Filner’s Promises: The Mayor’s Final Report Card

Filner’s Promises: The Mayor’s Final Report Card

Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Bob Filner

Eight months isn’t a lot of time to follow through on promises.

Shortly after Mayor Bob Filner took office, we began issuing report cards to track nearly 60 pledges he made on the campaign trail. He’s made progress on some, derailed some initial efforts and failed to even get started on others. Here’s a look at some of what Filner did and didn’t accomplish during his brief mayorship.

Where He Made Big Strides

Image: Kept • Sign five-year contracts with the city’s six employee unions and fully implement the Proposition B pension initiative, including a pensionable pay freeze.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The City Council is going to consider green-lighting negotiations between Civic San Diego and the city employees union to expand the nonprofit's authority beyond downtown. Pictured: San Diego Municipal Employees Association General Manager Michael Zucchet.

Filner earned a “kept” rating on these promises in June when the City Council unanimously approved five-year deals that incorporate pensionable pay freezes. But two ironies complicated this substantial achievement. First, Filner opposed the pension initiative but ended up implementing its most central element by getting the unions to agree to go without pay increases that can be factored into their pensions. And then, after Filner repeatedly touted an expected $25.2 million budget savings this year thanks to those deals, the city’s pension board denied the city’s request to recalculate its pension bill. This means the projected savings Filner used to pressure the City Council to approve the deals won’t be realized until next year.

• Be available three Saturdays a month for walk-in, one-on-one meetings with San Diegans.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Kevin Swanson, center, shows Mayor Bob Filner and staff member Al Alvarado an image that he says reminded him of a photo of Filner published by Voice of San Diego, during the mayor's Saturday hours at City Hall.

As a mayoral candidate, Filner promised office hours three times a month. Once in office, he carried the meetings out but scaled back their frequency to once a month.

• Provide free public transit to and from school for San Diego Unified students.

Filner’s first and only budget included $200,000 to support a pilot project that will provide free bus passes to students at Crawford, Hoover, Lincoln and San Diego high schools. The City Council approved the expense in June.

• Create a binational affairs office in Tijuana.

File photo by Sam Hodgson

File photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (left) and Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante announce the opening of an office space for the city of San Diego in the Tijuana Economic Development Corp.'s office in Tijuana, Mexico.

Filner emphasized the importance of cross-border collaboration from the moment he took office. He kept his pledge to open a city office in Tijuana about three months after he was sworn in. The Tijuana Economic Development Corp. offered the city free cubicle space at its headquarters at the trendy Via Corporativo building in downtown Tijuana. The group’s director said last week it will continue to offer the space to the city free of charge.

Image: Working On It • Build a new skate park in City Heights.

Rendering courtesy of the city of San Diego

Rendering courtesy of the city of San Diego

The city added about 6,000 square feet of skateboarding space to its Central Avenue Mini Park design after City Heights youth lobbied for a place to skate.

Filner excited City Heights teens in December when he showed up at their rally for a new skate park and said he’d help them get the space they’ve long wanted. Filner made major progress on that promise in April when the city’s development services department decided to use nearly $850,000 in grant funds to build a small skateboarding plaza at the planned Central Avenue Mini Park. It won’t be the full-sized skate park the teens had advocated for but they’ll likely get their skateboarding space.

• Re-establish planning as a standalone city department. Re-brand as a sustainability department.

Before he took office, Filner often spoke of the importance of having a department focused on making the city more livable and walkable. In the process, he criticized former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ decision to merge the city’s planning division with its development services department, which handles permits and rules. In June, Filner hired sustainable development guru Bill Fulton to direct his soon-to-be standalone planning department. City officials continue to debate the structure of the department but Filner’s vision of a standalone department is just short of the finish line.

• Make neighborhoods more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.

Photo courtesy of Jacob McKean/Modern Times Beer

Photo courtesy of Jacob McKean/Modern Times Beer

Bicyclists converge for CicloSDias.

Filner committed to this promise early on by hiring former campaign manager Ed Clancy to lead bicycle initiatives. Months later, the city held CicloSDias, an Aug. 11 event that allowed bicyclists and pedestrians to take over a car-free 30th Street for a day. Clancy worked with other city leaders to add bike lanes to a dangerous intersection near San Diego State University, as well as a handful of other areas where bicyclists and pedestrians must quickly merge in opposite directions. The Filner administration also oversaw initial efforts to implement a bike-sharing program in the city first conceived during former Sanders’ time as mayor.

Where He Just Got Started

Image: Partially Kept • Support increased Penny for the Arts funding.

