More at Stake in San Diego District 6 Race Than Voters Realize

Attend an hour candidate orientation, collect 100 signatures from qualified voters, pay a $200 filing fee, submit, and then you are off to campaign for a seat on the San Diego City Council. To many, this process may seem simple enough for an elected official that fixes potholes and extends library hours.

As San Diegans follow the noted historical city council race of district 6, however, the responsibilities and importance of the position poses more relevance. Touching base on legislative power, civic authority, and steaks the seat holds, city council duties, as described in the answers and statements from the district 6 candidates, directly establish and modify representation, transparency, and coalition initiatives for San Diego’s future.

As established in the 2010 redistricting efforts, the communities of Rancho Penasquitoes, Mira Mesa, Miramar, Kearny Mesa, Clairemont Mesa East, and Clairemont Mesa West make up the newly designated district 6. The race is historic for all of San Diego because it will produce the first Asian and Pacific Islander (API) city council member in over 50 years — who will serve a district where the API community makes up more than 30 percent of its population.

Local organizations like the Asian Business Association (ABA) and the Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC) have held debate forums and conversations to solidify the importance of the race for the API community and representation.

Formed in 2010, APAC was a key special interest factor in determining the new district lines — most notably, the lines of district 6. Mitz Lee, the nonpartisan candidate of the race and Board of Education trustee, is the co-founder of APAC.

Developed to serve as an API voice in order to “create a new district and rebalance the population in the redistricting process,” as accented by Mitz, APAC affirmed that its goals are to “increase voter education and participation. It also aims to support the appointment of qualified Asian and Pacific Americans to policy-making positions.”

Four years later, coining herself as an Elder, Mitz believes she must “continue to provide the leadership” after answering the call to action to improve API representation — a representation that will be civically sought and shared within the nine districts of the City of San Diego.

In San Diego, the city council has the authority to introduce and pass ordinances and resolutions that make up the city’s ruling documents. More importantly, as the district 6 candidates Chris Cate, Carol Kim, and Mitz Lee agree, the city council has authority over the city’s budget — a budget that all three have emphasized lacks transparency.

But, what does transparency mean for district 6?

For Cate, the Republican candidate and vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, transparency is “having data in real time.” Accurate and open data should be available to be analyzed and discussed.

Mitz points to the need to “be watchful of the people who think they run the city.” Politics is the same wherever you go: a small group that holds a lot of influence, and where decisions are sometimes already made behind closed doors. For her, transparency is having someone there to ask the tough questions.

New to politics, a Democrat, and an educator, Carol Kim is “horrified by the little oversight and management there is over city contracts.” It’s a contracting system that is flawed due to the lack of set goals and objectives. She explains the need of posting and showing all contracts, its measurable evaluations, and evaluation plans in a workable excel format, allowing leaders and citizens alike to interact and participate with what is going on in their city.

What does transparency in local government mean to you?

Kim exemplifies the need for this implementation of transparency by pointing at the city’s recent failed attempt in planning Balboa Park’s 2015 centennial celebration.

After a year of planning, and only seven months until the centennial, the lack of oversight and goals within the contract made with the hired contractor Balboa Park Centennial Inc., has left San Diego with terminated agreements and $250,000 of the more than $3 million that was invested to produce it. Blind sighted by the mere expectation to “have to do something magnificent,” as City Council President Todd Gloria said, BPCI’s original agreement was made on the hyper-fantasized and loose intentions to double the ten million visits from 2010 in the 2015 celebration.

Last month, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he plans to work with Gloria, whose district includes Balboa Park, “to move forward with a more practical and realistic celebration that recognizes the character and history of Balboa Park.” The revised celebration “would focus on the existing cultural institutions within the park,” Faulconer said. San Diego CityBeat has characterized this incident as the ‘anatomy of civic failure.’

Addressing their civic duty to the City of San Diego, as well as to the communities they will represent, the district 6 candidates expressed the expectations they have for participating and engaging with their constituents. As structured by law, each council member has the right to vote on all questions bought before the city council, as well as the right to appoint committees, advisory boards, and citizen committees.

Utilizing these powers, in the frame of civic duty, Kim’s approach is to start with the basics: translating documents and processes into other languages. She feels that being able to access and read important documents allows constituents to feel engaged in their government, and see themselves as “valued contributors and stakeholders.”

=Mitz’s focus is to reach out to small businesses, developing a staff for ‘economic opportunity’ and enlisting help from organization like ABA so that the owners of these businesses are aware they have help available to them; services that will help them navigate government permits and processes. Mitz hopes this reach to mom and pop shops will “create a blanket of understanding towards bureaucracy,” as well as a strong source of representation.

Cate verbally rallies the need of a champion for the district 6 seat. To address the lack of understanding and access to government, he firmly states it starts with leadership —“an official to take it upon himself to serve as that voice.” District 6 needs a leader that heads community offices to go to different meetings, reach out, and have the constituents “voice their opinion, and learn they have to speak up.”

Time and time again, Cate has qualified his ability to be that leader and “hit the ground running” because he “knows how city hall works.”

So how does city hall work? The answer: coalition building.

Working with eight other districts and cultural groups beyond the API community, this historic race makes sure to address the committees and developmental facets of San Diego. Coalition building includes power brokers, city workers, investors, and voters to plan and execute policies, initiatives, reforms, and the budget.

In trade, Mitz hopes to make San Diego “the pearl” port of California and bring in greater revenue for the city. In labor, Kim anticipates the influx of human capital and hopes to build an alliance with corporate companies like Qualcomm to find initiatives that will develop and utilize the local workforce.  In civil discourse, Cate wants to leverage the young leaders of tomorrow — giving them an opportunity to grow and expand within the board of commission and “many organization in San Diego that are already doing great work”.

With an annual salary of $75,386, the new city council member will serve for the next four years and San Diegans will see how the bullet points of solutions in their mailers and flyers play out. Beyond the closed doors and horrifying state of transparency, San Diego can only hope the addition of around $12 million in new spending that is being added to the city’s nearly $3 billion budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year will be used in an efficiently planned, open, and well-documented manner.

The added budget was made in order to hire a sustainability program manager, and will be used on expenditures for streetlight installation, park projects, extra support for the San Diego police helicopter, equipment for the fire department, and transit plans for Encanto and City Heights.

Job creation, investing in neighborhoods, and promoting civil engagement are some of the many issues the candidates in district 6 plan to address in their role of public service. Whether it be a holistic approach, an experienced resume, or the backing of a collective voice, this race goes beyond the fences of neighborhoods.

In the power and duties of the city council seat, their vote, representation, and those they align with affects each and every San Diegan. Do not let the surface accounts of the role hinder the knowledge, and choice, of how much they will impact the city.

The 2014 primary elections in San Diego and California will be held on June 3. If a candidate does not garner more than 50 percent of the vote in the district 6 race, a runoff election will be held on November 4.

Photo Source: The Voice of San Diego