Mayor Filner Answers Our Questions, And Yours
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Wednesday, February 6th. We're inviting your calls right now for mayor Bob Filner. Give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. Our top story on Midday Edition is a question and answer session with San Diego mayor Bob Filner. Last time the mayor was on we asked him if he'd come back often as a guest on KPBS. Mayor Filner offered to return to answer listener questions. So we took him up on that offer, and we're opening up the phones to take your questions for mayor Filner. Give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. Mayor Filner, welcome back. FILNER: Thank you. I hope to do this on a regular basis, so thanks, KPBS, for allowing us to do this. CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for being here. I want to just take a point of privilege here and ask you the first question myself. The judge's ruling this week that put a halt on the Plaza de Panama project in Balboa Park, it's well known that you have not always been a fan of that plan to build a traffic ramp off Cabrillo bridge. Ure happy to see the end of that project? FILNER: Well, happy is not the word. But the legal situation had to be gone through, and it looks like that project is halted. I think the aim of the project and the good will of doctor Irwin Jacobs to help fund it was greatly appreciated. But it was -- and we have to follow through on efforts to get rid of the cars from the center of Balboa Park. We could do that in a much less expensive way, and I hope doctor Jacobs will be involved in the efforts we try to do that. But just for example, I happen to be the council member for Balboa Park 20 years ago. We wrote the Balboa Park master plan. It provided then, and it's still a plan they think could work, you put in parking on the outside, you park outside the park, and there may be a space for a parking garage outside the park. And you have people on a tram system coming into the park. The tram system being a part of the whole part experience. We could do that! I could put up six traffic cones tomorrow and stop the cars from coming in, so this is not a $40 million operation. And many of the people who love Balboa Park thought that so-called centennial bridge would intrude upon the topography of the park, I agreed with them. So now we're going to try to move forward in other ways to make a pedestrian-friendly park for especially the centennial that we'll be celebrating in 2015. CAVANAUGH: One quick followup, and the city attorney is quoted as saying a city ordinance could be amended by the council to satisfy the judge's objection to that plan with the bridge and bring it back. Would you veto a change in the language to stop that original plan moving forward? FILNER: I don't know. We haven't reached that point yet. I wish the city attorney would operate as the attorney for the client and not be the client. That is, he's already making policy for his clients. Neither the mayor nor the City Council who he works for have made any statement about that or any wish to do that. So the city attorney needs to act as the attorney and not as the policy-maker for the city. CAVANAUGH: Let's go to the phones. John is on the line from Poway. Welcome to the program. NEW SPEAKER: Hi, mayor Filner. I was curious when the city employees would be getting a -- their 6% pay decrease reinstated. Because if there is a 5-year hold on pensionable pay, that would be -- you're talking years before any employee would be getting any pay raise. And I'm sure there's been some cost of living increases, you know, in time. FILNER: Well, thank you. And let me just first say the day of the vilification of our public employees is over. The public employees have withstood a barrage of really being blamed for everything that the city has gone through for the last five or six years. We have had pension problems but that was the fault of Wall Street and mayors who stole money from the pension system. And they have had to pay a price. They have had six or seven years of no pay increases. The voters voted in prop B which call forward a so-called pensionable pay freeze for five years. I think we have to fulfill that, but there are other ways, nonpensionable compensation to make up a real lack of help for employees in recent years, and they deserve it. So we're going to try to find ways. I would like to have a long-term 5-year contract which gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of future compensation increases. I hope we can make up that 6% through healthcare benefits, for example, and other kinds of things that will help the paycheck. So we're going to try to meet that 6% as soon as possible and move beyond that too. We have not yet officially opened the negotiations with the employees' union. CAVANAUGH: That's what I was going to ask you. FILNER: And we have to negotiate a contract, and we start that next week, I think. CAVANAUGH: Next week with the city workers? FILNER: There's four or five organizations. We start with the police officers I think next week, then followed by the other organizations later on. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take a call from Andre in point loam A. Welcome to the show. NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, hi, mayor Filner. I had a question about the medical marijuana stores. And I was wondering how you envisioned how many are necessary for the city. I'm not sure of your history. I don't know if you were in the city when they first proliferated and the hundreds that were here. But the city seemed to finally get a wrangle and you seem to want to reopen the doors for them. And I was just wondering what you envision for the city, and how many, and where they would be located. CAVANAUGH: Thanks, Andre. FILNER: Yeah, thanks Andre. This has become a flashpoint. Let me just remind everybody that 15 or 16 years ago, the voters of California in a referendum said there shall be access to medical marijuana. And cities should make ordinances which regulate that. And I believe that compassionate use of marijuana should be made available. There are people suffering from chronic pain and cancer that the medical marijuana is the only thing that seems to help, and it's prescribed by doctors. So I want to have an ordinance in the city which I will propose to the City Council in the next three or four weeks that not only -- it does two things, and we have to balance two things here. The concerns that I said about compassionate use with the concerns that Andre expressed