Filner added $1.6 million to the budget for arts programs, short of the $3.7 million addition called for in a five-year plan for arts funding  approved by the City Council before Filner took office.

• Establish a Veterans Employment Department within the mayor’s office.

Filner hired Vietnam War veteran Bill Rider to serve as his veterans advocate in March but it’s not clear what he’s done to encourage employers to commit to hiring veterans. Last month, Rider declined to comment on the status of a veterans’ job summit Filner repeatedly touted in conversations with Voice of San Diego and KPBS.

• Lead a coalition of border mayors and governors to lobby federal and state governments on border issues.

Filner instantly earned more credibility on border issues in May when he was named co-chair of the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association but it’s unclear what he’s done to lobby state and national leaders since he was appointed to the role.

• End homelessness in San Diego.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The quest to end homelessness was among Filner’s boldest campaign pledges but he provided few details on the scope of that mission or how he planned to accomplish it. One could spend two mayoral terms or even a full political career working on this endeavor and not make a dent in the city’s homeless population. But Filner made the issue a priority in his first budget. He included nearly $2 million to fund homeless shelters, aid a storage check-in program and maintain downtown port-a-potties.

• Support establishing new rules to permit medical marijuana dispensaries in city boundaries.

Filner showed his commitment to providing access to medical marijuana this spring when he pushed an ordinance that would have allowed dispensaries to operate in the city under certain restrictions. His efforts came to a halt – publicly, at least – in April after the City Council unanimously rejected his proposal.

• Establish an open government department tasked with assisting the public with records requests.

Filner tapped former City Councilwoman Donna Frye to lead his open government department shortly after he took office.  Frye and Filner later unveiled an open government page on the city’s website.  Frye abruptly left her post just weeks after the joint press conference. Aide Steve Hadley soon abandoned his job, too. The mayor’s budget included cash to hire a new open government director but Filner never named a replacement for Frye before he announced his resignation.

• Implement the Police Department’s five-year, $66 million plan.

File photo by Sam Hodgson

File photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne (center) and Executive Assistant Police Chief David Ramirez at an October 2011 City Council meeting.

Filner touted the Police Department’s five-year blueprint on the campaign trail but never sent it to the City Council for formal sign-off. He did, however, include money for additional police recruits and equipment suggested in the plan in his first budget.  Those allocations fell short of what the plan recommended.

What He Never Really Did

Image: Broken • Solar-power all public buildings (city and San Diego Unified) within five years.

Filner has repeatedly pledged to make San Diego the alternative energy capital of the nation, a promise that could take years or even decades to accomplish. But Filner never explained how he’d do it, or how he’d pay for it. The mayor held a summit of solar experts and local government officials to discuss how to accomplish his goals in March but he never detailed the outcome of those meetings. He also didn’t appear to include any new solar projects in his first budget.

• Lead trade missions to Mexico and overseas.

Filner never led a trade mission but his participation in an annual trip to Mexico City organized by the Chamber of Commerce inspired a U-T San Diego story about Filner’s “unbelievably embarrassing” behavior.

• Spend $25 million from wildfire settlement on public safety infrastructure, including fire stations and a new police dispatch system.

Filner repeatedly mentioned this idea on the campaign trail but he ultimately used the majority of the settlement cash to close a $38.4 million deficit in the city’s budget.

• Spend redevelopment reserves on neighborhood infrastructure, such as road repairs and libraries.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego's roads are crumbling. The city has the money to fix potholes but hasn't proven it can efficiently spend it.

Last year, the city set aside money to cope with the death of the city’s redevelopment agency. Filner didn’t dip into this pot of cash to fund road repairs this year. He might have chosen to use this cash for other purposes in the future if he had remained in office, but we’ll never know.

• Publish a mayoral calendar and memos sent by Filner and top deputies online.

Filner, who was once known as #filnereverywhere for his frequent jaunts around the city, could have posted his calendar online the first day he took office but he never did. He also never posted any memos online. Earlier this year, a former spokeswoman told Voice of San Diego that Filner held off on the internet postings about his whereabouts due to security concerns.

