SAN DIEGO — Job creation, health care and transportation were among the dozen or so topics discussed Sept. 24 at the first and possibly only debate between Steve Danon and Dave Roberts, the two candidates seeking the District 3 seat on the County Board of Supervisors.
The chamber set the debate format, which included questions submitted by members of its policy committee and did not allow for rebuttals.
Danon, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray, is from the Los Angeles area. He settled in the county after graduating from San Diego State University in 1990.
He was vice president of an international public relations firm before starting his own public relations company focused on information technology, health care, environmental, public safety and housing issues.
He served as chief of staff to Supervisor Ron Roberts and lives in Carmel Valley with his wife and young children.
Roberts is a two-term member of the Solana Beach City Council.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics and a graduate degree in public finance management from American University in Washington, D.C.
He was chief of staff for the health care business unit at Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, and now works for Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, a nonprofit organization that provides information technology and management systems for health care.
Roberts is a federal appointee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Panel on Medicare Education. He also helped create the military’s current health care system.
He lives in Solana Beach with his partner and five adopted children.
The candidates were first asked to provide specific examples of accomplishments in their careers in the private and public sectors that would demonstrate their ability to successfully serve as a supervisor.
In addition to helping stop the closure of the University of California San Diego health care network and working with Bilbray to save the war memorial, Danon said he promoted San Diego businesses with his public relations firm and worked with leaders throughout the region to promote job opportunity growth.
“I helped businesses in biotech and high-tech industries so they could foster their business here,” he said.
Roberts cited his membership with local chambers of commerce, founding a small real estate management company and helping to grow SAIC into a “mighty powerhouse (that) unfortunately … moved their county headquarters out of the region.”
While working for the Department of Defense and House Appropriations Committee he said helped create the Tricare Military Health Care System, in which military and civilian doctors provide care to active duty, their families and retirees.
He also noted some of his accomplishments as a Solana Beach councilman, including current improvements to Coast Highway 101.
When asked how they would create a more attractive business environment for San Diegans, Roberts said the key is meeting with business leaders to discuss their needs.
Danon said the county needed to become more competitive. One way to do that, he said, is to streamline the permit process.
“We have some great businesses that are start-up companies but they cannot expand their operations because it takes years for them to go through the permitting process,” he said.
Roberts agreed. “Our economy is slow,” he said. “Our county should not be responsible for making it even slower.
“I strongly support expediting our county’s permitting process,” Roberts said. “I would like to see a fee study accomplished to set specific fees so applicants know what it’s going to cost to get their permits. Right now it’s kind of an open-ended book.
“I’d like to add plan checkers here so we can move these items faster,” he added.
Danon said the county should also leverage its resources in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
“All a board member has to do is introduce a resolution that would allow the team in Washington and Sacramento to fight for that particular industry,” Danon said. “We’ve got some tremendous potential here but it hasn’t been maximized.”
He said supervisors must also “do everything possible to oppose fees and taxes that are going to strangle small businesses.”
When asked to address concerns about the safety and reliability of alternative means of transportation, both candidates said they support mass transit and livable, walkable communities. But their opinions differed on traffic and Interstate 5.
“It’s critical that we send people to (the San Diego Association of Governments) who understand you can’t pave our way out of our transportation problems,” Roberts said. “I have always, in my eight years on the City Council, supported alternative forms of transportation.”
“High tech and biotech … must be able to ship their goods,” Danon said. “We must widen I-5. We must provide the opportunities so we can ship and be competitive in this economy.”
When it comes to innovation and development in the clean-tech industry, Danon reiterated the need to streamline the permit process.
“Alternative fuels are created here but they don’t stay here,” he said. “We have some of the best scientists. We need to ensure the Board of Supervisors helps expedite the permit process so once it’s created here we can expand the operations.”
Roberts said he would like to implement a publicly acquired clean energy program for residential and commercial properties that provides loans for energy enhancements such as solar.
“It helps you go through the process quickly,” he said. “You get all the money up front and pay it off on your taxes over 20 years.”
With such a large military presence in the county, the candidates briefly discussed potential cuts to the dense budget. Roberts said residents should demand Congress do something, while Danon said the region should “leverage everything we have to ensure San Diego is prepared for any challenges.
“If there is a new BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission) we must be (prepared) because San Diego has a tremendous opportunity to bring a lot of these folks here,” Danon said.
The Community Enhancement Program, funded by the transient occupancy tax, is one area where the candidates differed sharply. Each supervisor is allocated $1 million annually to spend at their discretion for community programs.
Danon said he strongly supports eliminating what he calls a “$5 million slush fund” and creating a citizens commission where every organization can be vetted.
“We have to eliminate all gifts,” he said. “I support community organizations but there needs to be an independent committee, not supervisors dictating it by themselves.”
“These are investments in our communities,” Roberts said. “Is a slush fund the Boys & Girls Club? Is it the Burn Institute?
“It’s an economic engine to generate investments in the local community,” he said. “I strongly support having a community investment program. … It’ll be run in a fair, open, transparent method like the rules say it should be.”
The candidates also disagreed when discussing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Danon said it threatened the medical device industry while Roberts called it a potential economic engine.
“We can design this however we want to here and get the funding from the federal government to run it,” Roberts said.
Asked how they would harness the region’s educational resources to address the skills gap in the local work force, Danon recommended partnerships. He offered one example using veterans.
“We have a responsibility to ensure they have the resources they need to transition back into our economy,” he said. “We have a lot of folks coming back who were medics in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have a nursing shortage. What a phenomenal opportunity to transition a lot of these medics to make them nurses so they can contribute to our health care system in San Diego.”
Roberts said it was about valuing diversity. “Just in the 3rd District we have a large culturally diverse population – Asian Pacific Islanders, Hispanics. It is growing every day. We’ve got to figure out how all of us can work together.”
He also suggested creating an arts and culture district like Chinatown to create a tourism destination, “a place where people can live and work and create jobs.”
The candidates agreed fire services should be consolidated into a regional fire district. They were also on the same page about high-speed rail, acknowledging it isn’t likely to happen in their lifetimes let alone while they are on the board. Both said voters may not have had all the facts when it was approved.
There was no shortage of accusations and rebuttals during the debate and the candidates made nearly 20 references to the organizations who have endorsed them. While debates are helpful to undecided voters, it appeared few of the nearly 200 people in attendance belonged to that category.
The 3rd District is made up of North County jurisdictions such as Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas, as well as several areas in the city of San Diego, including Carmel Valley.
Pam Slater-Price has held the District 3 seat for nearly 20 years but decided not to seek re-election.
The event, held at AMN Health Care in Carmel Valley, was hosted by the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Alison St. John.