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San Diego’s most famous booster has also become the most prominent San Diegan voicing boiling frustration over a humanitarian scourge that appears to be surging.
Basketball legend Bill Walton erupted at a Tuesday press conference with the nonprofit Lucky Duck Foundation, calling for Mayor Todd Gloria to resign and coining “Gloria-ville” to describe homeless camps that have popped up on the mayor’s watch.
Walton noted that Gloria pledged as a candidate to take meaningful steps to address the homelessness crisis, but said he’s concluded Gloria “does not want to do the job” or to crack down on homeless camps, trash and sanitation issues.
“We need new leadership,” Walton said. “Todd Gloria should step aside.”
A spokeswoman for Gloria, who is this week on a trade mission in the Netherlands, responded by deeming the press conference a ”tantrum full of self-aggrandizing hyperbole and outright lies.”
“San Diegans are frustrated with the worsening homelessness crisis, and Mayor Gloria shares that frustration,” Gloria spokeswoman Rachel Laing wrote in a statement. “But unlike Mr. Walton, the mayor is translating that frustration into decisive, sustained action to improve the situation.”
She wrote that the mayor has added hundreds of new and diversified shelter beds including beds for women and people with behavioral health conditions, championed state-level behavioral health reforms, invested city funds in 10 affordable housing projects and has directed increased enforcement to try “to protect health and safety in our public spaces.”
Yet Walton and others aren’t seeing the evidence of that work. They want immediate action – yesterday.
Walton’s comments came during a press conference where the Lucky Duck Foundation announced a new initiative to hold elected leaders accountable for their action – or inaction – on homelessness. The foundation noted that it stands ready to help those leaders deliver more solutions.
Walton’s comments focused more on his exasperation with Gloria.
“Our neighborhood is under siege,” Walton said Tuesday, referencing a homeless camp in a corner of Balboa Park close to his Hillcrest home. “Everything in our lives is dictated by the homeless.”
A week ago, Voice of San Diego visited a Park Boulevard homeless camp Walton has decried. Unhoused residents staying there said they were prepared to move the next morning ahead of a planned city clean-up operation. They said they planned to return to the area after the operation because they found it safe and appreciated the community they had found there.
“If you don’t want us here, give us a place to go,” said Damon Nice, 50.