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Mayor Todd Gloria’s got a long to-do list for 2021.
Gloria shared a long list of priorities and pledges with San Diegans in his first State of the City address on Wednesday night.
Here’s a look at seven of his big promises and priority areas.
End Chronic Homelessness
San Diego has for years struggled to make a significant dent in its homelessness problem. The pandemic has ravaged the local economy and could make the situation even worse.
Gloria on Wednesday committed to focus on proven solutions to address homelessness rather than rapid responses that generate positive news stories but not necessarily sustainable progress. He also repeated a campaign promise to focus on ending homelessness among San Diegans who have been homeless for at least a year, or repeatedly, who also have a disability.
“Let me be clear, we must change the status quo on homelessness. Some people want quick, easy solutions to one of our most complex and pressing issues,” Gloria said. “But there are no shortcuts to end homelessness.”
Exhibit A, according to Gloria: the shuttered indoor skydiving the city purchased in 2017 under Mayor Kevin Faulconer to transform into a homeless service hub that doesn’t supply much needed housing – whether permanent or temporary.
Gloria said he has brought on Matthew Doherty, a former San Diegan who for years led the agency coordinating the federal response to homelessness, to advise the city on how to better address its crisis.
Gloria said he will also ensure the city is taking a housing first approach, essentially connecting homeless San Diegans with homes and support to help address the issues that contributed their homelessness rather than requiring them to seek services first. Many conservatives and former City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who ran against Gloria in the mayor’s race, have argued against a wholesale focus on the housing first strategy, arguing it doesn’t focus enough on what they believe are the root causes of homelessness.
Gloria said he will also work with local, state and federal officials to try to secure more funding to help the city deliver more services and housing units as it did with the two hotels purchased last year with the help of state Project Homekey funds. He said he has also already been working with county supervisors to try to increase access to behavioral health services for homeless San Diegans who need it and wants to ensure that mental health professionals – rather than police officers – will be the first responders to address homeless San Diegans with behavioral health conditions.
Gloria did not clarify whether he will eliminate the police department’s Neighborhood Policing Division, which Faulconer created to address homelessness and quality of life issues, or if he has directed police to reduce enforcement of crimes associated with homelessness that soared on Faulconer’s watch.
Gloria told VOSD last month that he was exploring possible changes and looking at how the city might respond to community concerns about homelessness in different ways. The City Council voted last year to create a coordinated street outreach program that will deploy social workers throughout the city to connect with homeless San Diegans but officials in the Faulconer administration had said the effort was not meant to replace the police homeless outreach team.
Overhaul the Local Transportation System, Regionally and at the Street Level
Gloria made it clear Wednesday that he supports SANDAG’s controversial plan to overhaul the region’s transit and highway network.
SANDAG chief Hasan Ikhrata has said the plan that he’s dubbed the “5 Big Moves” would create a countywide transit system as fast and convenient as driving.
Gloria made clear he will use his mayoral pulpit to champion the plan.
“It will create a transportation blueprint for our region that is equitable, sustainable and improves the everyday lives of millions of people,” Gloria said, noting the plan will create jobs and support the city’s climate and housing goals.
Gloria also zeroed in on neighborhood-level goals.
Among them: Gloria said he plans to reform the way the city prioritizes road repairs so that repairs are completed with a greater eye toward equity and longer-term fixes for the city’s busiest streets.
He also announced he’d work with the City Council to create a citywide complete street policy that advocates have long wanted to encourage the city to make its roads more bike and pedestrian friendly.
Such a plan would give the city guidance to reconfigure roads as it’s able to make them more walkable and bikeable, and allow for more transit opportunities.
Gloria also revealed two big projects he said will be coming soon that are in keeping with that mission – and will deliver more public gathering spaces for San Diegans.
“We are going to transform Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter and Normal Street in Hillcrest by closing portions of them to car traffic for San Diegans to enjoy,” Gloria said.
Improve Access to Housing at All Income Levels
Gloria made the housing crisis a core topic during his campaign and during the State of the City speech.
Many of his talking points were familiar, though how they get implemented – and specifically which solutions are chosen – could represent a new direction for the city.
Gloria pledged to develop new tools to monitor homebuilding and track whether the city is poised to meet city and state-set housing production goals and said he will rally behind construction throughout the city, particularly new units near transit and jobs.
Like Faulconer, Gloria said the city will need to speed up the process for updating community plans that lay out development possibilities in city neighborhoods.
“We’re going to focus on creating more housing that middle-and working-class people can afford,” Gloria said. “We will incentivize middle-and low-income housing development so San Diegans have a pathway to put down roots and build generational wealth.”
What Gloria didn’t detail Wednesday night is how he’ll incentivize development. In previous roles, he supported developer fee increases to fund affordable housing projects and a failed affordable housing bond measure, as well as state legislation he wrote to encourage high-density housing near transit.
During his campaign, Gloria said he wanted to create a middle-income housing trust fund to supply capital to back middle-income housing development and a civic land trust to hold land and sustain below-market leases for rental and for-sale homes, among other strategies.
Faulconer pushed a series of supply-side reforms during his time as mayor to try to make it cheaper and easier to build homes in the city. But Faulconer initially wasn’t as focused on affordable housing policies and bristled at the prospect of raising taxes or setting stricter mandates for low-income housing development or fees for it. Gloria could also change that.