about making sure that they are not overwhelming neighborhoods, that children do not have access to it, that there's not recreational use of it. We got to balance access with neighborhood concerns and protection especially of our young people. And we will try through a zoning ordinance try to do that, make sure that they're not near schools for example or residential neighborhoods, that they're in industrial or commercial areas. And we will have a limit on the numbers. So politics involves the tough questions. If it was an easy question, we would have solved it. And it's always balances of two good things. So we're going to try to balance compassionate use of medical marijuana with the concerns that neighborhoods have, and come out with an approach that'll do both. And I'll have that ready in about three weeks. CAVANAUGH: Are you going to be taking a second look at the medical marijuana task force recommendation? FILNER: Yes. A task force was set up and made recommendations to the city. The City Council greatly restricted the use of -- or where they would be from the task force recommendations, which resulted in more legal cases and the withdrawal of that ordinance. So I suspect the concept, we're going to have to do something between if you're looking at numbers what the task force recommendations did and the City Council did, somewhere there's a mien in there. CAVANAUGH: I think this is a Facebook question. A listener, Donna, asked, what changes have you made in how the mayor's office runs? FILNER: Well, you know, I've been there 60 days. So we haven't had a lot of time to do things. The key thing that I have stressed in the political campaign and throughout my career is that there's going to be -- literally, we're going to change the face of City Hall. That is the people who have run this city for 50 years, the same group of old boys establishment, we're going to change that. Who makes the decisions, who's hired, who's appointed to boards and commissions, who's getting the contracts. And I'll just give you the clearest sense of that. When I announced my first 24 positions that we had hired, 21 of them were women and or people of color. That's almost an exact opposite of what occurred earlier. So people who have been left out of the city process, people who care about education, environment, people of color, older people, younger people, those from neighborhoods that have been neglected, they're you will going to be involved in the decision-making process, appointed to boards and commissions. Because we have not had that open. We had a process a couple weeks ago to appoint one of the more important and powerful positions, a port commission. I think it was a process that was tainted in many ways. And so I vetoed those appointments. And I said to the City Council, and we're going to start this hopefully next week, we ought to have for boards like the port commission clear aim and goals and objective and vision for what we want to do and an accountability of those appointees to the City Council and the mayor. Not just make it a personality contest, popularity contest, and the same old guys seeming to take those positions. CAVANAUGH: Do you foresee waiting until the council district 4 position -- until that election is over to make those appointments? That would give a democratic majority on the City Council. FILNER: We'll have to see how the workshop that we're doing starting next week, I think, we'll see how that vision and process goes, and whether the council and I think we're ready to make those appointments or wait for district 4. And the business of the port goes on, we need to be represented there. If there's a runoff for district 4, it would make another three months. So all those are moving parts. We'll see how it goes. I would like to work for district 4, but we also have to make sure that San Diego is represented on the port commission. CAVANAUGH: A followup question on the mayor's office, is your Tijuana office open yet? The one that you're going to be opening south of the boarder? FILNER: If I may just put that in context, the city of Tijuana has had an office in San Diego for many years. We have never had an office in Tijuana. I think it's a matter not only of mutual respect but of practicality, because of the necessity of close relations, we have a presence there every day. Of so I said we would open an office in Tijuana. Their equivalent of the economic development corporation has a beautiful building in the middle of Tijuana. They offered us office space. I'm going to join with the mayor of Tijuana next week, and we're going to open that office, and it'll be staffed starting next week. CAVANAUGH: Don is calling us from San Diego. NEW SPEAKER: Yes, mayor, I'm visiting from Northern California and possibly relocating my business. And I was scouting downtown. I don't need to tell you you've got a great homeless population that frankly is worse than San Francisco. What I'd like to know specifically is what is the mayor's office going to do about the homeless population that chooses not to avail themselves of services? What are you going to do to get them off the streets? FILNER: Well, thank you for looking at San Diego for relocation. We welcome you here. I have have been mayor, again, for 60 days. And in the campaign we just went through and as a mayor, I've made homelessness and the ridding of that from San Diego a key priority in this administration. That's not all downtown where it's most visible, but it's in Balboa Park, under bridge, along riverbeds, it's in the beach communities. And as you say, I think we -- the last statistics, we were the 3rd largest -- we had the 3rd biggest increase in homelessness, and that's just unacceptable. It's unacceptable economically, as you point out, but it's also unacceptable from the point of view of being humane people. We live in the richest country in the history of the world. We should not have to have homeless on our streets. We have the resources to deal with this. I hope both from a very practical standpoint of having a permanent shelter that we make some major strides forward in that. There are buildings that have become available on the market for example that can house 300 or 400 people in private rooms, like a hospital that was vacated or a motel that's up for sale that we offer people the chance for permanent housing, all the issues that they have with drug and alcohol abuse or mental illness or jobs will be handled at their own speed. So I'm trying to make -- I hope to have some steps. That doesn't take place overnight, but