San Diego City Council District Three Part I: Mission Hills Town Council Forum (4/21/16)


April 22, 2016 by Omar Passons

Peering in the auditorium at the start of the candidate forum

Peering in the auditorium at the start of the candidate forum

This site is usually reserved to help San Diegans understand local policy and issues related to public roads, buildings, sewer and water pipes and other city-owned assets.  With my own City Council race essentially between two candidates (Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward) – and after moderating a candidate forum between them on April 21, 2016 for the Mission Hills Town Council – I decided to write a little bit about the forum and provide some extra information for those who like source documents.  Here goesThe candidates showed up to the Francis Parker lower school in Mission Hills and everyone was able to enjoy the, ahem, warmth of the auditorium as we waited to begin.  There were several exchanges about the community site Nextdoor and public safety while we waited (aside: Nextdoor is actually a pretty useful site as long as you can keep the people who want to turn it into a silly facebook rant to a dull roar). Time ran a little long on the start, but we did get to hear an excellent update about the SANDAG Uptown Bikeway project (pictured below), which is a cool attempt to make parts of the community safer to ride bikes. If it is fully implemented and doesn’t get derailed by certain groups, it could be fantastic

Grainy image of Uptown Bikeway Project - click the link in above paragraph for better image

Grainy image of Uptown Bikeway Project – click the link in above paragraph for better image

If you don’t get your fill from the information below, you can always go to the Mission Hills Business Improvement District candidate forum on April 28th – details – which is likely to center more around issues important to small businesses in the community.

Our Budget

The City of San Diego did a really cool interactive tool to help us understand the budget.  You’ll have to take my word for it because I’m locked out of the site right now.  It’s at  I’ll update this if my quirk gets fixed. UPDATE! Here it is: Link.  You may have to click the advanced tab and select “proceed anyway” to get there, but trust me, it’s cool.

Also, for the actual proposed $2.9 Billion budget document, click here.

The Forum

The forum covered a range of topics at some depth.  I was asked to prepare a few questions in advance and what follows is those questions as well as several asked by the audience.  You’ll find links to background information and my short rendering of the candidates’ positions. VERY IMPORTANT: I’m not a journalist and I don’t profess to have gotten every position exactly right. Topics: Housing, Infrastructure, Convention Center, Public Safety, Homelessness, Housing Affordability, Short Term Rentals, Stadium Location, Public Finance, Balboa Park

Question 1 – Housing Needs/Density

The San Diego Association of Governments, known as SANDAG, is our regional body made up of local governments across San Diego County.  In its Regional Housing Needs Assessment it concludes that the City of San Diego will require over 88,000 more homes – in a mix of types and income ranges – to keep up with housing needs through 2020. The same report shows we are not close to meeting this need. If elected to the City Council, how will you address this issue and what role, if any, does density in urban communities like Mission Hills play?
(If answers with build where appropriate): Where specifically in Mission Hills do you believe density is appropriate?

Actual Detail on the Regional Housing Needs Assessment: Link

Candidates: Both candidates indicated that there was room for growth in the Mission Hills community (and both indicated in a subsequent question that they would support historic preservation ordinances to protect character). Mr. Bernal indicated that Reinard Way and Washington Street both were areas that growth could be accommodated. Mr. Ward did not, as best I can recall, provide specific options within Mission Hills.

Question 2 – Infrastructure/Ballot Proposition H

Councilmember Mark Kersey is the Chair of the City’s infrastructure sub-committee that is responsible for addressing the city’s roads, sewers, storm drains, and other publicly owned buildings.  Kersey’s Proposition H is a ballot measure that would require a fixed portion of the city’s revenue growth be set aside to repair or replace municipal infrastructure. What are the aspects of the Kersey plan that you think are most important for Mission Hills residents to understand and do you support the measure? Please explain why or why not?

Actual Detail on the Ballot Measure: Link

Note: We have a really smart person named Andrea Tevlin in the City whose office puts out analyses about things like infrastructure.  Her job is to help the Mayor and Council make smart financial choices.  I kind of want to be her when I grow up.  Here’s a link to her page where you can read about infrastructure to your heart’s content – link.

Candidates: Both candidates opposed this measure because it would trap general fund revenue that residents or other community members might prefer be spent on public safety or other priorities depending on the need.


