Lightner, Ellis answer tough questions at City Council debate

(L-R) Moderator Thad Kousser, San Diego District 1 City Council candidates Ray Ellis (R) and incumbent Sherri Lightner (D). Photo/Daniel Lew
(L-R) Moderator Thad Kousser, San Diego District 1 City Council candidates Ray Ellis (R) and incumbent Sherri Lightner (D). Photo/Daniel Lew

By Claire Harlin

Traffic, transit and development in the rapidly growing Carmel Valley/Del Mar Heights area were only a few issues that steered an animated debate between San Diego District 1 City Council candidates Ray Ellis (R) and incumbent Sherri Lightner (D) on Sept. 19 at a forum presented by the Carmel Valley News, Del Mar Times and La Jolla Light.

More than 300 people packed the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art’s Sherwood Auditorium for the debate, in which the candidates fielded questions from both the audience and the community newspapers’ staff — a means to test their prowess and display their very distinct philosophies. For four years, Lightner has served District 1, which encompasses Carmel Valley and Del Mar Heights. The former mechanical engineer is fighting a tough re-election campaign following a close June primary election, in which she garnered only 41.5 percent of the vote to trail Ellis’ 45.6-percent win. The race is crucial in that a win for Ellis, a Carmel Valley resident, would result in a shift to a Republican majority on the council.

Just as the Interstate 5/SR-56 interchange project, meant to link I-5 South to 56 East and 56 West to I-5 North, was a big issue in the 2008 election, it resurfaced again as a prominent concern for both candidates. When asked what would be the best solution — a direct connector, auxiliary lane improvements, a hybrid or a hybrid with a flyover — Ellis said every alternative has potential problems, but the flyover would definitely disrupt the neighborhoods due to sound. Following the release of the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in June, Lightner has been vocal in her opposition to every alternative except one — no build. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is expected to make a decision on the preferred alternative by the end of the year.

Lightner said her priority as District 1 Councilwoman has been to bring a neighborhood voice to City Hall, and that goal remains, along with improving water supply and bringing jobs to San Diego. Ellis said he has been dedicating his life to volunteer work for the past six years, working with organizations such as Voices for Children and Second Chance, and his priority is helping to solve the city’s financial problems. As president of the city’s pension board, he said he has seen first-hand how San Diego’s pension liabilities have been draining the budget, and that’s why pension reform is a top priority.

“I’ve been working on pension reform since before Lightner was on the City Council,” said Ellis, adding that Lightner should have worked harder on the issue and put it on the ballot.

Lightner  replied, “I’m the only one up here who’s actually implemented pension reform … That’s why we’ve saved the city a billion dollars since I’ve been elected.” She also said retiree healthcare reform that took place during her term resulted in more than $800 million in savings to the city.

Lighter became passionate when the subject of public transit came up — and she said she’s been working especially hard to put more transit in place in Carmel Valley due to both the lack of current transit options and the exponential growth of the community. Lighter was a driving force behind securing funding for a senior shuttle launched in Carmel Valley in February. She has also been advocating more east-to-west routes, and was able to secure both a route from Solana Beach to 4S Ranch and a route from Rancho Bernardo to Qualcomm Stadium.

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