we're going to have a commitment here that has not been seen. And we also have to do some humane things right away. As you know, the homeless carry around their possessions, and it becomes a burden both for their own protection and unsightly in terms of those like yourselves who want to relocate here. We ought to be a 24 hour check-in where they can keep their belongings and not have to worry about them. We're going to do that. People need the simple dignity of being able to go to the bathroom, and there are not bathrooms downtown. And we're going to put in permanent bathrooms that are architecturally -- fit in with the community and can be maintained in a sanitary and healthful way and give people the chance to be dignified human beings. So we're going to try to both short-term and long-term -- my experience, by the way, is that the vast, vast majority of people will take help when offered. There's very few people who will just say I don't want to do this, I'm going to stay this and stay here. And that becomes a very minimal effort once we have provided the 95% of those who will take the help. CAVANAUGH: Let me just jump in if I may, the things that you suggested, whether it's opening abandoned buildings or putting in toilets downtown, it all takes money. And the last time you were here, you were talking about a deficit, a projected deficit this year in the next budget for San Diego of about $40 million. Now, you're in the process of assembling your first city budget. Any firmer numbers on that? Has that deficit projection changed? FILNER: Well, it was presented as the worst case scenario. And it has both worsened and improved in some aspects. That is, there are decisions from the state, for example, on how we can use redevelopment funds that have made that worse. But there are other legal cases that have made it better. I think we're going to be able to have a balanced budget without cutting any services. And eventually being able to do something for our city employees. So I believe looking at all the pluses and minuses, and as you pointed out, I have to present the first budget by April 15th, it looks like we will be able without any further erosion of our city services, and trying to improve them in some cases, that we will have a balanced budget. Of CAVANAUGH: I think in the future we're going to have to make these segments longer because there are so many people on the phone that we're not going to be able to get to, even some questions of people who tweeted in and Facebook questions. If people still have questions, can they go to San Diego.govand leave you a message? [ LAUGHTER ] FILNER: In fact, you can go to Bob FilnerSan Diego.govand do that. I'd be happy to communicate. Maybe you've got to give me some ground rules, if I have to go faster and recover more question, we'll be able to do that too. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: I appreciate your coming in. And it's been good speaking with you, San Diego mayor, Bob Filner. FILNER: It's a pleasure.
The last time San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was interviewed on KPBS, we asked him if he'd come back often as a guest. He offered to come on once a month to answer our questions as well as questions from our listeners.
On Wednesday he made good on the first leg of that promise, chatting with callers about everything from pension benefits to medical marijuana.
Filner began by addressing a judge’s recent decision to halt the Plaza de Panama plan for Balboa Park. Filner was an opponent of the plan, but said "happy is not the word" for how he feels about the judge's decision.
He said there are many options for restructuring the park, and proposed one alternative.
"You put in parking on the outside, you park outside of the park, and there may be a space for a parking garage outside the park, and you have people coming on a tram system into the park, the tram system being part of the whole park experience," he said. "We can do that. I could put up six traffic cones tomorrow and stop the cars from coming in. So this is not a $40 million operation."
Filner said he hopes the original project’s sponsor, Irwin Jacobs, will be involved in future plans for the park. But Jacobs told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday he has not seen any alternative plans that meet his requirements for support: removing cars from Plaza de Panama but still serving the needs of museums and other institutions inside Balboa Park.
"At this point, it's over," he said.
The City Attorney has said the City Council could make an amendment to satisfy the judge’s objection to the original Plaza de Panama plan. Filner would not say if he would veto that action, but he said he wishes the City Attorney would act as the attorney, not the policy maker, for the city.
Another caller asked Filner where he planned to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open. Last month, Filner re-opened the door to the possibility of legal medical marijuana collectives in San Diego.
On Midday, Filner said he would bring a plan for medical marijuana zoning to the City Council soon.
"We’re going to try to balance compassionate use of medical marijuana with the concerns that neighborhoods have and come out with an approach that will do both, and I’ll have that ready in about three weeks," he said.
When a caller asked about pay raises for city employees, Filner said it was not right to blame city employees for the city's financial troubles.
"The day of the vilification of our public employees is over," he said.
He added he'll start negotiations with city workers next week, beginning with police officers.
Filner also said he'll open an office in Tijuana starting next week.
On KPBS Evening Edition, he responded to news that Senator Barbara Boxer has called on federal regulators to investigate San Onofre. Boxer said there is new information that Southern California Edison was aware of problems with San Onofre's generators before the company installed them.
Filner said the Nuclear Regulator Commission must hold a public hearing requiring proof from Edison the plant is safe to restart.
“Look, we don’t want to be a Three Mile Island," he said. "We don’t want to be a Chernobyl. We don’t want to have a situation as they did in Japan. The safety of nuclear plants is very shaky.”
The NRC says it won’t allow the plant to restart until it's saftisfied the plant can operate without undue risk to public health and safety.
Others with questions about Filner's plans for the city can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.