By Rick Moore / Escondido Democratic Club
There were few surprises at the Chamber of Commerce Council Candidate Forum September 10, and few in the audience to see them.
The candidates all participated, several of them admitting this was their first time in a forum, giving one of only a few chances for voters to compare them in action. (The League of Women Voters will provide another opportunity at 6 p.m. Thursday, September 25 in Council Chambers at City Hall.)
The 7:30 a.m. start time was clearly part of the attendance problem. There were fewer than 50 people in the audience.
Incumbent Ed Gallo is challenged by Conseulo Martinez in District One. Appointed incumbent John Masson is challenged by Nicole Downey, Chad ‘Shad’ Hunziker and Rick Paul in District Two. Kevin Svetich of the Chamber served as moderator.
Opening and closing statements, along with the question “What makes you the best choice to represent your district?” were revealing. Incumbents talked about their record, challengers talked about their aspirations and change.
If looking for distinctions in District One, Gallo and Martinez seemed to live in different worlds. Gallo described his community involvement with the Jaycees and the Chamber of Commerce and various city committees. He is about “elevating” District One. Martinez focused on involvements with various community groups since her teens. She is “about empowering others” and being a leader “that inspires others.” She noted that being bilingual in a district that is just about evenly split between Latinos and Anglos allowed her to be accessible and approachable to her potential constituents.
In District Two, Masson relied on his record, and mentioned several times his efforts to work with Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz. Downey said she was best because she listens and does extensive research on issues. Hunsiker is a “servant leader” who will work to serve the public. Paul is “the only candidate that will protect the community from over-development.”
Some comments on key issues:
Proposition H – District One
- Gallo opposes the proposition, which would allow development of the Escondido Country Club golf course. He believes the people who bought homes there “in good faith” should be protected. “Promises were made and we have to keep them,” he said.
- Martinez said she will vote for the measure, because she wants the lawsuit to end and to save legal costs. She also noted “my constituents are in support of it.”
Proposition H – District Two
- Masson is “very supportive of the community” and opposes Prop. H. “I don’t think there’s any development rights there under our current General Plan,” he said. He wants to negotiate a deal “that makes everybody happy” instead of passing Prop. H.
- Downey said she supports Prop. H, because the developer “has the property rights.”
- Hunziker said he supports Prop. H but “feels the weight of the emotions residents are feeling.”
- Paul said Prop. H “is an anti-open space initiative and I don’t support it.”
Charter City — District One
- Gallo supports Prop. G, which would change Escondido from a general law to a charter city. He dismissed claims that it removes taxpayer protections, saying “we have plenty of watchdogs in Escondido.” He said charter city status would empower the city against “overreaching” state government.
- Martinez said she voted no in 2012 and will vote against Prop. G again this year. She said it “seemed strange” to bring the issue before voters again so soon after they voted it down, saying she does not think it is necessary and “we’re doing fine without it.”
Charter City — District Two
- Masson supports Charter City. He said he is “tired of unfunded mandates being handed down by the state” and wants to save by not paying prevailing wages. He seemed unaware that a court case challenging payment of prevailing wages was decided against cities this month.
- Downey said she opposed Prop. G, because the Council is “trying for force charter on residents” and because general law status provides more protection for taxpayers.
- Hunziker said he opposed Prop. G because there was no community involvement in creating the charter document and because he does not support such broad powers for the Council. “It’s just too open for me to support,” he said.
- Paul avoided taking a position, saying he sees the charter as proposed as “pretty much an empty document” but is in favor of “letting the voters decide.”
Balancing the budget versus the size of reserves — District One
- Gallo showed Sam Abed’s chart, which misleads voters about the state of city finances, and bragged that actions taken by the current council with his support had allowed the city to get a better credit rating.
- Martinez said the city should seek “a balance” between spending and reserved, and that there should not be “too many reserves at the expense of needed services.”
Balancing the budget versus the size of reserves — District Two
- Masson favors a reserve of 25 percent (it is now at about 18 percent and 16 percent is the level recommended by industry best practices). He also said he favors more spending on parks and libraries.
- Downey said it is important to have reserves, but (the city) needs to fund community services. She reviewed how the East Valley branch library was eliminated for a relatively small amount of savings that could easily have been identified.
- Hunziker said he doesn’t like “cutting core services” to create a larger reserve. He asked if savings could not be made “at the top” rather than cutting services for the people.
- Paul noted that reserves go up and down from year to year, and said the city “should try to have as even level of reserves as possible.”
Balancing business against social services — District One
- Gallo said there had been “problems in years past” when the city “could not say no” to new social service agencies. “Now that we have it all, we have to concentrate on the business aspect.” He said he supports projects like Habitat for Humanity and Solutions for Change that are “not a hand out but a hand up.”
- Martinez said she is “happy we have social services agencies here” because people need them and the do create jobs. “We need to stop talking about social services as a negative for our city” she urged, “not using terms like calling Escondido a ‘poverty magnet.’”
Balancing business against social services — District Two
- Masson said Escondido “has been an attraction” for social services and that the key is to balance that. “There’s no reason why we should be a hub for social service in North County. I don’t think that has been good for Escondido.”
- Downey said it is important to have good services available and that she supports having them.
- Hunziker “likes helping people in need” but wants to be sure they are given their dignity along with assistance. “They want help, but not support,” he said.
- Paul said he found the topic “a strange question.” Social services are here and they provide jobs, he noted.
How build city-wide consensus in a city with Council districts — District One
- Gallo answered that he has worked with “every neighborhood group in the city” and feels “we are a city together” and that everyone has to work together by getting involved in the city.
- Martinez said she was happy to have district elections because she believes the boards that run organizations as well as the elected officials of cities need to reflect the population they serve. She said she is open to working with anyone from any part of the city because “all of our opinions matter.”
How build city-wide consensus in a city with Council districts — District Two
- Masson thinks districts are “divisive” and said , with some passion, that districts had caused the people of Escondido “to lose three votes,” which he found “disgusting.” He added the key solution is balance. “What’s good for one is good for all,” he said.
- Downey said she is “not completely in favor” of districts and referred to their creation as the “breakup” of the city. She thinks more citizen involvement would help unify.
- Hunziker said he has “some difficulty with districts” because he’s not sure all resources are balanced, but that people seemed to like the idea of having their own representative.
- Paul said Escondido’s elected officials “already work together” and that he believed that will continue.
*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Escondido’s Charter City proposal as Proposition H. It is Proposition G.