By Henri Migala
Photos: Candidates Joel Anderson and Steve Vaus
October 9, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) - On September 21, East County Magazine hosted a web-based candidate forum for San Diego County's District 2 Supervisor race. Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and former State Senator Joel Anderson joined ECM editor Miriam Raftery, who moderated the event, to share their views on a variety of some of the most pressing issues affecting East County. They are running to fill the seat being vacated by Dianne Jacob due to term limits.
Below are highlights and a detailed analysis of the candidates' statements made during the candidate forum, as well as their bios.
You can view video of the complete candidate forum at: https://youtu.be/o4KtvVquSV4
ECM was able to host this forum thanks to funds provided by the Facebook Journalism Project Grant generously awarded to ECM. A map and description of the current district, as well as how it will change with redistricting, is available below the forum highlights on issues including COVID-19, wildfires, homelessness, housing, racial injustice/public safety, county jail deaths, transportation/greenhouse gas reduction, revitalization of East County, cannabis, budget priorities, fiscal reserves, ambulance response times, proposed sand mines, community outreach and more.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors controls a $5 billion budget and makes decision over a wide variety of social service programs, and on issues affecting your health and safety. Four billion, or 80%, of that budget is related to state and federal programs the county is required to administer, and one billion, or 20%, can be used for the Supervisors to establish their priorities. Most of the $1 billion comes from local property taxes, so it is important for local citizens to know what the supervisors’ priorities are.
The Candidates for County Supervisor District 2
STEVE VAUS is the Mayor of Poway and Chair of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). He’s also headed up a committee on Poway’s budget, a community leadership institute, and a substance abuse task force. He also owns a production company and is a Grammy Award-winning recording artist producing the annual Carols by Candlelight concert to raise money for charities helping children in need. He and his wife, Corrie, have four children and five grandchildren.
“My priorities as East County’s Supervisor will be the same as my priorities as Mayor: keeping us safe from crime and fire, maintaining infrastructure, protecting and expanding open space, encouraging development of new housing, and being accessible,” he says. Vaus is endorsed by dozens of local officials including Supervisor Dianne Jacob, Cal Fire firefighters, law enforcement organizations, Father Joe Carroll, and a variety of other organizations from across our region.
JOEL ANDERSON has served as State Senator and State Assemblyman representing East County for more than a decade. He previously served on the Padre Dam Municipal Water District Board. He was named legislator of the year from the Small Business Association, Lakeside Chamber of Commerce and veterans’ groups. He also had a 100% rating from the California Taxpayers Association.
“I believe our children and grandchildren deserve the same benefits we enjoyed growing up in San Diego County. That's why I will work to improve our roads, support attainable housing, and promote career opportunities. If our family members can find housing and work, maybe we won't have to travel to Phoenix to visit our grandchildren,” he says.
Highlights and Excerpts from the Forum
The forum began with the candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves and to provide an overview of their priorities as Supervisor. (Numbers indicate the time in the recording when the comments were given and recorded)
Vaus (1:13): “My support comes because they know, as supervisor, I’m going to put people before politics. That means ensuring every neighborhood is safe from crime and wildfire, making sure all people receive equal treatment, protecting and caring for seniors and veterans, prioritizing quality of life, parks and open spaces. Continuing Diane Jacob’s fight against sex offenders being dumped in east county. As supervisor, I’ll address homelessness by increasing funding for mental health and addiction treatment, and implementing effective programs to increase housing for the unsheltered.
Under my leadership as Mayor of Poway, we’re building affordable housing for senior veterans and the developmentally disabled, investing in renewable energy, expanding recreational facilities, trails and open spaces. We’re San Diego county’s ‘Safest City.” We balance our budgets and maintain a fiscally responsible rainy-day reserve fund. During COVID, we served 9,629 meals for vulnerable seniors, provided picnic tables to restaurants to allow for safe outdoor dining. We’ve opened our parks for socially-distanced workouts and worship. My family has been in east county for 3 generations. I pride myself for getting things done in an independent, non-partisan approach, and I’m delighted to be here with you tonight.”
Anderson (3:35): “I’ve lived in east county for over 40 years. I raised my family there. I grew up there. As I grew up, there were career opportunities, housing was obtainable, and it was a great place. And now, as I talk to my friends, they have to visit their grandkids, to visit their children, out of state because we’ve failed to build the houses, we’ve failed to create the infrastructure, we’ve failed to give the career paths that made east county so great when I grew up.
If all the politicians weren’t lying then we would be living in a beautiful community, where all the stuff was there. Look around. Are the roads in the best repair? Are our kids living, and having the same opportunities that we have? I think the answer is ‘no,’ and it shouldn’t be that way.
