District 3 county supervisor candidate race heats up at debate


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.

Until recently, the five supervisors each had $2 million to spend annually, often getting personal credit in publicity — instead of the county — for the donations. Now they have $1 million each to spend annually.

Danon said the money should go to improve transportation, health, infrastructure and safety.

Roberts said Rancho Bernardo has received about $1.3 million. He would keep the program so taxpayer money stays locally instead of going to Sacramento or Washington, D.C., but “it needs to be thoroughly reviewed and vetted.” He added supervisors should not take credit for the donations.

Regarding the state’s high speed rail proposal that if built would bisect Rancho Bernardo, Danon said the project “financially does not make sense at this point and time,” while Roberts said voters were not given all the facts when they approved it and the rail line should not go down Interstate 15.

Hilliard said he opposes it due to financial reasons. “It makes sense to me to spend the money … on existing rail corridors to make them a viable enterprise. The money needs to be spent on the local rail system.”

The candidates agreed that more efforts need to be made to help reduce homelessness and the county’s method for dealing with businesses needs to be improved, especially speeding up and simplifying the permit process in order to increase jobs.

“The county is unfriendly,” Hilliard said. “The time it takes to process an application is horrendous.” He added county staff need to change their attitudes and provide service.

Roberts said the county needs to work more with the military and other government agencies since 71 percent of jobs in the county are related to government. He also said there needs to be greater understanding of the high tech and bio tech industries.

“We have to offer more than good climate to relocate to San Diego,” Danon said. “It starts with leadership at the top.”

All said more consideration is needed before the county commits money to a football stadium within the City of San Diego.

The June 5 primary race also includes Republicans Stephen Pate and Bryan M. Ziegler who were not invited to the debate.