Photo by Sam Hodgson
Kevin Faulconer at a mayoral debate in Barrio Logan.
Mayoral candidate Kevin Faulconer is the city’s most veteran councilman so he’s had plenty of time to establish a record.
Faulconer represents many of the city’s beach communities, including Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Point Loma and has been vocal about several citywide initiatives since he took office in January 2006.
That’s not to say he won’t need to boost his profile to win the mayor’s race. Even Faulconer has admitted as much.
Here’s a look at five things Faulconer has worked on or promoted since he was elected to the City Council.
Bolstered Park Funding
A decade ago, the City Council approved a plan that appeared likely to funnel lease revenue from businesses on Mission Bay toward improvements at Mission Bay Park.
But Faulconer, who once chaired the Mission Bay Park Committee, and others learned that was rarely the case.
Though the ordinance was supposed to set aside a percentage of that lease revenue for parks, it didn’t mandate that, and the city could technically use the money for other purposes.
Shortly after Faulconer was elected to the City Council, he approached former Councilwoman Donna Frye about the issue, which had long frustrated residents and park users. Portions of the park fell in both their City Council districts.
Frye and Faulconer soon began working together to draft an initiative to ensure city parks got the money they’d been promised. Not everyone was thrilled with the idea.
“There was quite a bit of pushback, not just from many of our colleagues but from management because they wanted to have the money and the freedom to do what they wanted with it,” Frye said.
The result, Frye and other proponents say, was lots of compromising. For example, the final version of the initiative allowed other regional parks to get funding too.
Voters agreed with Faulconer and Frye on the need for reform. About 67 percent of them approved the measure, known as Proposition C, in 2008.
Thanks in part to the initiative, the city set aside about $2.4 million for Mission Bay Park improvements and another $2.5 million for other regional park projects in 2012.
A Break with the GOP Bloc
In May 2011, former Mayor Jerry Sanders reached a blockbuster agreement with the city’s unions to cut health care benefits for staffers post-retirement.
Sanders and Democratic City Council members hailed the unprecedented 15-year deal, saying it would save the city more than $320 million. Though it would preserve benefits for retirees, the plan called for city workers to begin contributing to their retiree health care benefits for the first time.
But City Council Republicans Carl DeMaio and Lorie Zapf weren’t having it.
They said the cost savings didn’t go far enough. DeMaio and Zapf argued employees were receiving benefits far cushier than the San Diego taxpayers footing the bill. DeMaio, who held a press conference the day the deal was announced, also raised concerns about potential lawsuits and said the city might be unable to pay all its bills in the future.
Five City Council Democrats, while cautious of the city’s past financial stumbles, committed to support the deal but Sanders needed another vote to seal its fate.
Faulconer joined the Democrats after assurances from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith that it was best to go with the deal rather than risk a loss in court, and that the City Council could reopen the agreement in 2014 if it proved problematic.
“Our city attorney made an analogy to gambling and what you can have and what you can’t have but from my standpoint, I have not been and am not interested in rhetoric,” Faulconer said before casting the crucial vote in support of the deal. “I’m interested in results and I’m interested in guaranteed savings for taxpayers.”
Banning Alcohol on Beaches
San Diego was long among the only cities in the state to allow alcohol on its beaches and Faulconer supported the city’s decision.
After he was elected, Faulconer formed a task force on beach issues that decided against an all-out ban.
But Faulconer’s position changed after a drunken melee on Labor Day 2007 that led police to show up in riot gear.
Faulconer called for a booze ban immediately after that fight and pushed fellow City Council members to halt beach drinking for a year. He was later the driving force behind a permanent ban that voters approved in 2008.
So what’s been the effect?
Here’s what we wrote in a recent post examining the measure:
Since 2008, alcohol crime has gone down at the beaches, though no one can say whether the ban’s the cause. Beach businesses seem to have suffered, too, though it’s similarly difficult to nail down whether the ban is responsible for the slump.
Several businesses opposed the permanent beach ban as Faulconer campaigned for it, and at least some have argued it’s affected their bottom line.
Mark Arabo of the La Mesa-based Neighborhood Market Association, which represents groceries and some liquor stores, said one Ocean Beach grocer saw a 30 percent drop in customers in the wake of the ban. Arabo and other business leaders are hesitant to blame decreased business solely on the ban — the overall economy certainly plays a role, too, as well as other factors — but most acknowledge it’s had at least some impact.
Faulconer stands by his push to ban alcohol. He recently told VOSD it’s made city beaches cleaner and safer.
Pushing Pension Reform
Years after San Diego’s pension woes made national news, city Republicans and business leaders struggled to agree on the best route for reform.
Faulconer stood beside Sanders as he announced what he called their preferred plan in March 2011, which aimed to replace new employees’ pensions with 401(k) plans for non-public safety workers.
Both men said pension plans were crucial for public-safety employees because 401(k)-style plans wouldn’t provide sufficient death and disability coverage, and would harm recruitment.
Meanwhile, DeMaio floated a plan that switched all new workers to 401(k) plans, attempted to cap staffers’ base pay and mandated that future pay increases come in the form of non-pensionable bonuses. An attorney working with Sanders and Faulconer said that plan could be found illegal.
For a time, it appeared both measures would end up on the ballot but the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the Lincoln Club of San Diego County pushed the two sides to agree to a single measure. Sanders and Faulconer initially refused to speak directly to DeMaio but ultimately, the two groups reached a deal.
Faulconer and Sanders got only some of what they wanted. The final version of the measure later known as Proposition B exempted police officers and provided death benefits for firefighters but also relied on DeMaio’s preferred tack for its primary cost-savings: the five-year pensionable pay freeze for all city staffers.
Faulconer and fellow Republicans campaigned heavily for the measure ahead of the June 2012 election. About 66 percent of city voters ultimately supported it.
Big Land Swap
It was 2009, and the Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma was eager to build.
The facility, operated by the nonprofit Youth Tennis San Diego, had received large donations to build an education center that would allow it to expand its after-school and summer programs for children.
Executive Director Linn Walker and others soon learned the expansion wouldn’t come easy. The land they hoped to use was considered a protected tideland under the state Coastal Act.
In 1992, the Coastal Commission agreed to allow the group to build its tennis center if the facility and the city did one thing: work with the State Lands Commission to find another property that could be protected in exchange for allowing the tennis project to go forward.
That never happened.
Supporters contacted Faulconer in March 2009, hoping he could help them wade through layers of regulation.
He and City Council staffers made many phone calls to state regulators, hoping to help the nonprofit.
By July, Faulconer, a council district staffer and a few other tennis center supporters flew to the state capitol to meet with State Lands Commission officials to discuss a solution.
The following month, city and state workers started working together on a plan to declare a 31-acre wetland area in Point Loma known as the Famosa Slough (which also happens to be a popular bird-watching spot) a protected area in exchange for allowing development on the tennis center property.
The City Council and the State Lands Commission later approved the plan, allowing the tennis group to build its education center. The Booth Education Center opened in late 2012.
Walker believes the opening could have been delayed much longer without Faulconer’s assistance.
“He just started to see what he could do to help us along and eventually it was lots of help,” Walker said.
More than 5,000 children now use the tennis facility annually and Faulconer visits often, she said.
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