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Politics

Roundtable: Mayor Faulconer's Future; Homelessness Plan; SDG&E Faces Energy Alternatives

Susan Murphy
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer speaks at an event on homelessness, April 20, 2017.
Roundtable: Mayor Faulconer's Future; Homelessness Plan; SDG&E Faces Energy Alternatives
Faulconer's Present, Future; Homelessness; SDG&E & Community ChoicePANEL:Michael Smolens, government & politics editor, The San Diego Union-Tribune Susan Murphy, multi-media reporter, KPBS News Ry Rivard, writer on water & land use, Voice of San Diego

MS: Kevin Faulconer says he a candidate for governor and will complete his term as mayor of San Diego. San Diego want to move the homeless from the streets to housing with $80 million over three years. A big boost or drop in the bucket? Electricity prices could come down with committee choice. They may have other ideas. I am Mark Sauer. The KPBS Roundtable starts right now. MS: Welcome to our discussion of the top stories. I am Mark Sauer in joining me are Michael Smolens and Susan Murphy and Ry Rivard. MS: He was the ideal California Republicans conservative on fiscal matters. Lots of buzz around the state. He even had some national pressure from GOP leaders. Kevin Faulconer through a wet like it saying he is not interested. Michael, what reason did he give for not going into this governor's -- Michael: We had different perspectives but he's been saying this over and over. I know there is discussions but the first time was in May 2016 and the only debate of his campaign he's told reporters that he's been pretty emphatic. So why is this going? He has people that are still kind of been pushing in that direction and we are in California and the Republican party has been in the wilderness seems like forever. They don't have a viable candidate. He's the only real big-city Republican mayor in the country and if there's going to be someone that's going to lead as governor, at least his perspective fits the bill. You look at the Wilson the mold of the Republican and Arnold Schwarzenegger again a Republican and liberal on social issues. His reason was that he has a lot to do here. He has run into a few bumps along the road recently and he always said that he's got a job to do here in the future will take care of itself. MS: It has been since 2006 that they won is the office. Michael: The demographics politically and otherwise just are pushing the state in that direction. I think that Republican leadership is hoping that the competition -- there's a small handful of very prominent candidates. They thought maybe more of a mainstream candidate depending on who the Democratic choice would be might have a shot. Some reports say that he did not see a path to victory and did not want to put himself out there to take one for the team. MS: They were hoping that he might need help in some of the races in Republican Congress folks who might be in trouble with Trump. Michael: Very much so. I asked him about that -- I'm sure a lot of leaders thought he would be a good fit. In addition, we are concerned about the turnout. Member it was a year ago that we had two Democratic candidates for the first time and the Republicans were not existent in that race. They want him to have a legitimate contender. If we go into November with two Democrats running against each other they think that not only will Republican voter not be enthused but the money will not be there as much and that will hurt some races. Darrell Issa hung onto his seat by 1600 votes. While the mayor's issues and maybe some of the statewide issues have little to do with the congressional race, the turnout and money factor could play a part in that risk. SM: Is this the final decision? Michael: There's always a chance that he could change his mind. He told the board and me today I said -- does this mean you are rolling out running for governor in 2018? He said yes. Why he did it in the primary -- he did not have very strong opposition but that was the only thing that seem to resonate in and forced him to make that decision. On that thing that people are trying to torpedo his ambitions and goals for political purposes. I think that if there was any confusion declaring once again is a big deal because he has a lot of things to do. Certain things do not happen the way they wanted it. MS: Here he is in a debate in the 2013 run for mayor. Faulconer: You can trust me to continue to move forward on the reforms that we all work so hard together to make sure the tax dollars are reinvested into the neighborhoods. So we can fix our streets and our sidewalks and put more police officers on the street. MS: He laid out a little scorecard for himself. How was he doing? Michael: I think he's given a lot of attention to the -- That's a big problem. This last run the last few weeks he's had -- his goal was to have the special election. That did not happen. It would be easy to say that he hit a slump. Is not like these things have gone away. He wanted the special election. Whether they happen or likely to go to voters in some fashion next year and that's where his energies are. You can play the virtual politics. Let's say that he did get the special election and things were moving in his favor would he have ruled out the governor race? One little note, if politics -- for 5000 votes in the city Council election things might be entirely different. They ran in the first Council district and Ray was a Republican and Ally the mayor. It surprises -- surprises that she ended up winning. MS: Let's talk about the budget a little bit. Faulconer: We had to make tough decisions. We had to prioritize what was most important. I am proud to say that this budget keeps centers and library