Gloria did bring up one policy Wednesday that seems to be new: incorporating housing when the city redevelops or builds new city facilities.
“This could mean building apartments on top of new libraries and fire stations,” Gloria said.
Turn the Dial on Climate Action
As interim mayor, Gloria once led efforts to develop the city’s first Climate Action Plan, setting targets for the city to eventually reach its goal to cut half of its planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.
Now that he’s the elected mayor, Gloria said he hopes the city can make more progress.
The city is supposed to produce a five-year update to its Climate Action Plan.
“We must do more to fully and faithfully enact our landmark Climate Action Plan,” Gloria said. “The first step is to update it.”
Faulconer approved just enough money last budget cycle to hire consultants who will calculate the emissions the city’s cut so far.
But the city has yet to really dig into the meat of what will come next.
Gloria also took some heat last month after the city released a report that exaggerated the city’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mat Vasilakis, co-director of policy at the Climate Action Campaign, said the organization would like the city to set a goal to emit zero carbon emissions in the next decade, a feat that would mean eliminating the use of natural gas – a primary fuel behind how San Diegans get their electricity now.
Gloria pledged additional climate action in his speech too.
Gloria said he’s going to incentivize city employees to continue teleworking, or working remotely, as part of a wider mission to cut San Diego’s energy consumption.
He also promised to establish a Climate Equity Fund, an idea first floated under Faulconer during the negotiation of a new city contract with a power provider.
But that idea never resurfaced during negotiations as Faulconer’s term faded out and former Council President Georgette Gómez refused to bring the contract and its bidders to Council for a vote.
Make the City a More Equitable Place
Gloria campaigned on a platform to have the city better serve all of its residents amid a reckoning on racial justice and as local reformers successfully pushed for an independent police review commission and a new office of race and equity.
In his first month as mayor, Gloria said he has taken steps to support the creation of the new police commission and has launched a national search for the first director of the new race and equity office.
“This office is positioned to ensure that everything we do at the city is viewed through the lens of equity,” Gloria said.
Gloria said he already has his own plans to make the city more accessible and more focused on addressing historic disinvestment.
He plans to create the Climate Equity Fund to fund sustainability in traditionally underserved neighborhoods. Gloria said he also wants to expand web access at more city recreation centers and ramp up opportunities for residents to check out computers and wi-fi hot spots from city libraries.
NAACP San Diego branch president Francine Maxwell said after Wednesday’s speech that she believes Gloria is committed to making the city more accessible to all.
Gloria is also the first person of color and gay man to serve as mayor.
“He’s been here, and he knows, and he’s seen,” Maxwell said. “He’s walked some of the streets that other public officials haven’t walked.”
Bolster Cross-Border Collaboration
In the aftermath of Trump administration policies focusing on border crackdowns, Gloria said he’s determined to tout the benefits of San Diego and Tijuana’s binational connection.
“For many of us, the border isn’t seen as a dividing line – it’s a bridge that joins our two vibrant cultures,” Gloria said. “Here, we share ideas, values, and friendships. We will live up to our commitment of being a welcoming city, by taking bold actions and speaking up on behalf of new San Diegans who come from all corners of the world.”
Gloria underscored that commitment before he ever took office by announcing that he would make San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce cross-border guru Paola Avila his chief of staff. Gloria said he’ll continue relationship-building and joint advocacy with Mexican officials on issues such as environmental health and border crossings.
He said he’s already advocating for the completion of the Otay Mesa East port of entry and other border efficiencies plus continued attention to longstanding border sewage issues that have recently drawn more attention – and cash – from the feds.
Gloria said he’ll also team with City Councilwoman Vivian Moreno, who represents the city’s South Bay neighborhoods, on a proposed resolution urging the federal government to reverse policies that “prioritized border wall construction and limited legal immigration.”
Help San Diego Recover From the Pandemic Amid Tough Budget Times
A pandemic that has devastated city residents and business for almost a year has also devastated the city’s budget. Tourism tax collections, in particular, have tanked.
Gloria is facing down a projected $124 million budget deficit for the new fiscal year starting in July, a reality he acknowledged in Wednesday’s speech. Gloria was also direct about the longstanding nature of those budget issues, and dinged Faulconer for his role in them.
“The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing city budget problems the last administration did too little to address,” Gloria said. “Behind the ribbon-cuttings and news conferences, the city faced structural budget deficits.”
Those deficits mean Gloria will have less money to devote to the city’s infrastructure backlog and major priorities such as combating homelessness and climate change. They also mean that Gloria will likely have to make significant cuts to balance the budget and probably won’t be able to invest in all the priorities he spoke about on the campaign trail.
Amid those budget challenges, Gloria said he remains committed to the “Back to Work SD” plan he assembled during his campaign to guide the city’s recovery. The plan calls for investments to support child care, continued eviction protections during the pandemic and strategies to protect workers and consumers, among other proposals.
Gloria said he also plans to roll out a “Shop Local SD” online portal to connect residents with local small businesses.
“We must do everything we can to ensure that all that we love about San Diego is still here when we get through these awful days,” Gloria said.