• Redirect half of the cash collected through the city’s agreement with its Tourism Marketing District to public safety needs.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The California Constitution complicated Filner’s plan to funnel tourism money toward new police hires and improved fire response times long before his election. Proposition 26, an initiative approved by voters in 2010, requires such fees to directly benefit the group or industry collecting the cash.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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14 comments
Sam Ollinger
Sam Ollinger

Here is what I find remarkable about this short stint as mayor - it is completely unprecedented how the conversation during these short few months changed here in the city (regarding bicycling and livability of our city) A while back I had an opportunity to review three gigantoid scrap books that was the creation of the late Dr. Clifford Graves - the La Jolla doctor who happened to be the founder of Hostelling International (San Diego) and someone I consider to be the first cycling advocate in the region. Graves had meticulously saved every single mention of anything related to bicycling from the 1800s through about the 1990s. This gave me a window into how cycling has been perceived for over a century in the city of San Diego. When the big wheel first showed up on the streets of Bankers Hill there was the usual belly aching about the velocipede causing all sorts of (perceived) ruckus on the streets (not unlike the conversation today in many regards which is almost amusingly Pavlovian). The big boom of bicycling in San Diego happened like it did elsewhere around the country - during the oil embargo that kicked off the oil crisis starting 1973. This crisis made people look for alternatives to the long gas lines and San Diego had its elected officials jostling for photo-ops and every one and their brother has opinion pieces and editorials in various community papers, including in the various papers of record about bicycling and ditching the vehicle for trips. The conversation by and large was about the economics of bicycling and about finding an alternative to gasoline. The conversation was never about changing the very nature of how we as society perceived our neighborhood streets. Nor was there any discussion about putting a moratorium on highway building (the I-15, by the way - was not built. 40th Street still served as a key street connecting the valley to the mid-city community) - like the conversation is starting to happen today with many communities vehemently opposing expanding the SR-94. Back then there was a general joy about bicycling but no vision about how to implement procedures or policies on ensuring that bicycling as a mode of transportation was competitive with other modes. The bicycle was seen largely as almost a toy which was highlighted when the 805 was first opened as cyclists got to ride on it unabated for a few hours before it was permanently shut down to bicycle traffic. The need for redesigning our city, for critically evaluating how our public street space was serving its users - these was not subjects that ever made it into the discourse as memorialized in Graves' scrapbooks. Filner's state of the union address back in January addressed these subjects in a way no San Diego mayor ever has, although 10 years ago City Council had a brief affair with car-free streets.. In fact, I personally had a hard time keeping up with the mayor since he seemed to grasp the issues faster than I could lay them out. I thought I would have a nice cozy time coasting along (slowly) figuring out how to articulate the issues, but I was very mistaken. People much smarter than me have laid out the case of why the (soon to be former) mayor was good, bad and evil but I have to say that considering my general luke warm attitude toward Filner, he surprised me in ways I couldn't have imagined when it came to talking about redesigning our city to be a model in the world. In six months he did far more than I thought possible. So I do wonder if the next mayor will grasp what it takes to transform San Diego into a world class bicycling city and then work to implement it.

Sam Ollinger
Sam Ollinger subscriber

Here is what I find remarkable about this short stint as mayor - it is completely unprecedented how the conversation during these short few months changed here in the city (regarding bicycling and livability of our city) A while back I had an opportunity to review three gigantoid scrap books that was the creation of the late Dr. Clifford Graves - the La Jolla doctor who happened to be the founder of Hostelling International (San Diego) and someone I consider to be the first cycling advocate in the region. Graves had meticulously saved every single mention of anything related to bicycling from the 1800s through about the 1990s. This gave me a window into how cycling has been perceived for over a century in the city of San Diego. When the big wheel first showed up on the streets of Bankers Hill there was the usual belly aching about the velocipede causing all sorts of (perceived) ruckus on the streets (not unlike the conversation today in many regards which is almost amusingly Pavlovian). The big boom of bicycling in San Diego happened like it did elsewhere around the country - during the oil embargo that kicked off the oil crisis starting 1973. This crisis made people look for alternatives to the long gas lines and San Diego had its elected officials jostling for photo-ops and every one and their brother has opinion pieces and editorials in various community papers, including in the various papers of record about bicycling and ditching the vehicle for trips. The conversation by and large was about the economics of bicycling and about finding an alternative to gasoline. The conversation was never about changing the very nature of how we as society perceived our neighborhood streets. Nor was there any discussion about putting a moratorium on highway building (the I-15, by the way - was not built. 40th Street still served as a key street connecting the valley to the mid-city community) - like the conversation is starting to happen today with many communities vehemently opposing expanding the SR-94. Back then there was a general joy about bicycling but no vision about how to implement procedures or policies on ensuring that bicycling as a mode of transportation was competitive with other modes. The bicycle was seen largely as almost a toy which was highlighted when the 805 was first opened as cyclists got to ride on it unabated for a few hours before it was permanently shut down to bicycle traffic. The need for redesigning our city, for critically evaluating how our public street space was serving its users - these was not subjects that ever made it into the discourse as memorialized in Graves' scrapbooks. Filner's state of the union address back in January addressed these subjects in a way no San Diego mayor ever has, although 10 years ago City Council had a brief affair with car-free streets.. In fact, I personally had a hard time keeping up with the mayor since he seemed to grasp the issues faster than I could lay them out. I thought I would have a nice cozy time coasting along (slowly) figuring out how to articulate the issues, but I was very mistaken. People much smarter than me have laid out the case of why the (soon to be former) mayor was good, bad and evil but I have to say that considering my general luke warm attitude toward Filner, he surprised me in ways I couldn't have imagined when it came to talking about redesigning our city to be a model in the world. In six months he did far more than I thought possible. So I do wonder if the next mayor will grasp what it takes to transform San Diego into a world class bicycling city and then work to implement it.

