Thank you for providing a newspaper forum for Imperial Beach City Council candidates to debate issues. It has been very helpful and has revealed candidates’ views.

There seems to be a campaign theme of traditional IB small-town versus the big region viewpoint. Novice candidates Jack Fisher and Will Nimmo are pushing to retain the classic Southern California status, while Mark West and Matt Leyba-Gonzalez are more open to influence by the regional association of governments – SANDAG. The core of which is housing and transportation.

SANDAG, as a regional planning agency, has developed a master transportation plan that has a housing component to increase overall urban density in the county. The plan has mandated that each member city increase the number of housing units with the preferred location near mass-transit facilities. In San Diego, construction is taking place on vacant or underutilized land near Trolley stops. The idea is to bring riders to the mass transit system.

In theory that is good. But in reality, the residents of those apartments/condos may not work where mass transit goes. They may just want a more affordable place to live which happens to be by a transit facility/stop. Ninety-five percent of IB residents work outside the city with 75 percent of them driving to work. Only eight percent use public transit or ride a bike.

SANDAG has told IB it needs to build 1348 new residences as part of the regional housing goal. Trouble is IB does not have a parcel of open land for a big housing development. IB needs any open land for park and recreational purposes. So any future development will need to be multi-story, multi-family buildings. That will require an increase to height limits.

The thousands of residents of those new residences will require electricity, water, sewage, and cable connections. Will that mean more streets torn up for months to build them?

Another issue being discussed is the law enforcement cost to police IB. A big chunk of the budget is the Sheriff’s contract. More residents will require more police services, not less. A question for the candidates is if SANDAG can help IB get a better deal on law enforcement.

Mayor Dedina initially approved the SANDAG housing mandate but after constituent pushback, requested that the number of housing units be reduced. Of the four city council candidates in the election, only Matt Leyba-Gonzalez, based on his response to the Eagle & Times, seems to favor the increased housing mandate. Dedina in his campaign for mayor received significant union campaign donations. Leyba-Gonzalez is also receiving large labor contributions for his race and in his newspaper responses mentions his strong ties to the unions.

SANDAG spends hundreds of millions of tax dollars on a large number of major regional construction contracts. Organized labor is very interested in those contracts and seeks project labor agreements that help insure union workers get the jobs. PLAs require union work rules and generally mean a higher cost for the project. Mayor Dedina sits on the SANDAG board with Councilmembers West and Paloma as alternates. Organized labor has a vested interest in keeping a seat at the table which explains their large campaign contributions to a city without significant union work.

SANDAG regional transportation planning, and some funding, resulted in the Imperial Beach Boulevard Enhancement Project ($7.7 million cost) for an attractive but inefficient makeover of Imperial Beach Boulevard with its much underused bicycle lanes. Had the money been given directly to the city, it likely could have gone a long way to road, alley, and sidewalk improvements. This highlights the difference in the candidate platforms regarding outside influence versus local interests.

The primary benefit of the mandated housing increase could be increased sales tax revenue, if the new residents shop locally. Given the lack of big retail in the city, tax revenues will likely not rise enough to offset the cost of city services. Providing more transit (bike and bus) may slightly reduce traffic congestion if new residents use it. Historically this is unlikely.

Readers benefit from following the debate in the Eagle & Times. The more voters learn about the contestants in the council races and their public policy views the better their decision. The impact will be felt for years to come.

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