2022 election: Q&A with Vivian Moreno, candidate for San Diego City Council District 8 – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Two candidates — incumbent San Diego City Council member Vivian Moreno and congressional community representative Antonio Martinez — are running in a June 7 primary election to represent City Council District 8, which includes Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Nestor, Otay Mesa, San Ysidro and Sherman Heights, among other neighborhoods. The two will automatically advance to a winner-take-all Nov. 8 runoff election.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board e-mailed each candidate a 10-question survey. If you have comments or questions about the election or any of the candidates after reading this interview, please email Editorial and Opinion Director Matthew T. Hall at matthew.hall@sduniontribune.com.

Below are Moreno’s responses and a link to Martinez’s.

Q: How satisfied are you with the progress the city has made on its Climate Action Plan and how will you ensure its legally binding goals are met? Specifically, what would you do to reduce carbon emissions?

A: We have made some progress on climate action, but we still have a long way to go. We need more renewable energy to meet our rising electricity demand, that is why I supported the creation of San Diego Community Power that will give San Diegans a choice about where to purchase electricity. Right now, consumers don’t have a choice. They are stuck with whatever prices and sources of energy San Diego Gas & Electric chooses to offer them. With San Diego Community Power as an option, San Diegans will have a cleaner alternative to SDG&E.

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The city should do more to meet the Climate Action Plan’s goals of making it possible for more San Diegans to get around without having to drive. This can be done by helping people access public transit and active transportation like biking and walking or by encouraging more employers to allow remote working. I will continue to support investments in transit and bicycle and pedestrian improvements to encourage alternatives to driving.

Read responses from the other District 8 candidate here:

In addition to climate action, we also must focus on adaptation and mitigation. Because of my advocacy, the city created the Climate Equity Fund, which takes a portion of our franchise fee and tax revenue and puts it into a special fund that will help communities at risk from climate change adapt. The Climate Equity Fund can be used to pay for amenities such as parks and open space or planting more street trees, all of which help mitigate rising temperatures.

Q: Neighborhoods south of interstate 8, including communities of color, don’t always get the same funding or consideration wealthier communities to the north get. How will you try to change that?

A: Every resident of District 8 knows that we have faced decades of underinvestment and neglect from the city of San Diego. I have dedicated my entire career to ensuring that the communities of District 8 receive their fair share of city services.

It is impossible to solve decades of neglect in one City Council term. But already we are seeing improvement. There are parks that are still unbuilt that were promised to the community decades ago. In this year’s budget, eight different park projects received funding to move on to the next stage of development: Southwest Park in Nestor, Beyer Park in San Ysidro, three mini parks in Greater Logan Heights, and Dennery Ranch, Hidden Trails and Riviera Del Sol parks in Otay Mesa.

I also led the effort to pave our dirt roads and alleys. An outdated provision of the municipal code prevented city employees from working on them. I successfully amended this provision of the code, and in this year’s budget there is an initial allocation for the city to finally begin to study how to pave these dirt roads and alleys. In future budgets, the City Council can now allocate funding to ensure that all unimproved streets are paved to modern standards. No San Diegans should be forced to live on a dirt street, no matter what neighborhood they live in. If I win re-election, I will continue to fight for our fair share of city services and resources.

Q: How will you combat the high cost of housing in San Diego? What will you do to boost housing affordability and construction?

A: The housing crisis is one of the central challenges of our generation, and I believe that it will take all levels of government working together with the private sector to fix this problem and I am committed to ensuring that the city continues to do its part.

Our record of planning, zoning and regulatory reform at the city to promote housing construction is one of the few bright spots in housing policy in the state. As chair of the Land Use and Housing Committee, I pushed forward extensive reforms to build more housing that families can afford.

And while we build more housing in District 8, it is important that other parts of the city also do their part. I supported multiple community plan updates that increased the amount of housing that could be built north of the 8, including the Mission Valley Community Plan Update, the Balboa Avenue Station Area Specific Plan and the Morena Corridor Specific Plan. I will continue these reform efforts at the Land Use and Housing Committee this year.

