Local leaders weigh in on Mayor Faulconer’s annual address
By Hutton Marshall
Mayor Kevin Faulconer gave his second State of the City address on Jan. 14 at the Balboa Theatre in Downtown San Diego. Local leaders praised the Republican mayor’s middle-of-the-road policy proposals and glowing portrayal of San Diego’s private sector growth.
Faulconer, who is seeking re-election for the first time since winning San Diego’s highest office in a 2014 special election after Bob Filner’s departure, looked back on San Diego’s civic accomplishments and proposed several new policy initiatives in his 50-minute address.
Recent successes praised by Faulconer included the city’s ambitious climate change mitigation plan, continued negotiations to keep the Chargers in San Diego, and better response times for historically underserved sectors of San Diego.
With a tone similar to his previous address in 2015, Faulconer ultimately provided a very favorable view of the state of San Diego.
“The foundation of our city is strong,” Faulconer said. “And ladies and gentlemen, the state of our city is strong.”
Where Faulconer diverged from last year’s address, however, was in the speech’s forward-looking policy initiatives, which were markedly bolder and more numerous than last year’s address given 10 months after Faulconer’s inauguration.
Such policies included strengthening ties with Tijuana, merging public school education with San Diego’s private science-driven economy and forging ahead with a robust infrastructure spending plan. Faulconer even declared that San Diego researchers would succeed in their long search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
His keystone policy announcements, however, were his ambitious plan to expand the city’s park system and the “Housing Our Heroes” initiative, which aims to house 1,000 homeless veterans currently on the streets of San Diego.
Regarding San Diego’s parks, Faulconer promised to create a new master plan for the city’s park system, open new green spaces in Mid-City, Mission Valley, Mira Mesa and Serra Mesa, and, most consequently, Faulconer promised the groundbreaking of 50 new or upgraded parks over the next five years.
“For me, protecting our parks is the reason I became involved in public service,” Faulconer said. “Some of my best memories growing up are the summers my family and I spent at the local rec center or hanging out at the beach. And when I became a father myself, Katherine and I wanted our children to have the same experience.”
Kris Michell serves as the executive director of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a nonprofit business improvement organization. She said that parks fill a critical need in a hyper-urban neighborhood like Downtown.
“For an urban environment like Downtown, parks are people’s front yards, side yards and backyards, so they become critically important,” Michell said.
Faulconer’s parks expansion relies in part on converting public school parks to “joint-use parks,” which would be open to the general public after school hours.
“Today, there are fields and green spaces across San Diego that our communities could use on evenings and weekends, but because they’re on school property, they get locked up whenever class isn’t in session,” Faulconer said. “Our communities and our school system are fundamentally linked. We shouldn’t let government bureaucracy stand in the way of making our neighborhoods great.”
Since 2008, Councilmember Todd Gloria has represented District 3 on the City Council, which includes Downtown. Gloria said joint-use spaces are already a welcome addition to his district.
“Joint-use fields have served a meaningful role in helping our neighborhoods meet their need for recreation space for decades,” Gloria said. “From Birney Elementary in University Heights to Adams Avenue Park in Normal Heights, most District 3 neighborhoods have seen and benefited from joint-use facilities. I’m looking forward to breaking ground on our District’s next joint-use field at McKinley Elementary in North Park later this year.”
After the parks plan, the second biggest policy proposal of Faulconer’s address was the “Housing Our Homeless” initiative, which seeks to house 1,000 homeless veterans this year, primarily by encouraging landlords to rent to homeless veterans entitled to existing federal housing subsidies and by improving the city’s rapid-rehousing efforts.
San Diego was one of 25 U.S. municipalities to join the “25 Cities” pledge to end chronic homelessness among veterans by 2016. Faulconer said he will request that the City Council approve $4 million for the initiative.
