Capping campaign contributions, term limits important to challengers

CARLSBAD — The final push is underway in the hotly contested city council race.

Six candidates, two incumbents and four challengers, are vying for two seats.

A number of issues are at the heart of the race including moving on from Measure A, transparency, growth and campaign and term limits.

The challengers — Bill Fowler, Brandon Rowley, Cori Schumacher and Ann Tanner — are stumping for capping campaign contribution and term limits, which there are currently none.

The incumbents, Keith Blackburn and Lorraine Wood, oppose limits.

(This series was broken into two pieces and candidates appear in alphabetical order according to last name. Each candidate also answered a questionnaire, which is on The Coast New website.)

Keith Blackburn

Keith Blackburn

As for transparency, Fowler has slammed the council repeatedly over the past several months for the failure of Measure A and perceived back room dealings.

Rowley, meanwhile, has been more muted, but did note the awakening from the electorate over the proposed mall ignited his desire to run.

“They just don’t listen to the citizens,” Fowler said. “I think it has to do with the same group of people who produce the candidates. If the council has council people with a different perspective and those who listen to the citizens will benefit Carlsbad.”

Blackburn, though, strongly disagreed with the assessments of the challengers labeling the council as not transparent. He said City Attorney Celia Brewer heavily monitors the five-person council, they follow the Brown Act and if a situation arises needing clarification, Brewer gives instructions how to move forward according to the law.

As for Measure A, Blackburn was adamant no shady or “behind the scenes” action was put forth by any council member. He stressed the council is ethical and follows every law “on the books.”

“Sometimes when you vote against what someone else wants, you are automatically corrupt,” he said. “There was absolutely nothing done behind the scenes. No special deals. People can have different perspectives and not be corrupt. That does bother me that some of these candidates are saying that. Whether they believe that, or saying it to get elected, I have no idea. They’re making these speculations on things they think they know, not on facts.”

As for campaign contribution and term limits, Blackburn said he does not support either.

Bill Fowler

Bill Fowler

Without limits, he explained, when individuals or groups donate it is disclosed on his campaign statements, which are public. Should limits be imposed, he said, the proliferation of “dark money,” or funds from independent expenditures, will rise.

Those funds are nearly untraceable, Blackburn added. Dark money is hot topic, especially in federal races, where a Political Action Committee (PAC) can take in money from anonymous sources and buy advertising for any candidate they wish, even without the candidate’s approval.

But Fowler and Rowley said limiting funds will make it easier for first-time candidates with limited fundraising experience to be involved in the process.

Rowley, for example, is not fundraising and instead is using his website, social media and candidate forums to spread word of his candidacy.

“It seems to be a really hot topic right now,” Rowley said. “All it takes is one really wealthy donor or corporate interest to completely drown out the other candidates. The paper and online advertising, printing out signs and bumper stickers is really expensive. It’s one thing to outraise another candidate, but just having one contribution way more than the others is probably not the way this country wants to be going.”

Fowler has raised funds, one of the lowest of the six candidates, so he is reverting to canvassing, mailers and social media to push across his platform.

Both noted the expensive race, where the top four candidates in fundraising —Blackburn, Schumacher, Tanner and Wood — have raised tens of thousands of dollars. Blackburn has the largest amount with more than $120,000, with most of it rolled over from his previous run for council.

Brandon Rowley

Brandon Rowley

“The candidates have raised much, much more money and raised the bar for people trying to enter the system,” Fowler said. “It would put a brake on that unlimited fundraising.”

As for term limits, Blackburn was direct in his response.

“I look at as, we have term limits,” Blackburn said. “If I don’t do a good job, I get voted out. But if I am doing a good job, what a pity to make me move on to do something else for someone who doesn’t have the same level experience.”

As for development, each candidate advocates smart growth within the General Plan and Growth Management Plan.

The approaches and some philosophies, though, are different. Some want to engage developers directly, while others want to create avenues for residents, the city and developers to discuss proposals.

As for interacting with developers, Fowler said they must go through the time-proven processes. He said mixed-use buildings, especially in the Village, are not popular with residents due to height and density concerns.

Rowley echoed Fowler’s concerns over height limits and said further discussion is warranted.

“I think that is the next big battle,” he said. “I think it boils down to council people who are in tune with the views of the community and want to maximize community input.”

Rowley, though, said big development is losing ground, highlighting the struggles with big box stores such as Macy’s and the now out-of-business Sports Authority.

In addition, he said a focus must concern funds from Prop C, which was passed in 2002 to acquire land for open space, plus three projects already completed or in the process.

“To reiterate, move forward with open space and move forward with small business,” Rowley said. “I think those are the two major takeaways from Measure A.”

Blackburn, though, said previous council members put the two plans in place to protect the city’s future and make sure development standards are followed. He said those aspects protects the integrity of infrastructure.

He believes in the GMP and GP, which are about one-foot thick, directs the council to manage development in the best possible way.

“It lays out what we can and can’t do with our growth,” Blackburn said. “I think our predecessor’s were geniuses in putting that together.”

Of their pet projects, Fowler said the relationship between San Diego Gas & Electric and the city is atop his list, specifically property they own. SDG&E owns the land where the Caruso Affiliated project was proposed off Cannon Road and has ties to the land of the Encina Power Plant.

“Maybe in the beginning it’s engaging them with a citizens committee … and advocate that they become more transparent about their future of the properties they own,” Fowler added. “We have to know what SDG&E’s plans are for that property (Encina).”

Blackburn’s most passionate issue, meanwhile, was leading the charge for the city to ban retail sales of dogs and cats from mills. The council approved the ordinance earlier this year.

As a result, the council urged Blackburn to take the issue to the state level in hopes the state legislature and governor’s office will back legislation for a statewide ban.

Another of his projects, though, is traffic. Blackburn has been at the forefront of upgrading the city’s traffic signals to a state-of-the-art system to reduce red light wait times. He said the project is about 50 percent completed and will cut wait times by 30 percent.

“The ban of the puppy mill of dogs and cats was absolutely my passion,” he said. “A lot of them, because of the breeding, were coming with outward sicknesses. The council was so supportive and allowed me to use resources to get a state ban passed as well.”

Rowley, though, said he wants to provide the council with a more scientific-based approach to a number of issues, especially land use. He noted Carlsbad’s environmental draw, how tourists flock to the beaches and countless residents in the city and county use the trail system.

At 23, he is the youngest candidate and has been stressing how politicians always say the youth is the future.

“It’s very much dominated by an older age demographic,” Rowley explained. “I call into question these politicians who that say think about the kids when voting a certain way. The average age at the federal level is 57. If you are serious about that idea as I am, there should be young adults in elected office to channel the voice of young adults.”

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