Barbara Denny, Consensus-Builder? In Coronado, There's a Divide

The mayoral candidate maintains she has led the council on important policy issues. Her colleagues beg to differ.

In her polarizing bid for mayor, Councilwoman Barbara Denny points to consensus building, both in her campaign literature and at candidate forums, as one of the skills she’ll bring to the job if elected. 

Her supporters laud her for standing up to other council members and casting votes to protect her vision for the community's village character.

Her detractors, however, have seized upon the consensus-building claim, most particularly those on whom she might have had the most influence – her council colleagues since she joined the panel in 2009. 

Denny is often on the losing side of votes that come before the council, and in many of those cases she is the lone holdout.  

Councilman Al Ovrom grants her the most leeway on the question. While he said he has “not observed any consistent effort that would earn her a reputation as a consensus builder,” he adds that he sees areas where Denny has made a difference, including public safety and traffic options.

He noted her participation in the 2010 anti-tunnel initiative, which sought to halt the project during its nascent phase when designs and options were being studied. Given the overwhelming community opposition to the tunnel proposal, Orvom reasoned it could be described as “consensus building of the voters."

Councilman Michael Woiwode and Councilwoman Carrie Downey, however, deny that she has had any impact on their votes.

Woiwode, who is running for a second council term, said Denny has not attempted to work with him on policy.

“She has never influenced my vote,“ he said. “She’s never even talked to me about an issue.”

Downey, who will leave the council in December, said it was a coincidence when she and Denny cast the same votes. 

“There were a few issues where we were in agreement, but it was never anything she did or said that brought me to share the same position,” Downey said, adding “we never discussed an issue in private.”

Mayor Casey Tanaka, whom Denny is challenging for the city's top job, said rather than building consensus, his opponent takes credit for council decisions when she happens to be on the winning side.

Patch has e-mailed Denny three times since Oct. 19 regarding her colleagues' stances, and to ask her to describe how she builds consensus to create policy, but she did not respond.

In campaign appearances Denny points to issues – opposing the sale of alcohol at Starbucks and the creation of historic districts – as areas in which she took the lead on shaping city stances. 

Denny also contends her consensus-building would extend beyond City Hall, easing tensions, for instance, between residents and the business community. She suggested a scenario in which residents would be pleased with fewer cars on the road, alleviating congestion, which could in turn draw more foot traffic for business owners.

“I'd like to build more community consensus and to (show) that our interests, residential and tourism, are not as far apart as we would like to believe,” she told a crowd gathered for the Oct. 18 Coronado Community Association of Neighbors forum.

A supporter, Jan Clark, in one of several paid letters from Denny backers that have appeared in the Coronado Eagle & Journal, credits her with proving “she has the diplomatic skills to build council consensus.” 

Others on the council, however, deny that Denny influenced their vote on either the Starbucks or historic district issues. A Denny opposition group, led by eight residents, bought ad space in the Eagle & Journal to counter several Denny claims, including one that she led the way on saving “six Orange Avenue bus stops.” 

The council voted unanimously two years ago to leave the stops as is, after consideration of a Metropolitan Transit System recommendation about their proximity to each other. MTS was not advocating eliminating them.

The city confirmed the account offered by the Denny opponents in the ad.

On the Starbucks issue, Woiwode, at an Oct. 11 candidate forum hosted by Coronado's Democratic Club, noted that he sent a letter to the corporation on the city's behalf urging company officials to retract the state application for a liquor license. 

. Whether Starbucks could serve alcohol at its Coronado location was never in the council's hands.

A vote by Woiwode, Denny and Ovrom to oppose the coffee giant's pursuit of a liquor license was simply advisory. The decision to grant the license is governed by the state.

