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After winning one of the county’s tightest November races, former Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar was sworn in Monday as county supervisor.
Gaspar’s District 3 spans along the coast from Torrey Pines State Beach to Encinitas and to the east from Mira Mesa to Escondido. The election remained too close to call for more than two weeks. Initially, incumbent Dave Roberts had the lead, but as mail-in ballots were counted, Gaspar gained ground and ultimately won.
Gaspar campaigned on fiscal responsibility, addressing homelessness and improving public safety, roads and infrastructure. She was against the San Diego Association of Government’s proposed transportation and infrastructure tax measure that failed in November. After June’s primary, she said she cast her ballot for President-elect Donald Trump, but later backed away, saying she no longer supported him.
Last week, Gaspar sat down with me to talk about the election, her transition into the job and how she hopes to accomplish what she promised during her campaign in the next four years.
Your race was one of the closest in the county and it took weeks to determine the outcome. Can you describe what it was like waiting for the mail-in and provisional ballots to be counted each day?
For me it was a surreal experience, because on election night, we had anticipated that it would be close and perhaps that I would even be trailing a little behind, but we didn’t anticipate being 3 percent behind. So at that point in time, it was important for me to accept the concept that I may have lost the race, and the next 24 hours were really coming to terms with the fact that I was not successful at something that I had worked for the last year.
And so when the ballots started coming in every evening, it was almost as if I was watching someone else’s race. I think the most exciting time was around Thanksgiving time, where it was getting closer and closer and closer and I was coaching my cheerleading squad at regional competition when I actually took the lead for the first time by 15 votes.
At that point, I became a little bit nervous because I was thinking, “Wow, I could actually lose this twice.”
I didn’t expect to get a phone call from Dave conceding the race, and that’s where the magnitude of it all set it.
Ironically, one of my cheerleaders had dropped my phone at competition and cracked it, so I had to get a new phone and I didn’t have anybody’s contact numbers programmed in. I did not know it was Dave who was calling and so when the voice on the other line said it was Dave Roberts, my heart about skipped a beat and he said, “Congratulations, you’ll be our next county supervisor in District 3.”
Can you describe what the transition has been like?
It’s been the longest shortest period imaginable. Because it took 20 days to count the ballots, it was a shorter transition than most would experience.
I think the most critical point was getting a chief of staff on board that could help assist me and I was so fortunate to be able to hire Dustin Steiner, who has worked almost 10 years within the supervisors’ office and that was very helpful.
The most important that we wanted on board by Jan. 9, was the chief of staff – and we can check that box – the scheduler and also a communications director. Also important to me was having someone to help operate our Health and Human Services because, as I’ve expressed in the past, mental health issues, specifically homelessness throughout San Diego County, is a key focus of mine.
So those are the four jobs that we’re focusing on now until Jan. 9. After that we’re going to take a little bit of a breather and really think about the types of positions that will best assist us.
Aside from staffing, what else have you been doing to transition and get started?
First and foremost, it was important to sit down with the [Chief Administrative Office] for the county, which I did do, as well as the legal team of the county. I expressed my desire to meet with the various directors and have a brief overview of the department and their organizational chart as well.
One of the things that I will say that was important to me as mayor of Encinitas was getting to know the staff. So one other step has been trying to assemble meetings with the county employees.
The community as well – I’ve had many invitations from groups within District 3 to come and speak and be a part of events they have taking place over the next couple of months, so that’s quickly taking over my calendar as well. Everyone wants to get to know the new supervisor on board.
You know, I think I might orient my office different than how Dave chose to orient his office. Coming from a business background, I’ll be focusing more on county operations, making sure that they’re streamlined and efficient and spending more time on policy initiatives than Supervisor Roberts. Supervisor Roberts will probably always excel at being present at every community event possible.
What are some of the differences you’re already gathering between being a supervisor and being the mayor of Encinitas?
The scope of the job is different. You know, the city of Encinitas within it has five very unique communities. Now you get to magnify that across a big supervisorial district.
I’m glad that I came from a community like Encinitas, where the residents were very active and engaged. I’m very used to a community that wants to know their city government. I don’t know how active the residents are in terms of interfacing with the county. It’s tough to find people who know what county supervisors even do, so that may be a bit of a change.
At the same time, understanding how the county operates versus the city. The county is dealing a lot more with state and federal government and the limitations of those programs. That’s why it was really important for me to sit down with the legal counsel and really understand those differences.
As you’ve been learning more about how the county is addressing homelessness, have you honed or changed your goals in trying to address it from when you were campaigning?
Right out of the gate, I made it a priority to meet with Mayor [Kevin] Faulconer on the homelessness issue. We’re meeting in the next week to see how the city and the county can partner better together to tackle this massive issue that is impacting all of our communities.
I’ve not met with Health and Human Services yet. That’s taking place next week.
My overarching thought on the issue right now is we have a lot of programs available out there. There are a lot of resources being assigned to programs. There are hundreds of service providers, but there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive effort regionally. One that’s overly simplified, that defines the goals that makes certain that the resources that we’re deploying are having the effectiveness that we’re looking for.
I’m less interested in seeing stacks of data as I am in really pointing to the key data that will really assist us in making informed decisions, like how much progress are we making on a sustainable solution to the issue.
The Board of Supervisors is going to have to make decisions on several development projects that will shape how the county grows and how it will meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals. What are some factors you’ll be weighing when those decisions come before you?
It’s all about balance. First, speaking specifically about the Climate Action Plan, the city of Encinitas was one of the first to adopt a Climate Action Plan and it came without extreme controversy when we were able to strike the balance between environmental stewardship and make economic sense as well.
So if you can get key people on board as stakeholders all at the same table – and you’re managing competing interests sometimes – but there’s always a sweet spot of balance.
At the same time, when it comes to development, we’re going to have to get smarter when we move through these projects. There needs to be a willingness to partner with the community residents and the development community as well. We need to stop the process that continually happens where these projects end up in court – and now they’re ending up on the ballot – and no one is talking to one another from the onset, before these plans are created.
There are opportune sites that are getting shot down that check all the boxes of being close to public transit and where development already exists. I know over the past several years, there’s been a frustration from the development community that they own parcels that are in key areas that would create the ideal mixed-use projects that are talked about all the time in the planning world that go nowhere. They’re fought so heavily that they either end up in the courtroom or the developer walks away.