By: Jessica Colburn
On January 11th, 2018, Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivered his State of the City Address to a full audience. Balboa Theatre was packed with city council members, fire and police personnel, and many of San Diego’s concerned citizens. The speech struck an optimistic tone, focusing on implementing new measures, abandoning old and ineffective methods to house the homeless population, making housing more affordable, and improving San Diegans’ overall quality of life. To that end, Mayor Faulconer repeated the phrase “Connect, Support, and House” enough to make it a mantra.
At the start of Mayor Faulconer’s speech, he stated that while everyone seems to want more homeless services, nobody wants those services in their neighborhood. He admitted that he is as guilty as his predecessors are of using the same, ineffective approaches to address homelessness. Rather than trying to get new results with old methods, the mayor espoused connecting homeless people with mental health services, job training, and substance counseling. To help accomplish this, the Mayor plans to implement three new bridge shelters will be built this year. Fifteen outreach ambassadors will continue to help support the city’s homeless population as they search for jobs and homes by connecting them with the appropriate services. To house its homeless, the city will build its first Housing Navigation Center at 14th and Imperial. This center will be the anchor for an entire care network. Mayor Faulconer talked about the struggle many homeless people must go through to find the services they need because there is no centralized starting point. Currently, a person can walk literally for miles, going from office to office, before finding the one they need. With this center, which the Mayor believes will serve as a model for the region, people will be able to simply go to one place and begin their journey to finding a permanent home.
Mayor Faulconer explained additional steps the city is taking to address its housing crisis. Many working families struggle to pay high rent and mortgages in San Diego. Through the promotion of smart growth, building more homes, and cutting red tape, Mayor Faulconer believes San Diego can make housing more affordable. City codes have been changed to streamline project reviews, which makes the approval process shorter. It is now cheaper for homeowners to build second, smaller units either over their garages or in their back yards, and applications to do so have gone up 375 percent. Developers are being encouraged to build smaller and more affordable units, and zoning changes will create more live-work opportunities. The Mayor is optimistic that San Diego’s affordable housing development program will benefit the city’s middle class.
Quality of life played a large role in the Mayor’s speech. He boasted that San Diego is one of the safest big cities in the country, and that our crime rate is the lowest it has been in fifty years. Despite this, there are over two hundred vacancies in the city’s police force. To combat the shortage, the mayor has implemented the largest recruitment and retention package in San Diego’s history. This effort has caused the rate of retirement to slow, and job applications are coming in at a higher rate.
While the above three issues received the most attention, Mayor Faulconer also talked about several other goals and accomplishments. The Mayor believes that investing in a plan to expand and modernize the San Diego Convention Center will have a ripple effect that will improve many aspects of life in San Diego. He also mentioned plans for skate parks in Linda Vista and Mid-City and praised cleanup crews for removing over seven hundred tons of trash from the San Diego river. He praised Skyline Hills’ library’s move from an outdated facility to one large enough to effectively serve the community. One of the oldest fires stations in the area, in City Heights, has also been replaced with a new facility.
Mayor Faulconer’s words drew excited comments and applause from the audience. It was a positive, encouraging, and mobilizing speech. The Mayor’s acknowledgment of the ineffectiveness of past attempts to alleviate homelessness and lower housing costs was encouraging. His candor about the need to change methods was welcome and appreciated. If the actions of the mayor and city officials do line up with the plans outlined in the address, San Diego has much to look forward to. Its citizens must be active in ensuring the mayor meets his lofty goals, and in pursuing additional ways to make San Diego a finer city.