Jennifer Vigil October 26, 2012 at 11:51 PM
I welcome your comments, but please confine your posts to the political issue without accusing anyone of a crime. I've removed one such comment. Thank you.
Mickey Mouse October 27, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Hey Jennifer Wheres my post?
Mickey Mouse October 27, 2012 at 01:57 AM
For the record; I mentioned political issues only, are you moderating this or controlling the content? Is it your opinion that anything politically derogatory to denny's positions to be considered by you to be in bad taste? Are you furthering journalism t or propaganda? Please, kindly answer the question for all to see in the comment forum here
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:09 AM
Just another sloppy hit piece on Ms Denny by Ms Tierney, who has been in the tank for Tanaka for some time now. I would have liked to see a Patch piece on Mr Tanaka and his platform for dealing with the city’s traffic, land use, finances, beach use, redevelopment debt, code enforcement or any other issue. Unfortunately Mr Tanaka doesn’t have much of a platform for Ms Tierney to polish, so she has to continue to bash Ms Denny and her comprehensive platform instead. Gloria has collected a number of quotes from Mr Tanaka’s supporters who seem to have a rather selective memory, but she hasn’t spoken to a live Denny supporter, or done any significant research. I would not be too surprised if Ms Denny was too busy to return Ms Tierney’s emails. Let’s do some real research on Ms Denny's effect on Council, its all on the web for all to see: First, how did Ms Denny and her constituents stop the plan to take away six bus stops on Orange Avenue? Lets go to the City of Coronado website, and on the lower right you’ll see a link for “Live video stream and archive”. Go to the Council meeting for July 20, 2010 and look up Agenda item 11E – “Possible Investigation of Bus Stop Consolidation on Orange Avenue”. (cont'd)
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:10 AM
The video includes Mr. Tanaka introducing this measure at 06:28 from the CIP subcommittee [capital improvement program committee of Tanaka and Ms Carrie Downey which Tanaka chairs] and he talks about “how expensive bus pads are the concrete put under them are a great expense and we [the CIP subcommittee of Tanaka and Carrie Downey] want to take a strategic look at bus stops and see which ones to keep and so on”. At 06:57 Ms Denny says “I’m not in favor of it [investigating bus stop removal] at all . . . taking out bus stops will decrease ridership, not increase ridership. When I do a cost-benefit analysis I’m concerned with the levels of ability and disability of transit riders. Removing bus stops might not affect me because I can walk an extra few blocks. But it will negatively impact others and decrease ridership among those who are temporarily or permanently disabled. Removing bus stops for the sake of parking spaces [as desired by the mayor’s two person CIP subcommittee of Tanaka and Downey] will make it more difficult for people to get to their transit stop . . . our constituents say that they are unhappy with the Sunday bus cuts and I think it’s wrong to cut out bus stops along Orange Avenue . . . So we should wait for public input and council shouldn’t direct staff to go ahead and study the removal of bus stops along Orange Avenue at this time. For all these reasons I cannot support investigating the removal of six bus stops along Orange Ave."
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:11 AM
Mr Tanaka says at minute 10:11: “It’s funny when I ride a bus I think one of the first things that aggravates me is how many times it stops and I think when you are trying to get from point A to point B and you know where your point B is one of the reasons you often say I’m gonna take my car is it’s ‘cause you get from point A to point B faster and more conveniently so I support this particular recommendation [from the Tanaka/Downey CIP subcommittee] because I think it’s important that you have to stop with some frequency in order to accommodate your users but I also think if you stop too many times and we’re not meeting MTS’ standards we’re our bus stops are happening more frequently than they recommend that might be an indicator that will while we have the best of intentions we might actually be creating a less favorable uh outcome . . . and lastly I do not underestimate the value of four (4) parking spaces on Orange. We don’t have the means to build a parking structure and I don’t think we’re going to build one in our lifetimes and the number of parking spaces on Orange is finite ah I think we’re lucky frankly that demand and supply are roughly equal when you need to park on Orange and I wouldn’t want to hurt the bus program at the expense of parking but I there’s a chance to maybe come up with a fine balance so I’m happy to support the staff recommendation [based on the CIP subcommittee I chair to remove bus stops on Orange Avenue].”
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Ms Denny was the only member to argue against this idea, and City Council voted 4-1 (Ms Denny dissenting) to direct city staff to continue studying the voluntary removal of 6 bus stops on Orange Avenue at 5th, 7th and 9th streets. Ms Denny went to the residents and let Coronadans know what was being proposed for study to gain a few more parking spaces. Denise Boucher, a Coronado resident became the grassroots leader who enlisted Ms Denny’s help and they started to spread the word about what was up. You can search Youtube for some of the videos Ms Boucher made that summer with Ms Denny. Barbara built consensus in our community that summer. 138 people expressed opinions against the idea to the city, articles and letters against the idea appeared in the Eagle in August 2010, and city staff realized this idea of Mr Tanaka and Ms Downie wasn’t so popular. Video for the September 7, 2010 Council meeting, Item 11D has staff recommending against the idea. Ms Boucher is seen before council that day making a eloquent plea for Council to stand up for residents and save the stops, Staff then made a report that MTS and staff didn’t think that “consolidating” bus stops this was a very good idea and guess what? Ms Downie and Mr Tanaka insist they never meant to take away bus stops. At the end of the video, council comes to a consensus to drop the idea like a hot potato, 5-0. That was Ms Denny’s leadership. Next lets talk about alcohol at Starbucks....
