Election 2022: Incumbent Campbell faces challenges from 3 fellow Democrats in District 2 S.D. council race
One of the highest-profile local races in the June 7 primary features three Democrats with very different kinds of broad support challenging Dr. Jennifer Campbell, the incumbent Democratic City Council member in San Diego’s District 2, which includes Ocean Beach and Point Loma.
The race is viewed by some as a referendum on the city’s increasingly pro-growth policies, which are unpopular in many of the communities that make up District 2, which also include Clairemont, Mission Beach and Old Town.
Others view it as a referendum on Campbell, who faced an unsuccessful recall campaign last year after being criticized by many neighborhood leaders as unresponsive to their concerns and requests for information.
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Only two incumbents have lost San Diego City Council races since 1992, but both were just four years ago. And Campbell is the first city Democratic incumbent in two decades not to be endorsed by the county party.
Her Democratic challengers — former state Assembly member Lori Saldana, former city administrator Joel Day and Point Loma neighborhood leader Mandy Havlik — still probably face an uphill battle.
Campbell has been endorsed by Mayor Todd Gloria and organized labor, she has a large lead in fundraising and she has better name recognition than her opponents — except possibly Saldana.
The candidates who finish first and second in the primary will advance to the November general election.
Other candidates are Republican dentist Linda Lukacs and landlord Dan Smiechowski, who has not participated in election forums and hasn’t raised money.
Six candidates — incumbent San Diego City Council member/family physician Jennifer Campbell, public policy educator Joel Day, community volunteer Mandy Havlik, dentist/professor Linda Lukacs, retired business technology professor Lori Saldaña and landlord/real estate salesperson Daniel Smiechowski — are running in the June 7 primary election to represent the City Council’s District 2.
Campbell, 76, is running on what she calls a long list of impressive accomplishments. She brought San Diego its first comprehensive vacation rental legislation and created a recent compromise on where street vendors can operate.
“I’ve gotten a lot accomplished in my 3½ years,” she said. “I’ve solved a lot of problems.”
She said her second-term priorities would include paving the way for dense housing near San Diego’s sports arena in the Midway District and solving the city’s worsening problem with homelessness.
“We’ve got to get these people off the street and into treatment,” she said.
Regarding complaints about unresponsiveness, Campbell said part of the problem was her staff members working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m sorry some feel that way,” she said. “We tried to do the best we could.”
Each of Campbell’s Democratic opponents has strong support from different constituencies. Havlik has significant support from neighborhood groups, Saldana has support from many nonprofits and Day has support from several Democratic clubs.
Saldana and Day have criticized Havlik’s lack of experience. They also have criticized each other, with both contending the experience they would bring to City Hall would be a better fit.
Havlik, 40, a member of the Peninsula Community Planning Board, said Campbell should be ousted because of her staff’s unresponsiveness and what Havlik calls a lack of transparency.
“A lot of the community doesn’t feel heard and they feel they’ve been lied to,” Havlik said. She criticized Campbell’s vacation rental legislation as too influenced by the industry.
Havlik is the only one of the four leading candidates who lives on the coast, and she says that should be an issue in the race. Campbell, Saldana and Day all live in Clairemont, which was united in District 2 during the latest round of redistricting.
The city’s redistricting committee dramatically reshaped District 2 over the winter, eliminating Pacific Beach and pulling in eastern Clairemont, which had been part of inland District 6.
“I feel a coastal candidate would be the most viable candidate,” Havlik said. “The coast needs to have a voice.”
Havlik said a coastal resident would focus on maintaining the city’s 30-foot coastal height limit for development while fighting proposals for dense housing that could damage the character of beach communities.
Saldana, 63, who served in the Assembly from 2004 to 2010, has some views similar to Havlik’s on city housing policies. While she doesn’t formally oppose lifting the 30-foot height limit, she wants the city to ensure infrastructure is in place to support new development.
“This rapid push by developers will just leave us with long-term problems when our infrastructure fails,” she said.
Saldana said her statehouse experience and long career as a college educator would make her an ideal council member.
“I have a combination of theory, research and hands-on experience that no one else has,” she said. “It’s much broader and deeper.”
She co-authored the state’s Marriage Equality Act and helped guide California through the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Day has criticized her for not getting much significant legislation passed while in Sacramento. Saldana said she was a Democrat working against a Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Saldana said she would prioritize being transparent and responsive to the community if she is elected. She said the recall effort against Campbell speaks loudly about how residents view the incumbent.
Day, 36, agrees that Campbell needs to go, but he says his experience as a former high-level administrator at City Hall makes him the best candidate.
“I know the levers to pull at City Hall to achieve important goals and solve big problems,” said Day, listing vacation rentals and a lack of affordable housing as primary concerns. “No one else in the race has that kind of experience.”
Day oversaw the city’s volunteer boards and commissions under Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who also tapped Day to help lead the city’s initial response to the pandemic in spring 2020.
He acknowledged that growth concerns raised by Havlik resonate in many District 2 neighborhoods, but he criticized her lack of experience.
“You don’t turn to people who aren’t tested, especially after the community has had such a bad experience with Campbell,” he said.
Day emphasized that if elected, he would become the only member of the City Council with young children, calling that an important perspective that has been missing.
Lukacs says she would restore confidence and pride in District 2 if elected.
“I will work hard to get the homeless off the streets and into comprehensive treatment facilities,” she said. “Our streets, sidewalks, parks and canyons are not homes.”
Lukacs said she also would ensure that local law enforcement agencies are supported and fully funded.
She said she opposes lifting the 30-foot height limit and the plan for dense housing near the sports arena, contending it is wrong to approve the housing before a comprehensive plan for better infrastructure is in place.
“It is premature to talk about this development until we have a sustainable, long-term fiscally responsible plan for the infrastructure,” Lukacs said.
On short-term rentals, she said: “I don’t have a problem with short-term vacation rentals, per se. But what I do have a problem with is the lack of any enforcement when you call to get action against those that are violating ordinances and being disrespectful to the neighborhood.”
Lukacs said the city has gone too far too quickly on accessory dwelling units, sometimes called “granny flats,” noting there are no requirements to provide parking spaces for new ADUs.