Unified in their goal if not their methods of attaining it, the eight candidates in next month's San Diego City Council elections offered myriad proposals for achieving what 8th District contender Bob Filner termed "peoplizing" downtown San Diego.
At a luncheon forum held Monday at a downtown hotel, council candidates picked up on a theme that Filner sounded in his opening remarks, arguing that the impressive improvements generated by downtown's redevelopment over the past decade still need programs that will draw more San Diegans to the city center in order for it to become, in Filner's words, "a 24-hour community."
The proposals ranged from the grandiose--such as building a new sports arena downtown--to simpler ideas that include increasing police foot patrols to improve safety, holding frequent downtown street fairs and providing financial support for public arts programs.
Monday's forum, timed as the campaigns for four open council seats entered the final two weeks, focused on major downtown issues such as redevelopment, the homeless and public transit.
In comments often long on generalities but short on specifics, the candidates concurred in the broad outline of what they hope to accomplish downtown, laying out a vision featuring lively nighttime street activity, less traffic and safer streets.
But it was Filner who set the tone for the forum when he challenged the business and civic leaders at the luncheon to join with the City Council to "change the way we think about downtown."
"Up to now, we've been spending all our time trying to attract new businesses to downtown," Filner said. "And that's important. We've got a good start. But from now on, I think we need to spend our time trying to attract people downtown--keeping people downtown, inviting people downtown. Downtown has to become a people's place. Once that happens, revitalization almost naturally follows.
" 'Peoplizing,' if that's a word, becomes an economic tool," Filner added. "Most of the thinking has been up to now, 'Let's build.' But downtown should not be just brick and mortar. It should be people. . . . Let's keep downtown alive after 5."
Filner's suggestions on pursuing that goal included architectural designs that "invite pedestrian traffic," developing a park on Harbor Drive and preservation of other open space downtown to prevent "a wall of buildings" from obstructing "the view of the ocean that we all love."
Seconding that sentiment, lawyer Michael Aguirre, Filner's opponent, predicted that downtown's successes or failures will be reflected in neighborhoods throughout the city.
"If we are not successful in downtown San Diego, we will not be successful in San Ysidro or City Heights . . . or anywhere else," Aguirre said.
When the candidates turned to specifics on how to attract more people downtown--beyond the confines of Horton Plaza--2nd District candidate Ron Roberts proposed building a sports arena downtown to replace the "second-class one we have now" in the Midway area.
"That would add to the nightlife . . . by bringing 15,000 people (downtown) at night," Roberts said. "I know it sounds a little pie in the sky. But if we want to have 17- to 24-hour activity downtown, you're not going to do it just by putting Jack in the Boxes and McDonald's downtown."
Identifying traffic as a major problem downtown and elsewhere, all eight candidates said they support Proposition A, a proposed half-cent sales tax increase on next month's ballot that would raise millions of dollars for public transit and other public improvements.
Sixth District candidate Bob Ottilie and others also said the city should offer tax incentives or other inducements to encourage businesses to stagger work hours in order to reduce rush-hour traffic. Filner said that approach could reduce rush-hour congestion by as much as 45% over three years.
Short on Solutions
All of the candidates also agreed that redevelopment should not be allowed to exacerbate the woes of the homeless. But few offered specific solutions to that dilemma.
Bruce Henderson, Ottilie's opponent, questioned "distributing the homeless" throughout the city, adding, "I'm not sure that shipping the homeless to Rancho Bernardo is the answer." One possible solution, Henderson added, involves encouraging construction of single-room occupancy hotels downtown.
There also was general agreement among the candidates on several issues not limited to downtown.
Noting that the city could face a trash-disposal crisis in the mid-1990s after its Miramar landfill reaches capacity, 4th District candidate Wes Pratt called for "a regional approach" in which the city, county and other local governments would pursue joint solutions to the problem. Similarly, Pratt's opponent, the Rev. George Stevens, argued that the city and other local public entities need to aggressively encourage recycling, search for new landfill sites and pursue trash-to-energy technology "as a last resort."
Asked whether the city should provide financial support for the America's Cup, several candidates said that, while they would not oppose using city funds, they hope that the facilities needed for the 1991 yachting event could be financed privately or with San Diego Unified Port District funds.
In remarks echoed by several other candidates, 2nd District contender Byron Wear said using city funds for the America's Cup is justifiable because the event is projected to generate more than $1 billion in business, and longer-range financial dividends should result from months of international media coverage.
"There's a fuzzy image out there about San Diego," Wear said. "This is the time we can correct that."