Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle
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
• Sign five-year contracts with the city’s six employee unions and fully implement the Proposition B pension initiative, including a pensionable pay freeze.
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.
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.
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.
• Build a new skate park in City Heights.
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.
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
• 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.
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.
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
• 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.
• Spend redevelopment reserves on neighborhood infrastructure, such as road repairs and libraries.
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.
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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