By Miriam Raftery
Update: Brian Sesko, the fourth candidate in this race, has now completed an interview with ECM after the deadline for this article (Due to an email issue he said he did not receive the original invitation.) You can hear his radio interview and read hiighlights at https://www.eastcountymagazine.org/hear-our-interview-brian-sesko-lakesi....
February 20, 2020 (San Diego's East County) -- East County Magazine sat down for in-depth interviews with three of the four candidates running for County Supervisor in District 2 to replace Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who is retiring due to term limits. Full audio recordings are now posted below, along with highlights of candidates' thoughtful responses.
The candidates showed sharp differences on issues including protecting open spaces, housing, energy development, sand mining, homelessness, public safety, fire protection, and more.
- Former State Senator Joel Anderson says fixing roads and providing attainable housing for the next generation are his top priorities. He touts his legislative experience working across the aisle on many bills and says he’ll lobby Sacramento for more funds for the region.
- Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, who is also president of SANDAG, wants to focus on public safety, infrastructure, building housing and preserving open spaces. He urges voters to look at his record in Poway, which ranks high in public safety, open spaces, and meeting housing needs.
- Kenya Taylor, an expert in health and human services who has worked on programs across the backcountry, wants to put public safety and health concerns first, plus create economic opportunities and rebuild the middle class. She opposes sprawl development and voices concerns over projects such as sand mines and wind farms close to homes.
(A fourth candidate, Brian Sesko, a homebuilder and chair of Lakeside's Community Planning Group, did not respond to our interview request, but did participate in an earlier candidate forum which ECM covered; you can read about that forum and view video by clicking this link.)
Scroll down for highlights, in alphabetical order by candidates under each topic, by clicking "read more" or click the audio links to our full 45-50 minute interviews originally aired on KNSJ 89.1 FM.
Vaus has been Poway mayor since 2014 and SANDAG chair since late 2018. He’s also a Grammy-award winning musician and owns a music production company. He likens being supervisor to being “East County’s mayor.” He says Poway’s track record is a “great blueprint” for East County as the “safest city in the county, ranked number one to raise a family.” He says Poway’s conservative approach fiscally has enabled it to have the best roads, pay its pension obligations, protect private property rights and start revitalization with new attractive, affordable housing and more open spaces than other cities. A s mayor he published his cell phone number to be accessible to constituents.
Anderson, who served on Padre Water before the Legislature, positions himself as a taxpayer’s advocate. He says he’s running because San Diego deserves more from county government. He cites a homeless issue “running amok,” decries a shift in transportation funds from roads to trolleys and bike lanes, and wants to be sure families and young people can afford housing here. “Supervisors spend zero to no time in Sacramento lobbying for a bigger slice of the pie,” he says, pledging to change that.
Taylor, a licensed marriage and family therapist, has worked in schools and primary healthcare settings across the district helping children, seniors, the homeless, the mentally ill and others. She wants to focus on health and human services, a large chunk of the county budget. She aims to create economic solutions and opportunities to help people afford to buy homes or rent, create better career opportunities and support small businesses. She is proud of her efforts on the county’s live well program. She also wants to make public safety a priority in areas ranging from fire protection to health to decisions on projects such as sand mines and wind turbines.
ON THE ISSUES
Measure A and Measure B, housing and open space
We asked candidates their views on Measure A (which gives voters the right to approve or deny large housing developments that exceed what the county general plan allows) and Measure B (which would approve the massive Newland Sierra project, far denser than what the general plan allows).
Anderson opposes Measure A and supports Measure B. He says a developer could want to build a “horrible project” and that voters who don’t live in the community could approve it or conversely, “if we don’t live in the area and we’re going to dictate to them that they can’t have that housing, I don’t think that’s right.” He believes elected Supervisors should make those decisions instead.
He, says many of his friends have to visit their grandchildren out of state because high housing costs have forced young families to move away, so creating attainable housing is a priority for him. He opposes putting low-income, high-density projects in rural areas like Pine Valley or Descanso. “There’s no jobs and there’s no mass transit, so you’re setting up for failure, not success,” he says. He wants higher density projects near transit in urban areas. He has taken hefty donations from developers and other special interests but says he sometimes votes for and sometimes against their interests, voting “for what I think is the right thing to do for my constituents.” On open space preservation, he says he loves hiking but that “I don’t want to take money from children to buy more land that’s not used.” He also thinks permitting for many projects takes too long.
