When you envision a future San Diego region, do you conjure images of a place in which both residents and businesses thrive thanks to an ample, reliable and safe water supply; a comfortable place to call home for every member of the region’s workforce; and efficient, convenient and cost-effective transportation options to move us around? In your vision, has the region accommodated growth while still preserving its natural areas and open spaces for recreation? And in this future, have we achieved all of these things while also creating new jobs and advancing our region’s prosperity and quality of life?

If so, I like your vision. And so do most of the 30,000 San Diegans who participated in The San Diego Foundation’s recent Show Your Love San Diego visioning initiative, and most likely, countless others.

In fact, Equinox Center’s 2012 San Diego Regional Quality of Life Dashboard identified the very same issues — water conservation, land use, housing and transportation, among others — as critical priority areas in order to ensure a high quality of life as the region grows.

The purpose of the Dashboard is to measure our region’s progress on all of these fronts and to set clear goals and identify possible solutions to help us get there. What we haven’t measured in the past is how much verbal attention is being given to these issues on the part of our region’s decision makers. Considering it is an election year, Equinox Center decided to analyze how closely the campaign rhetoric corresponds to what most San Diegans identify as top priorities. After all, if the candidates aren’t even talking about certain issues, you can be certain there won’t be much action on them once they’re in office.

That is why today we launch the 2012 Election Priori-meter:

Here’s how the findings look when we convert them into a word cloud.

The Priori-meter will track top trending issues in the San Diego mayoral race as well as other key races in the region until Election Day.

Just as the Dashboard showed, critical issues like water usage, housing, transportation and open space that are in need of attention and about which the public deeply cares, are being sidelined. (Many of these words appear too small to read in the word cloud.)

If these findings disappoint you, the solution is simple: start asking questions. voiceofsandiego.org, among others, is listening.

To be fair, it is not surprising pensions have so dominated the discourse (364 mentions, to be exact). Our region is still emerging from the recession and our fiscal challenges must be solved in order for us to see forward motion on other fronts.

But suppose we could we accelerate our region’s economic recovery and create new jobs while at the same time addressing our water, transportation and housing challenges?

Through Equinox Center’s Dashboard, we propose solutions to do just that. For example, we can implement water pricing structures that reward efficiency and discourage waste. We can reduce red tape and zoning restrictions that prevent developments that qualify as affordable from locating near urban cores, transit and job centers, where people increasingly want to live. Being thoughtful about where we accommodate our growing population’s need for housing will also help us reduce traffic congestion and ensure we are preserving open spaces for recreation. And doing all these things will strengthen our competitive advantages to retain and attract businesses and the workforces they need.

Surely the candidates have perspectives and solutions of their own on these issues. I’ll bet some of them are even itching to talk about them if someone would just ask.

At the end of the day, who really shapes the debate? You do, through your action as much as your inaction. Nearly 30,000 of you contributed to sharing your vision for the San Diego region. We need at least that many and more to help make your vision real.

Visit equinoxcenter.org’s 2012 Election Priori-meter page to take the first step: reframing the election debate.

Ann Tartre is executive director of Equinox Center.

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