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San Diego Mayor Upbeat About Chargers, Other Issues In Annual Address

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his second State of the City speech at the Balboa Theatre, Jan. 14, 2016.

Aired 1/15/16 on KPBS News.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer received a warm reception inside the Balboa Theatre as he gave his State of the City speech, but outside the venue about 30 protesters demonstrated at what they consider his ineffectiveness.

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Mayor Faulconer's 2016 State Of The City Speech

Mayor Faulconer's 2016 State Of The City Speech

Mayor Kevin Faulconer's 2016 State of the City speech.

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Mayor Kevin Faulconer received a warm reception Thursday night from inside the Balboa Theatre where he delivered an upbeat State of the City speech that touched on lots of topics — from working to keep the Chargers in San Diego to improving city parks.

But outside the theater where the temperatures weren't so warm, about 30 protesters gathered to draw attention to what they consider his ineffectiveness in handling city issues — from lack of police accountability to not doing enough to help the homeless.

Despite the protesters' unhappiness with Faulconer, the Republican mayor delivered his nearly 50-minute speech with the knowledge that he faces re-election in June and so far no Democrat has emerged to challenge him.

On the Chargers — the topic that has dominated local news this week — the mayor said it's not too late to keep the Bolts in San Diego, where they have played since 1961.

Faulconer said that with the crafting of a financing plan that doesn't include new taxes, and the assembling of experts to design a stadium and conduct an environmental review, the city and county of San Diego have accomplished more on the Chargers' behalf in the past 10 months than has been done in the past 10 years.

"Our San Diego family has stood with the Chargers in victory and defeat for more than 50 years — that ought to count for something," Faulconer said.

"This franchise has prospered because of generations of loyal fans," he said. "The passion, the heart, the energy that has powered the Bolts for 55 years, you can't get that in L.A., you can't get that in Inglewood, you can only get that in San Diego."

In his first State of the City speech last year, Faulconer warned that "at no point in San Diego's history has the possibility of the Chargers moving to Los Angeles been more real," and announced he would appoint a task force to study building a stadium for the local National Football League franchise.

The group proposed a project to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley, but the Chargers broke off talks with the city and county of San Diego in June.

Faulconer's speech Thursday came two days after the NFL offered the Chargers a one-year window to move to Inglewood, where they could play in a future stadium alongside the Rams. League owners on Tuesday approved the Rams' return to Los Angeles from St. Louis and rejected a plan by the Chargers and Raiders to build a stadium in Carson.

Faulconer acknowledged the "twists and turns" that have taken place this week by saying, "I hope I'm reading the right version of the speech right now," drawing laughter from the audience.

Protesters gather outside Balboa Theatre before San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivered his annual State of the City speech, Jan. 14, 2016.

But his speech wasn't all about football.

Faulconer also unveiled a major initiative to upgrade city parks, which will include planning to make improvements at the 76-acre De Anza Cove Mobile Home Park. The city has resolved its longest-running litigation, with residents of the facility.

"More recreation areas on and around the water, hiking, camping, trails for biking and walking — restoring our wetlands," Faulconer said. "These are some of the exciting possibilities to transform this place into a fantastic waterfront experience."

Faulconer said the cove will be "San Diego's next great public space."

Additionally, the city will open four new parks and overhaul eight others, Faulconer said.

Faulconer said he was also working with the San Diego Unified School Districts to make parks on campus properties available to the public when schools aren't in session.

Faulconer also endorsed a plan to fund infrastructure projects authored by Councilman Mark Kersey, and urged the City Council to place the proposal before voters, said he's enlisting 100 local companies to hire 1,000 mostly low income youth, and setting a goal of getting 1,000 homeless veterans off the streets by the end of this year.

After the speech, Kersey said his funding plan should go before the City Council by the end of this month.

"With voter approval in June, San Diego will have a dedicated and long- term funding stream for infrastructure improvements," Kersey said. "Infrastructure is not a `problem' to be solved, it is a core function and responsibility of the city."

Councilman David Alvarez said the speech was full of "nice promises."

"Last year's was also full of promises and I don't think the mayor followed through on even half of them," said Alvarez, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Faulconer for mayor in 2014. "Less than half. So this year I wish the mayor more success on following through, and I'm happy to help in any way that I can."

The protesters outside the Balboa Theatre were disappointed with the mayor even without hearing his speech. Among their concerns: demanding justice for an unarmed man who was shot and killed by a San Diego police officer last year.

At times, the protesters chanted, "Justice for Fridoon," referring to Fridoon Rashawn Nehad, the mentally ill man who was killed in April in the Midway District. County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis ruled that Officer Neal Browder was justified in shooting Nehad because the officer feared for his life.

The officer was responding to a call of a man with a knife. It turned out Nehad had a metallic pen in his hand.

Protester Lisa Kogan, an advocate for the homeless and a member of the charity Starting Human, said she wants the mayor to do more to help those living on the streets.

"We do not have enough beds in the shelters. We do not have enough affordable housing. So what happens to all those people who are living in the street? Well, a lot of them are getting arrested because it's a crime to sleep on the street, but there's no place for these people to go."

Among the numerous accomplishments that Faulconer touted in his speech was shifting the city's strategies to combat homelessness. Other accomplishments he listed: improving emergency response times in southeastern San Diego, opening a fire station in Mission Valley and continuing planning for others, negotiating an extension for Comic-Con International to remain at the San Diego Convention Center for a couple more years, and gaining City Council approval of a plan to address climate change.

Faulconer also thanked City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and three City Council members — Marti Emerald, Todd Gloria and Sherri Lightner — who are being termed-out late this year.

His speech comes at the beginning of an election year in which he doesn't face significant opposition for re-election.

However, races for the three City Council districts that are coming open are expected to be struggles, as is the campaign to succeed Goldsmith. Several major ballot measures will go before voters, including one to raise the minimum wage.

KPBS reporter Jean Guerrero contributed to this report.

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