The State of Gloria’s Top Priorities From 2021 — Voice of San Diego
Illustration by Adriana Heldiz
Mayor Todd Gloria laid out a long list of resolutions during his State of the City address last year.
He’s set to share an updated to-do list on Wednesday.
We decided to check Gloria’s progress in seven areas he pledged action on in last year’s speech.
More Homelessness Strategy
Gloria promised last year that the city would take a more methodical approach to addressing homelessness.
Gloria said he would work with a top homelessness expert to refine the city’s strategy, team with county officials to better serve homeless San Diegans with addiction and mental health challenges and transition the city away from having police officers “serve as the first point of contact for unsheltered people in need.”
He also reiterated a campaign promise to focus on ending chronic homelessness – or homelessness among San Diegans who have been homeless for at least a year, or repeatedly, who also have a disability. Gloria has since stood up the city’s Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department with input from a former chief of the agency coordinating the federal response to homelessness. New department director Hafsa Kaka, who led efforts to combat homelessness in Riverside before taking the city post in August, reports directly to Gloria.
Jimmy Shorter, a homeless resident, stays on F Street in downtown San Diego on June 14, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Gloria has also worked with the county to open a shelter serving homeless residents with behavioral health challenges and with providers to nearly double the city’s corps of non-police outreach workers. He also directed city workers to take a more humane approach to controversial encampment clean-ups, and oversaw a downtown outreach campaign that helped move about 475 people into shelter.
But there have been cracks.
Voice of San Diego last fall revealed misunderstandings over empty shelter beds and a key city policy on citing homeless San Diegans, issues that Gloria and his team said were swiftly addressed once they became aware of them.
Some advocates have criticized the mayor for continuing enforcement of crimes associated with homelessness, while others have decried growing homeless camps downtown and elsewhere.
Gloria and his team have defended his approach.
“He must navigate often-conflicting input on strategy from advocates and everyday San Diegans and has developed a comprehensive approach that is more realistic than strategies put forward by either side,” Gloria spokesman Dave Rolland told VOSD.
One goal that hasn’t gotten as much attention this year: Ending chronic homelessness, though the mayor’s 2021 efforts almost certainly helped some members of that vulnerable population.
Gloria’s office said he will have more to say about efforts to end chronic homelessness during Wednesday’s speech.
Early last year, Gloria was facing down massive budget deficits as the pandemic devastated city tax collections. He signaled there were tough decisions ahead.
Yet he also highlighted structural budget issues he said former Mayor Kevin Faulconer didn’t do enough to tackle, hinting that he’d chip away at them. Gloria’s office later clarified that they believed the city wasn’t bringing in enough money to pay for expanded services and staffing Faulconer oversaw.
Nearly $150 million in federal aid ultimately saved the city from the drastic cuts Gloria feared – and Gloria stocked away another $150 million for the city to deploy in future years in what his team describes as a bid to “put the city on a path toward structural balance and long-term fiscal health” as it emerges from the pandemic.
But the city’s structural budget challenges haven’t changed dramatically.
Gloria’s team says he has started digging in.
City stormwater department staff directed by Gloria have been working on a strategy to proceed with a possible November 2022 parcel tax measure to help the city address a massive funding gap the city faces with its busted stormwater system.
Gloria has also made small tweaks to help the city face budget realities. For example, in the five-year budget outlook released in November, the mayor’s team included the assumption that city workers will receive roughly 3 percent raises in the years after current labor deals expire – a move that allows the city to bake expected raises into its budget-making process.
Discussions are also underway about potential ballot measures to repeal a century-old city policy that subsidizes trash pickup for many homeowners and costs the city tens of millions of dollars annually, and to supply dedicated funding for city parks and libraries that have suffered during the pandemic.
Gloria has been mum on where he stands on those efforts.
Shift on Transportation
Traffic at the intersection of Friars Road and Frazee Road in Mission Valley. / Photo by Dustin Michelson
Gloria last year pledged his support for SANDAG’s transportation plan, which controversially pitched a fee on driving to help pay for road and transit improvements in coming decades.
“It will create a transportation blueprint for our region that is equitable, sustainable and improves the everyday lives of millions of people,” Gloria said.
SANDAG passed the plan in December, but only after Gloria turned against the “road user charge” that became a flashpoint last summer.
The charge was envisioned as a replacement for gas tax revenue that would also reduce emissions by discouraging driving. But constituents and conservatives on the board mobilized against it, and Gloria led a group of Democrats to abandon it.
“Right now, I don’t think that this particular part of the plan is something that we should be considering,” he said.
The board approved the plan before a state-mandated deadline, and told staff to immediately change the plan it just passed to remove the charge. They’ll need to find ways to replace the money it would have raised, and the emissions it would have cut.
A group of labor unions and environmentalists, meanwhile, announced last year they were pursuing a 2022 ballot measure to raise sales taxes for transportation. Gloria has not yet said whether he supports the effort.
Hammering on Housing
Gloria’s speech last year, like his campaign, focused on building more homes.
“We’re going to focus on creating more housing that middle-and working-class people can afford,” Gloria said.
His homebuilding goals took an early hit when state regulators said the city under the former mayor broke the law by not offering the Sports Arena to affordable housing developers before inking a redevelopment deal.
