SAN MARCOS — Councilman Randy Walton announced earlier this week that he’s running for mayor, seeking to unseat Mayor Rebecca Jones this November.
Walton, who has represented District 2 on the San Marcos City Council since 2018, officially kickstarted his campaign Monday, declaring that he’s running for mayor to create a “smart, safe, and sustainable San Marcos.”
“San Marcos has seen tremendous growth in the last two decades, and we need the right leadership to translate that growth into an opportunity for our residents,” said Walton in a released statement. “As your next Mayor, I am ready to build a smart, safe, and sustainable San Marcos for generations to come.”
Walton, a Democrat, will be running against Jones, a Republican, who successfully ran to replace former mayor Jim Desmond in 2018. Jones soundly defeated former council member Chris Orlando in that election, winning by more than ten percentage points.
Prior to his election to office in 2018, Walton was previously a member of the Governing Board of San Marcos Unified School District for 10 years and has also operated his own law firm for over 15 years as a wrongful injury attorney. He also has a record of communal activism, having volunteered for organizations such as Valley of Discovery Education, Ridgeline Protection Taskforce, and San Marcos Youth Baseball, while being a co-founder of The San Marcos Promise, a non-profit that provides career guidance and support to San Marcos students.
In an interview with The Coast News, Walton expressed that he’s running to help the city tackle major challenges including environmental sustainability, transit infrastructure, education, and affordable housing.
On sustainability, Walton said that the city needs to do more to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, while also taking action to protect the city’s 2,500 acres in open spaces in preserves such as the Twin Oaks Neighborhood. His policy record when it comes to the environment speaks for itself, Walton added.
“I marshaled through a single-use plastics reduction ordinance in this council which passed, I urged the community to move to the Community Choice Aggregation program which we just did…and one of my first acts as a councilmember was to get the city to pass a resolution opposing future offshore oil drilling—a resolution that Rebecca Jones blocked, by the way,” Walton said.
When it came to transit, Walton was critical of Jones, whom he called “resistant to regional solutions” and “for the status quo,” which Walton says is not sustainable.
“Our housing has dramatically outpaced our infrastructure to support it in recent years…people are frustrated by the lack of transportation infrastructure, it’s a regional issue and we…need to take real action embracing real solutions,” Walton said.
To this end, Walton expressed support for SANDAG’s recently passed Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), a $162.5 billion project that entails development and improvements to the region’s transportation system and transit lines, and is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years.
Jones has publicly criticized the project, which she says imposes heavy taxes on county residents while doing little to improve transit for North County residents.
“With the RTP I think it was an incredible mistake that [Jones] voted against it, I’m happy that the leaders of our other cities were forward-thinking enough to pass it…North County is going to grow some more and I accept that but if we do we need to be aggressive in supporting infrastructure projects that will support growth, and frankly we have not, in fact as a region we’re decades behind, so I intend to push hard when it comes to regional transportation projects,” Walton said.
Walton also said that he’s supportive of a variety of other transit solutions as well, including making improvements to the SR-78 which runs through San Marcos and exploring flexible fleet options which reduce the need for personal vehicle ownership.
“We need to start thinking as a city about where we want to be 10, 20 years down the road—are we going to just be the suburb of somewhere else or are we going to be a true destination for education, leisure activities, and recreation? San Marcos should become a place where people want to go and not just drive through,” Walton said.
On education, Walton touted his record on the school board district, pointing to a successful rebuild of San Marcos High School that happened during his tenure. He said that as mayor he would work to further advance the city’s reputation as a major educational hub in the region and hopefully establish even more academic institutions in San Marcos.
“I ran for the school board with the intention of rebuilding San Marcos High and the other schools, and we accomplished that goal…in my ten years we built or rebuilt five schools, we had two schools named gold medal ribbon schools and ten that were labeled distinguished, and when I left we had one of the highest graduation rates and one of the lowest dropout rates in the county,” Walton said.
Perhaps the most pressing issue facing the city, however, according to Walton, is what he called a “crisis of affordable housing” that is affecting cities across California. Closely tied in with issues of infrastructure and transit, Walton pledged to focus on the affordable housing problem, which he argued has slowed San Marcos’s population growth as a city in recent years.
