Photo by Andy Nystrom / Flickr
Plaza de Panama
On the way into the State of the City this past Thursday, I made a $5 bet with a friend and local tourism official on whether or not Mayor Faulconer would mention the Chargers at all. My bet: that the mayor would only mention that morning’s announcement that the Chargers were moving to L.A. in passing. Her bet: That he’d talk about it at length.
In the end, I should have known the mayor would double down on the statement that he gave earlier about the Chargers losing San Diego as opposed to the other way around (see Spin Cycle o for the full quote and a great roundup of the Chargexit fallout). It’s a rousing zinger for sure and seemed to garner the largest applause of the night.
The mayor received another large round of applause after announcing his plan to ostensibly repackage aspects of the hotel taxes of the failed Measure C into a new measure that would fund a Convention Center expansion, infrastructure projects and, perhaps most notably, homeless services.
“We must lift up the neediest among us, and carry their burdens as if they were our own,” Faulconer said. “We must make reducing homelessness our region’s number one social-service priority.”
It was truly refreshing to hear the mayor speak with concern and compassion about the state of homelessness in our city. There was a cadence in his voice that I don’t think I’ve heard from him since the string of homeless murders last year.
But here’s the thing: This measure, which the mayor plans to send to the City Council this year, wouldn’t show up on the ballot until November 2018(!). What’s more, it will need a two-thirds majority from voters in order to pass. Oh, and guess what else? As Voice of San Diego’s Lisa Halverstadt pointed out in her excellent roundup of the tax hike, no one at the mayor’s office could offer any specifics as to how large this tax hike would be or how the funds would be allocated.
One item that seemed to be missing from the dialogue that played out during and after the mayor’s address was the very real possibility that San Diego might lose Comic Con before the Convention Center measure even makes it to the ballot. Con is only obligated to stay through 2018, per a deal made in 2015, and it’s likely that Vegas, L.A. and Anaheim will come courting again. Will the mayor have to work overtime to get Con organizers to agree to another extension?
More applause came when the mayor spoke about the Plaza de Panama project in Balboa Park. The crowd lapped up his pronouncements of getting rid of “unsightly asphalt” and replacing it with $49 million worth of “promenades” and “reflecting pools,” not to mention that sweet new parking structure.
“It’s about time!” Faulconer bellowed. “We are not going to let a handful of obstructionists stop the progress that our families and children need.”
I’ll have more on those “obstructionists” next week, but for now, here’s the thing: the mayor might be downplaying a run for governor for the very reason that he knows that his political stock is teetering. He likely knows that when it comes to wooing voters across the entire state, a controversial Balboa Park facelift and fixing a shoddy emergency response system will only get him so far. That is, no one will really care outside of San Diego. For people on the outside looking in, right now he’s just the mayor of a city whose football team just bolted (pun intended).
But what Faulconer still doesn’t seem to get is that he has the opportunity to do something truly remarkable for this city. The Plaza de Panama litigation will likely play out in his favor, but why not, in the meantime, invest in solving San Diego’s homelessness problems once and for all?
The mayor made some excellent budgetary and outreach promises on Thursday night, but this problem cannot wait until 2018 for more direct funding. If, in fact, he has eyes on Sacramento, no California voter outside of San Diego will care if he lost the Chargers or even Comic Con. No one will care about a Plaza de Panama overhaul. They will care, however, if he can look defiantly into the camera or to his Democratic opponent and say, “I solved homelessness in my city. I put people first.”