Photo by Sam Hodgson
When you’re running unopposed for City Council, you don’t have to make a lot of campaign promises. And Mark Kersey hasn’t.
I exacted one small pledge out of the 36-year-old Rancho Bernardo resident, who’s running to replace incumbent Carl DeMaio in council District 5: He agreed to post his meeting calendars online after taking office.
Kersey is a Columbus, Ohio native who came to the region 11 years ago. He recently lived in Solana Beach, then moved to Rancho Bernardo two years ago. He’s a technology consultant who owns his own two-person firm.
Kersey’s Platform and His People
While Kersey is full of big ideas — he wants to streamline city services, reform pensions, fix San Diego’s roads and make City Hall more transparent by putting every contract online — he is short of big solutions. And admittedly so. He says fixing San Diego will take small steps.
The first thing I noticed about Kersey when we spoke this week was his use of the words “we” and “us” to describe advances he sees at City Hall. We’ve generated momentum. Our ability to get Councilwoman Lorie Zapf elected. Our mandate is to restore neighborhood services.
So I asked: Who’s we?
A reform coalition, he said, with supporters like the Lincoln Club, a conservative business group, whose board Kersey served on for two years.
What His District Is Saying
One discovery during my week embedded in the district: San Diegans I met were generally more concerned about what’s happening in their neighborhoods than they are about a new football stadium, Convention Center expansion or pension reform.
Another discovery: Kersey may have the council seat locked up, but he’s still learning about the issues he’ll deal with when he takes office in December.
I asked him, for instance, how he — as one of nine council members — plans to address the city’s $898 million backlog of road repairs and other broken city infrastructure.
He pointed to supporting the use of managed competition, the process of seeing whether outsourcing city services to the private sector can save money. But even by Kersey’s calculation, that’s not going to fix all of San Diego’s roads. So far, managed competition has saved more than $6 million annually.
“You’re not going to pave every road in town, but you’re going to be able to repave some,” Kersey said.
A few, anyway. By city estimates, $6 million would fully repave roughly 12 miles of road. And the city has estimated it needs $478 million in street improvements alone.
Kersey wants the city to be more responsive to small business owners and consistently enforce regulations. It’s not hard to believe that this might be a problem. I met one resident who said it took her 30 phone calls to get a simple question answered by the city’s Development Services Department.
But when I asked Kersey exactly what he would change, specifically what wasn’t being enforced consistently, he responded: “It depends on who you talk to,” and didn’t cite a specific regulation. Instead, he questioned why updating community plans — blueprints for neighborhood growth — was such a laborious and expensive process.
He does have ideas, though. Kersey said he wants to promote what the city has called “Regulatory Relief Days” and also expand the distribution system for sewage treated to be safe for irrigation (also called the purple pipe system). He wants it to feed Rancho Bernardo golf courses. I questioned whether he was aware that city estimates show expanding purple pipes would be more expensive than simply turning purified sewage into a drinking-water supply.
He wasn’t. But he promised to read up on it.
And Kersey was paying attention to what we wrote and the problems we found during the week.
Like farmers in the San Pasqual Valley, at the northern edge of his district. They said they hadn’t heard a word from Kersey. Shortly after we wrote that, he called them.
Let’s break down some of the issues I found and what Kersey said he’d do about them.
Problem: Broken streets and storm drains.
Where: Just about everywhere I went in District 5.
His fix: Ensure City Hall is spending money efficiently now, continue to support managed competition to get savings and study up on whether to support a plan to borrow $500 million to fix roads and other broken infrastructure. He said he was open to the borrowing plan.
Asked whether he’s concerned that borrowing a half-billion dollars will saddle future generations with a problem created by current residents, Kersey replied: “Well, obviously it’s not ideal. That’s why I do want to study the details behind that. My position is that I’m not closed to the idea.”
Problem: Fire Protection and Preparedness.
Rancho Bernardo and Scripps Ranch have both burned in the last decade. And Rancho Bernardo’s fire station covers more ground than any firehouse in the city.
Where: Communities along the district’s eastern boundary with the backcountry, where fires often start.
His fix: Create fire substations that aren’t manned but have equipment stored there. Call in trained volunteers or reserves who live close by who can be dispatched immediately during catastrophic fires. “We need to be prepared,” he said. “This district is underserved and we need to do better.”
Two women I met complained that DeMaio hadn’t held a fire preparedness day in the district. I asked Kersey if he’d commit to doing that.
“I’m open to all these ideas if that’s a successful model,” he said.
Problem: Emergency Response.
Two farmers I met are worried about a rural road that’s gated shut and can’t be used for emergency vehicles. They said they’d work on improving the dirt road themselves, if only the city would provide a few thousand dollars worth of gravel.
Where: San Pasqual Valley.
His fix: “Let’s take them up on it. Why not? That’s one of those things that if you talk to a department at City Hall, they’d give you a litany of reasons why that’s not the right process. But if we can’t pave it, let’s work with these guys to figure out a creative solution.”
Kersey’s Top Three Priorities
1. Restoring neighborhood services. San Diegans don’t want much from their city government, he says, but they do want basics.
2. Fiscal reform. It’s what makes his first priority possible, he says, and means ensuring the pension reform measure passes in June and is fully implemented, as well as putting city services through the competitive bidding process.
3. Getting San Diegans back to work and making sure City Hall isn’t an obstacle to job growth.
What He Doesn’t Want to Talk About
Any policy differences between him and incumbent Councilman Carl DeMaio. He acknowledged that their personalities are different, but when asked for a single policy issue on which they differed, Kersey couldn’t cite any.
How to Get in Touch
Rob Davis is a senior reporter at Voice of San Diego covering the District 5 City Council race this week and last. Contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0529.
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