Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his 2017 State of the City speech. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Every year, San Diego’s mayor lays out a vision for the future – and that vision always includes lots of promises.

On Wednesday night, Mayor Kevin Faulconer will give his sixth and final State of the City address and make new pronouncements and pledges.

We decided to check Faulconer’s progress on promises he’s made during past State of the City speeches.

In some cases, like with his pledge to repair 1,000 miles of streets, Faulconer came through ahead of schedule. In others, the city fell far short or abandoned the pledge altogether, like a plan to create a hotline to provide real-time shelter information.

Faulconer, whose political career has been defined by caution, has also taken a strategic, calculated approach to his annual speech. He has typically been careful to make pledges he believes he can keep or that he’s already made significant progress on, a tactic that helps his track record.

2015 Promises

The Pledge: Build five new fire stations over five years.

Progress: The city has opened five new fire stations in City Heights, Little Italy, Mission Valley, Point Loma and Hillcrest since the mayor made this pledge. It has also upgraded stations in La Jolla, Mira Mesa, North Park and Southcrest.

Last fall, The Union-Tribune reported that six additional fire stations were also “in the planning or construction stages” to try to cover gaps described in a 2017 report by Folsom-based consultant Citygate Associates. The 2017 analysis was an updated version of a blockbuster 2011 report by the same consultant which listed neighborhoods Citygate found were most at risk of delayed emergency responses.


The Pledge: Propose revisions to managed competition.

Progress: Soon after he was elected, Faulconer said he’d issue recommendations to simplify managed competition, a city outsourcing option approved by voters in 2006. Those recommendations never emerged publicly, and the city hasn’t pursued any competitions.

Faulconer spokesman Gustavo Portela said the mayor has since pursued other tacks to improve government efficiency, including a performance and analytics department that evaluates city processes and output and the Get It Done app, which allows residents to report potholes and other city issues.


The Pledge: Repair 1,000 miles of streets in five years.

Progress: For years, the city skimped on infrastructure repairs and spending, leading to crumbling roads across the city. Faulconer came into office promising he’d focus far more on the city’s infrastructure needs and repair 1,000 miles of streets over five years.

Faulconer announced in October 2018 that he had reached this goal two years ahead of schedule. The mayor’s team has said that tripling road repair funding and deploying street crews to each council district on a rotating basis helped the city surpass that target – and that the city’s road repair work continues.


The Pledge: Expand the Convention Center.

Progress: A bayfront Convention Center expansion has been on Faulconer’s State of the City wish list since his first speech but he hasn’t gotten it yet despite years of effort. Attempts to place a measure on the ballot that would have financed an expansion fell apart in 2017 and 2018.

Faulconer and the business and labor coalition pushing for a measure to raise hotel-room taxes in order to fund a Convention Center expansion, plus homelessness efforts and road fixes, have had more luck on their third try. This March, city voters will finally get a chance to weigh in with Measure C, a proposal that will require the support of two-thirds of city voters to pass.


The Pledge: Open a year-round homeless shelter.

Progress: The city opened a year-round shelter at Father Joe’s Villages Paul Mirabile Center in April 2015 and began offering up the full slate of beds that July. The indoor facility replaced winter tents operated by Alpha Project and Veterans Village of San Diego. The city later opened four additional new shelters in Barrio Logan, Midway and downtown. Three of those shelters temporarily house homeless San Diegans in tents, a tack the city had sought to move away from in 2015 but suddenly returned to amid a devasting 2017 hepatitis A outbreak that hammered the region’s homeless population.


The Pledge: “Over the next five years, families across San Diego will see groundbreakings on 50 new or upgraded parks.”

The Progress: Portela said the city has opened or upgraded 31 parks citywide in the four years since Faulconer made this pledge.

Completed projects include new parks in Mission Valley, Ocean View Hills and Pacific Highlands Ranch and improvements to parks in University City and San Ysidro. Nine of those parks materialized as part of a joint-use partnership with San Diego Unified School District that Faulconer also announced during his speech.

The city’s Park and Recreation Department reports that another 19 park projects are in the works and expected to be completed by the end of 2020, which would set Faulconer up to achieve his 2016 commitment. Nine of those projects are tied to the city’s partnership with the school district.


The Pledge: Ask the City Council to place a measure on the ballot to ensure half of the city’s new revenue each year goes to infrastructure.

