City Council District 1 hopefuls meet La Jolla voters at town meeting
La Jolla Town Council hosted a standing-room-only forum at the Rec Center Oct. 8 to learn more about the three candidates running for the City Council District 1 seat to be vacated by Sherri Lightner in November 2016 — Barbara Bry, Ray Ellis and Joe LaCava.
La Jolla Light publisher Phyllis Pfeiffer served as moderator, asking questions collected from the Town Council, San Diego Police Officers Association, La Jolla Light and its readers and the audience.
In turn, the candidates offered their takes on La Jolla issues, citywide concerns, new topics on the political forefront and (unfortunately) longstanding problems that have yet to be resolved.
• LA JOLLA CONCERNS
Questions about the hot-button issues of short-term vacation rentals and the enduring stench at the Cove were submitted by dozens of La Jollans. In regard to short-term vacation rentals, LaCava spoke as chair of the Community Planners Committees and said he recently voted to approve home-sharing where the homeowner is present, but stands against short-term house rentals when the owner is not there. Bry and Ellis echoed the position with all candidates opposed to short-term rentals in San Diego neighborhoods.
As for the Cove stench and whether it should be the city’s responsibility to ameliorate it, Pfeiffer prefaced the question with “it breaks our heart to be asking this because it’s the same question we asked the candidates running four years ago, and nothing has changed.”
While Bry and Ellis agreed it is “absolutely” the city’s responsibility, LaCava said he was worried about “politicizing” the issue. Bry suggested establishing an independent way of monitoring the stench on a daily basis and looking at what more environmental efforts could be made. “I know it’s taken a long time, I know it’s frustrating, but this is not rocket science, it’s something we should be able to resolve and it will be a priority of mine,” she said.
Ellis said he’s attended meetings with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and community leaders on the subject, and commended the mayor for committing staff and budget to spray an enzyme on the bluffs that dissolves the see lion waste — the reported cause of the smell.
Alternatively, LaCava expressed frustration with the fact that several years ago he proposed the city start the environmental permitting process to address the problem with more resources, but made little headway. “People said ‘don’t do that because it takes too long,’ but if we had started this process two or three years ago, we would have been that much further along in getting the environmental permits that might have provided a solution. I’m concerned with the mayor taking this on and politicizing it. … This isn’t a win for an office, this is a win for La Jolla.”
In regards to upholding La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO) or blueprint for design and its prohibition on third-storied buildings, all three candidates said they would uphold and defend the PDO, with Ellis and LaCava noting the ordinance could benefit from minor adjustments.
Ellis said, “As a member of a community planning board, like many of you are involved in, I know how important it is to protect the character of our communities. Our community plan is out of synch and hasn’t been updated, so our processes are slow and take years and years to go through. We’ve got to address the whole planning structure so we can have a better outcome for our community.”
LaCava said in the course of his community activism, he chaired La Jolla’s PDO Committee, which reviews projects for conformance to the PDO, but said he would like to see the plan brought up to date. “We know how we can fix the PDO so it’s better, we’re not going to put any three-story element in it for sure, but those little tweaks that make it stronger and more consistent will make it easier to enforce, and make it more predictable for business owners and investors and for the residents of La Jolla.”
When asked about the “McMansionization” trend to replace cottages with residences double their size —especially in Bird Rock — Bry argued that the problem is an enforcement issue.
“I’ve been told that (in these cases), a certain sized house is approved and then a larger house gets built. That’s an enforcement issue. We need to attack this problem in two ways: new regulation to make sure we build houses that keep with the character of the community, and enforcement of existing regulations,” she said.
Ellis said he, too, supports additional regulations in affected neighborhoods.
However, LaCava said the solution is to incentivize people to build smaller rather than bigger, and bridge the gap in La Jolla zoning regulations where this issue would fall. “We have generic zoning and then the specific Community Plan, and the big gap in between is where all the fights take place,” he said.
Responding to “rumblings” that La Jolla should become its own city because services received from the City of San Diego do not match the taxes La Jollans pay to the city, all candidates agreed an Independent La Jolla is not the solution.
However, LaCava agreed that municipal services rendered fall short of the property taxes paid. Similarly, Bry said “We have to advocate for our fair share as we are a destination for tourists as well as San Diegans … so we deserve our fair share of San Diego’s resources.”
Ellis’ solution would be “to have someone with common sense reform measures at City Hall, including pension reform areas to make sure that money we’re getting from those (pension reform) savings are put back in our communities. But it takes someone who can navigate downtown and City Hall and make sure we are not underrepresented in La Jolla.”
