Speaking with David Alvarez

By Mikey Beats

In our last mayoral relationship, we basically got cheated on, again. San Diego was put in a disgraced national spotlight as yet another local politician couldn’t keep both hands on the steering wheel. Is David Alvarez the answer to the question of who can guide us to political redemption?

I took a path to personalization rather than just politicalization when interviewing him so you the reader can go beyond just the politics when choosing your new leader.

Mikey Beats: You grew up in Barrio Logan and from what I read, you grew up in a very poor family. What were the core values you were raised on, growing up in a poor family.

David Alvarez: Hard work. My dad was a janitor and my mom was a fast-food worker. You work hard obviously to provide for your family. That was a very transferable skill: Work hard in school, work hard in life. Family values for me means taking care of each other. It wasn’t just your immediate family but also your community. So, taking care of each other. I remember growing up, migrants that were coming from across the border and somehow they would stop by our alley and my parents would give them food. This value of providing for others, that’s what it means to me. That’s what I learned from my parents.

I’m very familiar with the struggle in Barrio Logan with the shipyards. Your story about how you contracted asthma due to the fumes from those yards is breathtaking. I too have asthma and it’s absolutely terrible. I really do appreciate you being steadfast in that struggle. You grew up in Logan with four brothers, one sister, that’s a full house. What number are you?

I’m the last one, the youngest.

You’ve known your wife for 20 years?

Yeah, we met a little over 20 years ago, in middle school at Memorial Junior High.

In middle school, that’s amazing. We share a lot in common. I ended up marrying my high school sweetheart, Jenny Beats. We’ve been together for 16 years. I see you went on to San Diego High, where you were the first to graduate in your family and go to college.

Yup, SDSU.

What did you study at San Diego State?

Psychology. I thought I wanted to teach, so when I studied psychology, I thought I wanted to do school psychology or school counseling or research in child development issues. I did some social work after college and then got involved in the community on affordable housing issues, the church, organizing town halls and registering voters and somehow naturally I was attracted to that and did my fellowship in 2003. I haven’t left politics since. It’s been 10 years.

How long did it take you to get through State?

Four years. I took a couple courses at City College in the summer to catch up and stay on track for four years.

You have a daughter, how old is she?

She’s four.

And your wife is pregnant?

Yeah, due in March, a boy.

Congratulations!

Did you know I bike to work?

I didn’t.

It’s a 2.5-mile ride; it’s really fun. It’s a great way to start the day and clear your mind at the end of the day.

So you’re aware that the bike paths in San Diego are terrible? They don’t connect.

Oh, yeah. That’s why we just approved the Bicycle Master Plan so that it connects all connectivity that needs to occur. That also comes with money and infrastructure costs, so over the course of several years, we’ll have to build that up. Part of my plan as mayor is to increase the funding that goes into bicycle infrastructure. There’s still a long way to go but at least we finally have a road map now, a plan.

There’s a lot of surfers who read this magazine, so I have to ask: Have you ever surfed?

I don’t know how to surf, I honestly don’t. Growing up, I didn’t know how to swim for a long time, which is amazing to say here in San Diego. But a lot of people don’t have swim lessons, can’t afford them. I was definitely one of those. And I didn’t go to the beach. We went to the bay but not the beach. We went to Mission Bay a lot growing up, but not to the beach. I never got too comfortable with the ocean, which is strange to say in San Diego, being right next to it. I’ve never had a bad experience, but I’m not at that comfort level that’s needed to do something like surfing.

It’s more common than most people think living in a coastal city.

We love Mission Bay. That’s where we spent most our time.

By the Hilton?

Yeah. Are you going to ask me my favorite beach?

Yes, your favorite beach if you have one?

When people come into town and we take them to Mission Beach. Tourists have to go there to see the roller coaster.

I do business in Mission Beach, and I try to get on the roller coaster as much as possible, at least three times a year. It’s fun and rickety and you get scared you’ll fly off the track. I see Donna Fry supports you.

Yeah.

Her husband Skip Fry had a shop on Felspar Street in PB back in the day where Tower 23 now is. I’m very familiar with the Frys, great to hear that she’s a big supporter of yours. What is your position on the business district?

I helped start the main assessment district. I think this local control idea is good because you get more people to buy in. It’s not just the government taking tax money and spending it wherever; it has to be spent locally. I am quite a supporter of these local assessments. BIDs and MADs in general are a good thing.

I also wanted to ask, as mayoral candidate, what do you have to offer to the small business owners of San Diego?

That’s one thing the city really has not done a good job with. We talk about supporting business, but you look at who controls the big chambers of commerce and who controls the big business voice at City Hall and it’s not your local mom and pop shop or local small businesses, it’s your big corporations, they are the ones with the seats at the table. That’s really where my focus is going to be, because this city has focused for far too long on big business and not enough, or not at all, on small businesses, which are the ones that need the help. They can’t afford the lobbyists or consultants that can deal with the bureaucracy of City Hall. I want to build a small business office that is a lot more cooperative and friendly for someone who wants to start a business or grow their business, we need to focus on that.

Thank you. I, myself, am a small business owner, so I can definitely relate. I want to touch on managed competition and your feelings on it and its usage in San Diego.

afI think the voters were pretty clear, giving the mayor the authority to use it when it’s needed. From what we’ve seen, it basically has shown us what we already knew. That departments had vacancies that were unfilled, that if you eliminate them, you achieve savings. It’s a tool that can be utilized as a last resort, but I don’t think its absolutely necessary.

If you have good management, you can achieve efficiencies and savings in your structure to be able to produce and provide services at a better and less expensive rate than what we’re paying today. We haven’t had that focus on management. We’ve been focusing on how we use government as a vehicle for hotel interests or big corporate interests. If we provide good quality services, we can then focus on achieving the savings. That’s what the voters wanted when they passed Manage Comp, Prop C. Do whatever it takes to save money. Manage Comp was sort of the scapegoat, or the workers have been the scapegoat, as they have been for the last several years, but it’s a tool that could potentially be useful.

First and foremost, we have to focus on the structure. How do you find the efficiencies that don’t exist there today? How do you provide good quality services without having to spend more money? I think that all that is there, we just have to focus. If all you do is manage competition, you’re going to continue to provide the same service, just for cheaper cost, when you could have accomplished that cheaper cost by just eliminating vacancies. You don’t have to pretend like manage competition is the silver bullet to achieving efficiencies and savings in this city.

I am feeling that for sure. Now, I have to let you know, I’m a total foodie. I love to eat. I judge my Mexican food on their beans. With that said I have to ask you, in your opinion, who has the best beans in San Diego?

Oh, there’s none like homemade. I like to cook them with a little bit of oil and fry a tortilla in it so that the oil sort of gets a different flavor. Just break up the tortilla and fry it in there and then add the beans. The tortilla gets fried, like chips. They get soaked in the beans and they taste really, really good afterwards. You can eat them enfrijoladas, they’re really, really good. You can also fry the red peppers, the long chiles, the dried ones, fry a couple of them in there and it will create a really good aroma. Or you can do beans, toss in the canned chipotle and it’s really good.

Ooo. you just gave me a family secret. Am I allowed to print that?

Yeah, absolutely.

I usually use salt, garlic cloves and some onions and just get it going. Hardly ever do I re-fry them, unless I cook bacon, then I’ll use the bacon grease. Or chorizo, I’ll use the chorizo grease. If you had to recommend a taco shop, which one would it be?

I like Tacos el Paisa on 25th and Imperial. I also like going to Tijuana for Tacos el Franc or this place that doesn’t even have a name, this little birria place. They are only open from 10 until 1, because they sell out all the time.

Excellent. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.