Todd Gloria State of the City
Todd Gloria State of the City

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Mayor Todd Gloria on Wednesday urged the city to commit to tackling tough challenges such as homelessness and crumbling city infrastructure as it emerges from the pandemic.

“I see our city falling short of what it could and should be. And like you, I refuse to accept that this is the best we can do,” Gloria said during his second remote State of the City address.

This year, Gloria spoke at the San Diego Convention Center, which for a time housed a homeless shelter and later, a migrant shelter — rapidly-organized operations that Gloria said underscored the city’s ability to step up. 

Here are some of the major takeaways from Gloria’s big speech, which you can read here.

“Sexy Streets” are still sexy politics: Gloria highlighted his plans for stepped-up street repairs, including on heavily-traveled roads and the city’s new focus on equity as it decides which streets to fix first. Gloria said he plans to deliver a new citywide infrastructure strategy to the City Council this spring to streamline the funding process and the prioritization of projects. An updated street condition assessment the city ordered last year that will help it set priorities will also include unpaved roads and bike paths.

The mayor is committing to a lot more housing: Gloria said the city is “legally and morally obligated” to try to deliver more than 100,000 new homes over the next eight years, a nod to a mandate set by the state. Gloria revealed Wednesday that he’ll implement Senate Bill 10, a bill that allows local governments who sign onto it to more rapidly greenlight small apartment complexes near transit. Gloria also announced the city will soon back seven affordable housing projects set to supply 662 rental units, including nearly 200 for homeless San Diegans. He also noted his package of reforms aimed at the familiar goal of making it cheaper, easier and faster to build homes, especially affordable ones near transit, will go to a City Council committee on Thursday — and that his plan to speed up the writing of new community plans is moving along too.

“We cannot lose our resolve to house our own children in the face of people who fear change and mobilize to block improvements in our neighborhoods,” Gloria said. “That’s not how a thriving city works.”

Gloria’s top policing priority is law and order: Gloria led the policing section of his speech by committing to crack down on crime. Crime is up in San Diego, he said, citing statistical increases in shootings, assaults, homicides, and domestic and gang violence. 

“Lawlessness will not rule the day in our city,” he said.

The answer to that crime, Gloria said, was to give SDPD and the city attorney the resources to “keep you and your family safe.” In other words, he’s not defunding the police (not that that’s new, either from his stance on the campaign or in the last budget).

But funding SDPD, Gloria said, doesn’t preclude the city from responding to concerns about police misconduct or racial profiling. He said he’s looking forward to implementing the new, emboldened police oversight commission approved by voters in 2020, and said he would ask the Council to sign a privacy ordinance that’s been in limbo since he took office. We covered the progress on both of those initiatives here.

Gloria tried to thread the needle on homelessness: Gloria on Wednesday pledged to continue to bolster service and housing offerings.

But he also emphasized that “we will not be a city that’s content with allowing people to sleep on the sidewalk, or in a riverbed, or along a freeway” — a statement similar to those predecessor Kevin Faulconer made in past State of the City addresses.

Gloria noted the criticism he receives from advocates who want him to crack down on homeless camps and those who think he should halt enforcement affecting homeless residents altogether. 

Gloria made it clear he thinks the city needs to take a multi-faceted approach that includes ways to compel at least some homeless San Diegans to get help. He said he is urging the state to reform conservatorships to force homeless San Diegans with serious mental health challenges who are particularly vulnerable but resistant to help off the street and into care.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this week that he wants to see policy changes too.

The court battles we shall not speak of: Gloria delivered his speech from the Convention Center, touted the center’s role sheltering homeless people during the pandemic and young migrants last year, and praised the return of conventions to the building, but the room was also an elephant he wouldn’t mention. Gloria didn’t say a word about the pending attempt to expand the Convention Center — which he supported — through a hotel tax increase, which is currently stalled in court. The city’s argument just got a boost from a ruling earlier this year, as the Union-Tribune reported, but Gloria decided against mentioning the dispute at all.

In a post-speech briefing, San Diego Tourism Authority CEO Julie Coker mentioned it for him.

“It will be another gamechanger for San Diego when it is finally put to bed,” she said.

Likewise, Gloria ignored the city’s recent court loss over its attempt to redevelop the Sports Arena area. 

A judge last year said the city broke the law when it asked voters to remove the height limit in the area, which would have made way for that redevelopment. The city is appealing, and at the same time trying to conduct the environmental review for that action that the judge said it needed to do.

“We’ll soon see it in the Midway community where we’ll build thousands of affordable homes to help address our housing crisis — along with a new entertainment venue to replace the existing Sports Arena — creating a walkable, bikeable community that is full of life,” Gloria said.

Governor Promising More Money to Get People Off Streets

Gov. Gavin Newsom helps clean up a homeless encampment near Interstate 5 in downtown San Diego on Jan. 12, 2022. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Gloria also spent the morning with Newsom, where the governor helped clean up a homeless encampment overlooking the freeway and shared details on his new budget proposal. NBC 7 reported that Newsom wants to use an additional $2 billion on top of the already planned $12 billion to help thousands of people who are unsheltered get off the streets and find the services they need.

His office said the money would come from the state’s projected budget surplus. The plan is intended, CBS 8 reported, to create 55,000 new housing units and treatment slots when fully implemented. It also includes money for “rapid rehousing” strategies and mental health services for people leaving prison.

Gloria told reporters that the city has already been increasing the number of shelter beds and supportive housing units over the last year with the help of a burst of state and federal funding, including from the Project Homekey program Newsom championed. The city in 2020 used nearly $38 million in Homekey funds to buy two hotels that supplied more than 300 new homes.

“That means more people on their way to permanent housing, ending this nightmare,” he said.

Gloria told VOSD he expects the city to soon submit a competitive application to seek funding for another Project Homekey-backed acquisition.

Related: The Union-Tribune got some details on a state-supported San Diego pilot program Newsom and Gloria highlighted Wednesday to have outreach workers engage homeless residents staying on state properties in hopes of connecting them with services. Since the project kicked off in late October, provider City Net said about 20 people have moved into shelters or permanent housing, with the vast majority staying in temporary beds.

Think of COVID as Endemic, Not a Pandemic, Says One Medical Chief 

For several days straight, more than 10,000 people per day have tested positive for COVID-19 in San Diego. But even with numbers that match previous heights of the pandemic, some medical professionals have begun urging people not to think of COVID as a pandemic at all, but rather endemic. 

“We know this is going to occur again next winter. We need to get out of this state of perpetual emergency and start being more planful for how we’re going to approach that,” Dr. Christopher Longhurst, chief medical officer for UC San Diego Health, told NBC 7

The new Omicron variant is less severe, but it’s also more contagious. Half as many people, percentage-wise, may need to be hospitalized if they come down with Omicron. But if twice as many people contract it, then just as many people could end up in the hospital.  

Modeling out of UC San Diego, which in the past has been extremely accurate, shows that San Diego hit its peak in cases over the weekend. But that same modeling shows hospitalizations will peak toward the end of January.

In Other News

  • Authorities are investigating a fire that scorched the City Heights home of former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. A police sergeant called it “suspicious.” (Union-Tribune)
  • Nearly two years after the city moved its council meetings online because of the pandemic, officials are planning on using a hybrid option for councilmembers. The public will still have to join online, and it’s unclear when they will be allowed to join meetings in person again. (Union-Tribune)

This Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, Andrew Keatts, Will Huntsberry and Jesse Marx. It was edited by Megan Wood.

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