REGION — The four-person race to fill the seat left by San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn in District 5 is in the home stretch.
Vying for the seat are republicans Mayor Jim Desmond of San Marcos and City Councilman Jerry Kern of Oceanside.
Democrat candidates are legislative analyst Michelle Gomez of Oceanside and Jacqueline Arsivaud of Elfin Forest.
If no candidate receives 50 percent plus one of the vote, the top two will run off in the November general election. The primary is June 5 and the district consists of about 620,000 residents.
For District 5, though, it will be the first time in 24 years someone other than Horn will represent much of North County. It is the largest district, spanning from Camp Pendleton south to Carlsbad, and east through Vista, San Marcos, Valley Center and Borrego Springs.
The county faces numerous issues, especially in North County, including homelessness, the county joining the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against California’s sanctuary city laws and reform within the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).
The Coast News spoke with each candidate about how these issues.
It is one of the biggest problems in the county and last year’s hepatitis A outbreak led to 20 deaths and hundreds of cases. Challenges to reduce the include a lack of housing and mental health and addiction services.
Kern said his city’s implementation of a homeless outreach team, the first in North County, has been a success in connecting the homeless with social workers and services. But, the lack of mental health services is a concern, he said, noting Tri-City Medical Center is the only place for a mental health hold and the lack of beds in North County must be addressed.
He also railed against the county for its response and action during the hepatitis A outbreak. He said, “they knew it was coming and did nothing.” Collaboration between municipalities and service providers is a must to combat the issue.
Arsivaud said the issue is largely a city one, and reviewing other models from outside the county is a priority. She noted how Riverside all but eliminated its homeless veterans population by providing housing first.
She estimated about one half of the homeless population suffers from mental illness, and seeking additional funding from state and federal sources is critical. In addition, providing job training and addiction opportunities is key to permanently removing people from the streets.
Desmond, meanwhile, said such services must be in urban areas, where the majority of the homeless population resides. It would provide easier access to those seeking help, while partnerships with organizations such as Solutions for Change is critical to reaching those individuals.
Desmond said one of the biggest problems is the state giving early releases to non-violent criminals. He said those individuals are given no resources or tools while incarcerated, thus when released they have no place other that the streets to reside.
He said in San Marcos the city is going in the right direction, while the county budget is dedicating more than 100 people to help with problem. However, the issue comes back to housing, which all agree is a must to reduce the homeless population.
“We have to put more resources into mental health,” Desmond said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. The cities can’t fix it until the state puts in more measures.”
Gomez said the county’s task force has been making an impact, and said providing safe spaces and housing is a top priority. She said the county must focus on the causes, thus being able to help prevent at-risk individuals from losing their homes or apartments.
One of her big concerns is homeless children and getting to them early so homelessness doesn’t become a lifestyle.
A unique opportunity, she said, is to reach out the county’s large military population to recruit as social or mental health workers, thus adding jobs. In addition, building “tiny homes,” which are about 600 square feet, is another cheap option to provide housing.
“We have to put money to fund those causes,” Gomez said. “Tiny permanent housing would start the transition.”
It is one of the most controversial issues in the state and the Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to file an amicus brief in support of the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit challenging California’s sanctuary laws, notably SB 54. Supervisor Greg Cox voted no and Ron Roberts, who was absent, said the county should stay out of it.
Desmond, though, is in favor of the action and he signed the amicus brief in support of the DOJ’s position. He said it will allow for law enforcement to get back to working together to arrest illegal felons or families harboring illegal felons.
Kern said Oceanside will not take a stand on the issue and said it does no good for either side. He said the problem lies with the federal Congress and its inaction to put forward immigration reform.
He said an amicus brief will not sway the court’s decision and said it’s not worth the fighting and nothing will be solved.
“It’s flag waving for nothing,” he added. “There is no real solution.”
Gomez and Arsivaud, though, blasted District 3 representative Kristin Gaspar, saying the first-term supervisor was driven politically by her run for the 49th Congressional seat to place the item on the agenda. Gomez and Arsivaud are both against the county joining the suit. Gomez said there are opportunities for better pathways to citizenship, while saying children are living in fear.
In addition, she said a lack of detention facilities is a concern, as is the fear of illegal immigrants who are not criminals in reporting crimes to law enforcement.
Arsivaud called Gaspar’s move “political theater,” a waste of taxpayer money and harmful because residents and citizens are living in a “divisive” time. She said a nonpartisan position should act as such, and the county has more pressing issues to handle. Wading into national politics, Arsivaud said, does not move the county forward.
“It’s an exercise in partisan politics,” she said. “We have enough problems to deal with without wading into national politics.”
SANDAG has been fighting through turmoil over the past year, especially when news broke of its overestimation of the TransNet and TransNet 2 (Measure A) tax revenues. Since then, the former executive director resigned and the agency has been rebuilding.
Desmond said since the ouster of Gary Gallegos, the former executive director, the entity has been moving in the right direction. As mayor, Desmond sits on the SANDAG board and said several protocols have been put in place to ensure staff does discloses all records and become more transparent with the board and public.
Arsivaud said part of the responsibility of the scandal lay with Desmond, who is chairman of the transportation committee, a notion he dismissed as uniformed. Kern said the board as a whole should shoulder responsibility as it didn’t perform its fiduciary responsibility.
“It was a staff issue,” Desmond said. “It’s easy to throw stones.”
Arsivaud, though, said it is time for the power dynamic to change at SANDAG, and focus on the issues facing the county. She said housing is the most pressing, which must be addressed to curtail the housing crisis in the county.
Kern said it was much needed reform for SANDAG and the staff is allowed to get away with what it wants if the board doesn’t act.
Gomez, meanwhile, said SANDAG is moving in the right direction and has “hopeful optimism” for the entity. She said to overcome the public trust problem, SANDAG must be more transparent.