David Alvarez touts his status as champion of the little guy in the race for the top spot in San Diego City Hall.
By Andy Cohen
“Special interests” is a term that has been thrown around a lot during this mayoral special election, especially during the runoff between Democrat David Alvarez and Republican Kevin Faulconer. But it is a term that has not been easy to define; one that depends almost entirely on your political point of view.
In TV and radio ads and mailers, the Faulconer camp decries Alvarez’ support from the “special interests,” the unions that are funding “eighty percent of Alvarez’ campaign” for mayor. Alvarez is critical of Faulconer’s support from the “business community,” the “downtown special interests” that many on the political left in San Diego feel have held the real governing power at City Hall.
As far as Faulconer is concerned, he doesn’t have any “special interest” support. His is a campaign fueled by individual San Diegans who believe that he is the right choice for the top spot at City Hall. He is supported by business groups (including the Lincoln Club), industry groups that may have a particular interest in city government and that Faulconer believes will play key roles in growing the San Diego economy. For example, the Building Industry Association, or the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Not special interest groups according to Faulconer.
Alvarez, for his part, is proud to have the support of union leadership. “Unions represent workers. They are family members, they are neighbors, they are people who we know. There’s trash collectors, teachers, firefighters. Workers in both the private sector and public sector.”
“I think what this really comes down to is who is the candidate that supports a stronger middle class,” said Alvarez in an interview with the SDFP. “Who supports stronger worker protections, and benefits for workers, and a sustainable retirement, whether it’s pension or something else; and an increase in the minimum wage, which he doesn’t support and I do.”
Economic growth will happen, Alvarez says, when the city government stops subsidizing poverty wage jobs. The business community that is so fervently supporting Faulconer’s candidacy, he says, are made up predominantly of businesses that create mostly low income jobs.
And yet, said Alvarez, Faulconer “won’t support providing any of the benefits that are needed to survive” for the workers employed in those jobs.
Those businesses that are supporting Faulconer, he says, are the developers and hoteliers. “Those who run the Chamber of Commerce are the big corporations,” who he says are responsible for a sizeable chunk of the poverty wage jobs that are created. It should be noted that the president of the Chamber of Commerce, former mayor Jerry Sanders, has been one of Faulconer’s fiercest advocates, having been featured in numerous advertisements and mailers.
The Chamber, he says, “are not your small business, it’s not your medium size business. It’s big corporations that fund all of the work that the Chamber does. It’s more corporate interest representation.”
Alvarez’ vision for economic growth in San Diego revolves around investment in communities that are plagued by high unemployment and poverty. A lot of that investment, he says, will come from the federal government in the form of CDBG’s (community development block grants) and HUD funds. “And that’s what he’s been attacking me on, that I want to take money from one area and put it into the other. Well, the source of those funds dictates that they are supposed to go into these areas, those low income communities.”
Alvarez says the strategy is to use those federal funds to spur development in areas with high numbers vacant buildings or foreclosed homes, and doing so through community plan updates. All new development, he says, must be transit oriented.
“We have to hold SANDAG accountable so that they give us the resources that the city is entitled to so that we can create the type of development that incentivizes transit use.”
In his State of the City address, interim Mayor Todd Gloria announced intentions to introduce a series of new bond issues that he intends to bring before the voters beginning in 2014 in order to address San Diego’s infrastructure needs. But that kind of borrowing is not sustainable long term, and Alvarez noted that the Independent Budget Analyst has raised concerns over the city’s borrowing habits moving forward.
“We have to be able to pay for it,” said Alvarez. “We’re going to have to go before the voters and ask them, ‘this is what we need in our city, is there a willingness to pay for it?’ And what the source is, I don’t know. Whether it’s some sort of property assessment, or a bond, I don’t know what it is but it’s going to have to be new revenue.”
The governing philosophies of the candidates could not be more different, he said. “We come from very different worlds. We see things very differently. I come from the working class and I believe that people should be given the opportunity no matter where you come from. He sees the world differently. He thinks that if you give more to those at the top, eventually the bottom will gain, and I just don’t see things that way.”