Taylor supports Measure A and opposes Measure B. “I am in favor of A and the reason is I want to make sure safety is our number one priority.” She is concerned that large sprawl developments could clog highways needed for evacuations during wildfires. “I have not taken any money from developers,” she says. “I am unbought. I am running for this position to be the people’s supervisor and it’s important to listen to people.” She thinks the 60,000 new homes allowed under the general plan is enough.
She supports housing along transit corridors and near jobs, as well as accessory dwelling units or granny flats and more help for veterans who need homes. She is concerned about the county’s department of development services allowing developers to choose who should write environmental impact reports. She wants to continue Supervisor Jacob’s legacy of preserving open spaces where possible to enhance tourism in what she believes is a “win-win for everybody.”
Vaus opposes measure A and supports measure B. He says large housing developments are “so nuanced and there’s so much detail” that supervisors need to study such proposals. He is concerned developers or others would spend huge sums to sway voters who would not have all the information. He doesn’t think supervisors should “rubber stamp” what community planning groups or others recommend automatically. On Measure B, he says the site was zoned for commercial space; given the “desperate need for housing” he would prefer to see homes there.
Vaus speaks with pride about affordable housing projects in development in Poway, including for the developmentally disabled and seniors, both near transit and stores. “They’re beautiful and they are going to be spectacular. Every one of the housing projects we’ve done I Poway, if you drove by them, you wouldn’t know they are subsidized,” he says. While he believes more homes are needed to help meet the state and region’s housing shortage, he also believes it’s important to protect open spaces where possible. “I point to what we’ve accomplished in Poway, a city that has more open space as a percentage of its land mass than any other jurisdiction in the county,” he says. I’m proud of that. We love to go recreate in our open space. We have 57 miles of trials for equestrians, for bike riders and for hikers.” He calls this a “blueprint” he hopes to follow for the county.
Anderson recalls the hepatitis outbreak locally that began among the homeless. “People died and it took them weeks before they made any kind of movement,” he says of the Supervisors. “We need government to be more responsive.” He notes there are many reasons for homelessness, including “families who were living from paycheck to paycheck because the cost of living is so high, rent is so high that if they were sick for a few days they may have ben kicked out of their apartment…then we have mental health, a big portion.” He wants organizations doing “incredible work” to get more support to help get jobs for people and unify families. He calls for “benchmarking” to see what programs work and “encourage people to donate to them.”
Taylor states, “I believe in the housing first model,” as well as providing services to help the homeless. She wants to see “more safe parking spaces” for homeless people sleeping in vehicle. “We need more resources now to address financial opportunities,” she says, adding that may people she has worked with as a licensed mental healthcare provider are most stressed over finances. “I would love to see tiny home communities built in San Diego,” she says, adding that she also supports accessory dwelling units or granny flats as well as innovative solutions such as turning former barracks into apartments for low-income people and veterans to prevent homelessness.
Vaus says the Supreme Court action in Martin v. Boise was a “paradigm shift for dealing with folks who on the street.” That ruling made it illegal to arrest homeless people for sleeping in public places if there are no shelter beds. “Residents have a right to clean and safe streets, neighborhoods and parks,” he says. “We have a moral obligation though to provide for those that are less fortunate and are going trough tough times.” He recalls his sister who at 21 with mental illness had no safety net and was homeless. He praised Supervisors’ recent action in approving funds for shelter vouchers and looking for shelter locations. He also supports a mental health hub in Mission Valley. “I think we’re taking critical steps in the right direction. I just want to see this continue and expand. A lot of people are in desperate need of help,” he adds.
Energy and environment
We asked candidates their views on addressing climate change, industrial-scale energy projects in rural areas, impacts on residents, and loss of property values.
