San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Mayor Kevin Faulconer earned his reputation as a small-c conservative leader. He is not a bombastic ideologue, a populist rabble-rouser or even an even-tempered consensus-builder. His way, over his first four years in office, was to instead lay back from the city’s most contentious debates and allow others to sort out their differences, choosing where he stands after a particular solution gained momentum.

He took a new approach in 2018. It did not go particularly well, but it drove the city’s dialogue for the year.

In his state of the city address, he acknowledged that he had not done enough to address the city’s worsening homeless crisis and pledged to take swifter action. He revamped his management team, replacing technocrats with political operators. He made rare appearances at the Metropolitan Transit System to help elect liberal Councilwoman Georgette Gomez its new chair, and to the San Diego Association of Governments to veto an attempt to hire a new director who had been involved in the agency’s scandal that opened the position in the first place. He staked out a position on the city’s never-ending vacation rental debate that would have maintained many rentals, rather than appeasing neighbors who wanted a de facto ban.

And, most crucially, he forged ahead with his vision of putting a plan to raise hotel taxes to fund a convention center expansion, new homelessness spending and road repairs on the November ballot. To do so, he built a broad coalition with buy-in from the tourism industry, Chamber of Commerce and the city’s major labor unions.

That decision devolved into, as one colorful labor-leader and collation member put it, “a shit show.” He’ll now need to try again for a special election, or wait until 2020. In the meantime, it was among the most discussed topic in public affairs this year.

His stance on short-term vacation rentals flamed out too. The Council opted instead for a more restrictive policy, and he jumped on board after the fact to say it was functionally the same as his proposal (it wasn’t). Airbnb and other companies collected enough signatures to push the question to the ballot, and the Council had to rescind the decision, putting the city back in the same limbo it’s been in for years.

And Faulconer’s move to open new temporary tents to get homeless people off the streets – after 20 people died from a 2017 hepatitis A outbreak owing in part to the unsanitary conditions that emerged in the city’s vast encampments – hasn’t produced results. Not many people in the tents are moving into permanent housing, one tent has to shut down and the city doesn’t know where to put its residents, and another one needed to be evacuated in an emergency this month.

It’s not all bad. Gomez is leading MTS’s push for a 2020 ballot measure to increase taxes to improve transit, showing the leadership Faulconer said she’d display when he supported her over fellow Republican Ron Roberts as board chair. And after Faulconer’s effective veto, SANDAG restarted its search and instead hired Hasan Ikhrata, who has thus far been well-received.

This is part of our 2018 Voice of the Year list, profiling the people who kick-started San Diego’s biggest civic discussions over the past year.

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at

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