Mayor Kevin Faulconer is calling on San Diegans to support a proposed hotel-tax hike he’s said would, in part, help reduce homelessness.

Yet Faulconer doesn’t have a plan to spend the more than $10 million that would flow to that cause annually if voters approve the measure in November.

Homeless advocates see the lack of a plan as more evidence the mayor’s not serious about addressing the problem but the mayor’s staff is selling it as a positive feature that offers flexibility.

Faulconer’s pitching to increase city hotel taxes by 1 to 3 percent citywide to bankroll a Convention Center expansion and upgrades, and to throw more money at aiding homeless folks and repairing roads. A City Council subcommittee voted Wednesday to give the mayoral staffers the go-ahead to work with city attorneys to draft proposed ballot language.

The measure emerged from long-running discussions with boosters about the need for a waterfront expansion of the Convention Center. As the mayor watched expansion construction costs estimates balloon, Faulconer decided he needed to take immediate action. He saw an opening for other much-discussed causes at the same time. Hoteliers were concerned with San Diego’s homelessness problem and crumbling streets too.

Faulconer’s jumping in without a plan to tackle homelessness.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

For now, the mayor’s office just describing options for the new cash. It could provide leverage for affordable housing projects and perhaps, the mayor’s team says, a bond that could bring in up to $140 million. This dedicated cash also could pay for housing vouchers, new outreach programs and a slew of other things.

The mayor’s office prefers not to get into the details for now.

Faulconer’s team says that’s by design. If voters sign off in November, the increased tax could be collected for 40 years and they’re not sure what the needs will be over the long haul.

“It’s impossible to prescribe for 40 years how the money’s going to be spent,” said Stacie Spector, the mayor’s special adviser for housing solutions.

Instead, Spector and others say, the mayor prefers to let current and future city leaders decide.

Spector said City Council President Myrtle Cole has set the stage for that oversight by moving to create a City Council select committee on homelessness.

Even without a spending plan, some City Councilmembers have already decided they need more money. At the Wednesday hearing, Cole and City Councilwoman Barbara Bry asked Faulconer’s staffers to consider increasing the share of cash going to homelessness, at least in the initial years of the measure.

Ironically, the mayor claims that could endanger the measure’s appeal with voters because there’s no spending plan for the money as is.

IBA’s Office Deputy Director Jeff Kawar wrote that the mayor’s office concluded directing more money from the hotel-tax increase to homelessness and away from the Convention Center or street repairs could paralyze the measure.

“It should be noted that the mayor’s office strongly believes that such a modification significantly reduces the likelihood of approval, noting that the city currently does not have a spending plan for additional homeless funds,” Kawar wrote.

If the measure passes in November, the City Council could pursue a $140 million bond in 2019.

Jessica Lawrence, Faulconer’s director of budget and finance policy, noted both the annual revenue and potential bond cash could supplement state, federal and private funding to house homeless folks and give the city more bang for its buck.

But $10 million annually – or even $140 million – won’t go far.

The state treasurer’s office recently estimated the average cost of a single affordable housing unit in California is about $367,000.

Jonathan Hunter, a consultant who’s spent decades working to combat homelessness and create homeless housing in the western U.S., said cities and counties typically count on other sources footing two-thirds of the bill.

Using that assumption, Hunter estimated a $140 million bond entirely focused on housing could help the city create 800 to 1,000 new units for homeless San Diegans – the equivalent of about 16 to 20 percent of the city’s homeless population as of last January’s census.

And that’s if all the cash was dedicated to permanent housing rather than new homeless intake centers, rental vouchers or other projects.

Mayor’s staffers weren’t airing estimates like that at Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting.

Advocates made clear they weren’t impressed with what the mayor’s team did share. Multiple speakers called on the city to pursue a bolder homelessness and affordable housing measure.

They also zeroed in on the proposal’s focus on the Convention Center expansion.

“The mayor’s proposal is about expanding the Convention Center, not solving this crisis,” said Ismahan Abdullahi of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans. “Homelessness and infrastructure are included in the language simply to garner public support. The public can see through this guise and we will challenge it.”

Stephen Russell, executive director of the developer-representing San Diego Housing Federation, juxtaposed the mayor’s proposal with Father Joe’s Villages recent pitch to invest $531 million in 2,000 new housing units.

Russell said putting a significant dent in homelessness will require far more than the proposed hotel-tax hike measure.

“The $10 to $15 million that is potentially dedicated to homelessness is certainly appreciated. It is certainly needed but is nowhere near what we need,” Russell said. “It is a small down payment toward the enormous problem.”

Russell is among the advocates already talking about a larger housing measure for San Diego.

Some activists fear the mayor’s proposal could hamper more substantial future initiatives.

Tom Theisen, former board president of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, is in this camp.

“The lack of the plan indicates just how insubstantial the homeless aspect of this is in the overall proposal,” Theisen said. “In my opinion, there’s a good chance that doing this will more poison the well for our homeless efforts rather than a freestanding bond that is well thought out and aimed primarily at homeless efforts.”

Stephen Puetz, the mayor’s chief of staff, is adamant adding homelessness to the tax-hike proposal wasn’t a political calculation. He and others also acknowledge the mayor’s proposal won’t solve San Diego’s homeless problem.

