This story has been updated.

This probably wasn’t what Bill Fulton had in mind when he took the job as the city’s top planner.

He brought his national reputation to town when he started as the city’s planning director last July.

Mayor Bob Filner, the man who hired him, was wrapped up in a sexual harassment scandal within a month and resigned soon after.


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“It wasn’t exactly a straight line,” Fulton said, of how his first year played out.

Then Fulton rung up his first victory: He stood behind his department’s new development plan for Barrio Logan, opposed by the neighborhood’s lucrative shipbuilding industry, and watched it win City Council approval on a party-line vote.

The shipbuilding industry quickly announced it would try to overturn the plan. Then-mayoral candidate Kevin Faulconer, who had just voted against the plan, lined up beside them.

By February, Faulconer was mayor, Fulton’s new boss, and by June the shipbuilders had successfully killed the Barrio Logan plan.

This spring, Fulton’s department rolled out the early stages of a plan it was pursuing to change development regulations along Morena Boulevard to create dense urban areas surrounding stations on the new light-rail line connection Old Town and La Jolla.

Residents revolted. This was in the midst of an election to represent that Council district — Faulconer’s old district — and Democratic challenger Sarah Boot seized on the issue against Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who Faulconer had endorsed.

Quickly, Zapf requested — with Faulconer’s support — that Fulton walk back the most controversial elements of the plan. He did. (Fulton had come under personal attacks by Bay Park residents who hated the plan).

Mayor Faulconer named David Graham, then Republican Councilman Mark Kersey’s chief of staff and former land-use and redevelopment guru to Mayor Jerry Sanders, as the deputy COO of neighborhood services. He’d be Fulton’s boss.

Faulconer also shook up the city’s organizational chart, diminishing Fulton’s influence by having the economic development department, which Fulton had been in charge of under interim mayor Todd Gloria, answer to Graham instead.

And in his first budget, Faulconer killed the funding for the Civic Innovation Lab, a four-staffer mini-department that also answered to Fulton.

And … you could say the message was pretty clear that Fulton wasn’t a Faulconer guy, or that the political winds had shifted.

But Fulton said that’s not a fair way to view it. The position he’s leaving to take, as director of an urban planning institute at Rice University, was just too good to pass up, he said. He hopes to influence local policy while also conducting research of national and international influence.

“Every mayor has a different approach, and I was up for this,” he said. “Graham and I are close, and one of my biggest regrets is that I won’t get to work with him on a daily basis. Faulconer has been totally supportive of community plan updates, and we currently have nine or 10 vacancies in the department to fill due to the biggest increase in the planning budget that anyone can remember.”

Faulconer’s office released a statement Friday saying Fulton would be missed, and praised him for bringing a creative perspective to neighborhood development.

So after a year, Fulton’s moving on to Houston. He says he’ll miss the daily fray of working with the public, and hopes he’ll get to experience it some at Rice.

“I was in the fray here, and it’s been both exhausting and refreshing,” he said.

Most of the plans he spent the last year ushering through the city’s bureaucracy — the now-killed plan in Barrio Logan, adopted plans in Otay Mesa and Ocean Beach, a new economic development plan passed when he still ran that department, and others — had been initiated and shaped long before he arrived.

And given the turmoil and change throughout his time here, there’s little that will last beyond him that will have his fingerprints on it. Even the initiatives that became news stories recently and under his direction — Morena Boulevard, Grantville — began before he came to town.

Graham said Friday he will launch a national search for Fulton’s replacement, posting a job listing sometime in the next couple weeks. The planning department will not be folded into development services, as had happened under Mayor Jerry Sanders.

“The mayor has made it clear there are three separate departments, with three directors, and three clear directives,” Graham said, referring to planning, development services, and economic development. “I tried to convince Fulton to stay, but it’s hard to convince a guy not to take twice as much money to go be in the national and international spotlight remaking a think tank.”

