Filner Stresses Transit, Environments, Neighborhoods In State Of The City
Newly elected Mayor Bob Filner delivered his inaugural State of the City address Tuesday to a full house at Balboa Theater.
The evening got off to a bit of a slow start, beginning 30 minutes later than scheduled. But it didn’t seem to bother the crowd.
First they were greeted by former state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. Fletcher was there to introduce his one-time mayoral rival.
"When I first got the call to say a few words at a mayoral State of the City address, I was honored," Fletcher said. "You could almost say it was a dream come true."
But soon the true mayor bounded onto the stage to loud cheers and applause. Filner began his speech by honoring several long-time community leaders, whom he dubbed “living legends." Included in the group were Father Joe Carroll, Gloria Johnson, Evelyn and Ernest Rady, Maggie and Jerry Coleman and Alicia and Tony Gwynn.
Then it was on to the policy portion of the evening. Filner started by rendering a medical diagnosis of sorts.
"Tonight the state of our city can be compared to a patient who has faced a life-threatening disease, who has survived painful treatments and a lengthy recovery, who is now cautiously optimistic that the disease is behind them but fully aware that changing circumstances at any time can lead to a relapse," he said.
Filner was talking, of course, about San Diego’s financial health. His predecessor, Mayor Jerry Sanders, left office proclaiming a budget surplus for the city. Filner has since said the city will actually be facing a $40 million deficit in the coming fiscal year. But he stressed that he can help get the city through the rocky times, especially given his solid relationship with city labor unions. Filner says that will allow him to implement financial reforms that will save the city money.
"To have a five year freeze on pensionable pay for all city workers," he said. "A freeze that will reduce the city’s unfunded pensions obligation by nearly $1 billion over 30 years and lower the required annual contribution to the pension fund by between $25 and $35 million annually for the next 15 years."
Labor leader Lorena Gonzalez, a Filner supporter, said it will be tough to agree on a five-year labor contract and to a possible pay freeze. But she said Filner’s presence at the negotiating table will make it easier to handle.
"The prospect that somebody is going to work on this that actually respects the work that city workers do," Gonzalez said. "Whether it’s protecting our beaches and bays, making sure that we’re safe, making sure that fires are fought, or making sure that trash is picked up. It’s someone that actually respects that work and we know that. And so it’s a much easier process."
In his speech, Filner also emphasized making environmentally friendly changes, from creating an urban forestry program to advocating for light rail access to the airport. Filner would also create a new city department, the Department of Healthy, Safe and Livable Neighborhoods, which would carry out many of his ideas.
Council President Todd Gloria said he loved the speech, but said costs must be considered.
"I think the mayor’s priorities are very close to what the council’s looking at, in terms of fiscal discipline, prioritizing infrastructure, looking at environmental sustainability and prioritizing homelessness," Gloria said. "All are good things. Of course how we pay for these things is key. But I am game to work very closely with the mayor, and I know the council is too, to make sure that we implement this vision."
Councilman Kevin Faulconer said he was also pleased with Filner’s speech and his focus on fiscal responsibility.
"I was also very encouraged, as he started his speech this evening, about ensuring that we never repeat the financial mistakes of the past," Faulconer said. "We’ve come too far as a city, as the mayor rightfully recognized. As somebody who spent a lot of time, while I’ve been on the council, to help turn this city around, that was music to my ears."
During his speech Filner said he will do everything he can "to make sure the Bolts don't bolt," meaning keep the Chargers in San Diego. But while speaking on KPBS Midday Edition the next day, Filner clarified his point.
"Well, what I said was I don't want to have a stadium that is going to cost the public the kind of money that it has in the past," he said. "We should not have any public money into a new stadium."
Filner said the Chargers will not exercise their annual option from their lease this year that would allow them to move. He also said the Chargers are not submitting an application to the NFL to move to Los Angeles this year.
"So what that does is give us time," Filner said. "It gives us a year where we can take a deep breath."
U-T owner Doug Manchester has said he would consider redeveloping Qualcomm Stadium for the Chargers. Although Filner and Manchester were adversaries during the mayoral campaign, when Filner was asked if he would partner with Manchester on Qualcomm, Filner said "we have to look at all options."
He added that he would like to see not just a stadium but a place to see concerts, basketball, hockey and soccer and "national events like the Final Four for the NCAA basketball tournament, or major league hockey again or soccer."
During his speech, Filner also stressed his campaign message of including more people in the discussion at City Hall. To that end, Filner says, he will spend the first Saturday morning of every month in the lobby of City Hall to meet with whomever wants to stop by. He’s also making good on his promise to open an office in Tijuana. He says it will be up and running on February 1.
On Midday Edition, Filner said he would like to come on KPBS once a month to take calls and answer questions.
"I'd be happy to do that with you," he said.
Filner succeeded Jerry Sanders as mayor on Dec. 3 after 20 years representing the South Bay in Congress. He won November's election over then-Councilman Carl DeMaio by running on a platform of steering political power away from downtown interests and toward neighborhoods throughout the city.