Carlsbad council hopefuls weigh impact of district-based voting

Candidates say community focus is helpful but smaller blocs could affect outcomes more heavily; Encinitas council, San Dieguito school district also voting by region


The city sign at Carlsbad Boulevard and Carlsbad Village Drive is shown in this Jan. 8, 2015, file photo. (NCC file photo by Scott Allison)

Carlsbad City Council candidates are waiting for poll results in their first district-based election with no incumbents.

Carlsbad, along with Encinitas, is experiencing the effects of district city council elections for the first time. This is particularly significant in Districts 1 and 3 of Carlsbad since all six candidates would be new faces on the City Council, and four of them are running for District 1.

Encinitas City Council candidates running in their new districts were either unavailable or did not respond to interview requests for this report, except incumbent Joe Mosca, who replied but not in time for the story’s deadline.

For Dave McGee from District 1 — along with other Carlsbad candidates — the switch from an at-large to district system means that, as he generalized it, out of about 15,000 voters in that district, if 8,000 of them come out to vote on the four council candidates, the seat could be won with only 3,500 votes.

“I thought gee-whiz, I could maybe reach out to a circle of this community around the village, and actually make an impact,” McGee said. “I think that districting will significantly change the landscape in Carlsbad.”

Fellow District 1 candidate Linda Breen shared a similar sentiment.

“If there were not districted elections, I wouldn’t be running,” Breen said.

Another element of this is that campaign costs are a fourth of what they would be in an at-large election.

“I can run without a huge fundraising effort; most of the emphasis in my campaign is talking to actual voters, and since my district is only one-fourth of Carlsbad, I can really hit a good percentage of voters,” Breen said.

Barbara Hamilton, a first-time candidate for District 1, also mentioned that the new election system has lightened the weight of her campaigning. Also, due to District 1 being an older area of Carlsbad with cultural roots, she explained the connection voters have to the infrastructure of her district.

“It’s been delightful, actually, meeting with so many more neighbors who’ve really been invested in the community for generations,” Hamilton said.

Joining Breen, Hamilton and McGee in the race for District 1 is former Carlsbad Unified School District trustee Tracy Carmichael.

Farther south in District 3, candidate Corrine Busta said that the by-district system hasn’t had any bearing on how she runs her campaign because, after Election Day, she’ll be representing the whole of Carlsbad, not just her district.

“When you’re working for an elected or community leader, you don’t really have those districts that confine you, because your goal is for the betterment of the city,” Busta said. “We still need to make sure we’re looking at all of the issues, and that we’re looking at anything we come across as a whole city issue.”

That being said, she still sees the new system as advantageous to her campaign since she has more time to focus on District 3. Busta explained, however, that winning her district wouldn’t define her term since her council vote touches all corners of Carlsbad.

“I’ve seen from candidates who’ve been voted in many years ago, that they unfortunately use districts as a crutch, and allow themselves to segregate from the rest of the city,” Busta said.

Fellow District 3 candidate Priya Bhat-Patel, on the other hand, explained via email correspondence that she has been taking full advantage of campaigning in a district system.

“Team Priya has been knocking on doors since May. I have had the opportunity to knock on thousands of doors and talk to thousands of people,” Bhat-Patel wrote in the email.

David McGee speculated that the departing City Council members didn’t want elections by districts, particularly Councilman Mark Packard, who dropped out of the District 1 race. Councilman Michael Schumacher, who would have campaigned in District 3, also announced he would not seek re-election. McGee’s reasoning behind his speculation is that it would be harder for an incumbent to win in a newly formed district system. This, in addition to two new council members, has McGee hopeful for a more balanced City Council.

“The departing councilman, Packard, was not for this, and it could have been the reason he pulled out,” McGee said. “I think we’re in for a lot of three-two decisions, and a lot of close decisions that come before the council.”

Barbara Hamilton also emphasized the significance of the election being for two open seats with no incumbent.

“I personally think it’s going to be a really good thing,” Hamilton said. “We’re only electing two district representatives; no matter what, our council is going to change pretty dramatically.”

For Linda Breen, focusing on District 1 encouraged her to speak with as many voters as possible, regardless of partisan lines. She described this as important to her due to her belief that good local government crosses party lines.

“I’m finding that our issues cross party lines, and that support for my campaign comes from people in both parties,” Breen said. “Carlsbad doesn’t have to be partisan, and really isn’t drawn along party lines.”

Hamilton also emphasized the importance of reaching out to constituents since she feels it’s important for voters to know who their City Council representatives are.

“It’s really important to be aware of who the candidates are, even if we can’t vote for them, and be part of that process with our friends and neighbors who live in other parts of town,” Hamilton said.

District 3 candidate Priya Bhat-Patel described the tone of voters she reached out to as excited to have a representative specific to their area with whom they can voice concerns.

“During the conversations, individuals seem engaged when we indicate that there is district representation. However, turn out will be measured on November 6th for our first district election,” Bhat-Patel wrote via email.

Bhat-Patel also said that the No. 1 issue to District 3 is overdevelopment and protecting Carlsbad’s small beach town feel.

Hamilton and Breen from District 1 also brought up concerns about development.

“These older neighborhoods, like I said, are really sought after, so things will change and development will happen, but it can be done in a thoughtful way,” Hamilton said.

Breen also said she heard concerns about growth in the village and barrio, as well as building height regulations along the coastline.

“People are concerned with overdevelopment issues, with our quality of life, and with keeping what makes Carlsbad special,” Breen said.

In addition to Carlsbad and Encinitas, the San Dieguito Union High School District also faces its first trustee election by voting region, with seven candidates running among three regions this election.

One San Dieguito candidate, Amy Flicker, responded to a request for feedback and expressed hope that the new election process would foster more involvement.

“This election will be significant for the school board and for the district,” Flicker said in emailed comments. She highlighted her goal of seeking greater collaboration among district trustees to build a common governing plan. “This election directly addresses our need for a school board who can come together and function along side a superintendent.”

Flicker is running against incumbent Maureen “Mo” Muir in Area 1, which includes Oak Crest Middle School and Sunset High School in Encinitas. Seats are also up for vote in Area 3, which includes San Dieguito High School Academy in Encinitas and Earl Warren Middle School in Solana Beach, and Area 5, which includes Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley.

“This is the first time our district is entering into this type of voting system. I believe that we will learn a lot from our first experience,” Flicker stated. “Over time, I genuinely hope that this does become a springboard for people and that it reflects the amazing diversity that constitutes our community.”

North Coast Current editor Roman S. Koenig contributed to this report