    This article relates to: Community Plans, Government, Kevin Faulconer, Land Use, Neighborhood Growth, News

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

    9 comments
    stclairp
    stclairp subscriber

    Sad to lose Bill.  He is a planner and former mayor of Ventura with national reputation.  I fear its virtually impossible for anybody "new" to come to San Diego and gain headway.  Bill is yet another example of a thoughtful, respected, honest official to run into the buzz saw of local politics.  While I thought his department flubbed the Bario Logan and Morena Corridor plans--failing to obtain real consensus from those most effected--I hoped he might be given a chance to demonstrate his considerable talents as a politician and planner.  On the other hand, if there is any way to unshackle our city from the straight=-jacket of community planning groups, it would be welcomed.  Development Services has long been a cesspool, with nothing but contempt for citizens, architects, engineers and environmentalists.  Our city wastes a huge amount of money on bad plans and bad implementation of bad plans.  I hope there can now be meaningful change.  If we are ever to move forward with planning that benefits middle class residents and their employers--or encourages new business growth and development of affordable housing--perhaps it can be now.  I've waited patiently for progress since 1984, when I first moved here.  We have a terrific General Plan.  We have excellent City Council Policy.  But for some reason--and I think its the Community Planning Groups--the best ideas die before seeing the light of day.  

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    In Sara Libby's "Morning Report", she wrote "...Fulton was hired to implement the vision of a man no longer in charge...". I take issue with stating that the vision Fulton was hired to implement was exclusively Bob Filner's vision. It was - and remains - a vision that many citizens of San Diego have had for many decades and a vision that is embodied in the current City of San Diego General Plan (adopted well before Filner's election as mayor). 

    It is a vision held by many who participate in their local community planning committees and on citizens advisory boards, and a vision that has been the guiding principle of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3) since founding in 1961: "...a comprehensive approach to growth management by encouraging open space, high standards of urban design, and coordination of planning between public and private sectors so that San Diego's continuing development will complement its natural setting."

    rcardulla@aol.com
    rcardulla@aol.com subscriber

    @Judith Swink 

    Where have you been Judith?  Your cherished planning groups have been working overtime on NIMBY  ideas.  We need regional planning with the authority to trump all these local groups.  By the way, what percentage of residences in each of these groups even know that they have a planning group and better yet, what percentage participate?  These groups do not represent the community as a whole but only a very few,  more likely less than 1% and all with their parochial interests.

    rcardulla@aol.com
    rcardulla@aol.com subscriber

    sorry,  The end should read:  "There is something rotten in Denmark"

    rcardulla@aol.com
    rcardulla@aol.com subscriber

    Here are some facts:

       Civic San Diego is the successor CCDC, the city's redevelopment  agency for downtown San Diego who had planning, zoning and permitting authority for downtown, separate from the city's Planning Dept.

       Civic San Diego, really the city council sitting as Civic San Diego, has started negotiations to acquire zoning authority along transit corridors (bus and trolley lanes).

        The federal and state governments has been and will be making available hundreds of millions of dollars for high density development along transit corridors. There will also be available for sale hundreds of millions of dollars of government backed high paying interest bonds that are tax free that the very rich like to buy for those investors in these projects.

        Jones Lang LaSalle is an incredibly large real estate investment firm with offices throughout America and overseas that puts together these very rich investors, banks and bond purchasers that develop projects that qualify for these tax free bonds.

        Jeff Graham, former President of Civic San Diego, ( just before leaving to join Jones Lang LaSalle as V.P for Public Institutions,) and was the moving force to have Civic San Diego acquire zoning authority along transit corridors, said - We (Civic San Diego) purchase property at a low price at its low density zoning, change its zoning to high density and sell it to investors for huge profits.  Jeff Graham, the new V.P. for LaSalle will be stationed in, you guessed it, San Diego.

        The new Mayor appoints Reese Jarrett , as man with a checkered past as the new President of Civic San Diego, whose salary is to be decided at a closed door hearing.

    THE IS SOMETHING ROTTEN IS DENMARK

    rcardulla@aol.com
    rcardulla@aol.com subscriber

    It is clear as a bell now.  In comments on this web sight earlier I stated that Fulton should resign if he had any integrity after his inglorious retreat on density near trolley stops.  Mr. Fulton, you have that integrity, congratulation.

    The path is now clear for Civic San Diego to now take over zoning along the trolley line and increase density after "buying" (read stealing) the abutting land from the present owners.  All you local planning groups that have felt so powerful in the past with your NIMBYS ideas will see you land purchased or taken by eminent domain AT THE PRICE of your low density zoning.  Brillant.

    Eric Spoerner
    Eric Spoerner subscriber

    I'm not sure that any mayor who wins on the North-of-the-8 vote will ever have walkable, dense, transit-centric urban design as a priority.  

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Fulton very recently appeared at a monthly meeting of the Bankers Hill Residents Group to make a presentation and answer questions about the Uptown Community Plan, the new construction in Bankers Hill, transit planning, and urban planning in general.  He was very impressive.  I can see why he might not want to work in San Diego government once Filner and his vision were ousted.