“A successful veteran community helps drive a successful city,” Faulconer said. “But a relatively small group of veterans has a difficult time transitioning to civilian life. Today’s unfortunate reality is that almost 1,700 veterans are without stable housing or call our sidewalks and alleys home.”
Gloria, a long-time supporter of efforts to address homelessness, praised the mayor’s plan for its ability to rally resources behind existing support systems for homelessness, such as the Section 8 housing vouchers.
“If the mayor can assist in getting property owners and landlords to rent their available units to veterans and accept [housing] vouchers, 300 people could immediately transition out of homelessness, and from there I am confident we can eventually meet the goal [to end homelessness] among San Diego’s veterans,” Gloria said. “This sort of coordination and collaboration between the city, property owners, the county, and service providers will make a difference throughout our region.”
Infrastructure improvement has long been among San Diego’s most pressing concerns, and in his address Faulconer made it a central issue of his plans for the coming year. The mayor promised $50 million on infrastructure improvements, which includes new construction, street repair and building improvement. To accomplish this, Faulconer urged the approval of Councilmember Mark Kersey’s infrastructure proposal, “Rebuild San Diego,” which would secure as much as $5 billion for infrastructure projects over the next 30 years.
“I’ve pledged to dedicate half of the City’s new revenue each year to infrastructure,” Faulconer said. “I did it last year. I did it this year. And I’m going to do it every year.
“But there’s no guarantee that this practice of dedicating funds to neighborhood infrastructure will continue under future mayors. That’s why I’m asking the City Council to place a measure authored by [Kersey] the city’s Infrastructure Chairman, on the ballot so voters can guarantee funds for neighborhood infrastructure decades into the future.”
Michell, who previously served as chief of staff under former Mayor Jerry Sanders, also praised the measure’s ability to make an impact “on everyone in San Diego, including Downtown.
“That infrastructure and neighborhood investment will be directing over $500 million to rebuilding neighborhoods and filling 27,000 potholes in the first year, so Downtown’s getting a portion of that just like every community,” Michell said. “So really when you think about it, that’s 10 million in community improvements every week, which I think is fantastic.”
Gloria, on the other hand, said that “Rebuild San Diego” doesn’t go far enough to address the systemic problems in San Diego’s neighborhood services, and believes the proposal is a ticket to financial struggles down the road.
“The proposal Mayor Faulconer is supporting sounds good on the surface but upon closer inspection is bad public policy that fails to solve San Diego’s infrastructure problem,” Gloria said. “The city’s nonpartisan Independent Budget Analyst has made it clear that if we hope to fix our potholed streets, broken sidewalks and outdated facilities, we need a new funding source. This proposal ducks that difficult conversation and attempts to pay for a fraction of our infrastructure needs by diverting limited resources from neighborhood services like public safety, library hours, and code enforcement.
“While some are telling the public they can have their cake and eat it too, the truth is that if enacted, this proposal will starve neighborhood services for up to three decades, and at the end of that exceptionally long time, will still fail to fix our roads.
“There are no free lunches, and this proposal is no exception,” Gloria said.
Overall, Michell said that Faulconer’s address reaffirmed the positive outlook many San Diegans have for the city’s future.
“I was incredibly impressed with Kevin because of two things,” she said. “One, he talked in specifics about what our community would see from his office, meaning where he would spend his time, but he also had broad big vision. … And he’s really the one that can tell us, ‘are we heading in the right direction or the wrong direction?’
“He gave us a very positive outlook, which is wonderful, because I feel that, I believe that, and he validated that for all San Diegans,” Michell said.
Along this vein, the mayor said that positive times are well on the horizon, and he continued to push his centric “One San Diego” message, promising shared prosperity among all San Diegans.
“We have laid the groundwork for building our better future,” Faulconer said. “Now, in 2016, we begin the next phase of One San Diego, a city where every neighborhood has the chance to succeed and every person has the opportunity to prosper.”
—Hutton Marshall is a freelance writer and former editor of San Diego Uptown News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.