OCEANSIDE — The newly formed Tri-City Tea Party held an Oceanside City Council candidates forum at Mimi’s Restaurant on Sept. 7, and asked incumbents Jerry Kern and Chuck Lowery, and candidates Ken Crossman, Gary Felien and Rex Martin, questions that address the tea party’s focus issues of fiscal conservancy, constitutionally limited governments and free markets.
One tea party question asked candidates how they plan to stop excessive spending, in regard to employee pensions, which are chiefly paid by the city. All candidates said city employees should pay their fair share of pension costs.
Lowery and Martin said they support the city’s recent good faith negotiations with the Fire Department that move closer to the goal of firefighters paying their full benefits.
“There are a lot of issues in this contract deal,” Lowery said. “The previous council did nothing when the former council majority (of Kern, Jack Feller and Rocky Chavez) inked the deal.”
Kern and Felien said they oppose the proposed Fire Department contract in which firefighters pay less than their full pension dues and receive a small raise.
“It’s like a tsunami in the middle of a recession,” Felien said. “They haven’t negotiated in good faith at all.”
“It’s a bad deal for the city,” Kern said.
Another question asked how candidates plan to limit government involvement in housing so the housing industry can benefit from a free market.
Lowery said the recently passed city charter puts limitations on the free market. He pointed to problems other charter cities have run into by giving council members more power.
Kern defended the charter and said it will save the city money in building costs. The charter has already saved the city money in the beach restrooms renovation and city library improvement projects that did not use union laborers.
Kern and Felien also complimented the charter for slowing union contributions to political campaigns. Both criticized public safety unions for contributing heavily to the failed recall election against Kern and bringing election costs to the city.
Martin said there are rivaling special interest groups in local politics and pointed out that Kern has received support from real estate groups and builders.
“Limited government — that’s what it’s all about,” Martin said. “There are special interest groups on the other side. I’m going to be aligned with the citizens.”
Crossman said he is also ready to walk away from ongoing rivaling interests and deal with the business at hand of keeping taxes low and building a welcoming environment for businesses.
The final tea party question asked what incentives candidates propose to attract and keep businesses.
Crossman and Martin said there is still economic work to be done, and recognized the progress Oceanside is making in attracting light industry and downtown redevelopment. “We’ve changed our image and changed it for real,” Martin said.
Lowery also pointed to the positive, noting that the contract with Waste Management will bring $23 million in fees to the city over 13 years. He praised the infrastructure foresight of the desalination plant, which already takes care of 20 percent of city water needs and is on track to provide more of the city’s water.
Felien criticized the lack of roadway infrastructure to move traffic through Oceanside, and a city attitude that is not business-friendly for the lack of growth in Oceanside.
Kern pushed for more business development in areas that are zoned for light industry. He pointed to the loss of the cement plant on Industry Street, that was stopped because of environmental issues, as a missed opportunity.
While the Tri-City Tea Party is not officially endorsing a candidate at this point, Gary Cass, Tri-City Tea Party coordinator, said Kern spoke closest to tea party beliefs.
Susie Songe, volunteer coordinator for Stop Taxes, also gave Kern kudos for his answer on how to stop the city deficit from growing. “He’s a fiscal conservative,” Songe said. “That’s what I want in our government.”
There was criticism from Cass that some candidates skirted around issues and did not directly answer the questions that they were asked. Cass added that the forum gave citizens a good view of candidates’ general philosophies.