Clearly, a financial fix is the focus of the upcoming mayoral election. We wanted to know, however, whether there's been any room in this campaign for some forward thinking-dreams of a San Diego that could be if it weren't so mired in muck.
So we asked each candidate to imagine a San Diego where there's no pension crisis. Under that scenario, what is their vision for the city? What are some specific projects they'd dig into if nearly $2 billion in unfunded pension costs didn't exist? What does San Diego need to make it an ideal urban center?
They didn't have to tell us how they'd create this ideal city-simply what it would look like.
Frye's and Sanders' responses couldn't be more different. As an observer told CityBeat's Daniel Strumpf a couple of weeks ago, this is a race between a visionary and a manager.
Frye, contacted at home on a Saturday evening, getting ready for her third campaign appearance of the day, talked for more than 30 minutes, describing an ideal San Diego under her leadership and clearly had fun with the exercise, making sure she provided as comprehensive a picture as possible. Sanders, meanwhile, wrapped up what he had to say in about seven minutes and, as he pointed out, everything he mentioned could likely be accomplished regardless of the city's financial state. The guy's nothing if not pragmatic. "It's a back-to-basics approach," he said, ostensibly dismissing fantasy San Diego. "We do have problems, so we're going to have to solve those and live within our means."
Frye's future San Diego is one of good planning, lots of parks, clean water and open space. She envisions the San Diego River Park-a project she's long championed-nearly complete with bike paths and jogging trails stretching "from Ocean Beach to the headwaters in the mountains." Qualcomm Stadium, which backs up against the San Diego River, will be part of River Park. And you can't bring up Qualcomm without mentioning the "C" word.
"Rather than building a new stadium," Frye said, speaking in present, rather than future, tense, "we've renovated the old one and the Chargers have signed a 25-year lease." The renovations were such a hit-award-winning, in fact, "There's three Super Bowls coming [to San Diego]." The parkland surrounding the stadium has become a gathering point for the city where festivals like Street Scene are held.
"We're ready to launch our first festival along the river," Frye described. "And the hotels and restaurants in Mission Valley have started to do some remodeling to... embrace the whole river concept. So they're doing really well economically."
Under Frye's future San Diego, Mission Valley has the fire station it currently lacks and both the Police and Fire Departments have new communication equipment and a necessary number of helicopters.
Frye's imagined San Diego is the solar-energy capital of the U.S., and the city's been able to sell back extra energy to the state grid. Companies are setting up shop in San Diego, realizing that so-called "green" buildings can save money on energy costs. "We have become the "Solar Valley' of the region-and probably the U.S.," she said.
Other aspects of Frye's vision for San Diego include:
* A new recycling facility that would extend the life of existing landfills by 15 years.
* Under the strong-mayor system, the City Council gets a ninth district. Ideally, Frye said, this would be the district from which the first Pan-Asian is elected. City Council meetings take place in the evening to encourage citizen participation.
* Instead of focusing on large-scale public-transit projects, the city has added shuttles and smaller buses to offer more flexibility.
* The city adopts the strictest open-government laws in the state, "recognized as a model," Frye said. And, "it's the norm for children to want to grow up to become a public servant or... elected official, because the elected officials [in San Diego] are held in very high esteem."
* Under Frye's leadership, eminent-domain laws have been clarified, and "small businesses are no longer afraid of having their private property taken away from them and given to larger corporations." Redevelopment is now focused on encouraging small business, community use and job training.
* Without the pension situation to worry about, "the mayor and the city attorney are working well together and have shifted their focus to consumer-fraud issues... and are really focusing more on compliance issues to protect neighborhoods."
* Frye's future San Diego has brought the number of sewage spills to almost none; the city's adopted a condo-conversion ordinance and a lead-paint ordinance; there's an additional border entry point to cut down on wait times; community planning groups are given more say over local projects; and there are year-round, city-run homeless shelters with an emphasis on outreach to homeless veterans.
* The affordable housing crunch is partially solved by opening up the process "to a competition rather than a request for proposals," Frye said. "It's bringing in... really creative projects for increasing the housing supply and making San Diego more affordable because we've used some unusual ideas that otherwise would have been thrown out."
Both Frye and Sanders want to see the Embarcadero Waterfront project completed. "That's how the world will view San Diego"-literally, Sanders pointed out. "What we see all the time on sporting events and other events is... the downtown skyline. It would be nice to have them look through the Embarcadero as the front door of San Diego. We need to have a visionary plan for that so we don't squander that last opportunity we have to make a lasting impression."
Sanders wants city government to follow more of a business model where citizens are the consumers and city employees the ones providing customer service, "so that when people come to do business with the city, they feel like they've been treated very well."
As Sanders has said in other forums, he'd like to see more communities incorporate smart-growth, mixed-use projects like in Hillcrest, where condos, shops and restaurants sit where a Sears used to be. "Our older neighborhoods have an opportunity with smart growth to provide new centers for the community," he said. This development would happen along transit lines and put an emphasis on walkability. He'd also like to see the city use some of its excess property to build affordable housing, since land costs are usually what drive housing costs skyward. Like Frye, he wants to see more parkland, which could mean parks that fit neatly within a development, such as "pocket parks" and greenbelts.
Some other points Sanders brought up in the few minutes we spoke:
* "A well-thought-out disaster plan... that includes the necessary equipment and personnel," as well as a coordinated plan with state and federal officials.
* An emphasis on business clusters to attract new companies to San Diego. He then wants to make sure those folks are treated well. "We should never lose a business because of the way the city treats them."* Preserving open space is religion to San Diego government, and Sanders wants to make sure both public space and open space "is well maintained and groomed and we're adding it as we can."