Issues surrounding arts, environment, homelessness and funding dominate discussion
By Anthony King | Downtown News
A coalition of six San Diego nonprofit and philanthropic organizations hosted a public mayoral forum on Monday, March 26 at The Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. Participating in the forum were the four major 2012 mayoral candidates: Congressmember Bob Filner, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher and Councilmember Carl DeMaio. Filner participated via telephone, as he was in Washington, D.C.
The forum, which was free to the public, was the first to address topics and issues concerning nonprofit organizations, including those for arts and culture; philanthropy; homelessness; affordable housing; the environment; and funding.
Rob Hutsel, current Chair of the San Diego Association of Nonprofits, opened the forum, saying, “There are thousands of nonprofits in our region and they play a critical role in our community. Nonprofits also employ an estimated 75,000 people in San Diego County. The selection of the next mayor of the city of San Diego is important to us all.”
CEO of Voice of San Diego news Scott Lewis and Senior Political Correspondent of KPBS Radio Gloria Penner moderated the questions, which candidates were given in advance. The forum lasted for an hour and a half, with approximately 580 people in attendance.
“I know it’s been a tough time for nonprofits,” Dumanis said in her opening statement, “and as the mayor, the best thing I can do is make sure our city stays in the fiscal health it needs to, to make sure we bring businesses here and to make San Diego a world class city with world class arts and culture.”
Economic issues were key in much of the discussion throughout the evening, with a particular focus on the government partnering with the nonprofit sector.
“We need to start embracing new ideas, and that means we have to start working with our nonprofit partners in a more powerful and meaningful way than a city government has ever seen before,” DeMaio said. “The third sector, the nonprofit sector, can cause more change to happen and can deliver better results than our government programs, and that is why when we have opportunities to work through nonprofit organizations, we must jump at the chance.”
While each candidate reiterated the importance of the arts and culture for the region, they were not all in agreement with how best to fund them. As an example, Lewis said, arts organizations are allocated 10.5 percent through the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) by hotels.
“Would you, as mayor, change the [TOT] percentage… of what goes to arts,” Lewis asked.
Fletcher, DeMaio and Dumanis said they were all comfortable with the current percentage, saying economic growth in the city would increase the amount of money allocated. Filner, however, said, “I’m very uncomfortable with the funding as it is now. We have to do a lot better. I want to give more and I want to use the TOT at a higher percentage,” he said.
All candidates agreed, in a separate question regarding implementing voluntary payments for nonprofits in lieu of taxes, it was not the time to do so, saying, “This is not the time.”
The discussion regarding where the candidates would “draw the line where government stops and the nonprofit sector takes over,” Lewis said, dominated much of the evening.
“We have the resources to do the things that a civilization has to do. It’s a question of priorities; it’s a question of will; it’s a question of leadership,” Filner said, who is registered as Democrat. “Let’s not use that to say there’s not a role for government or we should be reducing the role of government.”
Fletcher, who recently left the Republican Party to be an Independent candidate said, “Those things that are vital public services that the City delivers… the City needs to take care of.” For Fletcher, vital public services include police and fire coverage and roadwork, among others. DeMaio and Dumanis, both Republican, agreed the government’s role should be relegated to similar “core functions,” Dumanis said.
For the other issues discussed—homelessness, affordable housing, the environment and engaging philanthropists—the candidates’ responses stayed true to their original statements. Fletcher said innovation was key to addressing affordable housing, while Dumanis and DeMaio said fiscal responsibility was key.
When asked if the City has a role to play in alleviating homelessness, DeMaio said, “Not only does our City have a role to play, it has a moral obligation to fulfill.”
Both Filner and Fletcher turned the homelessness discussion to Veterans, with Fletcher asserting it was a Federal issue. “As a country, if we have the moral authority to send you to war, we have the moral obligation to take care of you when you come home,” he said.