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Mayor Faulconer Speaks On Chargers, Trump And His Potential Run For Governor

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer during an interview on his new plan to get more affordable housing built in the city, Jan. 29, 2019.
Amita Sharma
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer during an interview on his new plan to get more affordable housing built in the city, Jan. 29, 2019.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer officially leaves office Thursday after the inauguration of Mayor-elect Todd Gloria. KPBS spoke with Faulconer about his nearly seven years in office, his potential run for governor in 2022 and his decision to vote for President Donald Trump in the November election. Hear the full audio of the interview here.

Mayor Faulconer Speaks On Chargers, Trump And His Potential Run For Governor
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

Q: So let's dive right into one of the biggest issues that you dealt with in your first few years in office, and that's the Chargers. You tried very hard to keep them: You put together a task force to come up with a plan. You funded an environmental impact report on the new stadium. You endorsed their 2016 ballot measure to fund a new downtown stadium, which the voters ultimately didn't agree to. There were people saying at that time that this team does not want to stay in San Diego, they're not acting in good faith with the city and that this was all just a waste of time and money. In hindsight, do you agree at all with that criticism?

A: Well, look, I think there was so much back and forth literally over more than 10 years in San Diego that culminated in a ballot measure. And then the team obviously made their decision. I think when I look at what's going on right now in San Diego in terms of our sporting community and the highlights from, you know — if you take a look at the Padres, what they've done and continue to do, the new infrastructure that's coming forward in San Diego that I think is going to be incredibly positive, and particularly the new stadium for San Diego State, the Mission Valley redevelopment, including the River Park and the opportunity to finally have a new Sports Arena. And the voters have supported that with Measure E and the height limit. And so as I look at the future of infrastructure and particularly how it relates to our sporting community, both collegiate and professional, I think it's a bright future ahead for San Diego.

RELATED: Assessing Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s Wins And Losses

Q: The convention center expansion was another big priority of yours. It's been one of those never ending stories in San Diego. And you tried multiple times to get that started. The latest effort, Measure C on the March primary ballot, came very close but didn't quite reach that two-thirds majority that it needed for at least a clear victory. Looking back, was there something that you think you could have done differently to get this project done, or was it just never quite the right plan or the right moment?

A: I thought it was a tremendous plan and had such a strong coalition of support. You know, when I look at all of the community groups that supported it, you know, our business community, our labor community, the fact that it got 65% of the vote I think speaks volumes for how important it was. And obviously that's still going to be in the court system now. But look, Measure C was a very important citizens initiative. I support it. I think it's incredibly important that we do expand our convention center because it will give us the revenue, the dollars and support that goes directly to our city's general fund, which is how we pave streets, sidewalks, our parks and libraries, hire public safety officers. So it's a win-win all around, and I'm actually pretty confident we have not heard the last of that issue as it winds through the court system.

Q: Housing affordability has been really one of the main focuses in your recent years in office. You've won approval, often unanimous approval, for a number of reforms to stimulate more home building. Things like updating our zoning laws, lowering parking requirements. Was there something that changed to make this issue so very central to your agenda?

A: It had to happen. And the tone I really tried to set was I wanted a bias towards action and not just doing things the same way. Because if we did, we were not going to change the dynamic to actually get new units constructed that San Diegans can afford. And that's why we worked so hard on updating all of our community plans — more than we've ever done in the history of San Diego — and particularly with the focus the last two years on Complete Communities. And to see that strong support at the council, which gave us our ability to really get these units constructed, remove regulatory barriers, allow for additional infrastructure, and I think most importantly allows for by-right development. It's all really a culmination of the work that we've done over the last several years with one goal: We need to increase housing supply, cut the red tape, lower costs with a particular emphasis on housing that's affordable for San Diegans.

Q: The hepatitis A outbreak, I imagine, was a really tough time to be mayor of San Diego. People were getting sick and dying. Many of them were homeless. And it really put the city's homelessness crisis under the microscope. What did you learn from that experience?

