Election 2012: Three San Diego City Council District One candidates challenge incumbent Lightner for seat

By Joe Tash

Incumbent District 1 San Diego Councilwoman Sherri Lightner has her hands full as the June 5 primary election approaches, juggling the responsibilities of what she called a “more than full-time job” while trying to fend off three challengers for her seat.

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Sherri Lightner

Lightner, a mechanical engineer and former La Jolla and University City activist, is running against businessman Ray Ellis, attorney Bryan Pease and retired business executive Dennis Ridz, who is chairman of the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board.

The race is officially non-partisan, but party affiliations may impact the outcome: Lightner and Pease are Democrats, while Ellis and Ridz are Republicans.

Thanks to last year’s citywide redistricting following the 2010 census, District 1 will look a bit different after this year’s election. Rancho Peñasquitos is no longer part of the district, and a sliver of La Jolla has been reunited with the rest of the community.

The district now includes Carmel Valley, Del Mar Heights, Torrey Pines, University City and La Jolla.

If no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast June 5, the top two vote-getters will face off in a November runoff.

Among the top issues citywide are city finances, pension reform, expansion of the convention center and a new Chargers stadium, while North City issues include a proposed mixed-use development on Del Mar Heights Road called One Paseo, and planning for the completion of connectors between Interstate 5 and State Route 56.

Three of the candidates — Lightner, Ellis and Ridz — support Prop. B, a measure on San Diego’s June ballot that proposes to reduce city pension costs by providing a 401k-style retirement plan instead of a pension to all new city employees except police officers, and change other city pension rules.

Lightner noted that the city has already transitioned most categories of new hires to a 401k-style plan. The ballot measure would add firefighters, managers, lifeguards and elected officials to that list. Eventually, she said, the choice of pension or 401k will be offered to current employees. Retirees already receiving a pension would not be affected by the changes.

“We have righted the city’s financial ship” through pension reform, managed competition and reforms to retire health benefits, Lightner said. Those efforts, along with an improving economy, have helped the city improve its credit rating and go from an annual budget deficit to a surplus since she took office.

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Ray Ellis

But Ellis, a former appointed member of the city’s pension board, criticized Lightner and her council colleagues for failing to increase their own pension contributions, and not moving aggressively enough on managed competition, which is when city employees bid against private companies to provide city services.

Ellis said city voters approved managed competition six years ago, but so far the city has only processed three such competitive bids. In one case, the city’s fleet management department trimmed $4.4 million from its own budget while winning a bid to maintain city vehicles. Ellis said the council should have been scrutinizing the budgets of city departments more closely, and acted sooner to save taxpayer dollars from waste and inefficiency.

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