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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.

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Comments

district3resident Oct. 3, 2008 @ 5:19 p.m.

Unlike the other candidates, Stephen Whitburn showed his ignorance of how preservation can actually get done in San Diego. Whitburn showcased his inexperience by stumbling over questions about the Mills Act and the department of Development Services. The only thing Whitburn knows how to do is hold a press conference...

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daisydukes Oct. 4, 2008 @ 9:33 p.m.

Surely you're joking. Stephen Whitburn actually went down to the Council chambers and testifed in front of the HRB in opposition to the Mayor's proposed changes to the Mills Act, while Todd Gloria used the same opportunity to glad hand people waiting to be heard. Whitburn also is a member of the North Park Planning Committee that wrote a letter to the Mayor and City Council opposing the proposed changes to the Mills Act. He is a champion of the Neighborhood Bill of Rights. He supported the Interim Height Ordinance and opposed 301 University. Meanwhile, Todd is taking money from every developer and lobbyist in town, including the Sudberrys and the entire Baldwin family from Orange County. And I guarantee that they don't have preservation on their minds.

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Hillcrest_Preservationist Oct. 4, 2008 @ 9:48 p.m.

Don't know what District3Resident was smoking....D3 was not at the same forum I was at. Whitburn spoke out strongly for the Mills Act, and for preservation of it. He certainly knows how the Development Services Department works -- he's on the North Park Planning Committee and has seen how they work for the DEVELOPER and not the community. I liked Aguirre's idea about a new department on Planning and Environmental Protection, and I bet Whitburn would, too.

Gloria's actually taken the maximum contribution from several folks involved in 301 University and the other projects that La Jolla Pacific is pushing.....and he sure hasn't taken any leadership on the new Twin Towers this same outfit is pushing.

I think D3voter must be one of the paid Gloria staff who were there - they seemed to be the only ones in the room not supporting Whitburn.

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dylan_shaw Oct. 4, 2008 @ 11:09 p.m.

The purpose of this forum was three fold. The first was to allow the public to see candidates first hand responding to specific questions related to historic preservation.

The second was to bring candidates attention to a subject all to often ignored by politicians in San Diego. Especially in San Diego. Their preparation and research for the questions submitted ahead of time was in itself a means of educating our prospective policy makers.

The third was to get candidates on record about specifics related to historic preservation. We want to hold these people accountable for their word, whomever is elected, if their actions fall short of their rhetoric.

I've carefully reviewed video of the event. These candidates all did their homework and gave excellent answers. The responses were not only excellent but also lively--and often entertaining. Especially Mr. Auguirre.

The comment by district3resident is nothing but partisan bomb tossing--simply disregard it as spin or fiction. All the candidates did a fine job.

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Fred Williams Oct. 5, 2008 @ 6:55 a.m.

Stephen Whitburn was very congenial, extraordinarily polite to Gloria, refusing to be rude to Gloria in any way, shaking hands before and after the event.

Stephen Whitburn takes the high road. He just lays out the truth.

Stephen Whitburn said he would dissolve the scandal-ridden CCDC and SEDC. That's a change in San Diego. Real leadership.

Gloria had to admit he takes campaign money from the board of CCDC and its disgraced former-leader, Nancy Graham.

Stephen Whitburn was endorsed by the Neighborhood Leaders Alliance, which had several members in attendance. I think they were cheering the loudest for Stephen Whitburn, along with the preservationists and independent fiscal conservatives who are just tired of all the scandals.

Gloria was endorsed and sponsored by insiders downtown, who apparently never bother to show up at neighborhood forums. Anyone wishing to read the details can see http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

When Gloria claimed he had personally provided affordable housing in San Diego simply by sitting on the Housing Commission Board, the whole room groaned, his face fell, and he had to shut up.

I'd sure like to see an article on what the Housing Commission actually does for San Diego. The only thing I've seen in the news lately is that it's considered by the auditors to be at "high risk" for fraud and abuse.

Dorian Hargrove is doing an immense public service by covering these forums. Keep up the great work.

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