I think that when people promise us to build roads, and we agree to tax ourselves, that money should be spend on roads and not diverted elsewhere. When people say they’re going to step up for veterans and fight for them, I think their votes should reflect it. But sadly, that’s just not the case in San Diego today. And we deserve better. My motto has always been “it’s my job to make government work for you. I want effective, efficient and accountable government.” Some of these things, we haven’t seen in decades.
ISSUE: COVID 19 and Pandemic Response
Raftery (5:20): This week we reached a sad milestone of 200,000 people dead from Covid 19, I would like to hear your views on how the county has handled Covid 19 pandemic, and are there any ways you believe the response should be changed?
Anderson (5:55): Anderson expressed frustration that the ‘goal posts’ of the pandemic response seem to change, and the we should “rely on medical science, not political science’ to form our response, which, according to Anderson “isn’t hard, it just requires medical science.”
Vaus (8:05): Vaus recognizes that certain populations have been disproportionately affected more than others, such as congregate care facilities, the elderly, Latinos (who make up over 60% of all positive tests and 50% of the deaths, yet make up only 33% of the population) and other communities of color. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is because the majority of frontline, essential, workers “are they. They’ve been on the job non-stop due to the pandemic”. Vaus says he would “have liked to have seen more testing sooner, quicker results, more PPE available for congregate care facilities, for front-line workers, quicker recognition of vulnerable populations, and, in general, more information, more details on outbreaks. Vaus shared that if the county has information they should share it, because “we can’t keep the public in the dark.”
ISSUE: Wildfire Prevention and Response
Raftery (10:25): Our next topic is wildfires. Is it time for the county to invest in its own night-flying, water-dropping helicopter(s), and are there any other steps that you would take to improve wildfire prevention, or response for the San Diego region?
Vaus (11:25): Vaus recognizes that night time if the best time to fight fires because of lower temperatures and lighter winds, but it’s a very challenging time to fly. CalFire has 2 helicopters on order, but they are $144 million each. San Diego Fire has a few twin-engine night-time choppers, and the county has had a use agreement in place since 2014. Not only is the cost of the helicopters a concern, but “fires in east county have unique challenges because of livestock.”
Anderson (13:09): Anderson mentioned that within a month of moving into his house in Harbison Canyon, he had to be evacuated because of fire. “I live in a fire zone. Rarely is there a fire in San Diego county that doesn’t come through my neighborhood.” Anderson said he coordinated with Governor Schwarzenneger to have “the tanker” be scheduled according to risk of fire, rather than calendar date, which allowed the tanker to come down almost 8 weeks early. “I was there with Duncan Hunter, when he was trying to get CalFire to work with the military. The military had assets, and we couldn’t coordinate those assets between the two layers of government, federal and state.” Anderson said that “there is a lot more we can be doing, but I also think we have to be thoughtful, and we have to take personal responsibility.” Anderson also mentioned various other issues that has affected fire response and preparedness, such as not being allowed by the county to clear brush that residents believe pose a hazard, and making rural street signage easier to see for firefighters.
Raftery (15:35): Currently, the county has no homeless shelters in the unincorporated areas. The county is talking about converting a hotel in La Mesa and have it be transitional housing. What do you think the county needs to do to make sure that homeless people across east county have access to shelter and services, while also minimizing the negative impacts of homelessness on residents and businesses in communities?
Anderson (16:37): Anderson mentioned that the county keeps talking about doing something about homelessness and saying they want to address it, but that it wasn’t until the hepatitis outbreak in the homeless community, “it wasn’t until people died that they started to step up and started doing what they should have been doing all along.”
Anderson mentioned that he worked with Senator Bell to get a $200 million pilot program for San Diego County on mental health. He mentioned that “that money could have been used to triage the homeless, and help them get off the street. And yet, we used only $3 million of the $200 million. $197 had to be returned to the state.”
Anderson then went on to talk about the East County Transitional Living Center in El Cajon, and their efforts to expand, but the challenges they experienced working with the county. Anderson we could, without using county money, streamline and expand what non-profits are currently doing.
Vaus (18:25): “Homelessness doesn’t respect city boundaries, and we need to treat it that way.” Vaus spoke about the history of homelessness at Lamar Park, which has been “cleaned out multiple times,” but mentioned that the encampments always came back “because there hasn’t been anywhere else for the homeless folks to go.” But he mentioned that “finally there’s some hope. Over 300 homeless folks, 304, from the unincorporated areas are now in county-funded hotel rooms.”
