MTS headquarters at the 12th and Imperial trolley station. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz
MTS headquarters at the 12th and Imperial trolley station. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

The board for the Metropolitan Transit System this week will choose its new chair, who will lead the agency during its response to allegations of sexual harassment, assault and wrongful termination by a former staffer against former chair Nathan Fletcher.

San Diego Councilman Stephen Whitburn, as the vice chair when Fletcher resigned his role, has been acting chair. But the board needs to choose a permanent chair through its formal process.

At last week’s executive committee, three candidates for the seat emerged: Whitburn, La Mesa Councilwoman Patricia Dillard, and El Cajon Councilman Steve Goble.

It isn’t just the Fletcher scandal the chair needs to navigate, of course. Not long ago, MTS was an ascendant agency, leaning into the expectation that San Diego needed to become more transit dependent by pursuing its own ballot measure for transit improvements. Like other transit agencies nationwide, it’s also facing revenue problems after the pandemic. 

Read our coverage on this topic here.

A Civic Core in Pieces Isn’t What Architects Imagined 

File photo of San Diego City Hall / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the city’s civic core. 

There was a vision for something transformative that invited people to congregate and would characterize San Diego for centuries to come. The city controlled six blocks around its current City Hall, so it only made sense. 

But not anymore. The San Diego City Council took the first step to declare five city blocks as surplus land. This gives notice to affordable housing developers to get their proposals for that land ready. 

Scott Lewis writes in the Politics Report that the vote was a “dramatic step in the discussion about the property that started this summer when the city decided to settle a big part of the litigation over 101 Ash St. And Civic Center Plaza — the two towers at the center of a major scandal. 

Moving too fast: The Union-Tribune reported that on Saturday, architects and urban planners raised red flags about the city’s plan to get rid of those five blocks. A document produced by stakeholders on the Civic Center Revitalization Committee encouraged prospective developers to think big and to get inspiration from London’s City Hall and the Oculus transit hub in New York. 

More in the Politics Report: The proponents of a parks and library tax have filed a lawsuit arguing that the county Registrar of Voters tossed out too many signatures from their petition. And San Diego Councilman last week was noticeably absent from the mayor’s proposed budget unveiling on Friday. Here’s why.

Read the Politics Report here. That’s our weekly insider’s guide to everything going on in local politics. It’s available to Voice of San Diego members only. Join our thousands of supporters and get access today. 

Speaking of the mayor’s proposed budget … 

What’s In the Mayor’s Proposed Budget

Mayor Todd Gloria delivers 2023 State of the City address at the Civic Theatre on Jan. 10, 2023.
Mayor Todd Gloria delivers 2023 State of the City address at the Civic Theatre on Jan. 10, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Mayor Todd Gloria on Friday released a more than $5 billion proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning in July.

The Union-Tribune notes that the budget calls for increased spending on homelessness, street repairs, litter pick-up and more. NBC 7 San Diego also provided a few more details.

The newspaper reported that Gloria proposes increasing homelessness spending from $63 million to $81.7 million. The spike in spending includes $5 million to open safe campsites for unhoused people, $1.8 million for existing and additional safe parking sites for people living in vehicles and $16.6 million to continue existing shelter operations.

Gloria also proposed $500,000 in additional funding for the Neil Good Day Center, the city’s sole drop-in center for unhoused people that has for years provided restrooms, storage and other services to thousands. Its hours and services were abruptly cut earlier this year, a move that troubled activists and community leaders. Gloria’s office said Friday that the additional funding “should be sufficient to restore the services that had previously been provided and potentially fund some site improvements” though specific services could be affected by a recent callout for providers who now must bid to operate the facility.

Gloria’s Police Pitch: Gloria’s budget calls for adding 21 civilian employees to help address police staffing challenges and allow officers to focus on responding to calls. This includes a $9.2 increase in police overtime spending. As our Lisa Halverstadt has reported, police response times and overtime have soared amid a staffing shortage.

Gloria’s budget also pencils in $4 million for smart streetlights and calls for a nearly 5 percent increase in police spending.

You can check out the budget proposal and various line items here

What’s Next: The City Council is set to get a review of the proposed budget on April 24 and will begin public briefings from city departments on May 3. The mayor will release a revised budget proposal in mid-May and the City Council will vote on the city’s final budget in June.

VOSD Podcast: Gorgeous and Troubling 

This week on the VOSD Podcast co-hosts recap the latest news from the Nathan Fletcher fallout. And later in the show they are joined by Voice multimedia journalist Ariana Dreshler who recently published a photo essay of unhoused San Diegans. 

Drehsler spent weeks getting to know people from San Ysidro to Lemon Grove. She talked about the people in her photo essay and how they landed where they did and how they see the crisis. 

View the photo essay here. 

Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

In Other News 

  • The Union-Tribune last year dispatched a team of reporters for three days to cover the spectrum of mental health crises facing San Diego, which have exploded in recent years and are only getting worse now. They published Sunday their package showing all the ways an overwhelmed system is failing vulnerable people. It’s a fantastic piece of journalism.
  • The paper also found that forty percent of police shootings between 2018 and 2022 involved someone with mental health issues
  • ICYMI: In her Cup of Chisme yesterday, Andrea Lopez-Villafaña talked to photo-journalist Ariana Drehsler about the work that went into her photo essay last week on nine homeless San Diegans.
  • The companies that operate rental scooters say the viability of their business is threatened by rampant theft, combined with the city of San Diego’s rules that force scooters to operate at reduced speeds on sidewalks. (Union-Tribune)
  • Some of San Diego’s libraries are reopening on Sundays, as hiring has picked up to combat post-pandemic labor shortages. (10 News)
  • The annual San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce-led trip to DC is underway, with Mayor Todd Gloria, County Board Chair Nora Vargas and other regional leaders meeting with federal officials in hopes of boosting San Diego. (Times of San Diego)

The Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, Lisa Halverstadt and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.

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