Elections can be transformative even in the dullest of years, but in a year rich with dramatic cultural and political shifts, San Diego’s vote will bring about major change, with five new faces joining the nine-member City Council.
While council races are technically nonpartisan, in recent years council votes have broken largely along party lines, with conservatives regularly outnumbered. One of the seats up for grabs in the November election is held by a Republican and another, an independent. The other three seats on the ballot are held by Democrats and will continue to be in Democratic hands.
The election could potentially bring in a slightly more conservative council, or it could usher in a supermajority of seven or eight Democrat votes as San Diego faces some of the most important issues in its history. An ongoing fight against climate change, high levels of homelessness and lack of affordable housing, a utility franchise agreement, monumental transit developments, the ramifications of bad property deals and tangling with what role police should play in society are all on the docket in coming years.
However, far and away the most important issue for the region is and likely will remain the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed hundreds, badly sickened thousands, cost tens of thousands of jobs, decimated the tourism and hospitality industry and created financial insecurity for thousands of residents.
Tackling the issues will fall to the council victors, along with a new mayor, new city attorney and incumbent council members Jennifer Campbell, Monica Montgomery Steppe, Chris Cate and Vivian Moreno.
In District 1, which has been represented by Democrat and now-mayoral candidate Barbara Bry since 2016, either Joe LaCava, a civil engineer and business owner, or Will Moore, a small business attorney, will take over. Both LaCava and Moore are Democrats. LaCava has been endorsed by the Sierra Club; Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego; Save San Diego Neighborhoods; and former District 1 Councilwoman Sherri Lightner.
“I envision a city that spends less time strangled by endless debates and focuses on addressing the challenges facing our city,” LaCava said, citing issues such as affordable housing, community-oriented policing, increasing green and high tech jobs, increasing permanent supportive housing, meeting the city’s Climate Action Plan goals and increasing public transit, bike and pedestrian improvements.
Moore has been endorsed by the San Diego Union-Tribune, former Mayor Jerry Sanders and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m running to reform our city government so that it responds to the people, not the lobbyists and special interests,” he said. Key issues for Moore include ethics reforms to keep lobbyists out, affordable housing production, permanent housing to fight homelessness, reducing carbon emissions and improving city infrastructure.
District 1 includes La Jolla, Del Mar Heights, Carmel Valley and University City.
In District 3, Councilman Chris Ward is vacating the seat in an effort to replace Assemblyman Todd Gloria — who is running for mayor against Bry. A Democrat, Ward has served since 2016. Looking to replace him are Democrats Stephen Whitburn, a community nonprofit director, and Toni Duran, a state Senate district representative.
Whitburn has been endorsed by San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the Union-Tribune, the San Diego Democratic Party and San Diego City Firefighters.
“We must reduce homelessness, make housing more affordable, create jobs and complete neighborhood improvements,” he said.
He has said his top priority will be ending homelessness in San Diego’s neighborhoods, parks and canyons. He said he will increase social workers responding to select service calls rather than police officers, provide short-term rental assistance to prevent evictions and add more short-term housing by purchasing inexpensive motels.
Duran has been endorsed by Atkins, Rep. Scott Peters, Run Women Run and California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.
“The residents of District 3 should be able to count on their council member to reflect our shared values, no matter what the issue may be,” she said.
Her priorities include reallocating police funding to social work and other programs to reduce crime without police response, establishing budget transparency while closing funding gaps and maintaining funding for recreation centers and libraries, increasing permanent supportive housing units, increasing non-driving transportation options and cutting carbon pollution.
District 3 represents Balboa Park, Hillcrest, Downtown San Diego, North Park, Old Town, Normal Heights, Golden Hill, Little Italy and University Heights.
In District 5, the race could change the makeup of the council. Its current occupant, Mark Kersey, is an independent who votes with his more conservative colleagues as often as he votes with the progressive ones. He has served since 2012 and has termed out. Looking to fill his position are Democrat Marni von Wilpert, a deputy city attorney, and Republican Joe Leventhal, an attorney and small business owner.
