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Carlsbad mayoral candidates tackle issues at forum

CARLSBAD — The only mayoral forum in the city was hosted by the Carlsbad Evening Rotary Club on Oct. 13 at the Holiday Inn.

Councilman Keith Blackburn, who’s served 14 years on the Carlsbad City Council, and Mike Curtin, a retired businessman, addressed several issues during the 30-minute forum.

Questions centered on the candidates’ priorities, state of the city, future projects impacting quality of life versus benefitting the city and how much each candidate has received in party support.

Blackburn cites experience, longevity

As to why he’s running for mayor, Blackburn said he as a good foundation for continued municipal governance after 14 years on the council, helping pass a popular ordinance banning puppy mills. Blackburn said he’s worked diligently under former Mayor Bud Lewis and current Mayor Matt Hall, so  winning the mayor’s seat is the next logical step.

Blackburn cited his service on several boards and commissions as opportunities to learn and gain a regional perspective when tackling certain local issues.

As for top priorities, Blackburn and Curtin both expressed the same concerns: budget and homelessness.

Blackburn said money buys every single quality-of-life issue, from parks and better roads to more police and firefighters, and Carlsbad spends more money per resident on quality-of-life issues than any other city in the county.

Carlsbad City Councilman Keith Blackburn, left, speaks during the Carlsbad Evening Rotary Club’s mayoral forum on Oct. 13 alongside candidate Mike Curtin. Photo by Steve Puterski
Carlsbad City Councilman Keith Blackburn, left, speaks during the Carlsbad Evening Rotary Club’s mayoral forum on Oct. 13 alongside candidate Mike Curtin. Photo by Steve Puterski

Blackburn said previous city leaders did well in diversifying the city’s revenue streams by working with local businesses and the tourism sector. 

“That’s why our city is so great and why we need to continue to maintain our tourism and businesses,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn said the issue of homelessness ties into another issue: California trying to run individual cities. According to Blackburn, the city has put forward great ideas to solve homelessness, such as a “carrot-stick” approach. If the homeless didn’t follow the city’s laws, there would be consequences.

But now, the state legislature has taken away the “stick,” and the council has trouble running its own community, Blackburn said. 

Regarding the the city’s current trajectory, Blackburn put some of the onus on a younger council, which has seen issues crop up after four years. Blackburn acknowledged this is tomorrow’s generation and has tried to improve communication with the newer council members to create a more cohesive body that will plan for the future.  

“We’re going in this direction, but shiny object, we got to go this way and this way,” Blackburn said. “Our council has always had great five- and 10-year goals and I want to make sure we continue to do that.”

As for the future and what projects would benefit quality of life, Blackburn pointed to a general plan update as the first step, along with a new fire station west of Interstate 5, a renovation of the Monroe Street Pool and Encina Power Station site.

When it comes to party support, Blackburn said he’s a Republican but he’s not running as a Republican — a distinction voters wouldn’t be able to tell from his campaign flyers and website. According to Blackburn, roughly 80% of voters fall in the middle (leaning left or right), while 20% are on the far ends of the political spectrum.

Blackburn said it’s his job to represent the whole city, not just one party – a particular viewpoint that has been lost with the current council. Blackburn did mention his Republican support, which includes the San Diego County GOP and the Carlsbad Police and Fire associations.

“It’s been my belief that the only political governing body that’s not dragged into the politics is city government,” Blackburn said. “My personal politics seem to be very light, and I understand as the mayor and a city council member, my job is to represent the whole city.”

Curtin’s address experience, budget issues

Curtin said he never intended to run for office but has watched with concern at the council’s direction. When no one would step up to offer residents a choice, Curtin said he chose to step in to represent the residents. As for his lack of elected experience, or the “elephant in the room,” Curtin said throughout his career, he was brought in to take over troubled companies, assess their challenges or opportunities, chart turnaround courses or engage in liquidation.

Curtin said those experiences qualify him to be mayor, saying, “it’s not rocket science, it’s common sense.”

The budget is a top priority for Curtin, followed by homelessness and bridging the partisan divide, which still resonates today after the divisive Measure A in 2015-16.

Curtin said the city continues to spend, hiring over 80 personnel over the past few budget cycles and dipping into its reserve account for $4 million to cover budget issues this year.

Curtin said the council must slow down as concerns for a recession and uncertain economic times loom in the future.

“For the first time, we have budget problems … directly in the face of uncertain economic times,” Curtin said. “I believe that’s problematic and that has to be reined in because we really don’t know how bad the recession that we’re going to face.”

Curtin said many residents, especially west of Interstate 5, have reached their limit with homelessness and the city must expand its thinking and approach.

Carlsbad mayoral candidate Mike Curtin, right, speaks on Oct. 13 during the Carlsbad Evening Rotary Club’s mayoral forum. Curtin is running against Councilman Keith Blackburn. Photo by Steve Puterski
Carlsbad mayoral candidate Mike Curtin, right, speaks on Oct. 13 during the Carlsbad Evening Rotary Club’s mayoral forum. Curtin is running against Councilman Keith Blackburn. Photo by Steve Puterski

Finally, Curtin said residents are sick of the partisan bickering — noting Measure A “tore this community apart” and has yet to fully come back together — and they want to see a consistent approach to the city’s future. 

As for the course of the city, Curtin reiterated his concern for a problematic budget and spending $4 million in reserves during the current budget cycle proves the city is not on the right path.

“The economic forecast is still quite bad,” Curtin said. “We’ve yet to rein in spending and address that issue.”

In addition, the state is mandating development and removing local control. Curtin said some are rolling over and accepting that, but he believes it’s not the right course, especially with land use and housing.

According to Curtin, residents have every right to determine the makeup of their communities.

Another issue is the controversial Windsor Pointe housing project, which was supposed to be for homeless veterans, but the council opted to include severely mentally ill persons. At one point, Windsor Pointe had a registered sex offender living on-site, violating the city’s terms for eligibility. 

As for the future and what projects would benefit the quality of life, Curtin said there are obvious ones, such as the Encina Power Station site, but for for him, education is paramount. Curtin, spent five years living in Nigeria and Ghana, said once the basic needs of people are met — food, water and shelter — the next biggest need is education.

Curtin said MiraCosta College is investing $80 million on a jobs-of-the-future center in Carlsbad, which the city should support as a direct beneficiary.

Politically, Curtin spent his adult life as an independent, but registered as a Democrat based on the advice of consultants and San Diego County Democrat Chairwoman Rebecca Taylor. Curtin said he is in the race to win, but did not get the Democratic party endorsement. According to Curtin, when he approached the party about a potential endorsement, he was informed a small faction of Carlsbad Democrats were out to block his endorsement — and ultimately, they did just that.

“That faction of Democrats has worked diligently … and what started out as an independent candidate, is pretty still an independent candidate,” Curtin said. “I have no support and ultimately why I’m running is to represent the residents and that’s why I’m still here.”

Curtin said he has always been a registered independent and not having the endorsement allows him to continue his grassroots approach in campaigning to all voters. Curtin has secured endorsements from Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall, a Republican, and Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez, a Democrat.

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