A: I will tell you, there are a lot of lessons, hard lessons, learned from Hepatitis A that struck countywide, but hit us particularly hard in the urban portion of San Diego. And it really, from my perspective, was a stark reminder that the status quo was not working. And so when I look at some of the significant changes that have come out of that, first and foremost, a stronger relationship with the county on tackling regional emergencies, but really a new effort and energy that said allowing tents on the sidewalk is unacceptable.

And that was the genesis for the creation of our bridge shelter network. We have the ability to house every night up to 1,000 individuals. Our storage centers and really the safe parking lots we've done. Family reunification. It's really been an all hands on deck effort. And I will tell you, as I look at particularly over the last year with a lot of the changes and the reforms that we've made that have really come to fruition with our Operation Shelter To Home at the convention center, where since March we have put 800 folks into a place of their own, with another 300 that are in progress with a resource that they can get into. We are doing things differently in San Diego. It shows. We have a lot of work to do. But I think the fact that we are the only urban county in California where homelessness has actually decreased over the last two years speaks volumes of the concerted effort that we have taken in our region with one goal: How do we get people off the street, not just for a night or a week, but for good?

Q: You've said publicly you're considering running for governor in 2022. Of course you know there are currently no Republicans in statewide office and the party in much of the state seems to have really suffered under the brand of Donald Trump. What is the message that you think can unite the Republican Party and also win over enough Democrats and independents to win the state?

A: Well, I am giving it serious consideration, and I've really tried to set the tone as mayor. It's not about Republican or Democrat. It's what's the right thing that we should be doing? That's how I've set my governing style. And since I've been mayor, obviously, I've had a majority City Council of Democrats. But when you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you disagree with them, and you focus on the issues that matter to San Diegans, you can achieve real results. And I think we've been able to do that in San Diego. And I think as we look to the future of California, I think it's important to have a competition of ideas. I think it's important to not just have one party rule. And so those are all the factors that I think are important for California moving forward. And again, with that emphasis on let's get new ideas, let's try things differently, let's have that back and forth. I think that has made our city stronger and I think it can make California stronger.

Q: You've criticized Governor Gavin Newsom's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically his most recent stay-at-home order. And it seems like most of your criticism is over things that he has ordered to close that you think should remain open — things like playgrounds or outdoor dining. Given that the previous restrictions were failing to contain the virus and we're still seeing a surge in infections, we're getting dangerously close to capacity in our intensive care units, what do you think the state should do differently to slow the spread of the virus?

A: Well, I think it's incredibly important that we do not have a one size fits all policy, because the facts on the ground, obviously, here in San Diego County are going to be different than what's happening in L.A., Orange County or Santa Barbara. We've really set a strong, positive tone of working together with our local county public health officials, again, constantly encouraging San Diegans to wear that mask, practice social distancing. But I think what you see on some of the frustration that we've continued to see from some of the statewide orders is confusion and ever-changing policies. And particularly when we just saw after spending so much time and effort on interacting safely outdoors to shut down outdoor dining, to say that a family can't take their kid to a playground, that's not based on science. And when we spend a lot of time talking about how people should do the right thing and how it should be based on science, but yet it's not. And when we have these standards that says you can go to a ski resort, but you can't go to your neighborhood playground, I think that's out of whack. And I'm not going to be shy about advocating for changes.

Q: But closing ski resorts, let's say — I mean, I don't think that's enough to to stop the surge that we're currently seeing. Are there restrictions that you think are reasonable and should be put in place here in San Diego County, given that we are seeing a lot of new infections?

A: Again, I'm going to go back to what I think is incredibly important, that from a local standpoint, that you work with your county public health officials based upon the facts that are in your county and not counties that are literally hundreds of miles away, which is what we're dealing with now. And you need that balanced approach. You need a balanced approach that says we must save lives and we must also save livelihoods. And so we've been doing things differently, obviously, in San Diego. We've been working very diligently to make outdoor dining safe, to make outdoor experiences safe, working closely with our county public health officials so we have one voice. That, I think, is the key to success.

Q: In 2016 you said that you could never vote for Donald Trump for president, but you also recently told a columnist for the L.A. Times that you did, in fact, vote for him this year. After seeing him in the White House for four years, what did he do to win you over?

