City Hall
San Diego’s seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building. Megan Wood/inewsource

The primary is fast approaching. Voters’ final selections are in the making. There are rallies and debates galore.

But, there is something else San Diego’s next mayor should be thinking about: Get to know the city you want to lead.

This is not about the campaign slogan you wish to use. Or the outfit you want to wear.

It’s about gathering the best intelligence while you can—and do it by yourself.

San Diego is an international hub with the still-beating heart of a neighborhood.

Get to know each of those enclaves where everybody knows your name, your family, even your car. They exist. And they vote. And those residents—over decades—have contributed to San Diego’s stature.

The race is not about convention centers, stadiums, high-rise development, or new transit lines.

It is about the people who live here. Who have lived here. And will live here. They are San Diego’s strength.

But that is in jeopardy now.

San Diego is a people-focused city now in danger of losing its identity to the mindless, breakneck mega-growth decisions engulfing the place we all call home.

In-fill housing, double-decker granny flats, Airbnb rentals, towering high rises, and boat parking lots are choking the city. Neighborhoods are becoming over-stuffed dot-com destinations rather than desirable places to live.

San Diego and its environs are in fragile condition.

There are more people, but less open space. More traffic, but less transit. More carbon footprint, but fewer green-friendly parks and walking paths. More development, but less architectural thought and more downed trees.

Where are the city planners? The visionaries? Someone with a greater understanding of what makes a great city prosper?

Thus, dear future mayor-elect — whoever you might be — do please visit the people and places you want to govern before the election.

It will help build what Plato dubbed the most important quality in a leader “ethos”— a.k.a. “character.”

Go alone. Do not go to “be seen.” Gather your own intelligence. Ignore the talking points pushed by donors, lobbyists or other stakeholders.

Swim in the ocean that was once the envy of the planet (now often polluted, overcrowded, non-child friendly, and in constant violation of several trusts).

Survey the streets. Most are in serious need of power washing (even after the rains) with a strong solvent.

Walk around any park or recreation center. Evaluate the surroundings and the availability (or lack thereof) of a basketball court, a baseball field, a tennis game or any free dance teaching, as existed in the city’s not-too-distant past.

Walk all the neighborhoods — not just those in your comfort zone. And walk them at night. Feel the fear in the crime-ridden areas. Figure out why for yourself.

Ride the near empty buses and trolleys. Understand what a waste all that under-used transportation really costs environmentally. Why, one might ask, doesn’t San Diego follow the lead of London and fill up all those empty seats with free senior passes—valid between the underused hours of 10 a.m. and 2 pm?

Get out of your comfort zone. Drop in unannounced at a bar, pot shop or tattoo parlor. Then ask if we need more.

Better still, visit a school—any school—south of Interstate 8 or east of Interstate 5. Then ask those teachers and administrators, honestly, “How can I help?”

How about visiting a homeless shelter? Or an inner-city hospital emergency room around midnight? Grasp the magnitude of the problem and think, “What should I do?”

Try a “drop-in” at a chemotherapy ward for the terminally ill. Then ask the same about the uneven state of health care coverage.

Drop by shops and bakeries, pump your own gas, bag your own groceries—and learn from all around you.

Champion the young. Those environmentalists. The idealists. And brilliant among us.

If you do these things, you might just be the great “on-the-ground” mayor this city is begging for.

Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.