Looking Back At San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s Wins And Losses
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Photo by Kris Arciaga
In his first State of the City address in January 2015, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer didn’t mince words regarding one of his top priorities — building a new football stadium so the Chargers wouldn’t bolt town.
"It's time for us, as a community, to come together to decide the future of the Chargers in San Diego," Faulconer said in his address. "I want to thank the Spanos family, the entire Chargers organization and the fans for your continued commitment to San Diego. Working together we can get this done."
But they didn’t get it done. Faulconer convened a task force that came up with a financing plan for a new stadium in Mission Valley. He spent $2.1 million on an environmental impact report to clear that stadium for construction. He even endorsed the Chargers' failed 2016 tax measure to fund a stadium downtown.
Yet, despite those efforts, Faulconer was unable to convince the team to stay.
It was the first big plan during Faulconer’s nearly seven years in office that didn’t pan out, but it wouldn’t be the last. With his exit Thursday from the mayor’s office and an all but guaranteed challenge to Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2022, Faulconer will have to answer for his mixed record on high-profile issues.
Mary Lydon, a land-use consultant who was on the stadium task force, said Faulconer did everything he could to keep the Chargers and does not deserve much blame for their departure.
"The Chargers made a pure business decision to move their team out of this city, but they did everything within their power to make it look like it wasn’t their fault," Lydon said.
But others believe it was clear at the time that the Chargers had no intention of staying in San Diego, and that Faulconer’s prolonged focus on the stadium issue was a waste of the city’s time and money.
"Give them the best offer they’re going to get from us... give them a deadline and then move on," said Gil Cabrera, who chaired both the city’s Ethics Commission and the San Diego Convention Center Corporation board. "But we dragged it out for years."
One casualty of the years of stadium debates, according to Cabrera, was the Convention Center expansion. The project, which Faulconer argued would bring in more tourism dollars and grow the local economy, was consistently among his top priorities.
But time after time, one thing or another kept the expansion from getting started. The most recent effort to fund the expansion project — Measure C on the city's March 3 ballot — fell short of the two-thirds majority it needed for a clear victory.
Cabrera said Faulconer deserves some, but not all, of the blame for failing to get the Convention Center expanded during his tenure.
"I think there were a lot of delays that probably weren't necessary," Cabrera said. "We went through I think two or three state of the city addresses where we talked about (how) we were going to do something and then nothing happened that year."
One achievement Faulconer often touts is the passage of the city's 2015 Climate Action Plan, which requires the city to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035. It has been held up as a model for other cities and states.
But Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign and one of the climate plan's main architects, said Faulconer's record on climate action is less than stellar. She said he was slow to put the city on a path to 100% renewable energy, and did not do enough to reduce the city's dependence on cars.
"I think he enjoyed the accolades that came with passing the climate plan, but I don’t think his heart was ever in the implementation of the climate plan," Capretz said.
Capretz added the mayor tends to support ambitious or controversial plans only after other groups have built up the community support to give him cover. And that style of leadership, she said, does not reflect the urgency of combating climate change.
"We've made progress, but not enough progress — especially given the scope and scale of the crisis," Capretz said.
Others give Faulconer much more credit for his own coalition building, particularly around housing affordability. Lydon, the land-use consultant who also led the coalition group Housing You Matters, said Faulconer helped unite business groups, builders, environmentalists, labor unions and social service providers under a pro-growth agenda.
And in contrast to the sometimes brutal fights over housing in other big cities in California, Faulconer's housing policies often won unanimous approval from the City Council.
"Mayor Faulconer is definitely a leader in this state related to trying to find solutions for affordable housing," Lydon said.
Among Faulconer's most impactful housing policies, Lydon said, are lowering parking requirements, adding new incentives for developers to include affordable homes in their projects and rezoning much of the city for higher density housing. While it's too soon to assess their impact on home prices, Lydon said those policies were not inevitable.
"San Diego has kind of a reputation for being a NIMBY city," Lydon said. "It's beautiful here, we love our communities, we don’t want it messed with. But there’s other things at play, and housing became the issue our leaders needed to focus on. And Mayor Faulconer stepped up to plate on that."
Listen to the Podcast Episode
As coronavirus cases surge, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer officially leaves office Thursday. KPBS spoke with Faulconer about his nearly seven years in office and his potential run for governor in 2022 Meanwhile, state health officials warn about a dangerous spike in coronavirus cases and broad transmission of the virus. As local counties and cities try to grapple with the ... Read more →
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