A: Well, I've worked with Republican presidents, obviously, and Democratic presidents since I've had the privilege to remain as mayor. And I will tell you, my support for his reelection was absolutely based on — I believe that was the best for our economic recovery. Because I've seen firsthand, particularly what we've been through with COVID-19, that our small businesses need help, need support. And that recognition of really focusing on economic recovery I think is paramount. And it's you cannot have a successful economy if you do not have an active, thriving small businesses.

Q: Trump still has another six weeks in office, and yet he seems to have shown little to no interest in engaging with Congress over another stimulus bill. Of course, as you noted, individuals, businesses, cities and budgets of cities are really suffering right now economically. But he still seems focused on trying to overturn the election results. Explain to me why you think at this moment Trump would have been better for the economy than Biden?

A: Well, look, you know, people have made their choice. And I think at this point, as we move forward, it's incredibly important to focus on what you just mentioned, which is an economic stimulus package and a recovery. I think it's important that Republicans and Democrats come together in the Congress and the Senate to provide that help and support and relief that people need. We've been actively advocating for that, and I will continue to advocate for that, particularly in my last several days here as mayor. Because you need that support. Absolutely because of the economic shutdowns, we need to give our small businesses that help and support. That is not a partisan issue. That is an issue that we must come together as a country and as elected officials to give that support. So I'm actually optimistic that that will happen. I'm going to keep working to keep the pressure on to make that happen because it's the right thing to do.

Q: Was it a difficult choice for you to make to vote for President Trump?

A: As I said before, it was clear to me that it was based upon the economy and getting our economic situation back on track, that there was a clear choice.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment as mayor?

A: I'll leave that maybe to others. But I will tell you, Andrew, I'm really proud of the way we worked together with folks to really try to achieve real results. You know, I was I was elected in a difficult time in our city, and I said it was a time to bring our city together to focus on neighborhood investments and to focus on paving our streets, to supporting our public safety and in making some significant changes like we've talked about earlier on on housing reform and cleaning up our public spaces. So there's a lot that I will be proud of as I leave and get ready to turn the reins over to Mayor-elect Gloria. And again, I really tried to set that tone as it's not about Democrat or Republican, it's let's get results for San Diego. And when you do that, I think you can have a pretty good success. And so as I look at all of the back and forth positively that we've had with the council, as a former city councilmember, I remember when relationships weren't that good between the mayor's office and the city council. And so I really tried to set that tone of our city is best when we worked together. And so hopefully that will continue.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

A: You always have regrets. And I will tell you, particularly when I'm pushing my team on, you know, the length of time that it takes to get things over the finish line and how we have to, you know, cut through to actually achieve results. And so that will be a constant. I've spent a lot of time with the new administration on giving them some of my thoughts and ideas and how they can continue to build upon that and, again, fundamentally make some changes and reforms, because that's ongoing. It's a large organization in the city of San Diego with 11,000 employees, but a lot of policies and processes are antiquated and out of date. And so, as I said, that's something that I've pushed very strong to continue to make changes and reforms. But there's a lot of work that still needs to be done.

Q: What kinds of advice have you been giving Mayor-elect Todd Gloria?

A: You know, I've really set the tone of an open, transparent changing of the guard here. And as they take office here in a couple of weeks, we've had multiple briefings on a variety of topics because I want the mayor elect to be successful. I want his administration to be successful. I want our city to be successful. And so as he's bringing in his new team, you know, it goes fast. And as I said, you've got to push hard. And so that's the advice that I've been giving him and his team. And as I said, I really want them to be successful. I've learned that our city is best when we work together. We're a resilient city. We're being tested right now. But the spirit of San Diegans always shines through. And I think that's the opportunity to continue.

Q: Being mayor is a really big, time consuming job, of course. Are there things that you're looking forward to after leaving office?

A: Yes! It's always — to spend just a little bit more time with the family will be something that I'm looking forward to the most. But I will tell you, it's been a real honor. It's been a real privilege to serve in this capacity, and one that I will always, always look back on fondly because of what we've been able to do and the way in which we've been able to do it. And that's that's what I will look back with pride.

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 stay-at-home orders, it’s led to a patchwork of restrictions across the state.