Progress: In December 2015, Faulconer ally Councilman Mark Kersey proposed a June 2016 ballot measure that would dedicate future excess sales tax revenue growth and pension savings to infrastructure repairs. The item, known as Proposition H, was also designed to capture half of all property tax, hotel tax and franchise fee growth in its first five years.

The City Council voted to place the measure on the ballot. Sixty-five percent of city voters backed the measure.

But a recent inewsource analysis found that the measure has generated less money than projected and that dedicated funding is likely to dry up by 2022.


The Pledge: Position San Diego to become the nation’s top medical research hub for Alzheimer’s disease.

The Progress: San Diego hasn’t found a cure for Alzheimer’s.

But Faulconer’s been one of several regional leaders trying to establish San Diego as an Alzheimer’s-fighting hotspot. He has supported San Diego County’s Alzheimer’s Project and Collaboration4Cure, a grant program to encourage local researchers to pursue new drug and treatments.

In the midst of these efforts, UC San Diego engaged in a legal fight with USC after the Los Angeles school scooped up a top Alzheimer’s research team working on a major clinical trial on a potentially game-changing Alzheimer’s drug. USC and UCSD have since settled the lawsuit and both schools have moved forward with research efforts in San Diego. The Union-Tribune reported last year that USC’s Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute had established a headquarters in Sorrento Valley.

Portela noted that the city also hosted the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference last year.

“We are the closest we’ve ever been to finding a cure and the mayor continues to work closely with county leaders in working diligently to make San Diego the top medical research hub for Alzheimer’s research,” Portela wrote in an email to Voice of San Diego.


The Pledge: Establish five labs to introduce children to career opportunities.

Progress: Faulconer said he would partner with the San Diego Unified School District, Northrop Grumman, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and Raytheon to launch five labs in 2016 offering hands-on learning opportunities for youth.

By January 2017, the mayor’s office reported that four learning labs were up and running – two through the San Diego Unified School District and others by Raytheon and SeaWorld. No additional labs have opened since.


The Pledge: House 1,000 homeless veterans.

Progress: The Housing Our Heroes initiative kicked off in 2016 with a goal of housing 1,000 veterans by March 2017. The city ultimately met that goal several months behind schedule in September 2017, after struggles to find homes for veterans who received vouchers to help cover their rents.


The Pledge: Proceed with the Plaza de Panama project and upgrades in Balboa Park.

Progress: The Plaza de Panama project, which aimed to overhaul Balboa Park’s central mesa, fell apart last spring.

For more than two years, Faulconer and philanthropists rallied behind a revived plan to clear cars from the center of the park despite legal battles over the project. But the Plaza de Panama Committee, which had agreed to help fund the project, told Faulconer in April that it was abandoning the seven-year effort after a series of setbacks, including higher-than-expected construction bids for the project.

A month after the Plaza de Panama project crumbled, Faulconer said that $9.3 million that had been set to support that project would instead be invested into other projects in the park.


The Pledge: Partner with the 2-1-1 information system to provide shelter information in real time.

Progress: At the time, Faulconer said that the city was working with 2-1-1 San Diego, which refers callers to services and tracks service offerings across the region, to establish what he described as a 24/7 hotline to provide information about shelter beds, including to homeless San Diegans in need.

This hasn’t materialized. At some point after Faulconer made this promise, the city created a web page listing shelter offerings. The site has not been updated regularly.

Portela acknowledged the city has largely abandoned the effort.

“Over time it became clear that daily reporting of shelter openings still didn’t provide enough real-time information to effectively direct individuals to open shelter beds,” Portela said.

Portela said the city has relied on outreach teams to spread the word on shelters and plans to continue to work with the Regional Task Force on the Homeless to explore how data could be used to support shelter placements. He noted that those efforts are not considered top priority, though, as the city works to execute its new homelessness plan.


Pledge: Add hundreds of emergency shelter beds.

Progress: As homelessness spiked in 2017, Faulconer promised to quickly add 300 shelter beds to serve homeless San Diegans suffering on the streets.

Months passed. Then San Diego’s deadly hepatitis A outbreak, which disproportionately affected the city’s homeless population, made national headlines in fall 2017.

Faulconer soon responded by announcing he’d quickly open about 700 beds in tent shelters placed in three locations the city had previously explored. The new shelters were open by early 2018.

Since then, Faulconer has backed moves to open a fourth, 150-bed shelter at 17th Street and Imperial Avenue and to expand another shelter for women and families that had moved to the City Hall complex.


