It seems Mayor Bob Filner never met a task force he didn’t like.
Washington D.C. has its debt commissions and supercommittees, and San Diego is quickly racking up its own cadre of group initiatives.
Filner’s go-to solution for making headway on his many campaign promises has often been to convene a panel to study a particular issue and etch out goals and solutions.
He’s created a Medical Marijuana Task Force, the Livable Streets Coalition and the Solar Summit. He’s also shared plans to host a summit of the region’s major employers to discuss job opportunities for veterans, create a craft beer task force to cut red tape for beer lovers and to lead a coalition of border politicians to push for border infrastructure funding.
The efforts already under way have come without an immediate price tag but the latest requires an upfront investment.
Filner penciled in about $950,000 in his proposed budget for the Civic and Urban Initiatives program, a formal push to facilitate discussions about the city’s future.
“The mission for this new budget item is to produce a platform where innovation occurs within the city,” Filner told the City Council at a Tuesday meeting.
To do that, Filner said, the city will need to hire six staffers to hear out planners, educators, border advocates and artists, among others, and then help bypass city bureaucracy to implement the best ideas.
City leaders and residents have spent years talking about their ideas. This is the way to implement them, Filner told council members.
Filner and Chief of Staff Vince Hall cited pedestrian-friendly and technology-savvy innovations in Portland and as far away as Colombia and Brazil as inspirations for San Diego.
Hall also mentioned a Michigan foundation’s $150 million pledge to Detroit as part of a large-scale effort to reshape that shrinking city.
“We see (the nearly $1 million in the city budget) as seed money with which we can draw grant dollars to do more good work,” Hall said.
Council meeting attendees were largely supportive and some shared those sentiments on Twitter.
1 against & 40 speaking in support of Mayor Filner’s Civic & Urban Initiative at City Council. Funding to test & build cross-Dept innovation
— Howard Blackson (@hblackson) May 7, 2013
Tony Gwynn’s wife just shared her support of Filner’s budget bc it represents “innovative inclusive” government.
— Gabriela Dow (@GabrielaDow) May 7, 2013
But some council members were skeptical of whether another panel to mull over the future was the best solution to any problem.
Councilman Scott Sherman questioned whether “more government” would really facilitate any progress.
Councilman Mark Kersey said San Diego already has a group that does what Filner’s suggesting, and it would be foolish for the city to duplicate efforts already under way at the San Diego Foundation‘s Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement.
He read an excerpt from a foundation news release to make his point:
The Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement mobilizes the San Diego region in the quest for solutions to community issues. It serves as the hub of civic leadership for San Diego – a place that generates information and ideas, spurs vigorous conversations about San Diego’s future, helps launch ambition initiatives and contributes to the development of action plans.
“I will want to be looking for how what the mayor is proposing is different and/or better than that and why we should do a separate program rather than supporting what is in all likelihood a much better funded initiative that they have already started,” Kersey said.
Kersey and fellow council members will decide in coming weeks whether to support Filner’s latest initiative.
The mayor has already convened several similar efforts on a smaller scale.
His Medical Marijuana Task Force provided input on an ordinance the City Council ultimately snubbed.
Other efforts have only just gotten off the ground and haven’t produced concrete results yet.
Samantha Ollinger, director of Bike SD, has attended a handful of meetings the mayor convened to spark collaboration and goal-setting among bicycle, pedestrian and planning advocates.
Ollinger said the group meets once every six weeks to compare notes and discuss key goals they can work on together.
Right now, the task force is focused on promoting an upcoming bicycling event in the city and helping to identify key infrastructure projects among the thousands the city has in the pipeline. The latter effort, and larger discussions about policies and funding, will take more time.
“I think in a year we’ll be able to show some very good results,” Ollinger said.
Whether the mayor can deliver remains to be seen. Implementing task force recommendations requires budget dollars, which have been in short supply in recent years.
Steve Erie, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, has seen many mayoral initiatives come and go over the years.
He said Filner has promoted more than any mayor since Pete Wilson, who served in the city’s top post from 1971 to 1983.
A lack of results to show for all the group efforts could dash Filner’s credibility.
“There’s great opportunity here but there’s also risk,” Erie said.
Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0528.
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