By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
The first debate among three of the five District 3 county supervisor candidates got heated April 10 in Rancho Bernardo, with each challenging the others’ records, comments and associations.
The debate hosted by the Conservative Order for Good Government started smoothly, with Republicans Steve Danon and Carl Hilliard, and Democrat Dave Roberts sharing their views about the $5 million fund county supervisors spend annually at their discretion for community endeavors, proposed high speed rail project slated to come down Interstate 15 in North County, plans to reduce homelessness and methods to make the county more business friendly.
However, it was Danon who took the first verbal shot at Roberts, saying he will not need a “blue ribbon commission” to guide him in order to make a difference in the county. Roberts responded with a challenge to Danon’s claim the county’s permit process takes five to seven years, a delay that caused Sapphire Energy to take its algae-based oil fuel operations to New Mexico, along with hundreds of new jobs it created.
“I challenge your Sapphire Energy story,” Roberts said. “Nobody had heard it tried to get a permit in San Diego County. Stick to the facts … I cannot find anybody who says it is true.”
Danon said Roberts can check with Sapphire president and chairwoman, C.J. Warner, for verification.
Hilliard jumped into the fray, saying the company chose New Mexico over San Diego because there it could obtain the needed 10,000 acres to grow the algae cheaper, plus financial incentives were offered and there is plenty of water available, unlike in San Diego, which imports 90 percent of its water.
“Sapphire went there for economic reasons,” Hilliard said, adding that would have been the decision “no matter what red tape was cut (here).”
Later, Hilliard challenged Roberts’ claims of success regarding Solana Beach’s efforts to lower its pension costs. Roberts is a Solana Beach city councilman. Hilliard is the mayor of Del Mar.
Hilliard said Solana Beach consolidated positions, which consequently cut pension costs in lieu of true reform. “That’s not a success story. That’s failure,” he said.
Roberts later jokingly responded to his two opponents that his mother used to tell him if he could not say anything nice about someone, not to say anything at all. He called Solana Beach “one of the most fiscally conservative and well-run cities (in the county)” and said it has worked with Del Mar. He also referred to a friendship between Danon and now-imprisoned former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Danon is Rep. Brian
Bilbray’s chief of staff. (A Danon campaign spokeswoman said following the debate that Danon has never had any type of relationship with Cunningham.)
As for their stances on issues posed by some of the 130-plus attendees, Hilliard said the county’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund should be used in the respective districts for infrastructure, not on the ballet or symphony.
Danon, who called the money a “$5 million slush fund,” questioned District 3 Supervisor Pam Slater-Price’s practice of giving millions over her two decades in office to theater and music venues in downtown San Diego while after-school programs were cut in Escondido.