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Politics

Homelessness likely to be at forefront of Todd Gloria's State of City Address

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Matthew Bowler
/
KPBS
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria speaking at a press conference in downtown San Diego about what the city of San Diego is doing to address pay inequities for Latinas, Dec. 15, 2022.

Mayor Todd Gloria will deliver his third State of the City Address Wednesday evening at the San Diego Civic Theatre, where he will likely focus heavily on the city's twin homelessness and housing crises.

In his 2022 address, Gloria pinpointed chronic homelessness, housing shortages, rising crime and increasing infrastructure needs as his top priorities for the year.

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Gloria's administration has attempted to reduce the number of San Diegans finding themselves homeless, but results have been a mixed bag at best. The city has created more than 600 beds for people experiencing homelessness in the past year, yet it has also set records for the most homeless on the streets of downtown San Diego — 1,839 — and number of homeless deaths — more than 574 in 2022.

The impact on the city has not gone unnoticed, with basketball legend and San Diego icon Bill Walton issuing a scathing rebuke of the mayor in September.

In a fiery news conference alongside Drew Moser, the executive director of homeless-focused nonprofit the Lucky Duck Foundation, and Lucky Duck Executive Committee member Dan Shea, Walton said he had been harassed, chased and attacked while riding his bike in Balboa Park near a large homeless encampment he has dubbed "Gloriaville."

"Paradise Lost: This is the city of San Diego, a once great city," Walton said. "Sadly, and with a broken heart, I can no longer claim San Diego is the greatest place on Earth."

Gloria's director of communications Rachel Laing fired back with some heated rhetoric of her own.

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"San Diegans are frustrated with the worsening homelessness crisis, and Mayor Gloria shares that frustration," she told City News Service. "But unlike Mr. Walton, Mayor Gloria is translating that frustration into decisive, sustained action to improve the situation. To say that he has done nothing on homelessness is objectively false."

She went on to tout Gloria's accomplishments on the topic, including increasing the city's network of shelter beds, launching and expanding a street outreach program, initiating 18 different policy reforms to make it faster and easier to build affordable housing, investing city funds into 10 affordable housing projects, championed efforts at the state level to enhance access to mental health care, and stepped-up sidewalk cleanups and law enforcement efforts to protect health and safety in public spaces.

Other city leaders acknowledged the crisis but backed Gloria's efforts and said the issue existed long before he took office in 2020.

"The city continues to add shelter and take critical steps to address homelessness," said Councilman Stephen Whitburn, who represents District 3, including Balboa Park and Walton's neighborhood of Hillcrest. "We need to keep adding shelter and housing as quickly as we can, because more people are becoming homeless due to the high cost of housing. San Diego is a wonderful home and we are working to make sure there's a home for all of us."

The San Diego Housing Emergency Alliance will host an "alternative" State of the City Address on Wednesday night outside the Civic Theatre to discuss the same issues.

"This is a policy failure of epic proportions — implicating all levels of government and both major political parties," a statement from the group read. "But rather than take responsibility, officials often blame the victims. Hence, the criminalization of homelessness serves an insidious, irrational purpose."

In December, San Diego was one of six cities in California to earn the state's Prohousing Designation, a recognition for committing to policies and practices that will help remove barriers to housing production.

"These communities have stepped up to implement policies that aggressively eliminate bureaucratic obstacles and drive the growth of housing throughout the state," Gov. Gavin Newsom said. "This is one of many innovative approaches the state is taking to create greater accountability and reward municipalities willing to do their part to help collectively tackle the need for more housing.

"This is the right approach and I look forward to seeing more communities join in this effort," he said.

Also in December, Gloria and City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera released a proposed framework aimed at providing greater local protections for tenants.

"The data is clear: More people are falling into homelessness than in years past, requiring policy reforms at the local level that will help keep roofs over San Diegans' heads as well as connect people to more affordable housing," Gloria said. "I'm confident that this framework will help us take the necessary steps to protect renters from wrongful terminations, provide clarity and consistency to our rental housing stakeholders and prevent people from falling into homelessness."

On infrastructure, Gloria proposed a major update to the city's Street Preservation Ordinance to ensure that utilities, city crews and contractors excavating streets are held to a high standard of complete and timely repairs.

He also increased street sweeping schedules in downtown and highly trafficked areas — intended to make the streets cleaner — and pushed through the city council funding for his Build Better SD initiative, a move intended to equalize public infrastructure funding across all the city's neighborhoods with an eye toward those in greatest need.

In his 2022 address, Gloria also vowed to address rising crime in the city. To that end, he and the San Diego Police Department held several job fairs and he signed an executive order to address the illicit fentanyl crisis in the city by strengthening and prioritizing law enforcement for crimes related to sale of the drug.

Fentanyl overdoses claimed the lives of more than 800 San Diegans in 2021, 113 of them homeless, according to the mayor's office and the SDPD. Five years ago, there were only two reported deaths of homeless people from fentanyl overdoses.

"The proliferation of fentanyl in our communities — and the accompanying death and destruction it's causing in our communities — demands swift action from all levels of government," Gloria said. "As mayor, I'm going to do everything within my authority to tackle this crisis head-on."

Wednesday's address will be the first State of the City address delivered in person since 2020. The public is invited to attend the free event at 6:30 p.m., which also will be livestreamed via City TV and KPBS.com, as well as broadcast live on CW 6 San Diego.