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Style, Not Issues, Separate Candidates for 5th District Supervisor

Times Staff Writer

John MacDonald and Clyde Romney both oppose the proposed San Marcos trash-burning power plant, but for different reasons.

Both the candidates for county supervisor worked to persuade the City of Escondido to abandon efforts to lower the city’s sewage treatment standards. But MacDonald claims it was his persuasion that did the job.

Romney has pledged to hire a part-time staff member to serve the needs of senior citizens. MacDonald promises to name a full-time person for the same job.

So goes the campaign for 5th District county supervisor in North County, where the differences between MacDonald and Romney on the issues are thin enough to squeeze through the hole in a punch-card ballot.

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After a fierce primary election campaign in which MacDonald and Romney beat incumbent Paul Eckert and abruptly ended the two-term supervisor’s political career, the general election race has been anti-climactic. Even MacDonald and Romney themselves acknowledge that style, not issues, is what separates them in this race.

“There is not one single deep schism that exists between us on the principal issues in the race,” Romney said. MacDonald agreed.

Nevertheless, the campaign has featured extensive discussions--if not debates--on a variety of issues, from growth management to law enforcement, from immigration to sewage treatment.

Here’s a recap of the candidates’ views on many of them:

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Growth and planning. This was the major issue in the primary, during which MacDonald and Romney argued that Eckert had presided over years of poor planning in North County. But growth has not dominated the general election in the same way.

Both support a reevaluation of the county’s general land-use plan and the creation of an updated plan. Both say that fees charged to developers to provide roads, sewers and public buildings should be reevaluated and increased.

Romney has called for the appointment of an ombudsman in the county Planning Department to assist residents--developers and others--in sorting through the red tape that surrounds every construction project.

MacDonald has proposed a moratorium on zoning changes that would increase building densities during the review of North County’s general plan. MacDonald also favors creating a special committee composed of municipal planning directors, county officials and a representative of the San Diego Assn. of Governments to translate new policy goals into technical planning regulations.

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Both candidates have expressed support for the community planning process and the right of cities to have a say on development near their borders.

Romney has criticized a committee established by the supervisors to study development along the Interstate 15 corridor north of Escondido, saying the panel has overstepped its bounds and is treading on issues better left to the local planning groups.

MacDonald has proposed legislative changes that would allow city planning commissions to veto developments in unincorporated areas near their city limits. Romney said he believes it would be wrong for the county to forfeit its land-use powers, but he has said he would in almost all cases respect the wishes of city governments on such issues.

Transportation. MacDonald and Romney both favor a proposal to increase the county sales tax a half-cent on the dollar to pay for new roads, road maintenance and mass transit projects.

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Both oppose the construction of the proposed Highway 680 and support the proposed Route 728. Route 680 would go from Leucadia to Poway. Route 728 would connect Del Mar and Rancho Bernardo.

Both also support a plan to use county, state and federal funds to widen California 78 from Oceanside to Escondido.

Senior citizens. Both support rent control in mobile home parks as a last resort to mediating landlord-tenant disputes. Both have pledged to hire staff members to handle problems for senior citizens. Romney would hire a part-time employee and MacDonald a full-time one.

Romney also has promised to form a senior intern program to involve retired people as volunteers in his office, and he has proposed building a North County regional center to bring health and social services to North County.

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Immigration. Both supported the immigration reform legislation, approved by Congress this month, which imposes penalties on employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers and which provides amnesty for illegal aliens who have been in the United States continuously since 1982.

Romney proposed the creation of a U.S. Border Patrol office in central North County and an expansion of the patrol’s staff in the region. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has since announced that it will increase its North County patrol staff from two to six or eight agents based at its El Cajon office.

Jails. Both support Proposition A, which would increase the sales tax a half-cent on the dollar for five years to pay for new jails and courthouses.

Waste water treatment. Both support what is known as secondary treatment of sewage before the treated waste water is discharged into the ocean, and both worked to persuade the City of Escondido not to abandon that standard in favor of the less strict standard known as “advanced primary.” Both candidates said they will pressure the directors of the Encina sewage plant in Carlsbad to use the higher standard rather than the lower, which it uses now.

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Romney has also proposed investigating several alternative technologies, including the creation of artificial swamps that can be filled with vegetation that consumes nitrates and viruses.

Solid waste. Both oppose the proposed San Marcos trash-burning power plant, but for different reasons.

Romney said he believes that burning trash is environmentally unsound, and he thinks rural San Marcos should no longer be disturbed by the rumbling of trash trucks through the area.

To replace the San Marcos dump site, Romney has proposed creating two or three smaller sites around North County at which biodegradable trash would be combined with sewage sludge to produce fertilizer. Waste that could not be recycled would be trucked to county landfills in Santee or Otay Mesa or to a dump site managed cooperatively with Riverside County. He has urged giving the authority to locate landfills to a new agency in which the powers of the county government and the cities in North County would be combined.

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MacDonald opposes the San Marcos plant on economic grounds, saying he does not believe the plant could be run at a profit. If it is not a financial success, the plant’s private developers would be forced either to abandon it or hand it over to the county, neither of which MacDonald considers an acceptable choice.

MacDonald favors creating a major landfill to serve all of North County, but he says he does not now have a specific site in mind for such a dump.

“I don’t think having small landfills is practical,” MacDonald said. “It’s just as costly to site a small landfill in terms of environmental impact reports and the whole thing as one large one. The political opposition to a whole bunch of small landfills would be great.”

Romney said the recycling facilities he proposes would not be traditional landfills and would thus be less likely to attract community opposition.

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Campaign contributions. Romney has proposed a county ordinance to require a statement on board agendas whenever a supervisor has received campaign contributions of $1,000 or more from employees of any firm affected by a particular item. A supervisor who had received $2,000 or more from people connected with a particular firm would be barred from voting on any item affecting that firm.

“The public shouldn’t have to play guessing games as to whether these kinds of big money contributions are affecting the votes of elected officials,” Romney said. The proposed regulations, Romney said, “would go a long way toward limiting the influence of special interests and help avoid the appearance of impropriety.”

MacDonald, although he agreed not to accept more than $1,000 from people representing any firm or organization during the campaign, said he is not sure he would support the policy if asked to vote on it as a supervisor.

“I haven’t really thought about it in terms of placing it in an ordinance,” MacDonald said. “I believe in terms of campaign expenditures the $1,000 limit is a very viable threshold and should be adhered to.”

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MacDonald said he would seek some way of limiting independent campaign expenditures by political action committees, although he acknowledged that the courts have disallowed such attempts in the past on the grounds that they represent unconstitutional infringements of free speech.

Health and social services. Romney has taken positions on several issues involving services provided by the county. He has proposed the restoration of funding for drug education and counseling programs and has urged the Board of Supervisors to extend its insurance to community clinics that provide care for pregnant women. Clinic officials have said they will have to stop providing those services in December if the county does not step in.

Romney also has supported the formation of Veterans Advisory Council and the appointment of a liaison officer to help veterans obtain state and federal benefits.

MacDonald did not take formal positions on these issues but said in an interview that he would support each of the proposals if he were elected.

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