Vaus mentioned that he believes “we ought to explore repurposing the old county assessor building in El Cajon, for short-term, or perhaps senior housing. We should look at old motels, or industrial properties. We can buy, and repurpose them. But they have to be placed right.”
Vaus recognizes that we need to address the immediate, “now,” need for housing, the intermediate need, and the long-term need for housing. Vaus also mentioned that housing “has to come with mental health and addiction services.” He also mentioned that many homeless people have an income, “in most cases, enough the cover the cost of a tiny home, if we can build those homes. And we can, for about $15,000 each. We need to see more exploration of the ‘tiny home’ concept, think outside the box, and give these folks a chance and a place to start over.”
ISSUE: Housing Development
Raftery (20:35): Where and how do you think housing should be built, and are there some red-flags for you, such as unmitigatable fire risks?
Vaus (21:47): Vaus mentioned that in the unincorporated areas, 80% of the unincorporated area is in a high-fire prone zone, so any denial of housing permits in those areas would stop all construction, including large-scale projects, single-family homes and affordable housing. What he said is needed is “balance.” In areas that have no, or limited, infrastructure should have restricted building. But areas closer to roads and highways are more suitable. But, Vaus goes on to say, “I’m always going to lean on our public safety officials to guide us on what’s best and safest when it comes to development.”
Vaus mentioned the grants should be provided to retrofit older homes to help them become more fire-resistant because “the greatest danger are homes not built to modern standards…. Give folks who are already there the tools to survive.”
Anderson (24:28): Anderson points out that 40% of the cost of building housing is related to permits and bureaucracy. He mentioned that it’s important to reduce those costs, and the time involved to get the approvals. Anderson also mentioned that it’s important to be build new housing near available and accessible public transportation. It’s no use to people to have housing where they don’t have dependable and efficient public transportation. Although, Anderson then goes on to say that the trolley doesn’t reach everywhere, and how people would not take the trolley. His point was to make sure that bureaucracy doesn’t stand in the way of building roads.
ISSUE: Racial Injustice and Police Funding
Raftery (27:30): Protests over racial justice and policing issues have rocked our community and our community. How would you address the concerns of those protesting over racial injustice, particularly as it pertains to policing, but also, how you would go about ensuring that public safety is protected, including police funding issues.
Anderson (28:14): Anderson recounted a story from his time in the Legislator where he discussed police funding with a colleague, arguing that “cutting their funds, and limiting their training, leads to bad outcomes. We should be increasing the money so that they have ample money for training, so they get the very best training possible.” Anderson shared that nobody he knows, including himself, things it’s OK to handcuff someone and then watch them suffocate, but that our police have to make tough decisions and they need the best training and support, such as PERT (psychiatric emergency response teams).
Vaus (31:43): Vaus started by sharing that he fully support the Leon Williams Human Relations Commission, and even recommended a Poway high school graduate to serve on it. He also supports the county’s creation of the Office of Equity and Social Justice. As to systemic, or institutional racism, “there is no question there is massive social inequity in our nation... and we need to address that, as a society.” Vaus says that the first, or most, important thing to do is to improve education. “As long as select members of society are treated unfairly, we have along way to go.” Vaus recognizes that the police are most willing, and wanting, to weed out the bad, but there is no amount of training that can protect the police who are determined to do ‘bad things.” He referenced the shooting of the two police in Compton recently. He does not support defunding the police, or “anything that would diminish or weaken our ability to respond is a non-starter for me.”
The remainder of the forum addressed ECM listeners’ questions in a “rapid response” format (in order to respond to as many questions as possible).
ISSUE: Revitalize far East County
Miriam (34:52): How do we revitalize the “far East County” (Boulevard, Jacumba, Campo)? What would you do?
Vaus (35:27): Vaus starts off by first recognizing the importance and need to first ask the citizens who live out there, because many people live out there for a reason.
Anderson (36:33): Anderson also recognizes that people choose to live out there because “they want a different type of life. Until they complain, I don’t know if I’m going to complain.”
ISSUE: Developer Donations
Raftery (38:27): Developer donations have been a concern in several east county races recently, what do you have to say to people who are concerned about protecting those open spaces?
Anderson (39:22): “If a person makes a donation, it doesn’t mean they own your vote. I’ve taken money from both sides of every issue. I don’t ask for a litmus test.” Anderson criticized the county’s efforts to take land away from development while we have a homeless problem. He also mentioned the importance of having a climate action plan, because having such a plan would allow the area to apply for state funding (although he didn’t mention what those funds would, or could be, used for).
