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Make a mayor out of me Jon Campbell | Fri, Apr 16 2010 05:27 PM

The three candidates competing to be Chula Vista's next mayor met on Monday to take questions from residents about the city's future.

The night was dominated by talk of city finances, with familiar calls for more jobs and fiscal restraint.

Incumbent Cheryl Cox fended off attacks on her record from Jorge Dominguez, a Southwestern College trustee and Councilman Steve Castaneda. Dominguez positioned himself as an outsider and attacked both of his opponents equally for what he called their "ineffective leadership."

"There have really been no accomplishments ... the only accomplishments have been achieved by the previous administration. I would not hire these two, I'd say you should give someone else an opportunity," said Dominguez.

The city's employee pension costs have been steadily rising over the years, straining budget resources, and the candidates were asked by an audience member how they would deal with the increases.

Cox and Castaneda said they'd try to work with employee bargaining groups to address the projected increases, but acknowledged that contracts can't be renegotiated without the consent of all parties.

Cox said the important thing was to get employee unions to look realistically at the city's long-term budget capabilities.

Castaneda blamed some of the problem on the CALPERS pension system itself, which has suffered losses on its investments that in turn drove up costs for cities. He said pension obligations detract from city services because they represent costs that don't translate into benefits to the community.

Dominguez said that municipal bankruptcy, while it wasn't something he wanted to pursue, could be an effective threat, as a declaration of bankruptcy would cancel the city's pension obligations and allow the city to renegotiate contracts with its employees.

There was some disagreement on how to best regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. Chula Vista currently has a moratorium in place on the establishment of dispensaries in the city limits.

Dominguez and Cox both weighed in firmly against marijuana, calling it a destructive drug.

"I don't think anything good comes from having marijuana available freely in the community... I am just against having stores sell marijuana in Chula Vista," Cox said

Castaneda sought to clarify that the question was about medical marijuana, not a forthcoming state ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana for all adults.

Castaneda pointed out that state law already sanctions medical use of the drug, and if the courts ultimately decide that medical marijuana cannot be banned by municipalities, it would behoove the city to have regulations in place when that happens.

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