Oct. 14 2015 02:43 PM

If inaction were gold, San Diego would be gleaming

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A familiar Mayor Kevin Faulconer posture
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

I’ll be glad to reply to or dodge your question, depending on what I think will help our election most.

—George H.W. Bush

Say this about Mayor Kevin Faulconer—he won’t let a little heat keep him from his intended rounds.

On Friday, however, that meant enduring near-record temperatures along Pacific Highway for a ribbon-cutting ceremony rather than the political heat downtown. That’s where other San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) board members were unanimously approving a 35- year, $204-billion-plus regional transportation plan that activists panned as too car-centric.

A prior commitment, the mayor’s peeps said, prevented Faulconer from attending that widely anticipated SANDAG meeting. That commitment—an unveiling in his former council district of the final phase of the widely respected Veterans Village of San Diego—can be explained. It cannot be excused.

Spin Cycle, you betcha, would love to see scissors slicing into redwhite-and-blue bunting every day if it meant more homeless—military veterans or otherwise—could find safe harbor from San Diego’s mean streets, but this isn’t leading.

Online news outlet Voice of San Diego said the mayor “punted the opportunity” to vote on the controversial SANDAG plan, which activists believe runs counter to the mayor’s previous backing of an ambitious Climate Action Plan awaiting council action. But as the story noted, Faulconer “rarely” attends SANDAG board meetings.

A quick perusal of board minutes backs that up. Faulconer has attended only five of 30 SANDAG meetings since he took over as mayor early last year. The meetings he attended seemed more focused on board business, particularly election of officers, than anything meaty. Records show he last attended a board meeting in mid-December, some 10 months ago.

Faulconer would no doubt pat his alternate and District 2 successor, Lorie Zapf, on the back and say she’s represented well in his absence for all of 2015. But it’s also reasonable to assume that the top pol of the nation’s eighth-largest city, whose backers frequently boast of his popularity, would have more sway among SANDAG board colleagues than a loyal coattail rider.

Perhaps the GOP mayor, facing re-election next year, thought it best to avoid a public fight over how the region will move itself about in the future, since SANDAG is contemplating a “quality of life” sales-tax hike ballot measure in 2016 to help pay for the plan.

California Republican Party Vice Chairman Ron Nehring took to social media Friday to blast the SANDAG board as “nuts,” calling the proposed tax hike “pretty Orwellian” and vowing “We’ll defeat it.” That prompted Republican Party of San Diego Chairman Tony Krvaric to chime in, “DOA! [San Diego Republican Party] already opposed.”

The mayor’s office did not provide any pushback to that notion, leaving mass transit advocates, environmentalists and believers of the “Faulconer is a moderate” mantra to ponder the growing suspicion that Faulconer talks a good game but provides few tangible results.

“Bottom line, communities in this city have to decide whether they want more neighbors or more taxes,” urban planner Howard Blackson told Spin Cycle. “Cities need revenue to keep going. Unfortunately, San Diego is really good at saying who we don’t want to be—another Los Angeles—rather than what we want to be.”

Dale Carnegie once said, “Fear not those who argue but those who dodge.” Now, no one would suggest that politics is a bastion of brave souls, but pretend you’re the mayor of a large city with ambitions for higher office, say governor. Is it best to travel the safe route—photo ops at ribbon cuttings, bland introductory remarks at civic events— or is it possible to take chances and live with the results?

With Faulconer, it seems apparent San Diego is destined for more of the former.

City Councilmember Todd Gloria, who also voted for the SANDAG plan, argued that transit spending will occur more quickly than in previous proposals.

“The plan approved today programs an unprecedented level of funding to transit and active transportation and results in greenhouse gas emission reductions that exceed state requirements,” Gloria said in a statement Friday. “Seventy-five percent of transportation funding in the next five years will go to transit, up from 50 percent in the last five years.”

Some advocates questioned that math, but the point is Gloria attended the meeting, registered his vote and defended it. The mayor sent a lieutenant in his place.

This is not the first time. Faulconer critics suggest he is most adept at political cover, frequently a joiner and rarely a leader. His dealings with the Chargers and the convention center expansion, they say, demonstrate a penchant for scapegoating, rather than solution finding.

Mark Fabiani, general counsel to Chargers owner Dean Spanos, told Spin Cycle the city has put forth yet another term sheet for its dead-in-the-water Mission Valley stadium plan. “There’s nothing much new about it except that the election the mayor first promised on Dec. 15, and then on Jan. 15, now won’t be held until June 2016,” Fabiani said.

Faulconer spokesman Craig Gustafson confirmed that, but with a different take. “As has been widely reported, the Chargers refused to return to the negotiating table and the deadline for a January special election has passed,” he said in an email. “The mayor has repeatedly said there remains an opportunity to put a stadium measure on the June or November ballot of next year, if the Chargers return to the table and negotiate in good faith.”

Fabiani argues that city leaders are not living up to their own schedule. “They haven’t incorporated public comments into the quickie EIR. They haven’t circulated a final EIR. They haven’t gotten expedited review from Sacramento,” Fabiani said. “They haven’t certified the EIR. They haven’t gotten the council to set an election. All of this was promised to the NFL by [Oct. 14]. None of it has happened.”

If it quacks like a duck…


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