The vision thing

by Carolyn Chase

h Happy Day! We have finally arrived at the moment in time when politicians are agreeing that clean water, clean air, and stemming the degradation of our natural and urban environments should be priorities as integral components of our economic prosperity and quality of life.

But is this one of those "the more things change, the more they stay the same" kind of situations? I mean - who could be against clean water and for pollution? Yet, unacceptable levels of degradation continue. Long-term practices and malpractices in dealing with growth have led to conditions that make it hard for people to determine what can really be done. But recent polls have shown that out-of-control growth and development is emerging as a major theme in upcoming campaigns.

Mayoral candidates Supervisor Ron Roberts and Judge Dick Murphy faced off before a full house focused on environmental and quality-of-life issues at the UCSD Faculty Club in July. I served as ringmaster. It was evident from the attendance - during the so-called dog days of campaigning, when conventional wisdom will tell you that no one but political junkies are paying attention to politics that San Diegans care about the environment and want a Mayor who will do so as well.

Cosponsored by the San Diego Coalition for Transportation Choices (, the Sierra Club Political Committee, and the League of Conservation Voters of San Diego County, volunteers and audience members asked questions on topics ranging from growth to global warming.

Roberts spoke of his "Urban Vision." Murphy's campaign theme is "2020 Vision."

I guess they both feel the need to be careful not to forget "the vision thing." You wouldn't want to have that doggin' you like it dogged George Bush.

While vision is of interest, most San Diegans are as concerned - if not more concerned about how they are going to fit that vision into our communities and how it will protect and not degrade our quality of life and natural resources.

A straw poll that asked attendees to state their positions before and after the event verified the conventional wisdom that Roberts is the leader at the moment. But the fascinating feedback sent in via email revealed candid insights from real voters. Since in many ways, as the moderator, I had the worst seat in the house. I was extremely interested to see how it went over with the attendees.

Some observations:

"Murphy's presentation was much more direct and to the point than Roberts, who comes off like a polished political pro with a grab bag of nice things to say about everything but little that was specific."

"I was very impressed with the responses provided by DM. At least he knew what this crowd wanted to hear and wasn't afraid/concerned with saying it. RR seemed to try for no commitment while sounding concerned."

"I learned that Ron Roberts is the slick politician he is trying not to be. He was trying to put out as many 30-second sound bites as possible. That made Dick Murphy look lackluster initially, but he came out strong in the closing when he made the personality difference between the two very clear."

And my personal favorite,

"I hope the folks who watch the UCSD event on TV don't assume these guys will do exactly what they promise."

The most pithy comment about the real problems: "The spirit of both candidates was hopeful, but the reality of the financial and fiduciary restraints which government must deal with will make it difficult. We cannot expect a strong government that promises everything, yet delivers only a thinly-veiled and watered down solution to our enormous environmental problems."

The best question of the evening from the audience was submitted by ten-year-old Cait-lin Sussman, who asked their position on the Children's Pool vs. seals issue in La Jolla. Both candidates answered that the Children's Pool should be for children and that the seals should stay out on their rock. I still mean to question the candidates on their seal communications skills.

Little did they know that this is the "wrong answer" - both environmentally and with Caitlin's set. Caitlin, who is past President of Torrey Pines Elementary School student body, had done her own ballot/survey, collecting more than 1,000 signatures. The "vote" was 910 in favor of letting the seals stay and 130 in favor of encouraging them to leave. It's sad that too many adults assume that "for the children" excludes watching wildlife.

Caitlin was frustrated in general with the ways many of the questions were answered - and she noticed that, too often, the questions weren't really answered at all. It got her thinking about how questions are asked and what questions children would put to candidates.

The Children's Vision is something I think we should all be interested in. Because, back to the vision thing again, it really shouldn't be so much about the candidate's vision. While important, it should be much more about the people's vision. That's what I want more of at City Hall. People - including children from all over San Diego are invited to submit questions for the San Diego City Council and Mayoral candidates at or via mail to: SDCTC, PO Box 90220, San Diego, CA 92169.

Carolyn Chase is a founder of San Diego EarthWorks and the Earth Day Network. She writes a weekly column in the San Diego Daily Transcript