The Pledge: Make San Diego a nationwide leader in self-driving car technology.

Progress: At his 2017 State of the City address, Faulconer noted that he was supportive of regional planning agency SANDAG’s request to the U.S. Department of Transportation to make San Diego an official autonomous vehicle pilot location.

The region got good news days later, when the federal agency announced San Diego was one of 10 agencies across the country selected as a proving ground.

By that fall, efforts were under way to ramp up testing in Chula Vista and at UC San Diego.

Faulconer later helped bring Hasan Ikhrata to town as SANDAG’s new director, and Ikhrata has continued to predict that self-driving cars are coming, whether we like it or not, and promises that his vision of San Diego’s transportation future will be ready. Ikhrata is due to release his most detailed outline of that vision in March.



The Pledge: Open a homeless housing navigation center in 2018.

Progress: Faulconer’s plan to open a homeless housing navigation center came up in multiple State of the City addresses.

In his 2017 address, Faulconer announced he would pursue a homeless service hub that had for months been pushed by prominent supporters. The concept was to give homeless San Diegans a place to be assessed and linked with appropriate services and housing.

Inhis  2018 speech, Faulconer shared during his annual speech that the city had found a downtown location to accommodate a revamped version of the project and city officials soon rushed to purchase a shuttered indoor skydiving facility in East Village for $7 million.

The project was beset by repeated delays and controversy. The center, operated by nonprofit Family Health Centers of San Diego, finally opened last month.


The Pledge: Update parking mandates for projects near transit.

Progress: The city has long required home-builders to incorporate parking in their projects, a requirement that Faulconer and others have argued has added to the city’s growing housing costs.

In November 2018, Faulconer unveiled his proposal to eliminate that mandate within a half mile of transit hubs, and unbundle parking from new multifamily projects in those areas. He also called for the city to compel projects near transit to add amenities such as bike storage or subsidized transit passes.

The City Council approved Faulconer’s reforms last March.


The Pledge: Propose legislation to “revamp fees” so developers are encouraged to build smaller, more affordable units.

Progress: Faulconer’s “Complete Communities” proposal he debuted in late 2019 would let developers opt into a program in which the number of homes they could build in a given project would be limited only by the overall square footage they could build in the project.

That plan would charge development fees by the square foot, rather than for each home in a project. The thinking goes that when a developer is charged by the home, they’re incentivized to build fewer, larger, and therefore more expensive, apartments, whereas a square footage-based fee would push them to build more, smaller apartments in their projects.


The Pledge: Expand the city’s affordable housing development program to incentivize more middle-income housing.

Progress: In 2016, the city bolstered a longstanding program allowing developers to build more units in exchange for building more units reserved for low-income San Diegans. It got some kudos from advocates for its early success. Faulconer proposed offering a similar incentive to builders who pledged to reserve units for middle-class San Diegans too.

By mid-2018, Faulconer’s proposal was on hold amid pushback from labor leaders and affordable housing advocates who said it should focus on serving middle-income families with lower incomes than Faulconer initially envisioned.

Last spring, City Councilwoman Vivian Moreno proposed a compromise allowing developers who use the density bonus program for affordable housing to build even more units if they agree to add middle-income units serving 80 to 120 percent of the area median income. Faulconer’s original proposal had called for a separate incentive serving San Diegans making up to 150 percent of the area median income.

The City Council approved the amended proposal last summer.


The Pledge: Propose that the City Council remove height limits outside the coastal zone that “put a cap on housing.”

Progress: Last year, Faulconer declared himself a YIMBY mayor who would fight against NIMBYs His most ambitious idea was a proposal to do away with height limits near transit, allowing for more density in those areas.

Faulconer has since tempered this idea a bit.

In a presentation to a City Council committee last month, city planners unveiled the mayor’s plan to allow multi-family developers near transit stops to exceed local height limits and other regulations if they provide certain community benefits such as low-income housing or neighborhood-friendly plazas. They’d be inhibited instead by the total square footage they could build on a piece of property, which would be based on where the project is in the city. Downtown would have no square footage limitation, while urban areas near downtown would have a large limitation and projects in more suburban areas near transit would have a more modest limit.


The Pledge: Introduce legislation allowing developers of homeless housing to build without unnecessary reviews.

Progress: Projects aiming to house formerly homeless San Diegans have long faced community pushback.

