5 Moments From an Environmental Mayoral Debate

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

5 Key Moments From an Environmental Mayoral Debate

The League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club hosted a mayoral forum on environmental issues last week. Here are five moments that stood out.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria and San Diego Councilwoman Barbara Bry / Photos by Dustin Michelson and Vito Di Stefano

This post originally appeared in the Oct. 19 Politics Report. Get the Politics Report delivered to your inbox.

It’s debate season. Every community and special interest group in the city will have one or more debates – nay, forums – for races up and down the ballot.

It drives politicos nuts, but it’s just how we do things.

Tuesday the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club hosted a mayoral forum.

Community activist Tasha Williamson wasn’t there, but Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Assemblyman Todd Gloria squared off on a range of environmental issues.

Here are five moments that stood out.

Retrofitting Buildings

Moderator Matt Strabone asked whether the candidates would commit to forcing all new buildings to reach zero emissions, including a requirement that they not include gas hookups.

Gloria, who elevated an early draft of the Climate Action Plan that was later adopted by the City Council when he was interim mayor, pointed out that his version of the plan included a requirement for old buildings to be retrofitted whenever they were sold.

“New construction, that’s a far easier conversation, but I was willing to have a different conversation,” he said. “When I proposed the draft climate action plan, we talked about energy retrofits in existing buildings. That wasn’t necessarily well received in every corner, but I think this group of voters here tonight are looking for a true environmental champion.”

He’s right — he proposed it, and the real estate industry pushed back hard. When Faulconer became mayor and proposed the final plan, that was the one big item he killed.

Bry didn’t exactly jump on the question, instead arguing transportation was the No. 1 emission source, so helping people live closer to work was more important.

“As we know transportation creates … the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “So getting people out of their cars, moving good jobs closer to where people live, and having more people live closer to good jobs, will do a lot to get us closer to our climate action plan goals.”

She touted her recent support to make way for thousands of new homes along the Mid-Coast trolley line, and her support for redeveloping Horton Plaza into a tech employment center.

Fixing Park Deficiencies in Low-Income Neighborhoods

On how to make sure low-income neighborhoods have broad access to well-funded parks, Bry said her budget committee audited park funding citywide and found parks in low-income areas have less revenue coming in.

“So now I’m leading an effort to make sure that spending across the city is equal,” she said.

Gloria took exception to that response, arguing that North of I-8 communities have long benefited from robust development that paid into park facilities that hasn’t been reciprocated elsewhere.

“It is in those south-of-8 communities where equity is so very important, and that is not the same as equal, I humbly point out to you, compared to my opponent’s answer,” he said.

Transit Past and Future

There was perhaps no bigger champion for Measure A, SANDAG’s failed transportation measure in 2016, than Gloria. After it failed, he went to Sacramento and the measure became the entry point of a years-long scandal, ultimately leading to the ouster of the SANDAG’s director, state legislation reforming the agency and the hiring of a new director proposing a much more transit-oriented vision for the county.

Gloria said he is on board with that vision – referred to as The 5 Big Moves – pointing to a recent VOSD op-ed.

He said as mayor he would use the city’s strengthened authority from AB 805, which gives its vote more weight on SANDAG than any other city, to push that vision.

“Use that authority at SANDAG to make sure we’re driving an agenda that gets San Diego to San Diego’s climate goals regionwide, because I don’t believe that the transit, biking and walking is unique to the city limits of San Diego,” he said.

But Bry hit him for his vocal support for Measure A, which was opposed by many of Gloria’s supporters in labor and the progressive community for spending too much money on transit. It has since also become clear that the measure would not have raised as much as its proponents said, and that the money it did raise would have gone to paying for other highway projects SANDAG had promised in TransNet.

“We have to think 10 to 20 years out, but we also have to think about today,” she said. “In 2016 Mr. Gloria supported Measure A, which if it had passed we would have been building a lot of the wrong things. Fortunately it didn’t pass and now we have an opportunity to get it right.”

She said she’d focus on expanding telecommuting to ease congestion.

She also said she was shocked to learn upon taking office in 2016 that MTS and SANDAG had done so little to connect the UTC employment area to the new trolley station set to open there in 2021.

“Before I got there, they were not even thinking about it,” she said. “I could not believe it. Here we are the No. 1 employment center and the trolley is coming in 2021, and they weren’t thinking about how to connect people from the trolley to their place of work. They are now thinking about it, and there will be transit, other means of transportation in place, micro-mobility solutions and eventually autonomous vehicles.”

Bry Explains Scooter Fixation

One more moment that stood out for us in the debate was Bry’s closing statement. She seemed to be aware of the not-subtle snarking about her obsession with scooters and she had an explanation of why she finds the topic so indicative of a bigger difference between her and Gloria.

I believe the diversity of my life experiences has prepared me to be your next mayor and I’m just going to take scooters as one example because it’s really more than just about scooters. When I saw the scooter industry descend on San Diego, I looked at the fast money behind these scooters and I realized that their success was dependent upon getting state legislation to exempt them from requirements to wear a helmet and to prohibit cities from having any local control over helmet usage. Mr. Gloria supported this legislation and as you know we in San Diego cannot require helmet usage and the number of head injuries is tragically increasing. He will tell you he did this because it puts us in sync with bicycle regulations. But scooters are not bikes. They are flimsy electric vehicles and people literally just get on them and then fall off for no reason. Your choice in this election is clear between more of the same or a change agent with a track record of success.

While this is a surprisingly compelling take given our unabashed shillery for scooters, it feels like it’s missing one line about exactly what she’s saying here: that by virtue of her broader set of life experiences, she can see the bigger system at work, or something.

Gloria responded to the career-politician attack that we suspect we’ll be hearing quite a bit throughout the race.

“You have seen me do it for years, and I will never apologize for spending my career serving my hometown,” he said.

One More Debate Moment

Gloria got the crowd going at one point when he was asked about how he’d deal with sewage flows out of the Tijuana River.

Believe me, if I get a chance to sit down with President Trump, we’re not just going to have happy talk. We’re going to have a conversation about the Tijuana River Valley, and then we’re going to get to the kids in cages and some of the other bullshit that he’s been pushing on this community.

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