Kelly Abbott
Kelly Abbott

Which of these are the best promises kept?

Kelly Abbott
Kelly Abbott contributormember

Which of these are the best promises kept?

amy roth
amy roth

Hardly his "final report card"! Completely ignores all the terrible things he did do -- as though the few things he promised to do but couldn't get done in his brief tenure were the totality of the down side of the ledger. Is this the beginning of the Great Whitewash? I fear so!

amy roth
amy roth subscribermember

Hardly his "final report card"! Completely ignores all the terrible things he did do -- as though the few things he promised to do but couldn't get done in his brief tenure were the totality of the down side of the ledger. Is this the beginning of the Great Whitewash? I fear so!

amy roth
amy roth

I was doing just that when this article popped up! And I'm not talking about how Filner was mean to everyone or who he did or didn't fondle. I'm talking about how his terrific deal with the unions was scuttled by his own appointees to the pension board so that he wound up firing the entire board to get rid of the sinning appointees (by which time it was too late). And how his fight with the hoteliers led to the loss of our Tourism Authority and the laying off of all our marketing reps around the country. And how he got rid of our lobbyists so we have no voice in Sacramento or D.C. (or at least i think that's what happened). And how he opposed the Convention Center expansion until he was already under the gun for bad behavior, at which time he noticed that, gee, Comic-Con really is good for the city. And how his opposition to the Jacobs proposal for Balboa Park helped scuttle that as well, with his much-praised el-cheapo substitution leaving most of the big problems with the Park yet unsolved and unable to be solved before the Celebration. Gevult.

Lisa Halverstadt
Lisa Halverstadt

Hi Amy and David, I didn't set out to sum up all of Filner's accomplishments or failures in this post. I just focused on Filner's progress on nearly 60 promises he made on the campaign trail or in the early days of his mayorship. You can check out the list of pledges below.

David Hall
David Hall

Relax and take a deep breath. No hysterics needed. If there is one thing that VoSD isn't going to do, it's pass up an opportunity to find fault with Bob Filner.

amy roth
amy roth subscribermember

I was doing just that when this article popped up! And I'm not talking about how Filner was mean to everyone or who he did or didn't fondle. I'm talking about how his terrific deal with the unions was scuttled by his own appointees to the pension board so that he wound up firing the entire board to get rid of the sinning appointees (by which time it was too late). And how his fight with the hoteliers led to the loss of our Tourism Authority and the laying off of all our marketing reps around the country. And how he got rid of our lobbyists so we have no voice in Sacramento or D.C. (or at least i think that's what happened). And how he opposed the Convention Center expansion until he was already under the gun for bad behavior, at which time he noticed that, gee, Comic-Con really is good for the city. And how his opposition to the Jacobs proposal for Balboa Park helped scuttle that as well, with his much-praised el-cheapo substitution leaving most of the big problems with the Park yet unsolved and unable to be solved before the Celebration. Gevult.

Lisa Halverstadt
Lisa Halverstadt author

Hi Amy and David, I didn't set out to sum up all of Filner's accomplishments or failures in this post. I just focused on Filner's progress on nearly 60 promises he made on the campaign trail or in the early days of his mayorship. You can check out the list of pledges below.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

Relax and take a deep breath. No hysterics needed. If there is one thing that VoSD isn't going to do, it's pass up an opportunity to find fault with Bob Filner.

Joe Jones
Joe Jones

David, you're right. Tough to do all he promised in just six months. Given a full four years, just think of how many women he could have assaulted.

Joe Jones
Joe Jones subscriber

David, you're right. Tough to do all he promised in just six months. Given a full four years, just think of how many women he could have assaulted.