Anderson says, “No one’s ever accused me of being a huge environmentalist, but I think they’ll be shocked to learn that I have an electric car,” But he opposes a new requirement for solar on every new home, which he calls “stupid and a waste of money” adding it will drive up housing costs. As for concerns of residents contending with noise, infrasound, blade flicker and flashing lights from wind turbines, he says, “It doesn’t make sense to have wind turbines where there’s no wind… It’s a different debate if people decide they don’t want to see a green economy.”
Taylor wants priority to be given to “solar in urban areas.” She voiced concerns over energy projects that compromise safety and security ,reduce property values, destroy cultural resources or take away agricultural land. “I don’t favor decreases in anybody’s property value,” she said, adding that even buying out neighbors of large wind projects isn’t adequate since many properties in rural areas don’t have high property values and a buyout may not be enough to buy a comparable home elsewhere in our region. “We have to look at alternatives,” she says. “Let me be very clear about this. People are trying to have district 2 as a dumping ground…and it needs to stop.”
Vaus notes that Apple, Google and Hewlett Packard started out with “tinkerers” in garages; he is optimistic that tinkerers of America will come up with better solutions than wind energy. He says he is optimistic about solar, but has concerns that “low-frequency rumbling” of wind turbines “certainly is going to disrupt the quiet enjoyment of someone’s property.” He indicated he may support a health study on impacts of existing local wind turbines on residents’ health but wants to first see if a similar study has been done elsewhere.
ECM asked candidates their views on concerns of residents over proposed sand mines at Conttonwood Golf in Rancho San Diego and in Lakeside’s El Monte Valley.
Anderson says, “We have to have an environmental study saying that’s going to be safe.” As for the communities near the proposed mines, he adds, “We need hard proof that it really won’t impact the because after the project starts, it’s really hard to control.” He said he hadn’t looked closely at either project but promised if elected to “give it my undivided attention because these two communities deserve the very best in strong representation.”
Taylor , a resident of Rancho San Diego states, “I feel very disrespected that people would want to put sand mines next to a school at Cottonwood” and near a senior living center as well as other sensitive uses. “Toxins in the environment create more health problems,” she says, citing her experiencing working in public health. She says safety is her highest priority and that sand mines, particularly given high winds in our region, would be “dangerous”, causing illness and disease.
Vaus says he has not met with anyone on either the Cottonwood or Lakeside sand mines proposed, and can’t take a position on specific projects he may be asked to vote on. But he says, “I have great concerns, because I’m an equestrian. I love horseback riding. I love to be out in open space, so I have real concerns about Lakeside in El Monte Valley.”
Healthcare and mental health
Anderson wants county government to be more responsive to crises such as a recent hepatitis outbreak. He wants mental health treatment to be a priority, noting that mental health is a big portion of the homeless problems and that sometimes, “people haven’t had access to a drug necessary to stabilize their condition or they just haven’t had the ability to get that mental health that they need.” He says police officers sometimes drop off people in mental distress who are released 24 hours later due to lack of beds. He wants to see more beds in mental health hospitals. “This is not a partisan issue; this is a human rights issue,” he says, adding he looks forward to working with Supervisor Nathan Fletcher on mental health issue.
Taylor wants to see more healthcare clinics including trauma care in the backcountry so that everyone doesn’t have to drive to Grossmont Hospital when they have an emergency. She wants to increase treatment options for the mentally ill and says many in jail are medicated with the wrong drugs and are not getting the right diagnoses. “We also need to address substance abuse,” she says. She has helped develop pain management programs and was part of a 2015 program named county program of the year. She supports meditation and natural healing methods including diet changes that “work, save money, and we could be utilizing more.” She also supports solutions for success to prevent bullying in schools that contribute to mental and behavioral health issues in students, as well as suicide prevention programs.
Taylor links depression to economics. As a therapist she says she talked with hundreds or thousands of people who stated “finances are their number one concern.” If supervisors can bring jobs to district 2, she predicts, “depression and anxiety will go down.”
Vaus says his top priority within the health and human services budget would be mental health. “This is personal to me,” he says, noting that his sister suffers from mental heath issues and has been homeless. “Absolutely, this is number one. There’s so much more that we can do” he adds, “because mental health and homelessness are inextricably linked together.
