Tension palpable at second mayoral debate

Tension palpable at second mayoral debate
From left: Mayor Sam Abed, Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz and Stephen Siaw discuss their views at a forum put on by the First United Methodist Church on Sept. 30. Photo by Ellen Wright

ESCONDIDO—The three mayoral candidates shared their views on city issues at the second forum of election season held by the First United Methodist Church Sept. 30.

The candidates, current Mayor Sam Abed, Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz and Stephen Siaw, were mostly civil but at times slightly hostile.

Diaz and Abed showed animosity when discussing issues including the Latino population and the city’s budget, while Siaw remained rather vague and positioned himself as a “regular guy.”

When asked about the Latino population in Escondido, Mayor Abed said he was proud to be endorsed by the Latino American Political Association (LAPA) calling their support a landslide victory.

“I want economic prosperity for all in Escondido regardless of their immigration status,” Abed said as to why he got the endorsement.
“’LAPA who?’ is what I say,” Diaz retorted. “A landslide from 23 people from one organization that I had never heard of is not a full endorsement,” Diaz said.

She went on to say that she believes she’s a better representative of the Latino population because she speaks Spanish.

Siaw said the Latino population needs better representation in local government and that the youth should be targeted to ensure they stay in school.

Another point of contention between Diaz and Abed was the city’s budget.

Abed said before he was elected mayor, the city had $16 million in deficit spending and now there is a surplus of $8 million and an improved bond rating.

Diaz said Abed shouldn’t be taking the credit.

“We have a term of endearment for some of the numbers you’ve heard this evening from our Mayor, called ‘smath,’ Sam’s math,” Diaz said, “because a lot of what’s been happening and a lot of the things he took credit for, quite frankly, are happening without the city’s direct involvement. Investment goes wherever there’s a return.”

All three candidates support Proposition E, which, if passed, would allow the Escondido Union School District to issue $182 million in bonds for infrastructure, technology and safety improvements to the city’s 23 schools.

The new superintendent, Luis Ibarra, spoke in favor of the proposition alongside Michael Taylor, assistant superintendent of business services. Nobody spoke against the bond measure.

Taylor said it would cost the average Escondido citizen $72 a year in assessed value taxes.

If passed, construction would begin in the summer of 2015, according to Taylor.

Proposition G, which allows voters to decide whether or not the city will move to a charter city, was also debated. Don Greene, president of the Escondido Democratic Club spoke against Prop G and Mayor Abed spoke in favor of it, in a last minute surprise.

Greene argued that a general charter on its face isn’t a bad thing but the actual written charter that is on the ballot is.

He argued that it’s not written by Escondido residents and gives too much power to city council. He said even though the council salaries can’t be increased by more than five percent each year, bonuses and car allowances weren’t addressed.

“That’s where the city of Bell got into trouble,” Greene said.

Mayor Abed argued that giving more power to the council is a good thing because it would give the city “home rule advantage” and take power away from the state. He also argued the city would save money on prevailing wages, which are the wages government agencies pay workers, because councilmembers could establish a wage instead of adhering to the state’s prevailing wages.

The final proposition debated was the Lakes Specific Plan, or Prop H.

Developer Michael Schlesinger argued in favor of his plan to build 430 homes on the Escondido Golf Course saying he’s made a compromise by not building the allotted 600 homes and making 25 percent of the land open space.

He also argued that the swimming pool, community center and trails he proposed would be open for all Escondido residents and the passing of the proposition would save the city thousands in legal fees.

Realtor Rick Elkin argued against the plan saying it would be the biggest infill in San Diego County’s history and the cost of upkeep for the pool and community building isn’t spelled out and may go to the taxpayer. He also argued the Home Owner’s Association could potentially ban non residents down the line from using the facilities, which Schlesinger denied.

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