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Ms Tierney’s assertion that the state only controls alcohol permits is very misleading. When a city council or public strongly protests a liquor license application, the ABC provides a copy to the applicant. The ABC will deny liquor license applications in instances where both (1) the elected representatives on behalf of the city and (2) the public send strong letters of protest sent directly to the ABC. When the news of the Starbucks ABC application arrived, Ms Denny knew many residents would object and she began to talk to residents. It was opposed by parents, Coronado SAFE and the Chief of Police. Lets go to the video of the council meeting of 3 April 2012, Agenda item # 11C. Ms Denny and Mr Woiwode bring a motion to protest the Starbucks ABC application. You can view the public hearing on the Starbucks liquor license application at 1:49:40 to 2:17:16. Mr. Tanaka says he had contact with a "Starbucks corporate representative" about the company's desire to sell liquor in their Orange Avenue coffee shop. He then restates the Starbucks corporate sales pitch in favor of serving alcohol. He stated that in his mind, "there was nothing he could do." He couldn't support a city protest letter to the ABC protesting the Starbucks liquor license application. He also stated that if Cafe 1134 could sell coffee and liquor on Orange Avenue, then who was he to say that Starbucks couldn't do the same? He didn't think our city has legal authority to "tell Starbucks what to do."
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Ms. Downey agrees that "there was nothing she could do" other than writing a personal letter to "the Starbucks corporate headquarters." She couldn't support a city protest letter to the ABC. Furthermore, she tried to persuade other council members to drop the motion and to forget about a city protest letter to the ABC. Instead she suggests that they adopt a "resolution." She stated that in her opinion we didn't have the three votes necessary to support a motion for a city protest letter to the ABC. She stated on the record that Ms Denny’s and Mr Woiwode’s motion would fail. She also stated on the record that she thought that the ABC was going to grant the Starbucks liquor license regardless of any protest letters the ABC might receive.
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:16 AM
Ms Denny says that any mere "resolution" would be weak and ineffective. A strong letter from the city to the ABC protesting the Starbucks liquor license application was necessary because no one in Coronado supports liquor sales at Starbucks. She stated it was within the legal authority of the city to exercise our land use authority and to send a protest letter to the ABC on behalf of our citizens instead of merely exclaiming that "there is nothing we can do." Ms Denny states that she wants the opportunity to persuade one more council member to be the third vote to support the motion to send a strong protest letter from the city to the ABC protesting alcohol sales at Starbucks. She gives 10 reasons, and guess what? Mr Ovrom changes his vote to join Ms Denny and Mr Woiwode. The vote was 3 votes YES to protest the Starbucks liquor license application and only 2 votes NO -- with Tanaka and Downey voting NO against the motion -- Mr. Tanaka and Ms. Downey were visibly stunned. On video you can and hear Ms. Downey exclaim out loud to Mr. Ovrom, "Why did you change your vote?"
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:47 AM
Regardless of the assertion by Ms Tierney and Mr Woiwode, the ABC was going to deny the Starbucks liquor license application because of the protest letters it received (1) from the city and (2) from members of the public. To avoid losing, Starbucks withdrew its liquor license application. Starbucks stated it did so "out of respect to our community." So, Ms Denny built consensus and got the job done. Let’s do Gloria’s research for her on historic districts, too. Look at video for the 17 July 2012 council meeting agenda item # 11c. Tanaka began the discussion with this statement on the record: "Well its been my observation and I've been on the council 10 years - one of two issues dominate all of our elections. I think it used to be traffic, traffic and traffic but I do think over-development is just as big of an issue in Coronado if not the bigger one. And I would predict in this and the next election in the next two to four years that development of Coronado will continue to be I think the dominant issue in our city's politics. With that in mind I feel that historic districts are a way to limit development. . . And it took me a while to get it, but I get it now that that's what a historic district is.” The current mayor came over to Ms. Denny’s side in this historic preservation dialogue. And, as he said, it took him 10 years to understand, or "get it."
