Gaspar, Lawson-Remer talk transit, cannabis, housing, and racial equity at District 3 supervisor forum

Portraits of District 3 supervisor candidates Terra Lawson-Remer and Kristin Gaspar.
(Sam Hodgson and Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune)

The contest between Republican incumbent Kristin Gaspar and Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer will determine the political balance of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors


Republican Kristin Gaspar and Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer faced off in a virtual forum Thursday night, Oct. 8, where the two made their pitches for why they are the best choice to be San Diego County’s District 3 supervisor.

The event — hosted by the Escondido Chamber of Commerce — was a fairly cordial affair despite swipes between candidates. It afforded residents the opportunity to hear candidates weigh in on transit, cannabis, racial equity, housing and other challenges facing the county and district, which includes part of San Diego and the cities of Encinitas, Escondido, Solana Beach and Del Mar.

The race is one of the premier races of the 2020 election cycle in San Diego because it will determine the political balance of the Board of Supervisors.

Although county supervisor is technically a nonpartisan post, the five-member board has been controlled by a Republican majority for decades and the major political parties are usually involved with the campaigns.

The candidates, both Encinitas residents, wasted no time distinguishing themselves from each other, with one of the earliest lines being drawn over the future of transit.

Gaspar, a small business owner elected to the board in 2016, said she opposes a $177 billion plan to expand mass transit proposed by the head of the San Diego Association of Governments, arguing it cannot be paid for without a significant tax increase.

“It’s time to get realistic and come together with a plan that meets the state mandates but at the same time offers balanced transportation options for the region,” Gaspar said. “We’ve had two years to review this, there is no feasibility study out there and no feasibility study is needed to know this plan is all wrong for the residents of San Diego.”

Lawson-Remer, an economist and attorney who was a former senior adviser in the Treasury Department under the Obama Administration, said she is dedicated to evidence-based policy that a sizable investment project like the one being proposed needs a thorough review because of its potential drawbacks — and potential importance for the region.

She said the project needs should undergo two studies: a traditional feasibility study to examine whether it would meet the transit needs of the region and an economic study to see if it would create the kind of jobs decision-makers hope it would create.

“I support investing in roads, investing in public transit options and creating a lot of different kinds of options for the diversity we have here in San Diego County” Lawson-Remer said. “What works here in Escondido is not what is going to be working in South Bay, and we need a transit solution that is going to address the needs of all San Diegans in an equitable way.”

Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer and Republican Supervisor Kristin Gaspar discuss county issues in a District 3 supervisor forum
Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer (bottom left) and Republican Supervisor Kristin Gaspar (bottom right) discuss county issues in a District 3 supervisor forum Oct. 8, 2020.
(Zoom screengrab)

Gaspar and Lawson-Remer also drew a sharp contrast when discussing whether the ban on recreational cannabis businesses in the county’s unincorporated areas should be lifted.

Gaspar, who is backed by the county Republican Party, the conservative Lincoln Club and Supervisor Jim Desmond, said the ban should remain in place to protect people.

“If you look at what has happened to downtown San Diego nearly every billboard has been taken over by a pot ad, same thing with the sign spinners,” Gaspar said. “We really need to think through the impacts to our young people and the messages we’re sending to them on a constant basis.”

In contrast Lawson-Remer, who is backed by the county Democratic Party, most of Labor, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and Gov. Gavin Newsom, said the ban should be lifted, saying that would be a better way to protect the community and consumers.

She said a highly regulated legal market leads to safer outcomes for consumers, protects workers and expands the county’s tax base.

“We’re absolutely going to be facing a critical time in terms of revenue shortfall in the face of the pandemic,” Lawson-Remer said. “Certainly taxing legal cannabis producers provides a great opportunity to increase revenue and meet pressing health needs.”

The candidates also clashed over how to address the region’s housing crisis.

Gaspar said the region needs a good plan, different from the blueprint previously put forward by SANDAG. She said thousands of potential housing units are “held hostage in court by environmental groups.”

Lawson-Remer said there is a lot the region has to address regarding housing, but specifically pointed to reducing the costs developers face while waiting for a permit to be approved.

She said the county could entice developers to build more affordable housing by allowing those constructing homes for people who make 50 to 100 percent of the median income to jump the line during the permitting process.

Despite their differences, the candidates also shared a few similarities.

Gaspar and Lawson-Remer both pointed to an potential uptick in tele-working as an enduring impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They both also said that systemic racism and racial inequity is a problem in San Diego County and across the country.

Gaspar applauded the county’s recently revived Human Relations Commission as a step in the right direction, and said that more progress needs to be made to address juvenile justice reform and the county’s child welfare system.

“The disproportionality of children in the child welfare system needs to change,” Gaspar said. “We have a disproportionate number of African-American children represented in the child welfare system and that’s not right.”

Lawson-Remer said if she is elected she will continue to fight predatory lending, redlining, and discriminatory sentencing, and added that fighting structural racism is something we all need to do every day.

“We are a country of great promise that promises freedom and opportunity to all, but we are also a country founded on the legacy of slavery,” Lawson-Remer said. “That tension is at the core of the struggles we are still faced with, and we’re still trying to grapple with those inequities.”

San Diego County’s more than 1.9 million registered voters began receiving their mail ballots on Monday, Oct. 5, and voters have until Nov. 3 to postmark and send back to the registrar of voters. Voters will also have the option to vote early in-person at the Registrar of Voters now, or at one of 235 “super poll” locations closer to election day.

Those super polls will be open Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Election Day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health concerns, San Diego County will have fewer in-person polling locations this year and it is likely voters have been assigned a different polling location.

That is why the county registrar is encouraging voters to check their sample ballot or visit the registrar’s website at to confirm their designated polling location.

—Charles T. Clark is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune