Peppered with questions on the drought, infrastructure woes, economic growth and housing affordability, the mayors of Chula Vista, Encinitas, Poway and San Diego instead made the case for their cities’ greatness.

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s mayoral forum Thursday never developed into a serious policy discussion on regional issues.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus made his case clear: Poway is above the issues faced in other cities in the region. It doesn’t have infrastructure issues and did such a good job at conservation that the mayor wants to start looking at ways to allocate water – giving everyone a certain amount to use however they see fit – instead of mandating reduction targets.

Chula Vista’s Mayor Mary Salas said Chula Vista is ready for aggressive growth, with its decades-long plan for a university and its soon-to-be-developed bayfront. Chula Vista is trying to be a part of the “new economy,” Salas said, and is “ready, willing and able to accept these companies” that find it too difficult to go to San Diego or Carlsbad.

The city of Encinitas, meanwhile, just needs to keep on keeping on, said Mayor Kristin Gaspar, who is also running to replace Dave Roberts on the county’s board of supervisors. “We are a built-out city,” Gaspar said. (She didn’t mention the city remains out of compliance with a state law to explain how it will allow for sufficient low-income housing).

Gaspar said she loves fixing streets, because they “tell a tale about what that city is like.” She was less enthusiastic about new infrastructure investments in public transportation. “How will we pay for those?” she asked.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the city aims to establish itself on the global stage, emphasizing an expected increase in the local military presence, and the border economy.

But there were four questions at the forum that the mayors didn’t really bother answering.

How can cities provide affordable housing for active-duty military and veterans?

The mayors all failed to point to policies or programs – subsidies, inclusionary housing rules or state and federal grants – in place to accommodate low- and middle-income housing for active military and veterans. They instead touted the role of local nonprofit groups, or just talked about the warm feelings we have for the military.

“When we say thank you for your service, we really mean it,” Vaus said. Salas pointed out the state-operated and funded CalVet veteran’s home in Chula Vista – though it’s run and funded by the state – and Vaus referenced a partnership with Habitat for Humanity that is building 30 homes for veterans. Other than that, there was no mention of concrete housing options or city policies to provide housing.

How do you deal with short-term rentals?

Basically, short-term rentals aren’t a problem anywhere but the city of San Diego. Chula Vista has about five rentals posted on AirBnB, Salas said, though she expects they’ll become a problem once the bayfront is finished. Poway has one or two, Vaus said. Gaspar, though, touted Encinitas’s proactive approach: It passed an ordinance back in 2006 to deal with short-term rentals that the city and county of San Francisco are using as a model and they haven’t had problems since. The Encinitas ordinance uses fines and strict permitting to keep parking, noise and occupancy issues under control. Faulconer steered clear of details, saying the city is working on it and it’s about balance neighborhood concerns and economic benefits.

How is the city shaping its youth into a productive workforce?

The mayors pointed to community colleges, school districts and business associations, which are doing most of the legwork.

Faulconer opened his answer with, “What can a mayor do? A lot,” but offered few details into what he was actually doing on the topic.

How are you preparing for El Niño?

The mayors were ready and willing to tout their cities’ successful water conservation efforts and the region’s diversifying water portfolio. But when it came to talking about how their cities would prepare for the massive El Niño downpour, the mayors had little to say other than, they hoped it rained, but not too much at once. So if there’s flooding, good luck to us all.

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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