Fifteen questions asked by the moderator, former Mayor Casey Tanaka, gave the audience insight into how the six candidates running for Coronado City Council felt on the issues important to our city. Bill Sandke is the only incumbent running, along with newcomers Marvin Heinze, Mary Sikes, Peter Jensen, Derik Mundt, and Daron Case. This second forum (another was held in the Cays in late September) was held at the Coronado Performing Arts Center on Monday, October 1, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and was sponsored by the Coronado Historical Association (CHA) and The Coronado Times.
With 103 residents in attendance, people came to see where the candidates stood on the issues. Nancy Cobb, who graciously counted the attendees for me, commented, “Everyone was spectacular. I was impressed with the candidates’ knowledge of the issues. It was one of the best forums I’ve attended.”
Each candidate was given an opportunity to make an opening statement to tell about themselves and why they are running, and a closing statement on why to vote for them.
Daron Case, a write-in, late entry into the race, grew up here and moved back five years ago to raise his family with three children here. He feels that it’s important to understand the issues, come up with solutions and be proactive, not reactive. Citizens would be his priority, and his agenda would include getting Coronado involved with the cross-border sewage lawsuit, working to calm traffic, save local businesses and address density issues.
Marvin Heinze, who lives in the Cays, came to Coronado via the Navy in 1988. He has immersed himself in the community as Cays Village Director, the Planning Commission and more. He promises to listen to citizens and plans to engage the Navy to help focus on calming traffic. He wants to concentrate on infrastructure and taking control of our streets. Growing up with fiscally conservative parents and managing large government budgets makes him fiscally conservative. He feels he is open minded to listen to varying views and his leadership skills throughout his Naval career will help him excel as a Councilmember. He joked that he still has ten fingers, the sign of a successful bomb squad career.
Peter Jensen has a background as a Highway Patrol Office, lawyer, drafting legislation and managing the State Department of Corrections and Youth Authority. Currently, he is on the Coronado Civil Service and Planning Commissions. He feels he has the right temperament to hear all points of view. He emphasized that he works well with people, and is an active supporter of many Coronado non-profit organizations like PAWS and Concerts in the Park.
Derik Mundt came here as a teenager and “feels this is the best city in the world.” He works 40 hours a week, but always gives back on his off days. He believes in controlling the city’s density and being proactive on code enforcement. He emphasized that he has lots of enthusiasm and is a “residents first and only” candidate who will make their voices heard.
Bill Sandke wants to keep Coronado the special place it is. His voting record speaks for itself, especially in regard to historic preservation. He grew up here and being a councilmember has been a natural extension of giving back for him. He fondly remember performing in musicals in the theater and in summation burst into song, as he emphasized that he has worked to earn the public’s trust over the past four years on the City Council and the last 30 as a vital part of this community.
Mary Sikes looks at the forum as a job interview. She feels her job is to represent the public at this pivotal time. She has a well-rounded background combination with business acumen during a 30-year career with an emphasis on budgets and strategic planning, Navy affiliation and being a long-time resident. She proposes to get in front of change and look at things strategically.
Mayor Tanaka posed the following questions which the candidates answered in rotating order with topics ranging from city involvement in commercial properties to bridge tolls.
Question from The Coronado Times:
Should the City of Coronado be involved in preventing commercial real estate owners from raising rents or selecting new tenants? Should the city get into the business of buying commercial real estate to gain more control?
Candidates felt that in a Capitalist Society, the government is not the best landlord, but the city should incentivize diversity in business. Creating Historical Districts was mentioned by Derik and Daron, but everyone agreed that the City can look at ways to help shape the downtown to benefit both the residents and the tourists.
Question from the Coronado Historical Association:
With so many homes being demolished and so many historic landmarks, like the former Eagle Journal newspaper home and the El Cordova Garage being sold off to the highest bidder, what more can we do to protect our historic structures?
Everyone agreed that preservation in Coronado is key and vowed to continue work on this. Peter felt that there is a balance in preservation and he, Bill and Derik cited the old Eagle office building as a commercial property that should have been preserved. Mary also felt that more commercial building needed to be designated historical. Marvin and Bill praised the Historical Association and the Historical Resource Commission for their work in this area.
Questions from the public:
Relinquishment: The City of Coronado is in the process of receiving detailed information from the State of California about what the costs and impacts would be if parts of State Highway 75 and 282 were returned to the City of Coronado for local control. Where do you stand on this issue of relinquishment and please specify if you think relinquishment would have a big impact on traffic in Coronado.