hours at their highest level in a decade. MS: Is that a win for him so far? Michael: Yes, I think so. This year that they've had a tighten up a little bit around the margins and then it wasn't the deficit. I don't think most people would feel the kind of trimming that they did. He did come into office with times booming a little bit better. He had money to spend. He and the Council did do a lot to expand the convention desk recreation center hours, library hours and really cut severely during the great recession. So like I said it was a little bit of a setback in tighter times are to come. The city is in better shape. Let's not forget the city was totally paralyzed with the scandal and while he's had setbacks here they are moving forward on things that the -- may or may not happen. MS: What about accessibility. He has not come on the KPBS show. SM: Is very tough to get through and get comments from him in his office. I often find that you have to attend the news conferences and go up with your microphone and your camera to get comments and reactions. RR: When there's enough pressure he will talk. This week he talked to them about homelessness. There had been sort of mounting questions about his strategy and he tried to explain why it wasn't upside down in the water. Michael: I think he's talked to us because he wants to make that message clear because I think that might've been in the back of people's minds and could distract a little bit. MS: We are going to move on to another issue that is really facing in challenging the mayor as other leaders as well. Homelessness is a priority. We have more homeless than ever. Susan, you have covered this issue for a while. How much worse is the situation? SM: I was down there yesterday walking through the streets along the outskirts and it really is worse. Seems like the extensive encampments have grown. It seems like more blocks are covered by tents. It doesn't seem like it's getting any better. MS: The numbers back that up in the survey, right? SM: The numbers increased. So six months later what are those numbers now? It's hard to gage. MS: It is a visual survey as you go along the streets. SM: Right. I often talk to people as I'm walking. I am familiar with faces so when I see somebody that I haven't seen before and asked them how they got here, I had a woman that say she is new on the streets. MS: We do have a bite the $80 million will be available to combat homelessness. Let's see what the mayor has to say on that. Faulconer: The commission is going to invest more than $50 million to create hundreds of new permanent supportive housing units. This plan provides vouchers. MS: There is some questions here where is that money coming from and how many people will help? $80 million sounds like a lot -- SM: There is a lot of different initiatives and a lot of it goes towards permanent housing. There hoping to house -- basically they are hoping to get 3000 maybe up to 5000 people off the streets in the next three years into permanent housing. It has a preventative measure also. So hoping to help 1400 individuals and families by helping them if they are on the brink of eviction or having issues that are leading them toward homelessness to step in before the end up on the streets. There's also initiatives to increase outreach. I was talking to Rick Gentry the head of the housing commission and he said they have 75 housing navigators there helping people use their vouchers to get into low income housing and facilities because they have probation or parolees. They have a lot of people who have mental illness were not able to get a voucher and negotiate with landlords. Housing navigators are real estate agents for the homeless and helping them find the unit and talk to landlords to get into housing. We have a tight market and landlords are most likely picking somebody who is a stable income over somebody who has credit problems and evictions and possibly a criminal record. Michael: On the voucher and incentives for landlords, you brought up the point that it is a tight housing market. They've had some of those in the past and haven't been as successful because the market such that they can be more choosy to go certainly for right or wrong reasons not selecting a homeless person with a voucher for somebody that has a voucher but are the incentives improving them? SM: It sounds like it is improving. The incentives are increased plus they try to push the idea that the money, monthly rent will be paid. That's not a question because a lot of these people are getting the full month's rent paid. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. We saw that the number of homeless veterans living on the streets dropped by 21%. There's been a 30% decline in homeless veterans altogether in the last 3 to 4 years and officials are crediting that housing first initiative getting people off the streets in to secure housing in addressing the issues whether it is addiction or mental issues. MS: It seems like such a chronic and frustrating problem. You talk to caseworkers who deal individually day-to-day. How do they keep them going? SM: Some people are incredible and their stories are similar to those had been on the streets. I ran into two women this past week. They know what struggle is and obstacles and sees people as human beings. You and I might say that's amazingly hopeless but people like the workers that I spoke to see hope and see ways to help them and it takes a lot of patience and compassion and a big heart and they don't look out and look at all the tents and all these people within blocks living among what another. MS: You mentioned Rick Gentry head of the housing commission we have a by -- bite about homelessness. Rick G: What San Diego has to do is understand