Thoughts on Last Night’s Mayoral Debate Addressing San Diego’s Livability

Last night’s mayoral debate between Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner occurred at my workplace, the University of San Diego, and I was lucky to attend – even wearing a home-made BikeSD button.  I attended the VIP reception before the event and spoke with a number of people representing groups supporting walking, biking, infrastructure, and advocacy.  There was fantastic energy in the room, and Mr. DeMaio came and cajoled with advocates and activists.

I will leave commentary on the finer points of the debate to political analysts, but the biggest takeaway for me is that we all win.  I do not mean to suggest that either candidate said precisely what I wanted to hear.  There are likely thousands of San Diegans unhappy with either choice.  But we all win in that this debate focused on issues many of hold at the center of our efforts to bring San Diego to where it needs to be in terms of quality of life – symbolized best by walkability and the facilitation of bicycle riders.  Both candidates discussed Complete Streets, improved infrastructure, and a commitment to making San Diego safer and more facilitative for bicycle riders.

Ed. note: Below is a video on how the City of Memphis is implementing the Complete Streets Policy. I posted this to inform our readers exactly what “Complete Streets” is and what it means for our future.

DeMaio’s published plan was a source of strength for his arguments throughout the debate.  Mr. Filner shone when he critiqued a question about parking, arguing that too often we put car parking before the interests of other users, and that should be flipped around.

Filner showed he learned something from two decades in Congress by his aggressive, badgering strategy.  DeMaio’s cool confidence relied heavily on the work he’s done creating a mobility plan (Filner’s is pending).  The questions lingering in the minds of many in the audience likely have to do with rhetoric vs. action: will they really follow through, regardless of who is elected?  Will they show the kind of leadership and political will to put livability issues at the center of their terms?  The debate itself gave our issues prominence – and provides a platform from which to hold the candidates accountable.

A low point for me was Mr. Filner challenging Mr. DeMaio to a bicycle race to determine who should be mayor.  This will clearly be the soundbite that shines through crowded news cycles, but it also promotes the myth that bicycles are for children and racers.  In the context of the city’s future, bikes are not about racing.  They’re about altering the fabric of the physical space and civic life of a city for a more humane, sustainable, and community-based structure of feeling.  A high point for me was hearing BikeSD and Ms. Ollinger referenced three times in the debate – more than any other organization.  For an upstart, that’s not bad.   That being said, the sponsoring organizations did a fantastic job pulling a complex event together.  Next time, I hope we’re up there with ‘em and hope even more grass-roots groups form so that we can expand our voices until every debate focuses on these issues.