June 25 2014 09:19 AM

Mayor's actions so far betray his pitch, but there's still hope

Kevin Faulconer
Photo by David Rolland

One definition of "conservative" is someone who seeks to preserve and maintain the status quo: Don't rock the boat. Don't go out on a limb. Don't make sudden, dramatic changes. Don't be risky. In a way, and for the most part, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is that kind of conservative.

Faulconer did make a splash immediately by moving quickly and decisively to hire a woman, Shelley Zimmerman, as the new police chief after William Lansdowne resigned amid controversy involving some officers' conduct toward women. But beyond that, there hasn't been much boldness so far.

In fact, Faulconer has fought back against boldness in a few high-profile policy areas. The City Council—well, the Democrats on the City Council, that is—has made some bold moves that Faulconer has resisted with all of his might: The council has tried to raise money for affordable housing by updating a long-out-of-date fee that developers of commercial property pay, tried to protect the largely low-income Barrio Logan from continued industrial pollution and pushed for a significant increase in the minimum wage within city limits. Essentially parroting the sky-is-falling rhetoric of factions of the local business community, Faulconer played a major role in defeating the housing-fee increase and the plan that would've protected Barrio Logan and is opposing a minimum-wage hike.

Our irritation over his stance on the housing fee can be overcome by an alternative proposal to raise more money to create new affordable housing, and we understand that such a proposal is in the works. However, our anger over his stance on Barrio Logan hasn't subsided since the sensible, council-approved community plan was rejected by voters on June 3. His fierce opposition to the plan, fueled by his longtime, one-sided advocacy for business interests, kills any credibility he might have otherwise had when it comes to policy proposals to help underserved, underrepresented communities.

Faulconer can restore some of that lost credibility by following through on his rhetoric about serving neighborhoods and families, particularly the low-income neighborhoods and families that need his help the most. A report released on June 12 by Faulconer's Transition Advisory Committee includes some positive policy proposals. The 46-page report is a series of mostly vague recommendations to enhance education and youth opportunities, lower the cost of housing, combat homelessness, fix infrastructure, create jobs, strengthen the economy, make government more open and transparent, improve pubic safety and better serve military veterans.

For example, we like the attention paid in the report to expand educational opportunities and after-school programs for kids in struggling families. We like some of the proposals for lowering the cost of housing and making affordable housing easier to build, such as relaxing parking requirements for developments in transit corridors. We like the commitment to permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless folks, although it's unclear how the city would finance an expanded program. We also like the recommendation to work with employers and schools to align curriculum with local workforce needs. And we like, generally, the idea to incentivize economic development in lower-income neighborhoods if it genuinely leads to greater opportunities for folks in those communities.

These are some potentially positive steps to close the gap between the haves and have-nots in San Diego, combat poverty and strengthen the middle class. But, in our view, Faulconer already has to climb out of a deep hole in that regard, because of the unfortunate choices he's already made.

The mayor likely isn't too bothered by that, because he's riding a comfortable wave, thanks to an improving economy, a consequently easy city-budget process—that allowed him to dole out some new goodies—and a hey-look-we-all-get-along honeymoon with City Council President Todd Gloria and the rest of the council.

Most San Diegans these days would settle for political harmony and a City Hall free of scandal. We'd like to join the Kumbaya chorus—all it'll take is some bold action by Faulconer to turn his populist spiel into something more than an empty PR pitch.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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