Everyone agreed that local control of this corridor would benefit Coronado. Bill pointed to Imperial Beach, who just completed this as an example. Mary expressed cost concerns, but wants to work with partners to evaluate this. Both Daron and Derik want to see the Project Study Report. Marvin agreed that it is important to go in with eyes wide open, but this would make sense if the benefits outweigh the risks. He said that Caltrans is better with managing highways than city streets. Peter was pro, but also emphasized the need to get all the facts first.
Navy Question: Federal employees going to work at Naval Base Coronado are a large component of Coronado’s commuter traffic in the mornings and in the afternoons. This has been true for decades. How will you and your colleagues on the City Council address this ongoing challenge?
Everyone agreed that working with the Navy on a continual basis for a solution was critical, and looking for creative solutions, such as carpooling.
Social Media: There is an old adage that the customer is always right. Many of your customers/constituents want Council Members to keep them updated using social media and they also want rapid responses to their questions and concerns when posted on various social media platforms and sites. The Coronado City Attorney has warned council members to be careful to not violate the Brown Act when using social media. My question to you is what can the public expect of you with regard to the usage of social media if you are elected to the city council? How will you use it and are there any things you will not use social media for?
Most candidates felt that there are positive and negative aspects of social media. It’s important not to violate the Brown Act when weighing in on information in a public forum. Peter said that it is new to him and is right up the alley of his grandchildren. Daron has a civic forum via the Coronado Electorate Facebook page. Derik posts local reviews via his Coronado Food Critic moniker. Bill has been surprised that answering people’s questions has been one of his favorite parts of the job. Mary has mixed feelings and feels we could use apps such as Nixle to get information out to residents. Marvin feels it is effective for providing an informational forum.
Dog Park: The school district and the city council have spent a significant amount of time discussing dog parks this year. Do we need another dog park and do you have a suggestion for where one or more should go?
All the candidates agreed that the proposed site adjacent to the school was not the proper place, but acknowledged the large number of dogs in Coronado and felt that public opinion needs to be heard on this. Marvin joked that maybe the dogs will decide as they did in the Cays after a construction site became the Cays dog park. Bill mentioned that the City Council has been trying to come up with a viable solution for quite some time.
92118 Day and the city’s role in community events: The city’s residents recently celebrated 92118 Day. In light of this largely celebrated community event, do you have any suggestions or ideas for community involvement or community events in the future?
Everyone agreed that is was a spectacular event and gave kudos to the organizers of 92118 Day. Bill mentioned that it was an example of the city coming together to celebrate itself. Mary said it was heartwarming to see families enjoying themselves. Derik loved that it was off-season because he got to see many of his neighbors who were sequestered for the summer. Daron didn’t attend, but said his family gave it high marks. Marvin said it was a great citizen initiative with an amazing result. Peter said it was great for once-in-a-lifetime, and the city should possibly look at helping with other events, such as changes with the 4th of July Parade.
Tourism: Coronado residents are routinely frustrated with problems generated by large numbers of tourists visiting our city on a daily basis, but it is also widely understood that tourist dollars help to keep our businesses and our city government properly funded. If you are elected to the city council, what can we expect of you when issues of tourism come up? Are there any actions we can expect of you in your first year on the council with regard to tourism?
Everyone acknowledged that tourism is a blessing and a curse. They pointed to the shift in efforts of Discover Coronado to attract more off season hotel guests rather than just day trippers as a positive. They felt it was a balance to keep downtown vibrant, pertinent for residents and tourists alike. Mary felt it was important to manage tourism and that there are small things that can be done to make a big difference. Bill and Derik both cited the benefit from the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) tax from hotel rooms. Marvin felt that keeping downtown vibrant was key, but it must be good for residents, as well as appeal to tourists.
Enforcement Priorities: Enforcing State Laws and City Ordinances is a challenging enterprise. What are your enforcement priorities? Are there any places where you would propose spending increases for the sake of your enforcement priorities?
Enforcement of speeding, bike violations, vacation rentals, traffic, construction, and safety were all high on everyone’s agenda. Derik would like to ramp up the number of speeding tickets to send a clear message. Bill said that the city has added an officer to help with this. Mary said Coronado has a capacity issue and must look at staffing. Daron agrees with Councilmember Donovan about reducing the mph in the city from 25 mph to 20 mph. Marvin emphasized that it was important to enforce all safety issues. Peter felt that enforcing alley driving and getting more police visibility was important.
