Three candidates vying for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors traded barbs and weighed in on transportation, development and a new Chargers stadium during an April 21 forum.
The two Republicans in the race, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, criticized incumbent Dave Roberts, a Democrat, over personnel issues. But Gaspar and Abed also took aim at each other, suggesting they believe only one Republican will advance to face Roberts this fall.
Only two candidates will emerge from a June 7 primary, followed by the general election on Nov. 8. A spot on the five-member San Diego County Board of Supervisors, which oversees a more than $5 billion budget, hangs in the balance.
Among her critiques of Abed, Gaspar took issue with a chart from his team crediting Abed with Escondido’s improving finances in recent years. Gaspar attributed this turnaround to the hard work of businesses and the economic recovery.
“I think our business community would be a little upset to see the graph, because they’re the hard-working individuals that turned the city around,” Gaspar told the small crowd during the forum, held at Morgan Run Club and Resort in Rancho Santa Fe.
In response, Abed said Gaspar is desperate because she’s behind in the race, adding she’s attempting to discredit Escondido’s success.
“Mayor Gaspar, I voted ‘no’ for the budget deficit, and I voted ‘yes’ for the balanced budget,” Abed said.
But Abed and Gaspar were united in their criticisms against Roberts, who has faced workplace controversy. Three employees last year left his office and filed claims alleging an abuse of power, including that Roberts instructed employees to work on his re-election campaign on county time.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors in September agreed to settle the claims for $310,000. Last week, the District Attorney’s office announced it won’t file criminal charges.
Roberts said the personnel matter was confidential. He added that his colleagues have continued to elect him to leadership roles, proof of their confidence in him.
“This election is going to be about where the candidates stand on the issues,” Roberts later said. He also made the case that his policy positions align with the district, which covers much of North County, including Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas, as well as the northern part of the city of San Diego.
Abed said Roberts violated the public’s trust and should have to reimburse taxpayers the $310,000. Both Abed and Gaspar said Roberts’ personnel issues played a role in their decision to enter the race.
Moderator Logan Jenkins, a columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune, asked the candidates about a number of regional matters.
On the topic of a new Chargers stadium, Gaspar said the desire for a hometown team should be weighed against the impact on the hotel industry.
Under a plan recently put forth by the Chargers, voters in the city of San Diego in November would decide whether to raise taxes on hotels to help build a $1.8 billion hybrid stadium and convention center near Petco Park. Last year, city of San Diego leaders advocated for a now-defunct proposal that would have used city and county money for a stadium.
Abed said he’s against using taxpayer money for building a Chargers stadium, stating those funds are better spent on infrastructure, water and public safety.
“We are struggling as the government to provide you with basic services,” Abed said.
Roberts said if any county money is proposed for a stadium, then the plan should have to go to a regional vote.
Although Abed and Gaspar tangled throughout the forum, they voiced similar positions on several issues. They objected to a half-cent sales tax that SANDAG is considering putting on the ballot to fund highway infrastructure and public transit. Gaspar said North County is unlikely to see much of the money, while Abed said the potential initiative would allocate too much toward public transportation, as opposed to roads.
They also voiced support for the proposed Gregory Canyon Landfill in North County.
“The least environmentally friendly option is to truck our trash out of state,” Gaspar said.
Roberts is opposed to the landfill. He argued it could contaminate the San Luis River, which supplies drinking water to Oceanside. Roberts added that he’s committed to reducing trash, noting that the Board of Supervisors unanimously backed his Zero-Waste Initiative.
In regards to transportation, Roberts said SANDAG should prioritize rail and traffic projects to ease the bottleneck at Sorrento Valley Road, which is in the third district.
“We have a major corporation that’s talking about leaving San Diego County if we can’t get that fixed,” Roberts said.
All of the candidates said they’re in favor of amending the county’s General Plan in certain circumstances to allow more affordable housing.
Roberts said the county’s General Plan is a roadmap for future housing, but that it’s “not concrete” and projects should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
He pointed to the San Elijo Hills community in San Marcos as a model development that fits the area.
Gaspar said she’d only consider General Plan amendments if proposed developments mitigate impacts and have adequate infrastructure.
Abed echoed them, and he also said government regulations that add to home costs should be examined.
The North San Diego County Association of Realtors hosted the event. Candidates joked that Rancho Santa Fe was an odd place to hold the forum, since it falls outside of the third district.