These reforms will take time to have an effect, but people need help now. That is why I pushed hard to distribute rental assistance to people who needed help during the pandemic. Working with Mayor Todd Gloria and the Housing Commission, we distributed $177 million in rental assistance to 16,000 families and have been recognized as one of the most successful rental assistance programs in the nation.

Q: Specifically, how are you going to ensure first-time homebuyers and residents in general have a chance to afford a home they can live in without being outbid by investors?

A: Homeownership strengthens neighborhoods and provides a foundation of wealth for a family. The city’s existing first-time homebuyer program, run by the Housing Commission, has been successful at helping low-income residents purchase homes, but we need to do more.

According to the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors, compared to this time last year, the median sales price in San Diego County is up 20 percent to $975,000 for detached homes and 25 percent to $646,000 for attached homes, with overall supply decreasing 40 percent. People who make a little more than 80 percent of the Area Median Income have virtually no chance to buy a house — unless they get assistance.

The dream of owning a home is almost unreachable for middle class families, which is why I am working with Mayor Gloria and the Housing Commission on creating a Middle-Income First-Time Homebuyer program to help middle-income families making 80 percent to 120 percent of Area Median Income with home-buying assistance.

A program that provides deferred loans to make up the difference between the purchase price plus closing costs and the amount of the homebuyer’s loan or down payment would be a huge help to middle-class San Diegans. The city could share a percentage of the appreciation of the property upon sale, which would get invested back into the program to help more people. A program like this, in conjunction with the current program, would be very popular in San Diego and benefit a lot of people.

Q: How do you plan to address homelessness at the beginning of your four-year term? What will homelessness in San Diego look like at the end of your term?

A: We are spending unprecedented amounts of money on homelessness, but it is obvious that the crisis is worse than ever before. Instead of doubling down on unrealistic promises, city leaders need to be honest about what it is possible to achieve given the constraints of state law and federal funding.

State law effectively prevents the city from requiring any person on the street to accept an offer of shelter or treatment for addiction or mental health. There are simply not enough inpatient treatment spots for mental health or addiction treatment throughout California. We must demand that the state invest in a new system of addiction treatment and mental health and reform state laws to require people who are suffering to accept help.

San Diego also must demand its fair share of federal funding to address the shortage of affordable housing. San Diego receives the same number of Section 8 vouchers today as it did in 1994, and this lack of supply has led to a waiting list of more than 10 years. That means if you need a housing voucher, you have to wait over a decade and risk ending up on the street in the meantime.

San Diego receives less than its fair share of federal homelessness funding because of an outdated formula used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that doesn’t consider the actual amount of homelessness in each city. This means that cities which have fewer people living on the street receive more money than San Diego.

Q: The city’s infrastructure backlog was recently pegged at $4.12 billion. What’s your plan to reduce it and how would you balance that with competing financial concerns?

A: Over the last five years, we have made major progress repairing our roads. In District 8 alone since 2017, we have repaired 143 miles of streets, or 41 percent of all streets.. But the city hasn’t made much progress on repairing stormwater infrastructure or city facilities that make up most of the $4.12 billion backlog. Borrowing more money alone will not be enough to solve our infrastructure backlog, especially because inflation has blown holes in almost every capital improvement project budget. We need a sufficient, dedicated source of funding for infrastructure in San Diego.

In the meantime, city staff members must be more aggressive in applying for state and federal funding for infrastructure, and throughout my first term I have urged them to do so. For years, the city of San Diego has not sought enough grant funding from Sacramento and Washington, D.C., leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table. Because of my efforts, staff finally applied for trade corridor enhancement grant funding for the state and ended up receiving $22.7 million for La Media Road in Otay Mesa. I also pushed the city to apply for Proposition 68 funding for Beyer Park in San Ysidro, and it was recently announced that the city will be receiving $8.5 million to fund the park. Especially with the new federal infrastructure bill passing, we need to work hard to make sure we maximize San Diego’s share of this funding.