• CITYWIDE CONCERNS
Of issues such as whether to commit $2.1 million for the Environmental Impact Report needed to construct a new stadium for the San Diego Chargers football team, each candidate offered a resounding “No!” Similarly, each said they were against construction of the Regents Road Bridge.
An additional issue with La Jolla ties is Assembly Bill 57, which would give wireless communications companies the authority to install new cell phone antennas and related equipment in excess of La Jolla’s 30-foot height limit without public notice or chance for appeal.
Bry called the bill “a travesty of justice” and said she testified against the towers at several hearings over the last few months. “I am against them and I think they should be removed,” she said.
Ellis opined that the towers should be brought down below the 30-foot height limit and that affected residents be given proper notice when a tower is planned for their neighborhood.
Similarly, LaCava said he would propose to tell wireless companies they cannot pierce the 30-foot height limit.
• LONGTIME CONCERNS
“Unfortunately the next three questions are the same ones we asked four years ago and again, nothing has changed,” said moderator Pfeiffer putting forth the issues of panhandling on city medians, dense traffic on Torrey Pines Road, and unequal benefits for public safety officials.
Connecting panhandling to the broader homelessness problem in San Diego, Ellis said, “We need to have an ordinance that doesn’t allow for (panhandling), because it’s a safety issue to have these people out on the medians. … We (also) need more affordable housing and we’ve got to drive down the costs of regulations associated with that so officials can get these people properly housed. We also need compassionate policing so we have more homeless outreach teams in the city to get these people into the programs they need.”
Disagreeing, LaCava said the two issues are unrelated. “Homelessness is a travesty and we need to do something about, but that is a different conversation,” he said. “We do need to have the appropriate regulations that are legally vetted that actually prevents that. There is a safety hazard and a distraction to drivers going by and unfortunately they have become a business for people that understand La Jollans are compassionate and they just want to give. But what we need is an ordinance that shuts that down.”
Bry offered the suggestion of bringing an education program that is thriving downtown into La Jolla. “Downtown has a very active program where they really educate people not to give money to panhandlers, but instead put money in little red boxes that goes to vetted organizations that help homeless people. I think we could do something similar in La Jolla,” she said.
To ease traffic congestion on Torrey Pines Road, the main entryway into La Jolla, candidate suggestions include traffic light synchronization, focusing on the Torrey Pines Corridor Plan and “stretching out” rush hour by getting local businesses to offer flex times to working commuters.
Bry recommended investing $168 million in a new traffic light synchronization program. “Initially, they are planning to start this downtown … my recommendation would be that we start this program on La Jolla Parkway and Torrey Pines Road,” she said. “All of San Diego comes to La Jolla so if we can start this great new tech here, a lot of people in our community will benefit.”
Ellis suggested moving forward “more aggressively” with the Torrey Pines Corridor Project that would, in phases, clean the area up and put in some traffic calming to make it safer.
“That project is in a redesign phase and will be finished by the end of fiscal year and, hopefully, moves into construction in 2017,” he said.
LaCava advised looking at the times in which Village employees come in and out via Torrey Pines Road.
“We have to look at some of types of businesses we have in La Jolla, the types of employees we have, and whether we can begin to shift some of those employees (schedules) to stretch out the rush hour so we have a bit of an easier time,” he said.
Lastly, Pfeiffer asked the candidates to comment on the perceived inequity in benefits for lifeguards, firefighters and police officers. While LaCava said he would advocate for equal benefits, Bry and Ellis said different work merits different benefits.
“In the business world, everyone is treated differently. You don’t pay all your employees the same, it depends on what they do or what level of skill they have,” Bry said.
Ellis said, that different types of public safety officials “do different jobs,” and “I think they are different, have different needs and requirements, and we need to addresses that group by group.”
However, LaCava advocated for increasing lifeguard benefits to match those of police and firefighters, and cited a recent La Jolla Light article about a seasonal lifeguard injured on the job, whose benefits only grant him $250 a week.
“The answer is simple, you don’t treat lifeguards as administrative staff. You actually treat them the same way you treat public safety (workers),” he said.
• When to Vote: The primary election is June 7, 2016, and the general election Nov. 8, 2016.
--- ON THE WEB ---
• San Diego County Registrar Of Voters: sdvote.com
• Barbara Bry: barbarabry.com
• Ray Ellis: ellisforcouncil.com
• Joe LaCava: joelacavaforcouncil.com