A congregation of community preservationists gathered in the creaky upstairs room of the Grace Lutheran Church on Park Boulevard on September 30th for a candidate forum with council candidates Sherri Lightner, Stephen Whitburn, Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald, and City Attorney Mike Aguirre. Absent were District One candidate Phil Thalheimer, District Seven candidate April Boling, and city-attorney candidate Jan Goldsmith.
Organized by the Neighborhood Historic Preservation Coalition, the forum was a chance for local historical buffs and preservationists in the community to hear where the candidates stand on the issues of neighborhood preservation and development.
The forum began with the announcement that Mike Aguirre was running late.
By the time the introductions and first few questions were fielded, the four first-time candidates demonstrated their strengths...and weaknesses. The four candidates fielded questions on the Mills Act and illegal, covert demolition of potentially historical homes. Whitburn displayed his over-compensating congeniality, Gloria his quick-witted yet clumsy humor, Emerald broadcasted her consumer-advocate attitude, and Lightner showed an innocent and gentle demeanor.
With the entrance of Mike Aguirre — some 20 minutes late — the forum seemed to transform into a legitimate political event. A few moments after sitting down in front of the crowded room, Aguirre answered a question on the Mills Act. “In San Diego, we haven’t preserved our history. What’s happened is we’ve destroyed our neighborhoods and we haven’t respected our history.”
Seconds later, with a new question on ministerial development projects (a method used by some developers in the past to build without the community’s full assessment), Aguirre received one of the most enthusiastic reactions from the crowd. “There’s a deeper institutional problem. We need to do away with [the department of] Developmental Services altogether.” The entire room erupted with applause.
“I’m not saying that because it’s popular, either.” Aguirre went on to explain that, in San Diego, development has driven the process and that he would like to see a department created under the guise of Planning and Environmental Protection, which would empower community planning groups and further recognize environmental challenges.
Aguirre was stopped short because of time constraints, and many audience members booed.
“She must work for my opponent.” Aguirre said, referring to the timekeeper.
During the next hour, Aguirre garnered most of the praise, though he appeared tired, rubbing his eyes and yawning while the other candidates spoke. He leaned over and asked Whitburn how long the forum ran for.
Aguirre, however, was reenergized when someone asked how to attract new development while preserving community character.
“The era of development in San Diego is over. The era of the green age is upon us.” He went on the say that instead of development, the City should focus on infrastructure and ways of transforming San Diego into a leader in renewable energy.
“We have the ability to go with renewable energy. We need to have a massive program to retrofit all the houses, the rooftops. How exciting would that be? Just give me five city council members, that’s all I need. We’ll figure out a way to finance it. You know why? Because the Wall Street Journal says Mike Aguirre is a national model.”
For more on Mike Aguirre, go to mikeaguirreforcityattorney.com.