Q: What are the root causes of crime in San Diego and how do you plan to address the recent spikes in crime across the city?

A: Like any other District 8 resident, I am very concerned about rising crime. All residents of District 8 deserve to feel safe in their own neighborhood. There are general root causes of crime, such as poverty and childhood trauma, and there are also more specific causes. Much of property crime is driven by people suffering from drug addiction who are stealing to fund their habit, while a lot of violent crime recently in District 8 has been gang-related. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been a large contributing cause to the recent increases in crime.

One of the best ways to keep young people from falling prey to gangs, drugs and crime is to provide more opportunities for them to engage in wholesome activities through city facilities such as parks and libraries. That’s why I’ve pushed hard for the construction of more parks and libraries and for equity in the city’s park and recreation programming to ensure that kids have somewhere safe to have fun and learn new skills.

The San Diego Police Department plays an absolutely crucial role in deterring and responding to crime. We need to invest in real community policing, so that the San Diego Police Department has the staffing necessary to have a consistent presence in our neighborhoods to deter crime, and relationships with the community necessary to be effective.

Q: How would you rate the San Diego Police Department? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Would you favor increasing or decreasing its budget and why?

A: SDPD has fewer officers than almost any other large police department in the country, but San Diego consistently remains one of the safest big cities in the country. This is a testament to the hard work of the sworn and civilian employees of the SDPD. Accordingly, the biggest strength of the San Diego Police Department is its employees, the sworn police officers and civilian employees who work hard every day to keep our neighborhoods safe. The two biggest weaknesses of the SDPD are a lack of sufficient staffing to enable true community policing, and a traditional reluctance to fully embrace reasonable criminal justice reforms.

According to City Charter section 11.1, police protection must be the City Council’s top priority in developing the city’s budget. During my first term, I have consistently voted to fund our police department. The truth is that real community policing and criminal justice reform both require increasing the police budget, not decreasing it. For instance, community policing requires a higher level of proactive time for individual officers to allow them to interact with the community rather than only rushing from one high priority call to another. There is no way to achieve this without committing to hiring more sworn officers and providing them with proper training.

Q: The city has a one-time budget windfall of $100 million. What do you spend it on?

A: I am assuming that this is a hypothetical question because there is no projected $100 million windfall for next fiscal year. The city’s Department of Finance is projecting budget deficits for the next three years. If we did have a one-time windfall of $100 million, we should use it only to fund one-time expenses to avoid worsening future budget deficits.

Given rising prices that are affecting every project in our Capital Improvement Program budget, any one-time windfall should be used to close these deficits and get these projects under construction as soon as possible. This will not only lock in costs but allow our neighborhoods to benefit from projects like new parks and playgrounds and freshly repaired streets and sidewalks.

Q: What would be another top priority for you, other than the ones you have discussed above?

A: Unfortunately, the city of San Diego has a track record of scandal and corruption that has significantly hurt our budgets to this day. When I was elected in 2018, I vowed to oppose any deal that was bad for the voters I represent. Our task as city leaders should be to leave the city in a better financial position than we found it, and I take my job as a watchdog for taxpayers very seriously.

Most recently, the 101 Ash St. scandal along with several other terrible real estate deals have called into question the ability of the city to act effectively as steward of taxpayers’ money. I was the first city leader to call out the 101 Ash St. debacle as a deliberate fraud. As chair of the Audit Committee, I worked with the city auditor to develop measures to prevent similar bad deals in the future, including creating a due diligence checklist to guide future real estate acquisitions and allowing the independent budget analyst to hire an independent real estate expert to analyze future deals.

My bosses are the voters of District 8, and I am not afraid to ask the tough questions to ensure that they get a good deal from any action the city takes.

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