transition with housing expansion pushed in and up. We have 75,000 applicants with the turnover rate of 100 and above. You can do the math. MS: He is talking about the ongoing debate we have about density building up in tighter neighborhoods versus sprawl. Michael: The politics have never been good on that. There was not very long ago in the Marina area they wanted to build high-rises. Even that was turned down by the locals. That shows you how difficult it is. So it's always been difficult. The dynamic that may be changing is you have developers and government wanting to do this but also environmentalists starting to push through that over the whole global warming aspect and needing people on that transportation corridors. So has that become critical enough? I have not seen that but that seems to be where people are hoping to go because they are not going to solve the climate action global warming issue without it or the homelessness problem because housing is expensive. MS: We have to move on but I know will be revisiting this and we have this issue a lot and is very tough for everybody. For many decades San Diego gas and electric has enjoyed a monopoly with the utility whose energy prices are among the nation's highest is facing charges. They want more competition and they proven quite adept over the years but more area cities are determined to buy power on their terms from someone else. So start with a summary of -- how has a managed to hang onto this monopoly? RR: They are the natural private monopoly for electricity. After the energy crisis around 2000 a couple of cities -- I looked at Chula Vista and San Marcos have looked about starting their own utility to provide service to all or some developing parts of both those cities. MS: They had ambitious plans. RR: They did studies and you can always debate the assumptions but they said we will save money by doing this. We are going to buy power and build your own transmission lines. They came in in both cases and lobbied in different forms against both programs. They formed a political action group and a citizens group and started putting down the plan. In Chula Vista, they came to an arrangement with the city Council, which was try to clean up the bay front. They kind of got some goodies to clean up the bay front. In exchange to that they sort of gave up their own ambitions. MS: Give us a background on how they provide energy over the regional power grid. RR: They are in two businesses. They send electricity to you and a lot of that they buy from somebody else from a natural gas plant in the solar facilities and also in the business of charging people for use of their lines. The electrons that make your iPhone a lot of are not usually there. With a do make money on guaranteed profits on building power lines and substations. When they are trying to have the government come in you can do one are both. The focus is on buying power from other sources so that you don't have them buying power for you. MS: This gives you an idea of community choice. RR: That is just government buying power. It doesn't help consumers. MS: Why do cities looking at it why do they see this as a better way to go? RR: There's some pretty high interest in having cheaper power. They believe if they are not -- the government believes that they could do something cheaper and then there's environmental goals. SDG&E has been pretty good about moving away from natural gas. None of it is coal so they say we are getting green and trying to get greener. Governments including the city of San Diego is 100% renewable energy. Michael: Well I know the study say that the keeping is the cheaper aspect. Has it been examples of programs proving that? RR: So in Northern California they have the first modern CCA in California. They had to fight PG&E and they spent millions of dollars to try to make that not happen. They had been able to deliver slightly cheaper power. MS: We do have a bite that I wanted to get to. He is explaining to a reporter why the city should be able to get to choose where they get their power. Peter: Are cities in our region is moving to clean energy. We have more and more solar every day and rapidly involving energy storage under way. Continuing to pursue fossil fuels and the extraordinarily costly infrastructure is not our future. MS: We have five cities Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar, and Solana Beach pursuing these CCAs. What is their chances of pulling this off? RR: My impression so far is that Del Mar leaving SDG&E isn’t a big deal. Solana Beach same thing. You have a couple thousand customers in each city. The big deal is in the city of San Diego. If they decide to do that, that is a significant portion of their customer base. So SDG&E is not allowed to lobby itself so they have its parent company that will do the lobbying that is when the rubber will meet the road. What they will do at the city Council in coming months. MS: It is changing so rapidly in the whole energy system across the country and development in the national level in all of them searching -- switching to solar. It will look quite different. RR: If you told people that you could not do without coal, they would not have believed you. Now does not seem to be over natural gas. Now the question is whether you can beat natural gas prices consistently. MS: So improvement in batteries and all things to store all of this. We will see. Another issue that we will come back to. We have run at a time. That does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to say thank you to Michael Smolens, Susan Murphy, and Ry Rivard. A reminder all the stories that we discussed are available on our website at KPBS.org. I am Mark Sauer. Thank you for joining us today on the KPBS Roundtable.