Vaus has also long been a supporter of children’s health, raising over a million dollars trough the years for Rady Children’s Hospital through the Carols for Candlelight program that he founded and runs through his production company. “My younger sister ws born with some challenges and we knew that she would not se her first birthday, but se spent her one and only Christmas on earth (at Children’s),” he says, adding that he started the concerts to give back the loving care that his sister received.
(Note: a competitor’s campaign has raised questions about this charitable endeavor. Vaus has provided documentation to prove donations went to Children’s Hospital as promised and says he has never profited personally off the shows, though ticket revenues go to his production company. He did not provide documentation of costs, but calls his opponent’s tactic “desperate” and “a disgrace.”
ECM asked how candidates would balance demand for highway and roadway improvements in East County vs. demand for increased transit in urban areas.
Anderson rails against diversion of Transnet funds from highways to transit, which he views as deceptive to East County voters. “We have a big shift from our road money being shifted to the downtown trolley,” he says. “I live in Alpine,” adding that fire safety is a top concern.” He adds, “If you want to use our money for the trolley, come back with a new proposal and let us vote on it. I’m not against the trolley.” He thinks creating bike lines in urban areas does nothing for East County and may even impede emergency responders. “I think it’s the wrong direction.”
Taylor notes, “We have gridlock in the backcountry. As somebody who’s worked in our rural communities for nearly two decades, I want to make sure we have save evacuation routes,” but adds that it is also important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She, too, is concerned over East County priorities being ignored. “Our community members east of the 125 [highway] can no longer be forgotten,” she says. She wants more carpool lanes added to congested freeways such as 125 and 52, hubs for commuters to park to access transit and “fast transportation” to connect people in East County to popular workplaces and the airport “The trolleys are not working,” she notes.
Vaus, as chair of SANDAG, indicates he has already had some success pushing to reprioritize and shift funds to fulfill some promises made to East County voters. “I’m really proud of having built in the last year a coalition at SANDAG,” getting a board commitment to “prioritize the 67, the 52, the 94-125 interchange and up in North County, the 78,” adding that words are being put into action including a $90 million budget amendment he proposed. He was to fulfill the promise to expand highway 67 to four lanes between Maple View Rd. in Lakeside and Highland Valley or Dye Rd. in Ramona, which in case of fire is “critical to be able to get folks out at the same time our first responders need to get in to render aid. That is a critical project and I’m not going to be quiet.” He also sees merit in SANDAG’s executive director’s vision of high speed rail and trans in urban areas. “Balance is key,” Vaus concludes.
Economic development and jobs
Anderson proposed development of “precious land” around the Gillespie Field airport to create “trade jobs and opportunity locally so people’s aren’t taking the 52 in the morning,” easing traffic and also raising tax revenue for the region. He suggests clean tch or biotech workers who live in East County could also telecommute from a satellite office.
Taylor cites “very high poverty rates” in parts of East County. She wants to bring apprenticeship programs back into schools but also provide long-term career paths, citing computer coding as an example. She is interested in exploring bringing biotech and green tech companies to East County, possibly around Gillespie Field, but wants to be sure the area is not “toxic” after hearing complaints from residents of residue on their properties from airplanes. She also wants the county to support jobs in agriculture such as wineries and organic farming and to have more 4H and agricultural education in schools. She also believes tourism can be enhanced in East County areas such as Julian, Campo and the backcountry, encouraging people to enjoy open spaces. “We have so many jewels here, I think we need to build on that,” she says.
Vaus says property taxes and sales taxes are “your biggest sources of funding, so if we do that right and wisely, I think we will have sufficient funds to do the things that need to be done.” Vaus has previously voiced interest in Gillespie development and trade programs in schools at a recent candidate forum, as well as citing East County’s potential as an “incubator” for businesses such as Taylor Guitar.
Emergency services: fire and ambulances
ECM asked candidates their thoughts on improving fire protection and ambulance response times. We also asked about concerns of some Julian residents over the county dissolving their volunteer fire department and asked if elected, would the candidates commit to review response time records since the county took over and take action if gaps in coverage are found.
