By LANA HARRISON | Downtown San Diego Partnership
Nearly 100 people gathered at Quartyard in East Village on Oct. 23 for the chance to hear from the candidates running for City Council District 3: Toni Duran, Chris Olsen, Stephen Whitburn, and Adrian Kwiatkowski.
With less than six months until the primary election and current City Council member Chris Ward forgoing re-election in pursuit of a chance at the California state Assembly, the race for the seat is shaping up to be a competitive field.
The free public forum was hosted by the Downtown San Diego Partnership, City Center Business Improvement District, East Village Association, Gaslamp Quarter Association, Hillcrest Business Association, Mission Hills Business Improvement District, and Quartyard. It gave candidates the opportunity to interface with the public and share where they stand on issues critical to the district and the region.
“How did you get here tonight?” was the first question posed by moderator Scott Lewis, CEO and editor in chief of the Voice of San Diego.
Kwiatkoski took the trolley; Whitburn drove and braved parking; Olsen hustled over on foot from City Hall; and after failing to secure a ride from Circuit (formerly FRED), Duran opted for ride-sharing.
In addition to climate change, Balboa Park, and the proposed Grand Central station, candidates weighed in on their stances on two of the urban core’s most pressing issues – homelessness and transit.
Two tax increases and the recent council-approved Community Plan on Homelessness were the focus for the night on the topic of homelessness.
The candidates expressed support for the Community Action Plan on Homelessness, putting the Yes! For a Better San Diego tax on hotels — which will help fund the expansion of the convention center as well as provide revenue for homeless services — on the March 2020 ballot, and the $900 million housing bond proposed by the San Diego Housing Federation.
Whitburn highlighted the idea that the Yes! For a Better San Diego initiative and the housing bond will enable the homelessness plan to be put into action.
“The current plan was months in the making,” said Whitburn. “We can’t wait until one of us gets elected and then start the process all over again to try to come up with a plan. We need to start executing the plan now.”
Duran drew on her personal experience as a North Park resident struggling with the ongoing reality of affordable housing.
“I’ve had to be that person, like other residents in the district, who have had to try to make the decision between paying a bill, going to get groceries, or paying rent,” said Duran. “There are still people out there that I know who are struggling with that, who are one step away from homelessness.”
When asked about the capacity of District 3 to absorb additional permanent supportive housing, Duran expressed optimism, citing the old Mission Hills library as a location to consider for development, while also drawing on the rhetoric that resources and housing need to be distributed throughout the districts.
Candidates offered cautious support of the proposed MTS tax.
“Before we start talking about expanding public transit, we need to make it work in the urban core,” said Kwiatkowski, who is open to the tax, pending specifics of the transit plan.
While all candidates agreed on the need for improved bike infrastructure and support the bike lanes on Sixth Avenue, there was some disagreement about plans for the protected bike lanes on 30th Street.
Whitburn, Duran, and Kwiatkowski expressed varying levels of criticism for the approach the city took in implementing those bike plans, noting a need for improved communication with residents and businesses. Olsen was the dissenting voice in full support of the protected bike lanes on 30th Street.
“It’s a situation where the loudest voices are not representing the majority of residents,” said Olsen. “We cannot continue to have the climate action plan and say, ‘Yes this is great and we’re going to cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035,’ but then say, ‘Not on this block, not today, it’s not the right time.’”
To learn where the candidates stand on more issues, visit the Downtown San Diego Partnership’s Facebook page for access to full video coverage of the forum.
— Lana Harrison is the communications coordinator for the Downtown San Diego Partnership. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org