The budget as it pertains to Community Grants and the Arts: At present, the City of Coronado sets aside over one million dollars to support its non-profit community groups. The city council has also recently placed a cap on this community group funding. Where do you stand on this funding? Are there any changes to this process that you would fight for if elected?
Fiscal prudence was mentioned by most candidates. Bill feels that this issue needs to be revisited, potentially looking reallocating some of the monies, like for CHA with their public bathroom, to better help non-profits. Mary and Derik prefer a percentage allocation. Marvin advocates setting a reasonable goal divided into categories. Peter emphasized sticking to a budget once it’s set. This is an area everyone felt needs to be evaluated.
Council Meetings and the influence of crowd sizes: From time to time, an issue riles up the community enough to cause the entire Council Chambers to be full. If you are on the city council, how will this frenzy affect your decision making? Do you think a big crowd will have an effect on how you will vote?
Listening to the residents was a top priority for all the candidates. They all felt their decisions would not be influenced by crowd size.
Housing Density: Coronado is densely populated. What should the city council do to fight density and over-development?
Everyone agreed that this was an issue that needs to be proactively addressed via a number of channels. Daron and Derik agreed that Coronado has exceeded its capacity, so it’s important to be proactive on restrictions. Marvin cited his Planning Commission experience as a benefit and advocated for good development. Bill said that 43 percent of the homes in Coronado are multi-family and he consistently votes for ADU requirements with the least amount of impact. Mary pointed to the last three satisfaction surveys, and the need to examine FAR and setbacks.
Sewage and Climate Mitigation: The City of Imperial Beach, along with other cities and the Port, brought a lawsuit to Federal Court over the spilling of raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean. The City of Coronado did not join this lawsuit, but it did agree to support Imperial Beach financially and the City of Coronado embraced its own strategy of lobbying and engaging key elements of the Legislative and Executive Branches of the Federal Government. If you are elected, will you embrace the City of Coronado’s current strategy or will you propose alternative strategies in your fight against these sewage spills?
Most of the candidates felt that Coronado was on the right track against the sewage problem and inroads were being made working with IWBC, Mexico and state and federal agencies towards a resolution. Daron would like to see Coronado join the lawsuit, rather than just taking legislative action.
Tolls: Do we need to bring tolls back to the Bridge? What actions, if any, would you suggest with regard to tolls on the bridge?
This is a complicated issue and all the candidates felt that it would be important to take the pulse of the electorate and do extensive research on this issue before moving forward. Peter was pro on bringing tolls back as a way to reduce traffic; both he and Derik would want to hear what the residents think. Bill stated that this would have to go through the state legislature and tolls would have to be as high as $4 – $6.50 to have an impact. Mary said that she has not heard residents mentioned this issue. Daron agreed with Bill and said he would have to look at this further. Marvin would like to hear from residents, but would support it if it would calm traffic. He also proposed converting the center lane to a carpool lane as an option.
Undergrounding: Where do you stand on the Undergrounding of Utilities and what next steps do you propose?
Derik cited the high cost, but is supportive if it can be done. Bill said that $171 million is a big price tag, but phasing will be important. He would like to see the Strand project finished, and also work with SDG&E on the proposed alley issues. Mary likes the aesthetics and safety the project would provide, but is concerned with the costs and supports it in phases. Daron is also concerned with the money and proposed looking at how the Silver Strand committee obtained grants and worked with the Navy for manpower to complete it at a reduced costs. Marvin is also pro undergrounding, and concurs with Councilmember Downey about holding workshops to decide the appropriate areas and timeframes. Peter is also supportive of undergrounding and would want to help figure out how to fund it.
Former Mayor Tanaka commended the candidates for their thoughtful and insightful answers to the candid questions over the two hour forum. He praised the positive environment and thanked Robin MacCartee from CHA for being the timekeeper. As the crowd walked out, I spoke with Donna and Bob Breglio about why they attended. “We feel that this is a pivotal time for Coronado and are very fortunate to have this caliber of people running for city council and it gave us confidence for our city going forward.”
If you weren’t able to attend, check out the entire forum and hear individual answers to each question in this video filmed by Tony Perri of Surf’s Up Studios: