The high cost of housing and homelessness in San Diego were the two main topics during a debate Friday among the six mayoral candidates on the upcoming March 3 ballot.
The top two vote-getters in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, will then compete for mayor in the November election to replace outgoing Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
The debate was hosted by the Greater San Diego Association of REALTORS and moderated by Matthew Hall, San Diego Union-Tribune editorial page editor, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel San Diego in Mission Valley. The 50th Congressional District candidates had taken the stage just prior.
A poll recently released by the Union-Tribune shows state Assemblyman Todd Gloria leading at 29 percent, City Councilman Scott Sherman at 18 percent and City Councilwoman Barbara Bry in third at 13 percent. The other candidates are computer tech Rich Riel, Gita Appelbaum, a family nurse practitioner, and Tasha Williamson, a nonprofit executive.
Gloria said the city is ignoring the big issues and focusing too much on the small issues.
“We are a big city that operates like a small town,” he said. “We're ignoring the big issues, like homelessness, housing affordability and infrastructure. We never get to the big issues because we're chasing our tail on the small issues.”
Scott Sherman said the housing crisis is worsened by government interference.
“Government policies create the haves and have-nots,'' Sherman said. “The city should get of industry's way. They'll provide the housing and that will bring down the cost.”
Williamson said different regulations from federal, state and local governments can result in higher housing costs.
“We should come together so we can find common ground that works best for everyone,” Williamson said.
Bry called for a restructuring of the city's development services department to speed up the permit process.
“Time is money,'' she said. “As mayor I will oversee a restructuring of our development services department so we can process permits in a more timely manner so we can get more housing built more quickly."
“We need more hotels built,” Bry said, “Then where they belong, not where apartments are.”
Bry said there are laws already on the books regulating short-term rentals but they are not being enforced.
“I call on the mayor to enforce existing laws, which is what I'll do as mayor,” Bry said. “What we're missing is housing for working families.”
Riel vowed to “solve the homeless problem and I'm going to solve the housing problem. Stop the sale of city-owned land. We need a charter change to stop developers from taking our land. Lease it, don't sell it.”
“It is criminal what's going on in our real estate asset department,” Riel continued, “because they are so focused on giving away our land.”
The debate then turned to homelessness.
“Each one of us could be homeless in one paycheck,” Appelbaum said. “I want to end homelessness and I want affordable homes.”
“The homeless are made up of four different types of people: mental illness, addiction, economic and what I call the drifter,” Riel said. “We should have a triage, bring those people in and identify them in these four groups.”
“We are not addressing the issue of homelessness in the city of San Diego and the mayor is the worst of them,” he continued.
Sherman said the police need to focus on crimes committed by the homeless, and not criminalize homelessness.
“It's not a crime to be homeless,” Sherman said. “But crimes you commit while being homeless, they are still crimes and they need to be dealt with.”
Williamson agreed with Sherman that homelessness is not a crime.
“But we need to ask for transparency and stop labeling people,” Williamson said. “We should never use police unless it's for someone who is being harmed. People who are mentally ill, they need a hospital, not a jail cell.”
San Diego County voters have already begun receiving and returning mail-in ballots for the March 3 primary election.