At Faulconer’s direction, city officials sought to ease the path for future projects by introducing city code updates to allow both permanent supportive housing and transitional housing facilities in more city zoning areas. They also proposed exempting developers of supportive housing facilities from city impact fees.

The City Council approved the code updates last summer.


The Pledge: Deliver a plan to the City Council to authorize unlimited density for developments that include affordable or permanent supportive housing.

Progress: The mayor is hoping to accomplish some of this through the bundle of policies he’s calling his Complete Communities initiative.

Developers who opt into the new program would not need to follow existing restrictions on how many homes they can build on a given lot, or how tall they can build the buildings.

In exchange, they would need to reserve 10 percent of the apartments in a project for low-income residents. They’d need to reserve another 10 percent of the homes in the project for people making near the median income. The developers could then build as many homes as possible, within a square footage limitation for the entire building.


The Pledge: Bolster efforts to clean up trash, debris and graffiti across the city.

Progress: In 2017, Faulconer launched his “Clean SD“ initiative to more regularly clear city, streets, sidewalks and canyons of trash and debris. The effort was initially focused on downtown, Midway and along the San Diego River.

A year later, the mayor expanded the program to cover about 10 other neighborhoods – and in 2019, he promised to boost those efforts even more. His latest budget more than doubled funding for the program.

Through September, Faulconer’s team reported that crews had cleaned up more than 4,000 tons of trash across the city since the program kicked off in 2017.


The Pledge: Commission a citywide review to determine if the companies that do business with the city reflect the people it serves.

Progress: Faulconer promised to hire an outside entity to study how city contractors stack up on diversity.

Last summer, city staffers issued a request for proposals and ultimately proposed a $477,000 contract with Denver-based consultant Browne, Bortz, & Coddington to conduct the study.

The City Council signed off on the contract in December. The contract calls for the consultant to review data on contracts for public work projects as well as operations and maintenance. The city expects to receive a final report next year.


The Pledge: Break ground on the Pure Water project.

Progress: The city’s plans to break ground on its water recycling project known as Pure Water looked to be on track when Faulconer made this pledge last year.

In November 2018, the City Council approved the first phase of construction, allowing the city to seek construction bids in hopes of kicking off the project in spring 2019.

Then that vote, which directed builders to agree to union-friendly contracts, spurred a lawsuit from the Associated General Contractors, a group of non-union and union contractors who argued the city was bypassing a city ballot measure designed to prevent unions from dominating city construction contracts. A judge agreed with that argument but then Assemblyman Todd Gloria last fall passed a state bill to require union-friendly terms for work on the project.

Portela said the city is now assessing what last year’s actions mean for the project schedule, but the city missed Faulconer’s goal to break ground in 2019 and is now clearly behind schedule as it works out the lawsuit and subsequent legislation. Portela said the city has completed a series of reviews and prepared bid documents.


The Pledge: Pursue a community choice energy joint powers authority and invite the county and other cities to join.

Progress: In a move almost unimaginable when Faulconer took office, the mayor in fall 2018 announced that he planned to have the city form its own electric utility to provide green power across the city.

A few months later, Faulconer promised at his State of the City that he would take steps to make that happen.

He has. In September, the City Council voted to create the joint powers authority needed to buy and sell energy.

City leaders in Encinitas, Chula Vista, La Mesa and Imperial Beach also voted to jump aboard the entity known as San Diego Community Power. But county officials led by Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob opted against joining the city’s effort.


The Pledge: Assemble the region’s top leaders to draw up plans to create a transportation hub that will connect the trolley to the airport.

Progress: San Diegans have long puzzled over why the city’s trolley system doesn’t ferry travelers to and from the airport – and Faulconer pledged to help push for a solution.

He called a meeting a couple months before last year’s State of the City – a bid to try to reset a contentious conversation over the Airport Authority’s plan to expand Terminal 1. That proved fruitful, and the project is moving forward with regional leaders finally aligned and a new, transit-friendly plan.

Faulconer also teamed with Ikhrata to propose a “San Diego Grand Central” that would combine 70 acres of Navy property with the Old Town Transit Center. Trolley, Coaster and bus riders could take a rail-based people mover to the airport terminals, possibly through a tunnel running under the naval base and airport runway. In the fall, Faulconer and Ikhrata held a press conference with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to tout an agreement that could pave the way for the redevelopment of the Naval Base Point Loma, Old Town Complex central to the “Grand Central” vision.

A week later, the SANDAG board voted to study four proposals including the “Grand Central” proposal touted by Faulconer.

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...

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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