Anderson says ambulances are slowed by bad road, which he wants to prioritize fixing. He notes some rural areas lack GPS service and that signs the county put up years ago have faded; he wants new signs. He also complained of money from utilities for fires going into the general fund and once proposed that 10% come back to communities where fines were assessed. He says he helped get a tanker here when needed during dry conditions and twice sponsored a bill to streamline permitting for people rebuilding after a fire.
On the Julian situation, Anderson notes, “Big fires don’t know any borders so we work together to solve this.” He faults the county for choosing Cal Fire to run the County Fire Dept. in Julian adding that while Cal Fire dos a great job fighting fires, “The County just chose one provider and never looked outside of that to see what our local fire chiefs could have provided.” He suggested if you have ‘qualified people [volunteers] who want to help,” there should be a way for them to do so instead of allowing a home to burn down, as recently happened after volunteers were prohibited from helping.
Taylor says, “There’s a big issue with fires in our area. We don’t want to be the next Paradise, California” (where 82 people died in a wildfire). “We need to invest in our first responders so we stay safe. We don’t want anybody else’s home burned down.” She wants to be sure there are safe evacuation routes and fire drills for evacuating the elderly in areas such as Potrero and Campo, recalling working in the backcountry after the Cedar Fire. She would support more pay for first responders and is concerned about high suicide rates among firefighters. Regarding Julian, she would support getting response times and station staffing records and taking action to fill gaps. “Why aren’t we preparing our youths to become firefighters? Why would we take away volunteerism when people are only trying to improve the quality of our lives?” She asks, noting that 60 volunteers could man up to five pieces of equipment previously. “I don’t want to take away from any great work that Cal Fire is doing” fighting wildfires, she notes, but adds, “we need as many volunteers as possible to help support our firefighters.”
On long ambulance response times in rural areas, Taylor says,”We should be doing better than this.” She wants medical clinics locations that offer multiple services including trauma services to cut down on ER visits and save lives. She also suggested positioning ambulances at Sheriff stations in rural areas. We may also need more ambulances, definitely, because every minutes that passes when someone has a heart attack will impact if they’re able to get the services they need.”
Vaus notes that while communication and aerial firefighting capabilities have improved, “one area where there’s still a need for improvement is defensible space.” “I want folks to be safe…and know that if they call 911 somebody’s going to be there soon enough to be able to render aid,” he said, adding that he was disappointed to hear some records have not been provided.
Criminal justice system
Anderson introduced and supported a number of criminal justice reforms in Sacramento, where he was name legislator of the year by both crime victim and the Innocence project. “I took a very balanced approach,” he said, adding that he learned a lot including that some things he previously believed were wrong. While he supports prosecuting criminals, he also believe it’s important to be sure innocent people aren’t jailed and that prisoners are treated humanely. He recalled oversight hearings that found abuse by guards. As for the high rate of deaths in local jails, Anderson says “I’d like to investigate it further” to assure that there are adequate rules to protect both inmates and Sheriff’s deputies.
Taylor wants to stop putting mentally ill people in jail and instead get them treatment in a comprehensive setting. Putting people in jail with schizophrenia is “unacceptable,” she says. She wants to be sure workers in jails have better training to help prevent inmate deaths and create bst practices to help keep everyone safe. She has worked in a re-entry program and wants to see those in need get a proper diagnosis as well as addressing substance abuse issues, including opioids. “I know what it’s like to be in a car accident,” she says, adding that she was “smashed between two cars.” She also wants to stop the school to prison pipeline with early intervention programs to help kids make better choices.
Vaus chaired a criminal justice committee for SANDAG. He said Poway has reduced crime since he’s bee mayor and is the county’s safest city because of making sure staff has the tools they need. He is endorsed by Sheriff Bill Gore but says he wants to see the outcome of a study on jail deaths currently underway with the former head of Ryker’s Island in New York. He notes there have been suicides over low railings in jail. “We need to make sure that gets done,” he said, adding that a broken x-ray machine for detecting ingested drugs also needs to be fixed.
