DeMaio and Filner lay out their divergent views on the role of government in San Diego.
The Ocean Beach Town Council welcomed San Diego’s two mayoral candidates to its monthly meeting at the Masonic Center last night in the latest in a series of debates ahead of November’s general election. Not surprisingly a packed house gathered to hear what the two aspirants to the city’s highest elected office had to say about their plans for the city should they be elected.
The format for the discussion was very lax with seemingly few rules. As requested by the two candidates, members of the audience were asked to submit questions for the candidates, which were then selected by members of the Town Council board. After making a brief opening statement, each candidate was then given ample time to answer the questions presented.
“Our city government has failed us,” Councilman Carl DeMaio opened. “They ran up a mountain of debt, they cut our services, they raised the cost of living through higher water bills. They let our city infrastructure, our streets, our sidewalks, our facilities, fall apart.”
“Here in Ocean Beach, they closed the comfort station,” he continued, failing to acknowledge the brand new state-of-the-art comfort station at Dog Beach that recently opened for use.
“I think it’s up to the people at City Hall to support you,” said Congressman Bob Filner in reference to the various boards and councils throughout the city. “I came up through a planning group and a town council kind of movement. I was president of the PTA when my kids went to school, and I know the expertise and the hard work that goes into what you all do.”
“I’m all about putting the power back into communities and away from where it’s been for many, many decades,” Filner said, noting his approval of the state’s dismantling of the CCDC, the downtown redevelopment group that has been the epicenter of the majority of San Diego’s revitalization efforts. “I intend to set up a neighborhood investment corporation,” he said, reminding the crowd of his intention to place more emphasis on investment in San Diego’s outlying neighborhoods and move the focus out of the downtown area.
Asked about what he would do if he were mayor of one of the several California cities that have had to declare bankruptcy, DeMaio replied “I’ve done it,” referring to his successful effort to pass Prop B, the pension reform initiative, and the city’s managed competition policies.
“We’ve got to be honest about the problem,” said Filner. “Mr. DeMaio blames everything on our public employees. We need all of them to do the work we need done. And I’ll tell you, it was the greed on Wall St. that caused a 50% loss in our pension fund.” He also remarked on past mayors who used pension funds do lure the 1996 Republican National Convention to San Diego and to aid in the construction of Petco Park.
On the issue of homelessness, Filner insisted that “in the richest country in the history of the world, homelessness should not be an issue.” He said that on the Veterans Affairs Committee in Congress homelessness was the biggest issue that the committee dealt with. “Anybody who has served our nation should not have to come home and end up homeless.” Solving homelessness among veterans, he said, would solve 50% of the entire homeless problem in urban centers nationwide. He told the audience that there have been several opportunities for the city to provide housing and other services that have not been taken, he said. He specifically pointed to the Cabrillo Hospital in Pt. Loma that was offered to the city “for a rather good deal” to house homeless veterans, and would have also provided the capacity to provide a myriad of other services to its residents that the city passed on. He also mentioned a former Holiday Inn hotel downtown that was recently sold, saying that the federal government working with the city could have afforded and could have been used for a similar purpose.
“I was on the City Council when we started the Veterans Village in San Diego, which has expanded to house up to 400 people, but we have to go further,” Filner said. “Those are the kinds of steps I would take.”
“This is an area where Bob and I agree at least on the outcome,” said DeMaio. “But most politicians don’t want to tackle homelessness because frankly there is no solution,” he said. “We need to do a better job of managing the population and helping the people we can out of that cycle of dependency and get them back into structured lives. The city has decided not to tackle the problem for many, many generations because A) they recognize that it’s too difficult an issue and they don’t want to get out in front of it because you’re going to fail no matter what you try, and secondly, they (the homeless) don’t vote. Let’s sweep the problem under the rug. That’s been the attitude.”
DeMaio credited the current City Council with “doing a lot,” specifically with the Path Project and the Connections Housing project downtown that provides mental and physical health services to the homeless. When those programs are proven to work, he said, San Diego will then have a model to take to the rest of the city.
The most contentious moments of the evening came when DeMaio railed against pensioners earning more in retirement than they did in their final years of work, implying a frequency of occurence that does not exist. “That’s a lie Carl and you know it,” interrupted Filner in response. “The average pensioner earns $26,000,” he said when it was his turn to speak again. He reminded the audience that the very small handful of pensioners who received six figure payments were all management positions who were able to grant themselves “phony raises” in order to game the system for retirement. Filner also noted that he was the only candidate who proposed placing a cap on city employees’ pensions, and not Mr. DeMaio.
The two candidates also sparred over water rates. On several occasions DeMaio chided city and county management for unnecessarily raising the cost of water delivery to San Diego residents. However, he later acknowledged that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was responsible for the sudden sharp rise in water delivery costs, and not local officials. And when Filner accused DeMaio of striking a deal with the “Met” at an Orange County fundraiser earlier this week that he would oppose the lawsuit filed on behalf of the San Diego County Water Authority should he be elected mayor in exchange for campaign contributions, DeMaio turned the tables in leveling his own charge of dishonesty at Filner. “I fully support the lawsuit filed against the Met,” he said.
Both candidates expressed their support for medicinal marijuana and the will of the voters who passed Prop 215, with Filner suggesting that pharmacies should distribute the drug as they do for every other prescription medication.
When it comes to government’s role in San Diego, the contrast between the two candidates could not have been more clear. “Government is only us doing together what we can’t do separately,” Filner said. “Virtually every government function came up because there was no profit in it,” he said. “Who’s gonna collect the garbage at every place? Who’s gonna answer the 911 calls and make a profit on it? Who’s gonna to the fire protection and the police protection? These are not profit making ventures.”
“We pay these things called taxes so that we can have all of these things,” adding that “we are demanding services as a city without paying for them.”
“Every privatization document that has come in is based on lower salaries, lower health and other benefits or none, and no legal liability,” Filner said in discussing assertions that private entities can provide city services more cheaply and effectively, specifically mentioning efforts to privatize the Miramar landfill where potential buyers wanted to be immune from legal liability on the property.”
“Well, Bob laid out a philosophy,” replied DeMaio. “He basically said that ‘government needs to do it.’ And that what we need is more revenues. That was the answer. For some of you that may be a philosophy that you share. But for the vast majority of San Diegans, they said ‘NO.’ We don’t want higher taxes, our working families are barely making ends meet as it is.”
“Bob says we need more revenue. I disagree. I think that where we start is by reforming each city department and rethinking how we’re providing service. That’s where not privatization but competition is important,” DeMaio said. “I don’t believe in privatization, I believe in competition.” DeMaio told the audience that the city was able to save 30% of costs by putting it’s print shop services out for competition, and asked if government employees should be maintaining government vehicles. “We have the largest landscaping service in San Diego County. The City of San Diego cuts more grass than any other entity in San Diego County. Should that be only done by a government employee or should we say ‘hey, let’s see if some other groups can do this?”