I was embedded in City Council District 1 this week to learn about its residents’ concerns and the four candidates campaigning to represent them.

By coincidence, those two worlds collided in the packed community meeting room of a shopping mall Wednesday night. I just couldn’t miss it!

A planning group hosted the first and only scheduled forum with all four candidates. Residents asked questions from the audience and then the candidates weighed in.

The candidates include incumbent Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, former retirement board president Ray Ellis, attorney Bryan Pease and Torrey Pines planning board chairman Dennis Ridz.

The residents raised some of the same issues I’ve been reporting all week. They talked about potholes, fire stations and the controversial Regents Road Bridge, as well as others.

Here are six highlights from the discussion:

Regents Road Bridge

The candidates were first asked whether they support or oppose building the Regents Road Bridge across Rose Canyon, a nature preserve in University City.

Lightner, Pease and Ridz each said they oppose the bridge. Ellis steered clear of defining his position, saying the city had other issues to deal with first. “We shouldn’t be thinking about new infrastructure,” Ellis said. “Right now, it’s off the table.”

The issue resurfaced later and the crowd focused on Ellis’ position. Debbie Knight, a bridge opponent, said bridge supporters have been putting up Ellis’ campaign signs in their yards. She asked him if he supports the bridge.

Again, Ellis declined to provide a definitive position. “It’s off the table,” he repeated. “That means we cannot address the issue in the short-term.”

A New Fire Station

As I noted earlier that day, some residents want UC San Diego to pay for a new fire station near the campus. At the forum, Lightner announced that the city is close to a deal.

“We are in the final negotiations of that,” she said. “UCSD will build a fire station there.”

Managed Competition

Lightner called herself a leader in managed competition, a bidding process that pits city employees against the private sector to provide public services.

Ellis and Ridz called her remark a joke. They said it took the City Council too long to put services out to bid. Voters endorsed the process in 2006. The council approved the city’s first contract in 2011, three years after Lightner took office.

Pease also said managed competition is part of the reason he entered the race. He opposes it. Lightner, Ellis and Ridz support it.

Proposition A

A lesser-known initiative on the June ballot showed some of the starkest differences between the candidates. The measure would ban the city from requiring union-friendly pacts on construction projects. (Here’s a quick primer.)

Lightner opposed the initiative, saying it would jeopardize state funding for construction projects. Ellis supported it, arguing it would level competition among bidders and increase transparency by posting all contracts online.

Ridz said he hadn’t read the initiative and couldn’t therefore offer his position on it. And Pease, well, misunderstood the issue.

Pease said he opposes the initiative because he opposes managed competition. But the initiative has nothing to do with managed competition. It’s an entirely different bidding process.

A Proud Carpetbagger?

A resident asked each of the candidates to explain how long they’ve lived in District 1. My hand wasn’t quick enough to write down the numbers for Lightner, Ellis and Ridz. I got caught up in Pease’s response.

“Thank you for exposing me as the carpetbagger I am!” Pease exclaimed. He said he moved to the district a few months ago because he was troubled by the opinions of the other candidates.

Pease is the only one in the race who opposes managed competition and a high-profile pension reform initiative on the June ballot, Proposition B. “I am the progressive in the race,” he said.

Throughout the debate, Pease also talked about Councilman and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio. While the other candidates talked about their own resume or experiences in their closing arguments, Pease contrasted himself to DeMaio.

“Carl DeMaio represents a brand that is very anti-labor and that is what I stand against,” he said.

An Uncomfortable Lightner?

Lightner looked more uncomfortable than her challengers and made it known to the crowd several times. She said her chair was sticky and complained about the room’s rising temperature.

At times, she just seemed out of her element. The other candidates spoke freely during their opening and closing arguments. She read from note cards. Her final remarks sounded like a formal valediction.

“I look forward to working for you in the future and I view community service as the highest honor,” she said.

Lightner’s challengers have urged her to debate again before the election. Before the crowd dispersed, one resident stepped forward and invited the candidates to a meeting in Carmel Valley.

Lightner didn’t respond yes or no. She just started packing up her things.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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