Challengers call for new, fresh council at forum

Challengers call for new, fresh council at forum
The six Carlsbad City Council candidates gather for a forum Wednesday at Rancho Carlsbad. From left: incumbent Keith Blackburn, challengers Bill Fowler, Brandon Rowley, Cori Schumacher and Ann Tanner and incumbent Lorraine Wood. Photo by Steve Puterski

CARLSBAD — In the second of three forums, the six city council candidates gathered at Rancho Carlsbad to speak of their visions for the future of the city.

Two seats are open in the at-large race.

The challengers — Cori Schumacher, Brandon Rowley, Ann Tanner and Bill Fowler — repeatedly said open space and community engagement were their top concerns as the city moves forward.

Fowler slammed the current state of the council saying that they act as a bully, have conspired with developer Rick Caruso to build a mall on the south shore of Agua Hedionda Lagoon, and that it’s time for the council to “grow up.”

Incumbents Keith Blackburn and Lorraine Wood, meanwhile, praised the efforts of the council on issues as development, infrastructure improvements and keeping strict tabs on growth through amendments in the General Plan.

Wood touted the city’s efforts to scale back residential development, noting the original General Plan called for a population of 250,000, while the current plan will only allow for 135,000.

In addition, both incumbents noted their experience with a significant budget — Carlsbad’s is about $300 million — and work on various boards and commissions throughout the state and county.

Schumacher, though, said proposed changes in the General Plan are still ongoing and highlighted her fight to delay such action during a California Coastal Commission hearing earlier this year. She said it is also imperative the city codify the 40 percent of open space as outlined in the General Plan.

She said zoning changes to the Encina Power Plant and Agua Hedionda Lagoon site were prevented, for the time being, and the city must do more to protect open space to reach its goal of 40 percent.

Rowley, meanwhile, said affordable housing is one of his main concerns before the city reaches its limit on housing. He said stigmas are applied to affordable housing, but cited a federal report in Poway conducted by the Urban Land Institute showing affordable housing development there does not lower property values and is sustainable.

In addition, the 23-year-old San Diego Zoo employee said national studies have shown the decline of big box stores, noting online shopping and a resurgence with “mom and pop” businesses are trending upward. As a result, it leaves more room for open space, which can be used in a variety of ways from recreation to education.

As for Tanner, she said the General Plan is about using tax revenue wisely, as the city only has a finite amount of funds. Where they are allocated, she said, depends on priorities such as fully funding city pensions, compared to a new city hall.

Concerning the Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Encina Power Plant properties, she said instead of looking four years down the road, the city must look 40 to 60 years into the future. She said the city must also be proactive in closing loopholes concerning affordable housing.

Naturally, there was the obligatory question regarding Measure A, the controversial proposition that was defeated in a special election in February. The incumbents both supported the measure, while all four challengers were against it.

Nevertheless, Fowler said the big issue now with the property concerns San Diego Gas & Electric. He said the public utility still owns the land and wants the “max value” of the land.

Fowler said, if elected, he would engage SDG&E in talks about the land and relay their plans to the community.

Blackburn, a two-term councilman, opened the forum by speaking of Carlsbad’s improved infrastructure and soon-to-be state of the art traffic light compatibility. He also touted his leadership in banning the retail sales of animals from puppy mills, which the council approved earlier this year.

The former police sergeant, though, said one of his top priorities is to keep the city’s public safety services — police and fire — “top notch.”

Fowler followed, saying the council conspired with the developer — Caruso — to develop a mega mall. He said it is important to have a council “that listens to people.”

He said the real issue is the council doesn’t listen and the city needs a new, fresh council to move forward.

Rowley said a science-based perspective is needed to understand some of the complex issues regarding the beach and other developments. In addition, he said engaging young adults is critical to the long-term future of the city, and although he admitted a lack of experience, said he can provide an opportunity for younger adults to reach out to the council.

Schumacher, who was one of the faces of the No on A campaign, said she is more than a one-issue candidate. She repeatedly said the council must push forward in brining clean and green energy jobs to the city. More than $830 million has been invested in those fields over the past three years in San Diego County, but she noted many local students move out of state for those jobs.

She said greater transparency is also needed from the council.

Tanner, meanwhile, said her experience with the CUSD and large budgets is a key reason why she jumped into the race. She said her efforts in the building of Sage Creek High School, where the district reached out to nearby neighbors, was a critical component of creating one of the top schools in the county.

As for development, she said a smart, thoughtful and balanced approach is needed before approving any project.

Wood, who is seeking a second term, countered her opponents regarding community engagement saying her efforts to create the Carlsbad Citizens Academy has been a “really effective way” for residents to interact with the council.

The former city clerk said making the Village and Barrio neighborhoods sustainable, environment and being fiscally conservative are also top priorities.

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