Vaus (41:38): “Yes, I am endorsed by the Building Industry Association, and so is Joel. They did a dual-endorsement.” Vaus invited listeners to look at Poway, in terms of open space, where they increased their open space by 500 acres while he was Mayor. “You could fit the entire city of Santee, just in our open space. The entire city of El Cajon, just in our open space.” Vaus shared that he had returned ‘thousands and thousands of dollars’ when donations were given with an expectation.
ISSUE: County Jail Deaths
Raftery (43:15): San Diego County jail has the record of having the most deaths of any county in California. What do you think can be done about that, and do you think it’s time for the county to commission an independent investigation?
Vaus (43:46): “One death is too many…. We have a moral responsibility to offer a safe environment and appropriate care to those in custody so they can go to trial, or pay their debt to society, and have the opportunity to get their life straightened out, and lead a good life that contributes to society.” Vaus share a story of his own father’s experience with the criminal justice system, and how he went on to help others improve their lives.
Anderson (45:57): “When somebody is in your care, you’re responsible for their health.” Anderson mentioned that the initial assessment and proper training are key to positive outcomes.
ISSUE: Balancing Transportation Needs with Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Raftery (47:10): How would you balance the transportation needs of east county with the state mandates to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction?
Anderson (48:02): Anderson shared that the citizens of east county voted to build roads, but SANDAG diverted that money to the trolley. “That’s wrong. Those roads should be built.” Anderson is strongly opposed to spending any more money on any additional studies, because according to him, those studies have been done, and the roads haven’t. Anderson was highly critical of SANDAG, its director and its Board.
Vaus (50:04): Vaus shared that he worked with the Mayors of various cities to raise the $92 million dollars for road improvement (that Anderson criticized), and disagreed with Anderson for thinking that those funds will not be well spent. Vaus mentioned that some areas are in greater need for improved roads. “The farther east you go, need those improved and expanded highways.”
ISSUE: Julian Fire Department
Raftery (52:39): What would you do to assess whether things are better or worse since Julian has voted to change their fire coverage to CalFire?
Vaus (53:50): Vaus shared that he lived in a community that had an all-volunteer fire department, and how important that department was in building community. Vaus also shared that, although he knows about how contentious the issue was, and is, in Julian, he didn’t follow it closely as it was going on because he was not thinking of running for Supervisor at the time. But, he would be open to revisiting the issue, and ensuring the needs of the community are met.
Anderson (56:13): “The biggest issue to me was the county never invited the fire chiefs to put their own plan together. It’s not about one team or the other. It’s about the best team to respond to the issues.” Anderson shared that everyone in the county pays taxes, so “everyone should have the same opportunity to the same safety net.”
ISSUE: Cannabis Legalization
Raftery (57:42): Do you support legalizing medical, or recreational, cannabis in the unincorporated areas?
Anderson (58:20): Anderson recognized several rational arguments surrounding medical cannabis and finished by saying he would be “very supportive.”
Vaus (58:58): Vaus said he recognizes that some people can benefit from medical cannabis and that “if the federal government would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled drugs, then people should be allowed to purchase it from their local pharmacy.”
ISSUE: Funding Priorities
Raftery (59:25): What would your priorities be for the discretionary funds available to the Supervisors?
Vaus (59:46): Vaus shared that he would like to spend more on the arts, but “would like to look at every opportunity and see where the community has a need and a desire for those funds to go. It’s their money.”
Anderson (1:00:50): Anderson shared that he would first look to the state to see if there are state funds available so that local funds would not need to be used on something where state funds are available. Anderson mentioned the arts, homelessness, and road improvements.
ISSUE: Proposed Sand Mines
Raftery (1:02:17): How would you go about assessing approving the proposals for the 2 major sand mines (El Monte Valley, and along the Sweetwater River)?
Anderson (1:03:22): “I’ve talked to both sides. I need to see more data.. Both sides have excellent points. I just need to see more data to see what’s in the best interest of the community.”
Vaus (1:04:08): “These projects may never make to the Planning Commission, let alone to the Board of Supervisors.” Vaus shared that he drove out to El Monte. “Imagine193 truck trips, 6 days/week, for 25 years. There’s trouble with that. If I have to vote today, based on the information I have, I would have a hard time supporting either one of those.,”
ISSUE: County Fiscal Reserves
Raftery (1:05:20): Do you think the County has adequate reserves, and what would be your #1 project be to lead our economic recovery after the pandemic for the San Diego County region?
Vaus (1:05:45): Vaus shared that there is always talk about the amount of reserves, are they too much, or too little. He thinks “they are just about right. Roughly 70 days worth or reserves.” Regarding post-pandemic priorities, Vaus says that “priorities are priorities, and mine will be the same: public safety, homelessness, treatment for mental health problems and substance abuse, and continued fiscal discipline.” But he also recognizes that there will be new challenges and that he would work with the public health officials to look ahead towards the next health crisis. Vaus also mentioned that it will be important to restock the county’s reserves.
