EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include links to complete transcripts from interviews with the candidates.
SAN MARCOS — Voters in San Marcos will have three choices for mayor to replace longtime Mayor Jim Desmond, who is running for District 5 supervisor after being termed out of office.
Current Vice Mayor Rebecca Jones, Councilman Chris Orlando and children’s author Bradley Zink are running for the position, each sharing a unique vision for the position.
Much of the debate in the mayor’s race has been between Jones and Orlando, the two higher profiled candidates. While the race is nonpartisan — Jones is a Republican and Orlando is a Democrat — both candidates received support and endorsements from the region’s political party leadership.
But all the candidates said that the election isn’t about political leanings — it is about the future of San Marcos.
“San Marcos is really at a crossroads in determining what kind of city it will be in the future,” Orlando said.
What that future will look likes differs with each candidate.
Jones has made traffic the focal point of her campaign, touting her plan to deploy artificial intelligence in the form of dynamic traffic signal sequencing and synchronization — bringing back a municipal bus line to reduce school commuting traffic and requiring developers to pay their fair share for increased capacity on the roads.
She also said she wants to make it a priority that the city lobby the state to expedite the expansion of the 78 Freeway, something that the community has anticipated for decades.
Jones also cites maintaining the city’s fiscally prudent spending practices and public safety spending as her other priorities.
“Our quality of life is something we all appreciate and with my traffic relief solutions and proven leadership, I believe it will continue to improve,” Jones said. “With our ability to attract new opportunities for San Marcos residents to stay in our city and places for them to dine and meet with family and friends we are creating a San Marcos that we are all proud to call home.”
Orlando also lists reducing traffic congestion as one of his priorities, but also adds preservation of open space and the expansion of the city’s park system — while keeping finances strong — as another priority.
But his campaign has hinged on the belief that the city needs to take a hard look at its development practices, taking a “common sense and incremental approach” to new development, he said.
Orlando was the lone councilman to vote against a pair of controversial housing issues. In 2016, he voted against the 189-unit Highlands project, and earlier this year voted against the Brookfield Homes request to build 218 units adjacent to the already existing 346-unit project under development.
The city, Orlando said, has approved twice the amount of housing for higher-income earners, while only approving one-fifth of its share of so-called “workforce housing” for low- and middle-income earners.
“Those expensive homes drive up housing costs. They don’t make it easier for our teachers, fire and sheriff’s personnel to buy homes here, they make it harder. They don’t solve the housing crisis, they make it worse,” Orlando said. “The question is not ‘is development good or is development bad.’ As a city we are going to grow. The question is how we’re going to grow. Do we approve every project that comes through, or do we take a more thoughtful, incremental approach — working hard to make sure the projects that come forward benefit our communities and our businesses?”
Orlando said he would require new developments to bring new infrastructure or other benefits to the community.
Jones, who said that she believed that the Highlands project accomplished some of the needs for workforce housing, also said that she believes that the city has a legal obligation to approve housing developments.
“Housing is needed statewide and we have state mandates imposed on us that we are legally obligated to meet,” she said. “I voted to approve workforce housing because I feel it brings housing that is part of the property ladder (various price ranges that offers opportunities for homeowners to move up and to start by purchasing their first home). This was a decision that some residents supported and some opposed.”
Zink, 45, has some of the same priorities and concerns as Orlando — he believes that the community has been left out of much of the conversation.
“Schools under-funded and overcrowded, affordable housing grossly underdeveloped in relation to high-price homes, and the slower-than-demand requires development of our overall infrastructure (i.e. utilities, roads, emergency personnel),” Zink said. “These are the major issues that the next mayor and City Council needs to address for the future of our city, and I am confident that I am the ‘of the people’ choice to fill the need for mayor.”
Many of Zink’s plans revolve around the schools, which have their own board of governance, but Zink believes cooperation with the schools and support of the public schools would yield benefit to the city.
For example, he said the city should focus on community buildup, but the plan entails small businesses donating $100 to a San Marcos public school in exchange for a banner advertising their businesses displayed at the school for a year.
“In three years, SMUSD would have a balanced budget, local businesses would get greater exposure of their tax deductible advertising, and it would be building the ‘community’ portion of business community,” he said.
Zink also said that expanding Twin Oaks Valley Road, ensuring infrastructure is built before development occurs and developing senior housing that is rent controlled with 20-year covenants that will ensure they remain affordable.