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Both Ricardo Flores and Georgette Gomez, the candidates for City Council District 9, agree housing is a major issue in the district, which has some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

They differ, though, on where they think money to fund affordable housing should come from.

Flores, chief of staff to current District 9 City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, would ask voters to raise hotel taxes. The new revenue, according to his plan, would go toward housing, street and sidewalk repairs, new streetlights and increasing police pay.

To that end, he wants to see city ballot Measures C and D fail on Election Day. Each would raise hotel taxes but divert money to big one-off projects. Money from C would fund a new joint stadium and convention center. Money from D would go to marketing the city to tourists and building a convention center annex.

Flores thinks both are misguided but that both show an emerging consensus that hotel taxes should increase.

“We’re not talking about not raising taxes, we’re talking about where we want them to go,” he said.

Gomez, the associate director of the Environmental Health Coalition, supports Measure D, in part because it could end the years of fighting over the stadium and convention center. It also creates the possibility for San Diego State University to put student housing in Mission Valley on the site of Qualcomm Stadium. Because San Diego State is in District 9, student housing is a significant issue in the race.

Gomez questions Flores’ premise that a hotel tax increase can be stretched to help pay for so many different things.

“For him, he’s making reference that it’s going to do everything – I don’t think it can do everything,” she said.

Gomez believes affordable housing should be funded using state cap-and-trade money. Her group, Environmental Health Coalition, worked with residents in National City to get money for 201 new homes funded in part with cap-and-trade dollars.

Gomez wants the city of San Diego to follow National City’s lead and get some of that state money.

“I definitely want to make sure that we’re setting up the city to go after state money, cap-and-trade money,” she said.

The entire San Diego region has been at something of competitive disadvantage in seeking that money. The San Diego Association of Governments last year asked the state to lower the program’s standards for how close projects must be to transit stations, so that more local projects can compete.

One thing both candidates seem to agree on: Measure B, a countywide ballot measure that would approve Lilac Hills Ranch, a 1,700-home development near Valley Center, is not a top candidate for solving the region’s housing problems. Some politicians, like Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, have pitched the development as good start, even though it’s located in a rural area far from population centers and transit options.

Flores said he doesn’t know much about Lilac Hills, but said voters should be careful about “ballot box planning,” which takes land use issues out of the hands of civic planners and public officials and instead puts projects on the ballot for piecemeal approval.

Gomez said the talk about Lilac Hills shows exactly how unimpressive the city’s own affordable housing efforts are.

“Instead, we’re talking about in the outskirts of our region, let’s develop projects,” she said. “People don’t want to move over there.”

The two also agree that city leaders have spent too much time and energy on things that ignore major needs in the district and across the city, particularly when it comes to basic city services and housing.

They both lament the year-after-year focus on big one-off projects, like a new football stadium or a bigger convention center.

Gomez said that downtown is the focus of civic conversations “over and over and over again.”

Flores said there remains demand for simple things like more street lights, routine street sweeping and enforcement of city building codes.

“People are asking for such basic things – it’s semi-embarrassing,” Flores said.

Ry Rivard

Ry Rivard was formerly a reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about water and power.

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