SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Three leading mayoral candidates squared off Friday in a debate during the Family Health Centers of San Diego's "Spirit of the Barrio" luncheon that focused mostly on issues facing underserved communities.
It was the second debate for Councilmen Kevin Faulconer and David Alvarez, but the first for former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who did not participate in an event last week but spoke to its attendees separately.
The candidates differed on City Council-approved revisions to Barrio Logan's community plan that included a commercial buffer zone separating homes and industrial areas. Industry officials were considering a referendum campaign to force a city-wide vote.
Fletcher called the issue "a problem that has lingered for decades," and urged the two councilmen to bring representatives from the neighborhood and the shipbuilding and maritime industries together to find a solution.
"Other cities with ports have managed to protect residents and protect communities and protect their health, and they've also managed to make sure that we have an economy where people can get good jobs," Fletcher said.
Alvarez, who represents Barrio Logan and grew up there, said he took "extreme exception" to Fletcher's comments. Alvarez crafted the approved update, a compromise of two proposed plans.
"We protected neighborhoods, we protected the people who live here and we protected those jobs," Alvarez said.
Faulconer, who voted against the update, said although he agreed with the majority of its revisions, it was important to ensure "we are protecting one of the biggest economic engines that we have in terms of the working waterfront."
All three candidates acknowledged the need for faster emergency response time in underserved areas.
Fletcher said it was "immoral" that firefighters responded in fewer than seven minutes in some areas, while taking nine-and-a-half in others.
Alvarez said city data showed inequities between neighborhoods, and where additional fire stations were needed, such as on Home Avenue.
Faulconer said the city needed to move forward with building fire stations, and to recruit and retain city police officers.
"Every San Diegan, no matter where you live, deserves to feel confident that when you dial 911, you're going to get an emergency response with the best and the brightest first responders with the best training," Faulconer said.
All three also called for the city to continue funding support services that help the homeless.
"It's not just a business issue, it's a moral issue because as a city, how we treat our homeless population says a lot about who we are as a people," Fletcher said.
Fletcher left the Republican Party last year, became an Independent and then a Democrat. He explained his decision during the debate, saying that his perspective had changed over a decade in which he returned from a military deployment and saw veterans denied needed care. He also said as he prepared to place his child in city schools, concerns arose over public funding, and cited declining working-class wages.
"Political parties change over time and so do people," Fletcher said.
He also pledged not to attack his fellow candidates during the run, and asked them to do the same.
Alvarez, Fletcher and Faulconer are among the 11 candidates in the Nov. 19 special election to finish out the term of former Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned in August.