ENCINITAS — Encinitas mayoral hopefuls Catherine Blakespear and Paul Gaspar met on stage in the only one-one-one candidate forum of the election season, but it was what they didn’t say that stood out.
Onlookers might have been expecting a more contentious tone, as the candidates have traded barbs at other forums and in a recent radio interview on KPBS, during which Gaspar launched several accusations at Blakespear, which she called baseless.
But both Blakespear and Gaspar answered the questions at Tuesday night’s event moderated by the League of Women Voters and congenially pointed out the difference between the two campaigns and their visions for Encinitas.
“I was thrilled with the civil tone of the forum last night,” Blakespear said. “It allowed the people watching to have a good sense of our policy differences when there is not an emotional overlay of incivility.
“People who wanted to see a carnival or mud slung might have been disappointed,” she said.
Gaspar, who had been pivoted on several questions at recent forums to call out what he said were inconsistencies in Blakespear’s voting record, said Tuesday’s forum was more in line with his nature.
Gaspar said his previous tenor was in response to earlier statements made by Blakespear and several supporters during the summer when he announced his run.
“My nature is to be congenial,” Gaspar said. “That’s how I have successfully built a business, led numerous professional organizations, and made positive contributions toward so many local nonprofits.
“Because the voters expect me to refrain from personal attacks, I pledge to stay focused on the issues. That’s what honest debates are all about,” Gaspar added.
The Leucadia-Encinitas Town Council hosted the hour-long forum, which was held at the Encinitas library. The candidates fielded an array of questions, some of which had been asked at the previous two forums in Olivenhain and Cardiff-by-the-Sea, including questions about the housing element ballot measure, Measure T; the creation of affordable housing; and the controversy surrounding Cardiff’s segment of the Coastal Rail Trail.
They also received questions on several new topics, such as their opinion on the federal sand replenishment program making its way through Congress and the ongoing state drought.
They were also, for the first time, asked questions specifically dealing with a single candidate.
Blakespear was asked to publicly pledge to not build a paved walking path in Cardiff. While she didn’t specifically say she would accept the pledge, she said that the concrete trail proposed by SANDAG on the east side of the railroad tracks was part of what prompted her to vote to change the city’s preferred alignment to the west side of the tracks along Coast Highway 101.
Gaspar was asked how would he address conflicts of interest between the city and county if he and his wife, Kristin, were elected in their respective campaigns. Kristin Gaspar is running for the County Board of Supervisors.
Paul Gaspar said that he would put the interests of Encinitas residents first and his wife would err on the side of caution and consult attorneys if there is the appearance of a conflict.
Paul Gaspar was also asked if he would be beholden to his campaign donors, half of which do not reside in Encinitas. He said that he hasn’t been actively campaigning so as to not be beholden to special interests the people who have donated to him are friends, colleagues and patients.
The candidates also both pointed to what they believe are contrasts in their respective campaigns. Blakespear said that she did not know what Gaspar’s vision was for the city, and said that she has been clear about her vision and goals for the city, including an improved rail corridor and mobility for multiple transportation platforms, including biking and pedestrian travel.
Gaspar disagreed with the assertion that he hasn’t articulated a vision during the campaign, saying that he wants Encinitas to look “much like it does today” 10 years from now, with improvements that could be agreed upon by community consensus.
“My vision is your vision,” he said.
The candidates also differed on what role the city should play in promoting bicycle use. Gaspar said the city’s role should be indirect, and that it should be confined to promoting safety.
“I don’t necessarily think it is the role of the council to be encouraging or telling residents how they get around,” he said.
“I feel we do need to take a leadership role to make it easier for our residents to bike and walk,” she said. “Not all the trips that we take are commuting to work, there are short trips like visiting our neighbors, going to dinner or to the beach or to the park, and we need to be doing what we can to take these short trips easy and fun and safe to do with our kids, our pets…and that is really important and that takes leadership.”
And in one of the lighter moments of the forum, the moderator accidentally called Blakespear “Dr. Blakespear,” to which the councilwoman replied, “You can call me ‘doctor’ because I have a JD.” a not so-subtle rib at the recent controversy over Gaspar, who is a doctor of physical therapy (not an MD), using the “Dr.” title in campaign materials.
The audience laughed and applauded, Gaspar smiled it off, and the two continued to answer questions.