El Chico October 27, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Barbara Denny has been on record consistently over her three years of council service saying that council should give respect and deference to the Historic Commissioners, instead of constantly fighting them and always watering down their recommendations. In this agenda item, Tanaka followed Barbara’s lead and supported historic district creation. If Barbara wasn’t a constant presence advocating for voluntary historic preservation on council, Tanaka may never had finally “gotten it” after his 10 years on city council. If Coronado Patch holds any pretense to journalistic integrity, would be wise to restrict Ms Tierney from reporting on politics and allow her opinion pieces only, or at list state which candidate is supporting her pieces. So, there’s the evidence – Ms Denny is a consensus builders with residents, small business owners, even with the difficult people on the current Council. Barbara is our hardest working Council member and she is my choice for Mayor of Coronado.
Vicky October 27, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Ms. Denny is constantly opposing policies for the sake of her vision of Coronado, not Coronado's vision of Coronado. I think the fact that all incumbents for both the City Council and the School Board as well as many local leaders in San Diego support our current Mayor is telling, especially since if he loses they will have to work with a woman that they publically stated they did not support. We don't need a busybody as our mayor, we need someone who works to improve our community as a whole.
Kate October 27, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Tanaka has done absolutely nothing about the traffic in Coronado. Every single day, more and more cars speed down 3rd, 4th and Orange Avenue, well above the posted speed limit, and the Mayor hasn't done anything about it. In fact, I have spoken to him about this problem a few times, and he said that it isn't a priority of his. He just wants to get the traffic from the bases off the island as quick as possible.
Jennifer Vigil October 27, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Hi Mickey. It wasn't your post I removed.
Publius October 28, 2012 at 06:23 AM
Vicky, I agree those incumbent opinions are very telling. But those other incumbents on council could all be gone after this election, save Mr Ovrom. Those school district incumbents love having a school district employee as Mayor who will never recuse himself from school issues. None of the new candidates seem to have a problem with Barbara. But if you want a candidate who wont be busy and won't have a vision, Casey may be your man!
Mike Peppard October 28, 2012 at 02:32 PM
The Coronado Cays Homeowners Association has been locked in an ever escalating court fight with Mr Tanaka, Mr Ovrom, and Mr Wiowode over the bulk head issues in the Cays. When these gentlemen failed to respond to the concerns of the residedents of the Cays, the Cays Homeowners Assn spent $250,000 from the general fund on the first court case and won. Then these gentlemen decided to appeal and another $250,000 was spent by the Cays on the appeal which the Cays won again. Now a third court case is being considered by the Cays to convince these gentlemen to perform as directed by the court. Why is it that you have to file lawsuits against the city to get them to adhear to exisiting law?
Mickey Mouse October 29, 2012 at 12:58 AM
I would LOVE it if barbara would comment on the coronado PD's traffic raid party....What would she do about that kind of gestapo, extortion shenanigans if SHE were mayor?
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Vicky October 29, 2012 at 06:50 AM
I suppose I misspoke. I don't want to elect someone who creates problems out of nothing so that they can become the one person who resists. I don't want to elect a person who feels they are constantly right rather than someone who can see the other side. I've lived in Coronado my entire life and I think the biggest problem in this town is those who believe because they are from here there are entitled to everything. I'd rather have a mayor who understands more people rather than less.
Publius October 29, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I don't think you have the whole picture of how the council operates. There are five votes on Council. Most items are not controversial and go on the "consent agenda" and get passed unanimously. Other items need more discussion and separate votes. Most of the time Ms Denny votes with other councillors. Ms Denny has one vote. Sometimes she has an idea that the other councillors agree with, such as becoming NWS Tsunami ready/Storm ready. If she thinks the council is going to pass a bad idea for the city, she can only give her position and/or try to get the council to wait to solicit public and expert opinion.
Publius October 29, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Ms Tierney and Mr Tanaka's supporters want you to believe that she is ineffective or divisive - that's the big lie. She was effective in getting public support for such issues as the Tunnel, the bus stops, Starbucks etc.. A politician’s job is not to be popular with all the other politicians, not to join in "group think", not to cave to special interests and not to always have 5-0 votes. If you want unanimous votes, there are countries that specialize in that, but we have a democracy here in the USA. The councillors job is listen, listen and listen, and then stand up for the community and do the right thing. Ms Denny does that. Thats how she generates her platforms and positions. Mr Tanaka doesn't recognize a bad idea, and keeps pushing when people don't want it - thats why he was behind the tunnel, removing bus stops, not stoping the Starbucks ABC permit, and until very recently, against historic districts. His own literature proposes almost no ideas beyond finding a vision. His performance at the CAN! forum was quite revealing, he refused to give an opinion on some statements and changed some of his answers after the forum was over... Ms Denny can only do what they majority wants, the problem with the other councillors is they don't like finding themselves on the minority side sometimes. Barbara is professional, pleasant and easy to talk to, so she is the councillor many Coronadans go to with issues. Barbara is going to be a great mayor for Coronado.
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