ECM asked candidates if they would continue Supervisor Jacob’s tradition of helping communities fund new libraries.
Anderson said, “I want to put kids first for spending in our region” as well as prioritizing infrastructure. He suggested that instead of buying more open space and taking and off the tax rolls, it might be better to support “kids in libraries.”
Taylor says, “I want to see more libraries” and also wants to see open space utilized such as with camps. She has worked in libraries and wants to see them include learning opportunities, business networking opportunities, trainings, arts and cultural programs including bringing music into communities, as well as reviving interest in books and traditions being lost.
Vaus says, “I’m a big fan of libraries,” noting that he loved going a library as a kid. For communities like La Mesa and Santee, however, which are cities in need of new libraries, he says, “I think there’s an opportunity,” but says the communities need to step up with some of their own money, just as Poway did. “We put up our own money to build our library, just like now we’re breaking ground on a new intergenerational community center.”
Anderson, who served on the Padre Dam Municipal Water District Board in the past, criticized Mayor Vaus for his handling of a boil-water order in Poway due to a reservoir issue that left some homes and businesses advised not to use tap water for a week. “When I was at Padre, we never deferred maintenance,” he said. ”Never should you put the safety of your citizens in jeopardy,” adding, “At Padre we had emergency hookups,” adding that Poway should create an emergency hookup with Ramona “so they have a backup system.
Vaus blames the water problem on Sacramento for being overly cautious after cloudy water was found. “Our water tested just fine throughout the entire challenge.” Of Anderson, he says “It’s interesting that he’s pointing the finger, because the water agency he used to work for has had a number of precautionary boil alerts. This is one, in the entire 60-year history of our water system.”
Access for constituents
All three candidates said they will continue Supervisor Jacob’s tradition of regular meetings with constituents across the district.
Anderson says that as a state legislator, “I used to have meetings all the time so people could come in and talk to me, so I can make the best possible decision” and be open-minded. He notes that his open houses each holiday season had large turnouts.
Taylor said, “I will always have access to community members when elected, because although I know I’ll hire a great staff, I want to make sure I could talk to the people directly.”
Vaus noted that he has published his cell phone as mayor of Poway “so people can call me 24/7, 365 days a year.” He plans to continue that tradition if elected Supervisor.
We asked each candidate to name their most important endorsements.
Anderson is endorsed by former Governor Pete Wilson and other conservative legislators as well as the Southwest Realtors Association, among others, but says he’s most proud of the many “average Joes, just ordinary citizens who have endorsed me.”
Taylor lists her endorsements by State Controller Betty Yee, the state’s top financial officer, as well as State Senate Pro Tem president Toni Atkins, Assemblymember Shirley Weber, La Mesa Councilmember Akilah Weber and Councilman Todd Gloria.
Vaus is endorsed by Supervisor Dianne Jacob to fill her seat. He is also proud of his endorsements from Cal Fire’s firefighters and by major law enforcement organizations across the district.
Anderson concludes, “I want our kids to grow up in the same community that we live in. They need jobs, they need career opportunities and they need housing.” He doesn’t want young people to move out of state to find those opportunities. “I think that we should provide for our own—and we should be doing it today.”
Taylor wants to expand pilot projects with best practices and outreach to help more people, plus bring experts onto boards and commissions in leadership positions. “I would also love to see a program for women veterans,” she adds, noting that 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. She notes that San Diego is a big military town and says she wants more programs to help wounded combat veterans. She wants more funds for aging and independent services, since the number of seniors is projected to double in our area. “I want to see more seniors have opportunities if they are ill, to stay in their homes and not have to go to a skilled nursing facility,” noting that many can’t afford the latter. “I think all people should have dignity and respect,” she concludes.
Vaus says, “I take very seriously that we are elected to be public servants, and I believe the focus should be on the servant pat. That’s what I’ve always strived for.” He says he’s had time in the limelight, as a mayor, notably after the Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting when he found himself on national media, helping his community “wrap our arms around each other” to heal after the tragedy. ““I don’t need it anymore,” he says of the public attention. “I want to spend the rest of my days in office as supervisor, being a servant” for the people.