Question 3 – Convention Center/Citizens’ Plan

A group including a local attorney have put forward the Citizen’s Plan for San Diego that calls for an increase in the tax on hotel guests – known as the Transient Occupancy Tax (or T-O-T) – to enable hotel owners to create a special tourism entity and to add revenue to the city of San Diego’s general fund.  What is the general fund, why is it important and what is your position on the plan?
Actual Detail on Citizens’ Plan: Link
Candidates: Mr. Bernal does not support the plan because he favors a contiguous convention center expansion (which means that the existing convention center would be added to directly – like building a beer room or family room onto your house). According to Bernal, the Citizens’ plan does not afford this option even though it is the preferred option of convention attendees.  Mr. Ward indicated he has not taken a position because the Plan continues to evolve, he noted, and it wasn’t clear it would ultimately be brought forward for a vote. Mr. Ward also noted the existence of a competing Chargers plan that has emerged, further muddying the waters.  You’ll have to google that plan on your own, I’d rather see our money spent making sure every San Diego community has a minimum level of asset quality and safety response times – two unquestionably clear essential government functions – before getting back in the stadium-making business.
Question 4 – Public Safety

Over the past decade, the San Diego Police Department has experienced dramatic benefit cuts and a continuing exodus of sworn officers.  A report published by one Councilmember indicates that the attrition rate has risen from 8 officers per month leaving the department in 2012 to as high as 14 officers per month in 2014. Many Mission Hills residents have voiced specific concerns about crime in this community.  If elected, what multi-year strategies will you employ to ensure public safety and an adequately resourced police department?

Actual Crime Stats for Mission Hills: Link


2007 - 2015 Mission HIlls Crime stats provided courtesy of MHTC - via SDPD website

2007 – 2015 Mission HIlls Crime stats provided courtesy of MHTC – via SDPD website

Candidates: Both candidates acknowledged the need for more public safety resources. My notes here aren’t great as to specific plans to address the long-developing attrition problem. Hopefully we’ll see plans or policy suggestions from both for a multi-year strategy soon.

Question 5 – Short Term Rentals

There is a wide variety of housing types in San Diego that people rent out for less than 30 days.  What is your position on short term rentals in San Diego’s residential zones?

Background: I’ve written alot about this topic because land use law was part of my previous profession and I represented a woman who I still think was horribly wronged by a system that refused to grapple with an inadequate law. Detailshere and here.

Candidates: Mr. Ward was disappointed in the failure of the current City Council to address this issue and did not believe that the topic actually fit in one small category.  He wants a comprehensive treatment and an update of the laws so that residents on all sides are clear about what’s allowed versus not.  Mr. Bernal distinguished between rentals in an owner’s personal home versus a classic vacation rental that is not the owner’s home.  He believes that they should be allowed within the owner’s own home but need to take a better look at how to handle non-owner occupied.  Both candidates made references to affordable housing being taken off the market in favor of short term rental purchases by investors.  When pressed, Mr. Ward indicated that the numbers were pretty clear. He said, more than 6,000 short term rental units in San Diego and a shortage of 3,000 units for housing occupancy (I think I’ve got this right).  My note: He is correct about the number of units on the short term “market.” People often ignore Craigslist, VRBO,, etc., but all of these are also in the definition of short term rentals.

Question 6 – Homelessness in Mission Hills

Given the significant shortfall in budget resources, what are your specific proposals to deal with the increasing homelessness issue in Mission Hills and the city overall?

Actual Link – homeless stats 2015 and regional homeless body

Candidates: This is a complicated question and honestly I got so wrapped up in listening to the answers that I didn’t get good notes.  I’d really encourage you to reach out to the candidates or visit their websites – Ward and Bernal – for more detail.

Other Questions – Balboa Park, Stadium Location, Vision Zero, affordable and market rate housing

Candidates: Honestly, I’m out of time.  I need to get on my bike and get to work.  It’s a beautiful ride down Utah (future site of Pershing Bikeway), 30th Street, and Imperial Avenue.  It will be even better when the protected lanes go in so more of the non-hipsters I see riding can easily get to work and save money.  I know I editorialized on this last response.



Thanks for having a read.  I’ve known both candidates for a pretty long time – Bernal longer than Ward.  I like them both and admire that they are both taking so much time away from their friends and family to be scrutinized in such minute detail for the chance to make a moderate salary while serving our community.  For those still reading, my “part two” of this series will be an evaluation of the race and I’ll reveal who I think is best suited to be our next City Councilmember.

Have a great day!


One thought on “San Diego City Council District Three Part I: Mission Hills Town Council Forum (4/21/16)

  1. […] Omar Passons, guest moderator for the Council District 3 candidates’ forum on April 21, shares his thoughts about the Town Hall here. Understanding San Diego […]

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