Gloria re-started that effort, which could result in more affordable housing in the project. But that’ll have to wait on a resolution to a court ruling that the city broke the law when it asked voters to repeal the height limit over the area, which is essential to redevelopment.
The city in 2021 finished other housing efforts it started before Gloria. The state approved its goal to allow 107,000 new homes in the next eight years. The Council finally passed a new community plan for Barrio Logan. And Gloria advanced a new set of reforms aimed at the familiar goal of making it cheaper, easier and faster to build homes, especially affordable ones near transit. He rolled out his plan to, at long last, speed up writing new community plans. He also launched a task force to cook up ideas to spur middle-income home building.
Movement on Climate Action
Ocean View Hills, seen here on Dec. 12, 2021, is a community part of the Nestor neighborhood. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Gloria’s plan for action to protect and prepare the city for the onslaught of severe weather and rising seas climate change brings was to update the old plan, passed in 2015 when Gloria was serving on the City Council.
“There has been some progress, but it hasn’t been nearly enough,” Gloria said during his first State of the City address.
That update dropped in November while Gloria was in Glasgow, Scotland, speaking at the 26th United Nations’ Conference of the Parties. The new plan is the gutsiest to date, committing the city to driving-down greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2035.
To get there, Gloria’s administration obligated the city to gut natural gas infrastructure from most buildings in town – a much more ambitious task than simply requiring all new construction go electricity-only. The change came to the chagrin of unionized gas workers who saw the energy transition as a job exterminator, but have since said they’re in talks with the city about new job outlets for pipefitters in the water industry.
But that’s in line with another of Gloria’s commitments, that city buildings switch to using 100 percent renewable energy via San Diego Community Power, a government-run power purchasing agency alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric, which the city joined under former Mayor Kevin Faulconer. It’s not clear yet whether all the city’s buildings have indeed completed that transition.
Gloria also promised to add more electric vehicles to the city fleet and so in April launched a six-month pilot project to grow the city’s charging capacity, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. And, Gloria picked up a torch left by former City Councilman Chris Ward, proposing the city divest from investments in fossil fuel companies.
A More Equitable City
“We must serve everyone in San Diego more equitably,” Gloria said during last year’s speech.
He committed to building an Office of Race and Equity, combating the digital divide in households, funding sustainability projects in underserved neighborhoods and working with the Council to implement a voter-approved commission to investigate police misconduct allegations.
Mayor Todd Gloria named Kim Desmond as the city’s first chief race and equity officer on July 2, 2021. / Photo courtesy of city of San Diego
In the ensuing months, Gloria announced a partnership to provide free Wi-Fi at more than 300 new locations and to let residents check out mobile hot spots and laptops at city libraries. The city hired nonprofit Pillars of the Community to help residents enroll in a federal program that provides computers and internet service.
In July, Gloria hired Kim Desmond away from Denver to lead the Office of Race and Equity. She’ll help launch a climate equity fund that’s meant to invest in infrastructure in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods that are most susceptible to climate change. Some of that money will come from a new 20-year franchise agreement with SDG&E inked by the mayor.
The city decides where to spend that money with the Climate Equity Index, a tool that needs work to function as intended.
The city is still launching the new police oversight commission approved by voters in 2020. Gloria budgeted $1.14 million for it last year, but advocates pushed back on a draft ordinance authored by City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office before the city attorney hired an outside law firm to write it instead. That hasn’t publicly materialized yet.
A Gloria spokesman said the city is making it easier to staff the commission until City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery brings an ordinance to the Council. Gloria has said he is eager to sign the ordinance once it’s approved.
Shining a Light on the Border
“The border isn’t seen as a dividing line – it’s a bridge that joins two vibrant cultures,” Gloria said last year.
The mayor said he was determined to broadcast the benefits of San Diego and Tijuana’s binational connection following the border crackdowns from former President’s Donald Trump administration.
Be it a border or bridge Gloria has to cross, political leadership in Tijuana and the state of Baja have changed since the mayor’s 2021 speech but many of the problems remain the same. Sewage from Tijuana is still spilling into San Diego via the Tijuana River. The city, as well as the county and state of California, all manage land near the border subject to the pollution.
When Gloria took office, a plan to spend $300 million OK’d by Congress under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement was well under way. Since then, the EPA decided to spend that money in San Diego by expanding the existing International Wastewater Treatment plant. That still won’t stop all the sewage from crossing the border. Gloria told 10 News last fall that he was pressing congressional and other federal authorities to increase that investment.
The border officially reopened in November after many months of closure – a federal, not city decision, due to COVID-19. Gloria for months rallied the Biden administration to reopen it.
In late August, Gloria pushed a United States Conference of Mayors resolution urging the Biden administration to lift non-essential travel restrictions to “facilitate economic recovery in communities on both sides of the border.”
Gloria later met with federal officials in Washington D.C. and lobbied for an end to border restrictions. The Biden administration announced it would do so two weeks after Gloria’s trip to D.C.
In his 2021 State of the City address, Gloria advocated for the completion of a new port of entry known as Otay Mesa East. The mayor said he’s made progress on securing the commitment of Baja’s new governor, Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda, who took office in November.