Anderson (1:07:20): Anderson shared that reserves are never enough, and that he would first like to conduct a survey to find out what are the greatest needs to increase quality of life. He would not be sure what he would prioritize without first obtaining the data from the community.
ISSUE: Ambulance Response Time
Raftery (1:08:20): Ambulance response times in east county are slower than national standards. What can be done to improve that?
Anderson (1:08:38): “There’s a lot we can do but the first thing is we need to stop converting lanes into bike lanes. Congesting traffic doesn’t help response times. It hurts it.” Anderson’s plan is based on creating more jobs closer to home, which would get more cars off the roads, reducing congestion. Reducing congestion, argues Anderson, also increases quality of life, and reduces pollution.
Vaus (1:10:13): Vaus’s plan is based primarily on expanding highway 67, which he says is also known as “blood alley.”
ISSUE: Endorsements and Outreach
Raftery (1:11:22): Which endorsements are you most proud of, and will you continue Dianne Jacob’s tradition of holding coffee in the community, and getting out to virtually every town in east county?
Vaus (1:11:52): “I have always had coffees as Council member and as Mayor. I’ll continue to do that. I’ve covered a lot of the back country with Supervisor Jacob participating in her coffees. So, yes. I’ll continue that. I’ve always had my phone number available.” Regarding endorsements, Vaus says that he’s most proud of all of them.
Anderson (1:13:10): Anderson said he would do things differently than how Supervisor Jacob did it. According to Anderson, Supervisor Jacob held her meetings during the day, when people were at work and couldn’t attend. Anderson said he holds his meetings after work so people could actually attend. “It’s pointless to go through the motion of having meetings if it’s the same 20 people who show up all the time.” Anderson says he wants to make sure that more people have access to those meetings, and that maybe these Zoom meetings would facilitate more people being able to attend and participate. Anderson is also proud of all his endorsements, but most proud of “the over 4,000 of just ‘ordinary Joes,’ normal citizens who have stepped up and said “Joel, you did a great job. We loved your representation, and we want to endorse you again.””
Where is District 2?
District 2 is currently the largest of San Diego’s five districts. It covers an area from the San Diego-Mexico border just south of Otay Lakes, and extends north to almost Escondido, and includes everything east, all the way to Imperial County. This immense area includes Spring Valley, La Mesa, SDSU, El Cajon, Santee, Poway, Ramona, Alpine, Julian, Jamul, Potrero, Lake Morena, Campo, the Mountain Empire, Boulevard, Jacumba, Pine Valley, the San Ysidro, Laguna, Volcan, Cuyamaca, and Pinyon mountains, Santa Ysabel, and parts of Anza Borrego desert. Map of the current County Supervisor Districts:
Coming soon: New District lines
The County of San Diego Independent Redistricting Commission is in the process of redrawing the boundaries for the County’s five supervisorial districts. Redistricting takes place every 10 years after the federal census, and can influence a community’s ability to elect the representative of their choice. According to the SD County government website, “the County’s district boundaries will change so the five County supervisors elected to represent those districts each serve about 650,000 residents and reflects the County’s diverse population.” In the proposed redistricting, the boundary between Districts 2 and 5 will shift so that District 2 will lose land and District will gain land.
County of San Diego Independent Redistricting Commission and proposed boundaries:
Dr.Henri Migala is the founder of Henri Migala Photography. He has won numerous photography awards and most recently had one of his images chosen as a “Top 10” finalist in the Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest out of 48,000 submissions. The independent photographer has previously provided video and photography for ECM ranging from bighorn sheep in the Anza-Borrego Desert to presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s San Diego visit .
He has lived and worked in 15 countries in global health, international development, higher education administration and humanitarian aid including disaster relief. His past positions include Director of the International House at the University of California San Diego, Executive Dean and Grants Administrator for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, and Adjunct Faculty instructor at San Diego City College. He holds a doctor of education degree from San Diego State university, a Masters in Public Health degree from the University of North Teas, and a Master of Art degree at the University of Texas, where he studied anthropology. He is a volunteer and board member with AGuilas del Desierto, Inc., helping to save lives of lost migrants, and as a Rotary Club President, has worked with International Relief Teams. He speaks three languages (English, Spanish and French) has won many awards for his community service, and his international activities include working to eradicate polio through the World ealth Organization as well as participating in rural, border and cross-cultural health issues, , disaster relief and reconstruction. He has published numerous academic papers and written nearly $30 million in grants that have funded.
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