Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher’s biggest problem is also his biggest asset.
Running for mayor, he has deliberately made his campaign about his biography. His ability to bring people together. His this, his that. His motto is: Tough. Tested. Trusted.
He wants you to invest in him.
Lost in the cacophony of opinions unleashed by his decision to go independent and denounce the Republican Party was Fletcher’s earlier plea with party activists to hold off on an endorsement.
Take a look at his speech that day (it’s at the bottom of this post). Notice anything?
Nearly every single sentence starts with the word “I.”
Yet Fletcher’s central selling point is that he can work with others. If so, he might consider working with mayoral candidate and City Councilman Carl DeMaio on the dissolving city.
I’ve talked about it often. “Dissolving” can seem like a negative term but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The word means something is breaking up.
As government flounders under massive liabilities and an unwillingness of residents to send it more money, it has been relinquishing city assets and services. And it has been asking philanthropists and neighborhood councils and associations and hotel owners, and on and on, to either step up and care for assets and services they want or let them deteriorate.
In short: If you care about something in your neighborhood, you better figure out how to pay for it.
Just last week, we ran a commentary from a friend of mine who helped her neighbors come together to fund a revitalization of a city playground in the Lake Murray area. Schools are increasingly dependent on donations from parents. An important lifeguard station near UC San Diego is now being funded by the university and not the city.
Even police patrols in Hillcrest and perhaps Pacific Beach will rely on donations of neighbors. And if a police building or firehouse is deteriorating, neighbors often have to foot the bill to rebuild it.
The city has fully admitted it cannot care for even Balboa Park itself. The Balboa Park Conservancy is rising to relieve it.
We helped host a forum recently for all the mayoral candidates to discuss issues related to the nonprofit world. As nonprofits take over more of the burden of caring for the city, the dissolving city is an important topic.
When asked how he would incorporate philanthropy and the nonprofit world into his administration, Fletcher told a story. It was meant to show how bad the city is at asking donors for money.
I was in a meeting with a person who’s very involved in the horse community and they were complaining that the police department cut the horses — the police horses. And they said: Would you commit to bringing them back? I said, no. I said: If someone’s breaking into your house, they’re not coming to be doing it on horseback. I said, I can’t. But why don’t you pay for them, if you care so much? She said sure. Nobody had asked.
On the one hand, this highlights a major problem. There is likely support available for many of the things neighbors and the city want. But nobody is connecting those dots.
But there’s also something uncomfortable about private donors paying for police protection. How soon will it be before wealthy neighborhoods get far better protection because they can pay for it? Public safety, like water, roads, schools, trash and fire services should be equitably delivered to all parts of the city.
I asked the candidates to clarify: Where do they see the city ending and nonprofit services beginning?
Fletcher said he wanted to make clear that core city services must be delivered by a more efficient City Hall.
But DeMaio had clearly thought about the issue more. He’s got a thorough plan. DeMaio wants to appoint a chief volunteer officer — someone who would constantly recruit and manage volunteers and identify projects they can help accomplish.
He wants to create a “collaborative governance model” — basically identifying what neighborhoods want and then figuring out what combination of nonprofit, for-profit and government services will get the job done.
“Those partnerships will be breathed into every single department because that’s the culture we want,” he said at the forum. “This sometimes means that, instead of raising money for government, your civic leaders raise money for nonprofits so that we can make those partnerships work.”
He wants the city to make available its free cable channel, CityTV 24, to nonprofits, who can use it for community service.
Finally, he’d create a community service cabinet and a corporate philanthropy council. Members of the council would commit to generating 50,000 volunteer hours each year or give $250,000 to support city volunteer efforts. His full proposal is here.
These ideas aren’t perfect. And some will lament that helping a dissolving city will only cause it to dissolve more.
Maybe. But what’s the alternative? City leaders tried, in 2010, to raise the sales tax to stem the city’s deterioration. DeMaio and his coalition crushed it. It became clear, again, that without this new Republican Party on board, tax hikes will be impossible.
What I think we’re beginning to realize, though, is that if North Park leaders want to invest more money into their neighborhood, they should not have to convince Rancho Bernardo residents to join them. DeMaio is actively thinking about how to help them do that.
His problem will be what Fletcher keeps hammering on: You can have all the plans in the world, but can you work with supposed foes to get them implemented?
To date, whenever this question comes up, DeMaio resorts to a promise. If he hits a roadblock, he says, he’ll simply call on voters to do an initiative.
But voters want leaders, who don’t have to cry to them with every argument they face. DeMaio’s challenge will be to show he can pull off these big things and inspire foes to help.
It’s a big challenge.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of voiceofsandiego.org. Please contact me if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
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