By Andy Cohen
If this was indeed his first and final State of the City Address, iMayor Todd Gloria made it count. As politically aware San Diegans have come to expect, Gloria brought his ‘A’ game to the Balboa Theater, delivering a sweeping vision for what he views is the future of San Diego.
One thing’s for sure: This ain’t Texas.
It was a speech and a vision that is sure to rile up the arch conservative sect of the town, but much of it was surely welcomed by the growing and strengthening Democratic base.
If 2012 and 2013 saw a growing partisan divide in San Diego, if this City Council holds to what the once and future City Council President laid before a crowded house, then the ride is sure to get even more contentious and even more partisan, even if, as Gloria noted several times, that was not the intent.
The iMayor began the address by doing something that would have been fairly unthinkable three years ago: He thanked and applauded the city’s thousands of workers, acknowledging the value of the services they provide to San Diego. It was a refreshing gesture in an era where the public workforce is more often than not vilified as moochers and a waste of taxpayer money.
The accomplishments of the past year:
- Implemented new standards of energy efficiency by converting 90 percent of the city’s traffic lights to LED.
- Installed 34,000 energy efficient street lights.
- Began work on energy efficient retrofits and other improvements on buildings in the Balboa Park core that Gloria said will save the city $1 million or more.
- Completed pedestrian enhancements in Balboa Park; launched new tram service; Cabrillo Bridge retrofit underway.
- Began installing solar more solar panels on city owned buildings (now where have we heard that one before?)
- 50 miles of street improvements to make them more bike friendly, including green painted bike lanes at some of the city’s more dangerous intersections.
- Adopted $720 million funding plan to repair streets and sidewalks, beginning with the approval of $120 million bond measure “that will help us improve our neighborhoods to a level that San Diegans deserve,” including $43 million for street resurfacing.
- Finalized the Convention Center expansion plan, gained unanimous approval by the California Coastal Commission.
“The Convention Center expansion will create 3,000 construction jobs and 7,000 permanent new jobs,” Gloria said. “It will generate an additional $13 million in city tax revenues that we can use for public safety and street repairs. And it will have a total estimated economic impact of over $700 million, and help us retain Comic-Con as a signature San Diego event.”
“Infrastructure is not just a neighborhood issue, it’s an economic competitiveness issue,” insisted the iMayor, calling our infrastructure the “single biggest barrier to our city’s greatness.”
And lest we forget, the crown jewel accomplishment of 2013, the completion of the new central library after 30 years of trying. “This is more than a building that houses books, this is an icon,” he said.
Still to come are improvements or replacements for the libraries in Skyline, San Ysidro, and San Carlos; improvements to the Skyline and Home Ave. fire stations; and the replacement of fire stations in Pt. Loma and Hillcrest.
More infrastructure: Gloria also noted plans for a massive bond program that will fund infrastructure improvements well into the future. There is $898 million worth of known repair work in our neighborhoods, he said, and combined with “other obligations,” the total need could exceed $2 billion. With the City Council, he said he plans to work with stakeholders to prepare a ballot initiative for 2016 to create this program.
The prescribed agenda for the future mayor to tackle reads like a veritable wet dream for progressives, and an absolute nightmare for the Flat Earth Society.
Gloria called for making San Diego a “World Class bike city.” He said there are two streets in San Diego that will see traffic lanes closed in order to make them more bike and pedestrian friendly. “Our streets are not just for cars, they’re for people.
He proposed a San Diego that is powered 100 percent by clean and renewable energy sources by 2035; a zero waste initiative by increasing composting and recycling; and touted the elimination of plastic bags within the city limits.
He also called for more investment in the Pt. Loma water treatment plan to forge ahead with to create potable recycled water and place it back into the San Diego water supply, reducing ocean pollution in the process.
And he pushed for pursuing more funding from Washington in order speed along the $1.7 billion trolley expansion from Old Town to University Towne Center, among other transit initiatives.
“San Diego will always be ‘America’s Finest City,’ but we shouldn’t be content with just being fine, we must dare to be great,” he said.
“Let the word go out from this theater tonight that San Diego will be a global leader in addressing climate change!”
Opponents of the Barrio Logan Community Plan and the Workforce Housing Offset did not leave the theater unscathed. “Our strong relationship with the military received a boost just last week when the Secretary of the Navy confirmed, that despite false claims by some, San Diego will remain a key partner in the building and repair of our nation’s ships in 2014 and beyond,” directing his ire at the opponents of the BLCP whose signature gatherers have deliberately spread false information in order to scare voters into signing their petition to repeal the City Council vote approving the plan.
And while Gloria at times effusively praised former mayor Jerry Sanders for his leadership during his time at City Hall, the President of the Chamber of Commerce Jerry Sanders was not treated with such esteem as Gloria defended the City Council’s vote to raise the Workforce Housing Offset and emphatically insisted that the city raise the minimum wage:
Our local economy is only truly strong if it works for all San Diegans. The high cost of living, coupled with growing income inequality is a threat to our ability to build a great city. San Diego must not be divided between the very poor and the very wealthy. A great city must have a growing, vibrant middle class. And that is why I believe it is time to support an increased minimum wage for San Diego.
No one who works full time should have to live in poverty. According to the Center on Policy Initiatives, 28% of full time year-round employees earn less than the $30k which is needed to live self sufficiently in San Diego. A full time minimum wage job in San Diego pays half that amount. And although California’s minimum wage is scheduled to increase in 2016, that translates into an annual salary of less than $21,000, which simply is not enough in a city with a high cost of living like ours. The Economic Policy Institute and other experts state that raising the minimum wage will stimulate the economy and benefit taxpayers. Lower income workers are more likely to spend their additional wages on basics like food and housing and transportation. That’s good for business. That’s good for San Diego, and it is good for all of us.
Minimum wage earners would also rely less on public assistance to meet their basic needs. In recent months we have fiercely debated the most effective way to provide affordable housing to our low income citizens. Let’s reduce the need for subsidized housing. Let’s start paying people enough to afford the rents and mortgages in our city. The City Council should place a measure to raise the minimum wage before the voters this November and working together I believe we can and we must do this.
The iMayor did not offer an endorsement in the February 11runoff election that will decide who will replace him in the Mayor’s Office to complete Bob Filner’s term, but he was abundantly clear on whose policies he supported. We know that the measures presented will have little chance at becoming reality if one candidate is elected, whereas the other will be committed to pursuing this vision to whatever extent possible.
It now becomes a matter of whether San Diegans liked what they heard from Todd Gloria, or whether they’ll chose another, less bold path.