“North County is experiencing a net loss in people under the age of 40 during the last five years, it’s not good for businesses and it’s not good for families—we need to be smarter about the housing we’re going to build in the future and we need to find more affordable options for people period, it’s actually critical,” Walton said.
In December, the San Marcos City Council voted 3-2 in favor of the “Brand-Huang-Mendoza Tripartisan Land Use Initiative” — an initiative that would amend California’s constitution to allow local jurisdictions to override state housing laws. Walton voted against the resolution.
The tripartisan initiative was seen as a symbolic rebuke of Senate Bills 9 and 10, signed into law in September by Governor Gavin Newsom. SB 9 allows for homeowners to build a second unit on their lot or split their property and develop up to eight market-rate units on lots previously zoned for single-family residences, while SB 10 allows local developers to build up to 10 livable units on virtually any residential lot.
Jones, and several other North County leaders have publicly expressed opposition to both bills, arguing that such laws curb the ability of municipalities to make independent housing and zoning decisions that will can shape the character of their neighborhoods.
But in the debate over state vs local housing control, Walton made it clear that he’s not opposed to laws like SB 9 and SB 10 as long as the goal of such regulation is to foster more affordable housing developments. California’s current housing crisis is “not the result of the state of California doing too much but instead, it’s the result of cities not doing their part,” the councilman said.
“If we’re serious about housing affordability we need to be open to all solutions period…does that mean that the state laws are perfect no — do I believe that the state’s recent efforts will destroy the zoning laws of our cities? No. Laws can be modified and changed, it’s very easy to oppose housing but there is such a serious crisis that we have to be mindful of solutions,” Walton said. “Just simply opposing things like these state laws, that tells what you’re against but tell us what you’re for? What are solutions are you presenting to people to address real problems?”
As mayor, Walton says that he would be forward-thinking, focusing on tapping San Marcos’s strengths to create a destination city that leads the way in San Diego County when it comes to education, environmental conservation, and transit.
“San Marcos truly is a beautiful city — we have incredible potential to truly reflect this place as an educational hub, an arts and cultural destination, and a place where people drive to recreate, hike, and ride, and that is the city that we should be very intentional about trying to build, and as mayor that’s what I intend to do,” Walton said.
Jones, who has been on the San Marcos City Council since 2007, said that she’s immensely proud of her record both as a mayor and as a council member, and wants to build on “a long list of accomplishments” in her 16 years as a public servant.
“I do a lot behind the scenes and I’m very proud of all that’s happened in the past 16 years…people love living in San Marcos because we have a high quality of life,” Jones said.
Jones heavily emphasized the reduction in city crime during her tenure, which she said is currently the lowest in San Marcos’ history. She credited such success to strong collaboration between city agencies, as well as a series of preventative initiatives that she’s led the way in.
For instance, the city recently hired two full-time crime prevention specialists and funded School Resource Officers in the San Marcos Unified School District to cut down on crimes that disproportionately affect youth such as gang activity.
Jones was also instrumental in getting the city to pass the Tobacco License Ordinance and another ordinance banning synthetic drugs in San Marcos. She was also recognized by the Red Ribbon Commission in 2016 with the Excellence in Prevention Advocacy award for her work on drug prevention over the years.
“I don’t take all the credit, but having the lowest crime rate in the city’s history these past few years — I’ll take that all day or night…I’ve been doing this a long long time, I’ve been very intentional about this personally, and this council has always maintained safety as a top priority…I really believe in our prevention efforts, in our values and who we are as a city, and it’s part of the reason why I’ve always invested in this,” Jones said.
Perhaps most of all, Jones highlighted the city’s favorable budgetary situation as evidence of economic prosperity under her leadership. Since her election to the council, the city has been able to maintain a minimum 40% reserve for the budget every year — an extraordinarily rare feat for any municipality, Jones said.
Such a position of financial strength has allowed the city to be generous when it’s come to social services and supporting local businesses, particularly during times of hardship such as during the pandemic.
