Long before he was a politician, John Duncan would watch meetings of the Coronado City Council, voicing his opinions to his television.
His wife laughed; told him that if he cared that much, he should join the council. So he did.
Duncan, who won his spot on City Council in 2022, announced his mayoral run in the 2024 election in early January. And he has big plans for the city.
His top issues, if elected, would be securing the requisite funding to solve the Tijuana sewage crisis and fostering inter-agency cooperation to benefit Coronado in issues such as the state housing allocation and transportation.
“Coronado is just a very happy place to be,” Duncan said, sitting on a café patio along Orange Ave. “Look around – most everyone you see here is happy. If there’s going to be change, we need to have smart change to preserve as much as we can.”
Duncan’s political strategy hinges on a focus on policy detail, bipartisan cooperation, and fostering relationships with larger, regional governing agencies whose choices impact Coronado directly.
“If you don’t have very good representation on the outside agencies, it will be bad for Coronado,” Duncan said. “And it has been bad at times.”
For example, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), which, among other things, assigns cities their state-mandated housing allocations, and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which oversees maintenance of Orange Ave., both have leaders whose decisions impact Coronado.
Duncan serves as the city’s representative on SANDAG’s board of directors. At the start of 2023, tensions between small- and large cities boiled over, leading to a walkout over weighted votes.
“It’s gotten much better since then,” Duncan said. Small cities like Coronado felt that the controversial weighted vote system excluded them from a say in San Diego issues, and through cooperation and conversation, weighted votes are called less frequently, Duncan said.
“People said they wanted to have someone who acted in a nonpartisan way and work with people from both parties, and that’s what I do,” Duncan said. “(When I ran for City Council), people from both parties endorsed me and supported me.”
Of course, Duncan said, cooperation does not mean yielding: He stands firm on the major issues, but does believe his role as a politician is to find compromises so that policy can move forward.
Such cooperation is vital to his top issue – addressing the Tijuana sewage crisis. Duncan supports a multi-agency alliance to secure the funding needed to fix crumbling infrastructure that keeps beaches in south county – including Coronado – closed.
Duncan, alongside Mayor Richard Bailey and city staff, meets regularly with politicians and staff from Imperial Beach, where the crisis has arguably had the most detrimental impact, to combine resources and pressure the federal government to fund needed repairs.
Currently, the project is hundreds of millions of dollars short, and the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) is taking a phased approach, addressing issues it can with the funding it has.
“I’m worried that we get to a point in construction where we have no more money and all the construction that has been done falls apart,” Duncan said. He and Bailey traveled to Washington, D.C., last week in effort to get a supplemental funding bill passed.
“It’s essential we get the funding now,” Duncan said, “but if we don’t, it has to happen next year. Otherwise, I don’t see the that trans-border sewage plan expansion and repairs happening. And I think it might even cause Mexico to not finish their required repairs.”
Funding the problem is complicated due to laws in place that dictate how the IBWC can accept money. Duncan said he is working with local, state, and federal politicians to continue to pressure the Biden administration for more funding, which is the most straightforward route. He is also looking for alternative solutions to securing funding. If a private party were to donate the necessary funds, for example, Congress would need to approve it, but Duncan believes approval would be attainable.
Finally, Duncan said, that cooperation extends to members of Coronado City Council, who he does not always agree with.
“Even though sometimes we have passionate differences, I respect all of the other council members,” Duncan said. “And I do think they are trying to do what is best for Coronado – even though I’m very frank when I agree or disagree.”
Local politics is a lot of work, but it’s work Duncan both enjoys and considers vital to Coronado’s future.
“I don’t want to just keep things the same; I want to improve,” Duncan said. “If there’s not any work to do, or I can’t have an impact, I’ve got to do something else.”