SAN DIEGO – Four seats on San Diego City Council are up for grabs this election cycle in a period when the body is grappling with some of the region’s most vexing issues from affordable housing to infrastructure spending to public transit.
In California’s June 7 primary, voters will go to the polls to decide who they want to represent them on the nine-member council in four districts spanning the depths of the city. As with most primary races in the state, the top two vote-getters in the council’s non-partisan race advance to the general election for a final showdown decided by voters in a November runoff.
Of the four available seats, three have incumbents seeking another term. Only District 6 is guaranteed to have a new face in the next council iteration with Republican Chris Cate now termed out.
Five other members of the council are slated to return to the body: Joe LaCava (District 1), Stephen Whitburn (District 3), Marni von Wilpert (District 5), Raul Campillo (District 7) and Council President Sean Elo-Rivera (District 9). All five won their elections in 2020 and would be eligible to run again in two years.
These are the candidates vying for a spot on the council this year:
The district includes Clairemont, Midway District, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach and Point Loma.
In District 2, voters will decide whether to bring back incumbent Dr. Jennifer Campbell or choose among five challengers for the seat: public policy educator Joel Day, community volunteer Mandy Havlik, dentist and professor Linda Lukacs, retired professor and former Assemblymember Lori Saldaña and landlord and real estate salesman Daniel Smiechowski.
Campbell, a family physician, was elected to represent the district in 2018 by defeating Republican incumbent Lorie Zapf, giving the Democrats a 6-3 council majority. She later was elected council president over Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe in December 2020.
The incumbent faced some blowback over what critics said was too lenient of an attitude toward short-term vacation rentals and for her support of a ballot measure to allow developers to exceed the 30-feet height limit in the Midway area, City News Service reported. She was the subject of a recall campaign a year ago that ultimately failed to generate enough signatures to move ahead but later was replaced as council president by Elo-Rivera.
Campbell enters her re-election bid with lofty priorities on housing, public safety and the environment as well as some high-profile endorsements, including from state Sen. Toni Atkins, Mayor Todd Gloria, and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher, among others. But others seeking the seat could build up momentum to unseat Campbell.
The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Editorial Board endorsed Day and Saldaña with the board suggesting the two “understand a depth and breadth of city issues and are even more experienced in government than Campbell.”
Day previously served under Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration, working to get people experiencing homelessness off the streets in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Saldaña served eight years in the California State Assembly before unsuccessfully running for Congress, mayor of San Diego and a spot on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
The district includes Alta Vista, Chollas View, Emerald Hills, Encanto, Greater Skyline Hills, Lincoln Park, Jamacha/Lomita, North Bay Terrace, Oak Park, O’Farrell, Paradise Hills, South Bay Terrace, Valencia Park and Webster.
Two challengers, Gloria Evangelista and Tylisa D. Suseberry, have stepped forward in District 4 in an attempt to unseat incumbent Monica Montgomery Steppe. As with her run in 2018, Montgomery Steppe returns with a community-centered message she says is built upon “transparency and community involvement.” She chairs the council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee and fell just shy of being elected the body’s president in 2020.
In her re-election bid, Montgomery Steppe focused on three primary issues: building economic opportunity, investment in neighborhoods and re-imagining public safety, plans that have won her key endorsements for another four years on the council. Among them are Fletcher and county Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Nora Vargas, fellow councilmembers Elo-Rivera, Vivian Moreno and von Wilpert, and California Secretary of State Shirley Weber.
The Union-Tribune’s Editorial Board also gave Montgomery Steppe the nod, saying Evangelista and Suseberry “aren’t even really mounting campaigns.”
The district includes University City, Sorrento Valley, Kearny Mesa, Mira Mesa, Miramar and Scripps Ranch.
Hough, a Democrat, has sought the seat once before, advancing out of the primary in 2018 before falling about 3,500 votes shy of Cate in the general election. He touts himself as the co-founder of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and as a former broadcaster. He’s supportive of the city’s Climate Action Plan and says he’s running for council to help solve the city’s homeless crisis.
Another Democrat, Lee’s platform prioritizes housing attainability, “smart, community-minded infrastructure” investments, economic growth out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the future of the Convoy Pan Asian Cultural and Business Innovation District. Lee is endorsed by the county’s Democratic Party and a number of key local Democrats including Gloria and six members of the council: Elo-Rivera, Campillo, von Wilpert, Montgomery Steppe, Campbell and Vivian Moreno.
Glasson is the lone Republican in the race and also ran for the District 6 seat in 2014 where she finished fourth out of five candidates in the primary. In her Union-Tribune questionnaire, she said her priorities for the city’s budget windfall would target fixing streets and potholes, protecting beaches and supporting businesses, among others. She’s also been critical of the statewide efforts of Democrats on social media.
Hough and Lee won the endorsement of the Union-Tribune’s Editorial Board, in which the body said their grasp of local issues and community involvement place them “in a different league than Glasson.”
The district includes Barrio Logan, Egger Highlands, Grant Hill, Logan Heights, Memorial, Nestor, Ocean View Hills, Otay Mesa East, Otay Mesa West, San Ysidro, Shelltown, Sherman Heights and the Tijuana River Valley.
Two Democrats are vying for the District 8 seat: incumbent Vivian Moreno and challenger Antonio Martinez. It marks a rematch of the 2018 race, during which both advanced out of a four-person primary. Ultimately, Moreno came out victorious by about 550 votes in the November election.
This time around, Moreno has experience as chair of the Land Use and Housing Committee and vice-chair of the Audit Committee. Her priorities for the district include ensuring “equitable services and resources” for residents, building more housing, repairing streets and promoting job growth, her website shows.
It’s won her the endorsement of some notable local figures such as Atkins, Fletcher, Montgomery Steppe and the mayors of Chula Vista and National City.
Martinez currently works as a community representative for U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas and was the longtime director of Nestor Community Clinic. He also previously served on the San Ysidro School Board, an election he won at age 27, according to his website. He bills himself as a “community activist” rather than a career politician and targets community infrastructure, affordable housing and building healthy communities as priorities.
Moreno was endorsed by the Union-Tribune Editorial Board, which said she has “a record of successes” on the council and “no reasons” to reject her for another term.
For more information on other local races in the California June Primary and voting tips, check out our 2022 Election Guide.