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Interim Mayor Todd Gloria will soon decide whether to press forward with one of Bob Filner’s pet policy projects.

Filner’s first and only mayoral budget included $950,000 for an initiative he hoped would spur innovation and conversations about city spaces and cross-border collaboration.

Three months after that budget was approved, the two informally appointed advisers leading the effort say their work is on hold as Gloria mulls over the future of the Civic and Urban Initiatives program.

UC San Diego professors Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman said they were ready to begin interviewing potential staffers when the sexual harassment scandal engulfed Filner. Now they’re hoping Gloria, other city leaders and residents can look past the program’s initial ties to Filner and focus on what it might accomplish.

They’re set to meet with Gloria to discuss the future of the incubator this week and hope to sell him on its benefits.

“This initiative is a potential instrument that can set in motion a series of projects that can connect City Hall and communities,” Cruz said.

Those projects could include centers known as “fab labs,” which provide entrepreneurs access to tools and workspace, and urban spaces including parklets. They’d also like to push for a similar incubator in Tijuana so they can coordinate efforts on both sides of the border and said they have already pursued grants to further some of those goals.

At a May budget hearing, two Republican City Council members were skeptical of the incubator.

Councilman Scott Sherman questioned whether another city department was really the best solution to cut through the city’s red tape. Councilman Mark Kersey suggested the initiative sounded similar to a San Diego Foundation program and that it might be foolish for the city to duplicate those efforts.

But proponents of the program say it’s a way to open City Hall up to ideas from urban planners, everyday residents and even city staffers.

In the past, wealthy philanthropists such as Irwin Jacobs  have approached the city with an idea and some cash and city leaders have worked through bureaucratic roadblocks to implement their vision.

Forman said the incubator would allow the city to take advantage of grants and ideas big and small from residents and planners, and to work with City Council offices to engage with neighborhoods across the city.

“This is not about a group of people inside the city making decisions,” Cruz said. “This is hopefully about a new period of collaboration between government and communities.”

But before the effort can move forward, Gloria must sign off.

Last week, a spokeswoman would only say that the program is among the items Gloria must decide on by the end of the month.

Gloria’s last public comments hint that he’s likely to support the program if he gets more specifics.

At a May 7 budget hearing, Gloria smiled as he suggested his office had been the civic initiatives department of sorts in recent years as it pushed bike corrals, community gardens and other innovations.

“If we can do more of that, that’s outstanding but I’d like to have some more details,” Gloria said.

Disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major donor to Voice of San Diego.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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