What To Listen For In Mayor Faulconer's State Of The City Address
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is scheduled to give his penultimate State of the City address tonight at the Balboa Theatre. He has used previous speeches to lay out his policy agenda for the next year, and there are several areas of interest that he will likely touch on.
Convention Center expansion
More than once, Faulconer has used his State of the City address to announce plans to fund an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center — a longtime priority of his, and of the local business community and tourism industry. Ultimately none of those plans came to fruition.
One question Faulconer may answer in his speech is whether he will seek approval from the City Council to hold a special election this year. That would give voters an earlier chance to weigh in on the latest iteration of the Convention Center plans put together by a coalition of business and labor groups. Their measure, called Yes For A Better San Diego, failed to qualify for the ballot in time for the November 2018 elections, and is currently on track to be voted on in 2020.
Democrats on the City Council have been less than enthusiastic about calling special elections, which typically cost millions of dollars and attract a low turnout of voters. Pushing for a special election this year would be a politically risky move for Faulconer, and could set up a clash with the Democrats' new supermajority on the council (more on that later).
Housing and homelessness
Last year's State of the City address focused heavily on housing and homelessness — two issues that are top of mind for many in San Diego. Faulconer said he would pursue plans for a storage facility where people experiencing homelessness could keep their belongings and a "housing navigation center" where they could connect with social services and be placed on a waiting list for permanent housing.
The storage center opened in Sherman Heights last June, but the housing navigation center did not even get a final vote at the City Council until last November. The center is scheduled to open in May.
The biggest criticism of Faulconer's approach to homelessness is that he has pursued temporary fixes at the expense of more lasting solutions, such as permanent supportive housing. That is widely acknowledged to be the most effective approach to ending homelessness, but it usually requires an immense upfront investment of public dollars. The Yes For A Better San Diego initiative has dedicated money for homeless services, but it is unclear how much would go toward funding permanent housing.
On the more general issue of housing affordability, Faulconer has far more room to win broad support from the council. He is soon expected to ask the council to eliminate minimum parking standards on projects near public transit stops — something advocates say will help encourage more home building at a time when the demand for housing far outweighs the supply.
Voice of San Diego reported last week that Faulconer and SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata were unveiling plans for a new public transit hub on the Navy's SPAWAR property near Old Town. The transit center would provide a long-awaited rail link to the San Diego Airport.
Faulconer's speech may contain more details about that transit hub, which is still just a concept, and how he plans to tackle the region's overall transportation issues in his final two years in office. Environmental advocates have criticized Faulconer for not doing more to transition the city away from car dependence by building more robust bike and pedestrian infrastructure and advocating more vocally for improved public transit service.
Last month Faulconer held a press conference to mark the creation of the creation of new protected bike lanes on J Street downtown. A mention of that project and a nod to its future expansion could suggest Faulconer wants to elevate the issue of bike safety this year.
Faulconer tends to downplay the significance of the fact that he is a Republican, preferring to brand himself a moderate who works well with Democrats and independents. But the partisan balance at city hall seems more significant now than it has in years, and the tone Faulconer strikes in his speech could give a hint as to how he plans to navigate a less friendly political environment.
Democrats now have a veto-proof majority of six Democrats on the City Council, meaning they could theoretically pursue their own policy agenda without his cooperation. It is unclear, however, which issues are so high-priority for all six Democrats that they would take such an aggressive approach against the mayor's wishes.
Faulconer also has a new council president to work with: Georgette Gomez, an unabashed progressive who represents City Heights, Kensington, Talmadge, and parts of Southeast San Diego. Gomez appears far more willing than the previous council president, Myrtle Cole, to push back against the mayor's agenda when she disagrees with him.