By José A. Álvarez
Five candidates vying for a seat in the City Council pledged to put the interests of Chula Vista residents above anyone else’s, restore the community’s trust in their elected officials, and make city government more open.
Businessman Rudy Ramirez, social worker Pat Moriarty, special education technician Russ Hall, public relations officer Jesse Navarro, and Councilmember Patricia Chavez made those promises at a community forum, sponsored by Crossroads II, the Northwest Civic Association, and the South Bay Forum.
For about 90 minutes, the candidates for Seat 1 answered questions from a moderator and from the audience on topics such as the city’s appointment process for vacant positions, eminent domain, affordable housing, and Chula Vista’s development and redevelopment efforts. Even though he’s running unopposed for Seat 2, incumbent John McCann, who arrived late, was also invited and answered the same questions posed to the other candidates.
“We have a dysfunctional government…It’s time for a change,” Ramirez told the audience of about 100 people, several of them relatives of the candidates. “It’s time for a strong independent voice,” added the candidate during his opening statement.
“I am disgusted and disillusioned with what is going on in city government,” said Moriarty, a social worker, adding that she decided to run for the position to offer a “new face to the City Council.”
The first question posed to the candidates had to do with the City’s process for filling Council vacancies.
Chavez, who came to occupy Seat 1 after a controversial and highly questioned appointment, responded first. In fact, members of Crossroads II were some of the most vocal opponents of Chavez’s appointment.
“This is especially interesting for me,” said Chavez, adding that she believed all applicants to position should have been given the opportunity to present themselves to members of the Council and openly discuss the selection process. “As a country, we don’t trust our elected officials…We need to make it (the selection process) as open as possible.”
During Chavez selection process, 19 candidates, including Hall and Moriarty, applied for the position. The list was narrowed down to three and a selection made without public input.
All the other candidates agreed the selection process should be more open. Navarro said he opposes the appointment process and suggested the City Charter be changed to allow voters to elect who their representatives will be.
“You are the ones who should choose who’s going to represent you,” said Navarro.
Ramirez responded that the current appointment process could lead to “hazardous situations.”
“The trouble is that people don’t have a voice and that could lead to backroom deals and cronyism,” said Ramirez, further proposing that the appointed person “wait at least two years before running for office.”
On the issue of new housing developments, all the candidates agreed developers must also offer some affordable housing.
“We need to continue the policy of inclusionary housing,” said Hall, a member of the City’s Economic Development Commission. The City’s current guideless require developers to set aside 10 percent for moderate housing and five percent for low income housing on projects of 50 units or more.
When it came to the question regarding new development and redevelopment projects, all candidates, once again, agreed that Chula Vista, one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, must continue on the path of planned growth and said they would oppose any developments that would severely alter the image of the city.
“We need to respect the character of Chula Vista,” said Moriarty, who offered the City of La Mesa as a model her city should follow. “In 100 years from now, people are going to know we did the right thing.”
On his answer to this question, Ramirez drew the loudest applause from the audience.
“They missed a big point. The people,” said Ramirez, who was the only candidate to bring any campaign literature to the forum. “The most important thing is bringing our community along, making them a part of the development effort.”
For the most part, the candidates stuck to the established format of the forum, which only allowed for questions that all candidates could respond “so as there not to be any grandstanding.”
While it’s typical for candidates to confront and question each other on the issues, the forum was subdued. The only incident appearing a confrontation happened between Ramirez and Jose Preciado, the moderator and president of the South Bay Forum.
When Ramirez questioned the order in which the questions were being answered, Preciado shot back with “You don’t worry about it. I am in charge.”
Ramirez later gave Preciado a note. Preciado promptly answered the question in the note for the entire audience to hear. “Yes, everybody will have the opportunity answer a question first.”
With regards to eminent domain, which McCann assured the City has not used in a “very long time,” all candidates, again, opposed any move on the part of the City that would displace homeowners. In fact, all candidates threw their support in favor of Proposition C, which would restrain the City’s power of eminent domain and will appear on the June 6 ballot.
However, Navarro stated, “certain community areas that are blighted are fair game.”
On the appropriate uses for the Bay Front, all candidates apposed the possibility of a new Chargers’ stadium and supported a mix of residential and commercial developments.
Ramirez joked that he “will encourage the City of San Diego to continue subsidizing the team.”
The community forum, the only one planned with all the candidates, before election day, June 6. If no candidate receives 50 percent plus one vote of all votes cast, then a special run-off election will be held in November 7 between the two top vote-getters.