Von Wilpert has been endorsed by the San Diego County Democrats, Union-Tribune, Sierra Club, San Diego City Firefighters and council members Ward, Bry, Campbell and Moreno.
“I’ve prosecuted corporate polluters, opioid industry fraud, and scammers targeting our city’s most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. And I reject Trump’s division,” she said.
Her priorities include making sure COVID-19 relief funds go to small businesses and people that need them, streamlining housing permits to increase housing for working San Diegans, preventing gun violence with laws such as gun violence restraining orders, cracking down on opioid industry fraud, strengthen wildfire protection and increase supportive services for those experiencing homelessness.
Leventhal has been endorsed by the Republican Party of San Diego County, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, San Diego county supervisors Greg Cox, Jim Desmond, Kristin Gaspar and Dianne Jacob, Sheriff Bill Gore and council members Kersey, Scott Sherman and Cate.
“My plan is simple: make life better for everyday San Diegans. That means bringing bold solutions to the table to tackle San Diego’s toughest challenges,” he said.
His priorities include making areas around schools safer, focusing on mental health and addiction issues to end homelessness, maintaining funding for public safety, fixing city streets, promoting a fiscally responsible, balanced budget and encouraging economic development.
District 5 represents Black Mountain Ranch, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Scripps Ranch and Torrey Highlands.
In District 7, Republican Scott Sherman has termed out. He ran for mayor and finished in third place in the March primary. Running to replace him are Democrat Raul Campillo, a deputy city attorney, and Republican Noli Zosa, a small business owner.
Campillo has been endorsed by both the state and county Democrats, the AFL-CIO, Teamsters Local 911, San Diego City Firefighters, San Diego Police Officers Association, Assemblyman Gloria and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber.
“To work hard, to tell the truth, and to listen to our community. That’s my promise to you and my vision of how we can make government work in District 7 for all our families,” he said.
He said he intends to increase economic progress through incentivizing investment, lowering rents and increasing permanent supportive housing. Planning for the SDSU West development and renewing city infrastructure to meet the city’s Climate Action Plan are among his top priorities.
Zosa has been endorsed by Father Joe Carroll, Sheriff Gore, Mayor Faulconer, Sen. Brian Jones, the Union-Tribune, San Diego Jewish World and Southern California Rental Housing Association.
“As a business owner, Noli has seen firsthand how overbearing taxes and regulations can affect the ability to create new jobs and grow a business,” his website reads.
His priorities include increasing public-private partnerships to fight homelessness, streamlining housing permitting processes to increase the housing supply and lower costs, speaking out against what he sees as bad, anti-business policies such as a minimum-wage hike, increasing staffing in the police department and planning around the future of transportation — including self-driving vehicles.
District 7 represents north-central and northeast San Diego, including Mission Valley, Linda Vista, Serra Mesa and Tierrasanta.
Lastly, District 9 is being vacated by current Council President Georgette Gomez as she runs for California’s 53rd Congressional District. Democrats Kelvin Barrios, a community outreach director, and Sean Elo-Rivera, a San Diego Community College District Board of Trustees member, were competing for the seat. But Barrios suspended his campaign in early September after admitting misuse of funds while serving as the treasurer for the San Diego County Young Democrats.
But Barrios — who finished first in the primary with a comfortable 11-point margin of victory — still appears on the ballot.
Elo-Rivera has been endorsed by all four of his colleagues on the SDCCD Board of Trustees, Councilwoman Montgomery-Steppe, Rep. Peters, Supervisor Fletcher, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the League of Conservation Voters.
“I’m running for City Council because I love this community and believe we can overcome all of our challenges in such a way that will transform America’s Finest City for some into a world-class city for all,” he said.
His priorities include increasing racial equity for Black, Indigenous, Latino and other communities of color, increasing business relief during COVID-19, increasing housing stability by enforcing tenants’ rights, increasing affordable housing and providing supportive housing and investing in community-based responses to issues such as mental health crises and homelessness.
District 9 covers east-central San Diego, including Kensington, College Area, City Heights and Southeastern San Diego.
— City News Service