“We were one of the first cities in the entire county to set aside $3 million in low-cost loans to help our businesses during COVID, that wouldn’t have been possible before. We’ve been able to do this because we’ve been so fiscally careful, we’re able to have this 40% reserve and you don’t hear that very often throughout the country even—and it goes back to very good leadership, both before me and during my time as mayor,” Jones said.
On transit and housing, Jones said that she and Walton agree about the need for more solutions but that the two heavily disagree about what those solutions should look like at a city and regional level.
She reemphasized her opposition to SANDAG’s RTP, which she said will heighten transit costs for road users through the plan’s controversial mileage tax as well as through the implementation of managed lanes (toll roads) on the SR-78, Interstate 5, and Interstate 15.
The RTP imposes hugely disproportionate costs on lower-income and middle-income residents who are more likely to drive, and reflects a broader pattern of SANDAG making North County residents pay for transit improvements that largely ignore North County, Jones said.
“This plan that was approved is not within our means as a county, it puts several tax measures on the backs of all residents…we just didn’t get a plan that was within our means,” Jones said. “I am not a proponent of a plan that does not serve North County citizens and focuses on San Diego. We’re paid equally under this plan but getting less of a share in tax dollars for transit…this has always happened, the dollars from Trans Net and regionally, in general, have consistently gone to San Diego city and not much has come to North County.”
She also refuted Walton’s claim that she’s for the “status quo,” when it comes to transportation.
“In my opinion, the RTP is not an improvement for our community…it’s not the ‘status quo,’ I’m never a proponent of just keeping things the way they are today, I understand change has to happen…but you can’t come up with a plan that you can’t afford that doesn’t serve everyone,” Jones said.
When it came to housing, Jones criticized Walton’s opposition to the tripartisan initiative, which she says is a justified reaction on the part of regional leaders frustrated by continued state interference in local housing control efforts.
“Probably the biggest difference between us that I can say off the bat is that I will fight for local control over state control every time…he [Walton] doesn’t support that, he voted against the tripartisan initiative and that’s a big deal,” Jones said. “We should always push back against the state if they’re trying to change our community, it’s important to keep our communities character. Our citizens want to keep San Marcos special and we can’t do this if the state is getting into our business and trying to impose mandates on us as a city.”
The mayor talked extensively about her work when it came to affordable housing, sharing her optimism about recent programs such as the Alora project that just broke ground last month. Jones said she’s also excited about the Villa Serena project on San Marcos Street, a joint project with the county that will provide 45 units of affordable housing for lower-income families, including some units set aside for foster youths unable to find a home.
“Under my leadership, we have provided 544 families deed-restricted affordable housing [since joining the council]. We have another 158 new units that I’ve approved that will be delivered between 2022 and 2026 for occupancy,” Jones said.
More broadly, Jones said that what sets her apart as a candidate is her ability to work across the aisle with members of the opposite party to accomplish meaningful policy goals. Especially with an emotionally heightened atmosphere brought about by the pandemic, the mayor said she prides herself on being able to keep her cool and lead by example even on partisan issues that tend to cause divisiveness.
“Everything’s changed, the position is now very different than before COVID — I think now one of the most important things to remember is that you’re there to serve people, you can’t be there to do things for yourself,” Jones said. “As time goes on, real leaders have shown who they are in this pandemic, you can’t lose your mind and you can’t get emotional even though it’s a very emotional time, you can say here’s what I need to achieve in the midst of the most unprecedented time in our lifetimes, because there are people on both sides of the aisle, and it’s a really divided time.”
“It’s just irrelevant to me which party you are, I don’t care…the shift for me has been to be more unifying and I’ve learned that more than anything else, I think I’m uniquely able to do that and bring people together when they have different views,” Jones said.
UPDATED: This article has been updated from its original version. CORRECTION: The Tobacco License Ordinance and Synthetic Drug Ban are two separate city ordinances. Additionally, the City of San Marcos has offered 544 families deed-restricted affordable housing since Mayor Rebecca Jones joined the council.