FAULCONER'S PRESENT AND FUTURE

The Story

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Kevin Faulconer, San Diego’s Republican mayor, is not running for governor.

But state Republican leaders would really, really love it if he did, however, and rumors about his intentions continually resurface.

Faulconer has been San Diego’s elected leader since 2014. He appointed Shelley Zimmerman to be the city's first female police chief. He increased hours at the city's parks, recreation centers and libraries and has worked to strengthen cross-border relations.

But there are questions about whether he can achieve the big goals he has laid out for the city.

In December 2015, Faulconer announced a forward-looking climate plan to applause, but there are concerns about whether the plan's goals are too ambitious, or not ambitious enough.

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He promised action to relieve the city’s growing homelessness troubles, but the problem is getting worse. And of course there's SoccerCity and the Convention Center to worry about.

The Discussion

–The mayor has two-and-a-half years left in office. Will his achievements catch up to his ambitions?

-What stands in his way — and why?

RELATED: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer says he won't run for governor, dashing hopes of GOP leaders

HOMELESSNESS STILL A GROWING PROBLEM

The Story

This week, Mayor Faulconer, along with San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts and other officials, announced a new three-year initiative to get at least 3,000 people who are homeless off the streets and into permanent supportive housing.

The initiative is funded with $80 million from a variety of sources.

The number of people sleeping unsheltered on the streets has risen 18 percent in the city and 40 percent in San Diego County over the last three years.

Some political and business leaders have said the mayor does not seem to have a plan that will effectively deal with the problem. But navigating the politics of homelessness to actually solve this growing problem and prevent its recurrence is not easy.

For openers, there are disagreements over temporary versus permanent shelters and where they would be located. The virtual absence of affordable housing and how to remedy that is a contentious issue.

While San Diego's leaders and business owners worry over how to deal with the city's homeless problem — one of the worst in the nation — caseworkers are actually doing the job, going "tent to tent" trying to get people off the streets.

The Discussion

-Is $80 million anywhere close to enough?

-Where could new permanent housing be located?

-Where does the program to house 1,000 homeless vets stand?

RELATED: Social Workers Go ‘Tent To Tent’ In Push To Help San Diego’s Homeless

RELATED: San Diego Housing Homeless To Change Lives, Tent-Covered Landscapes

RELATED: Major Action on Homelessness Remains Elusive for Faulconer

SDG&E COULD FACE COMPETITION

The Story

SDG&E, the region’s power monopoly, is facing more disruption from local governments looking for competition.

The city of San Diego, as well as the North County cities of Del Mar, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Solana Beach and Encinitas, are either considering buying power elsewhere or are in the process of contracting to do so.

What these cities want to accomplish is called community choice aggregation, and SDG&E does not like it.

SDG&E’s infrastructure would still be used to deliver the outside power to San Diego County homes and businesses.

So far, SDG&E’s skilled lobbyists, mail campaigns and funded citizen groups have defeated similar attempts, notably in Chula Vista and San Marcos.

Energy prices in California are among the highest in the country, and SDG&E’s are among the highest in the state.

Community choice in energy is a big part of the city’s climate action plan.

The Discussion

-Did other cities fail at community choice because they did not get their message out and SDG&E did?

-Are there other reasons besides costs that some communities want their energy from other sources?

-Could SDG&E pre-empt community choice by lowering its rates?

RELATED: SDG&E’s Power Moves Have Fended Off Energy Choice Efforts Across San Diego

RELATED: A Closer Look At San Diego’s Ambitious Climate Plan