Puetz said Faulconer’s team just wanted to seize an opportunity they had to help.

“The reason we did this is because we wanted to do the right thing,” Puetz said.

    This article relates to: Homelessness, Politics

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    11 comments
    Sharon Parks
    Sharon Parks

    I'm shaking. I just heard a radio broadcast, KOGO, I think where Ms. Specter has the whole homeless situation figured out, and gave all the corrupt Bozo's that have been robbing the poor blind for years of their funding, everyone one that has failed to address the citizens of this county, the real ones, the ones who are FROM here, have families here and have fallen victim to the harshness and coldness of the City Hall and all its cronies. Wah. Wah, you gave everyone thumbs up at all the great failures and corruption, this city has taken from the government and put it into their own projects,and pockets.. Of course your all Democrats. Do it the way that these Fat-Cats have been doing it for the past ten years and you'll see the corruption. Just remember as you all go forth , that we have a very large population of Attorney's standing by , to make sure that no ones civil liberities are violated. Force of will , that kind of bulling, that San Diego partnernship encourages.The security force and SDPD are the ones out there everyday .Instead of relying on the same ole same ole, that will bring  failure .... you'll be doing it the same way it has been done for the past 10 years.with the same crew of Fat-Cats, I can see the great changes coming forth.Do they really expect different results,with the same ones that have  created this disaster in the first place??? [It goes all the way up to LA this insatiable Real Estate greed.And there's Faulconer wanting that welfare money still, and claim the city as a santuary city at the same time. The funding that has been sqawnered, willl not happen again.Its gone.....unfortunately it never reached the homeless......

    ..

    Kenneth Gardner
    Kenneth Gardner

    I have watched over the past year as the bicycle cops have been instructed to be tougher on the sidewalk campers. They are fairly civil in their approach, arriving, declaring to the residents that they have a certain amount of time to vacate, and then standing watch and monitoring the exodus; sometimes for an entire day. They have begun to focus on one stretch of street at a time, I suppose due to limited manpower and the simplest application of the effort. It makes the problem go away for one block for a couple of days. It's like spraying for bugs, I guess. 


    The problem is, these are not bugs. And if you talk to each one of these people, they all have a different story. And moving up for them to the next level, hopefully off the street, always seems to come down to one key piece of physical documentation that is difficult for them to obtain: a mailbox to receive their benefit check, a marriage license so they can qualify for some of the local shelters as a couple, a driver's license or ID, etc. Many of these people are just coming out of treatment programs and are in serious withdrawal. Coping with the streets is the last thing they need, but they are dropped into the crack, sometimes literally.


    For others, it is motivation, intelligence, and mental wherewithall to make the effort to hang in there and get that one thing done to move up and off the street. And most of the programs are temporary, so there is not too much incentive to get over the hump and into these programs. You can throw all the money you want at revolving doors, but between loose subject compliance, and a never-ending stream of people getting off the bus to hang out here and give San Diego a go, you will always have a large transitional pipeline of people.


    I think what Faulconer's real message with the mouth service is on this tax bill, is to continue with the mission that less is more. These people ultimately must solve their own problems. Treat them with respect, but treat them equally under the law.  The other cities that have solved their problems have done it by enforcing the vagrancy laws, and also by identifying the specific gaps in the path to getting off the street and staying off the street. It just takes a little focus.

    Thomas Theisen
    Thomas Theisen subscribermember

    @Kenneth Gardner Please identify the cities that have solved homelessness by "enforcing the vagrancy laws" and your source for such information.  I am aware of many cities (e.g., Houston, Orlando, Fresno, Chicago, Utah) that have made substantial progress on solving homelessness by HOUSING the homeless (see, e.g., Houston's 75% reduction: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/houstons-solution-to-the-homeless-crisis-housing-and-lots-of-it/).  To my knowledge, not one of those communities cites "enforcing the vagrancy laws" as the reason for progress.  

    Safe Zones
    Safe Zones

    @Kenneth Gardner Look there are millions of laws on the books, and we all regularly break them, but law enforcement is choosing who to administer, what penalties & actions upon those they choose to, not on ALL individuals! We MUST be HONEST, parking, vagrancy, drinking in public, selling and having a lot of stuff on public space, is happening all over! Yet, if the City makes money from it they create different rules, and enforce them differently, go to any concert on the lawn, any where in the City, like Symphony behind Conv. Ctr. people are drinking wine & beer all over in the park, inside & outside the fenced area! But few if ever are citations issues, especially to the wealthy or wealthy looking! But if you are poor, drinking a beer while fishing on the pier there, you too also listening to Symphony good chance you will be hassled! By Port Authority, Port water police, and City Police! And we see people vending/hawking things all over...If you have permit in Balboa Park, it is okay, if you look clean and respectable, they won't even ask or question, but if you don't "look" right, EVEN IF THAT WAS PART OF YOUR ACT or BUSINESS MODEL, you'd be checked up on, especially if a wealthy "influencer" called in the question!

    There is a BIG game in this City, it is all about One San Diego , NO NOT being 1 San Diego, but about power, influence, contracts, money, and the game of politics. It is not about constituents, because even poor and homeless ARE CONSTITUENTS & TAXPAYERS, and have the right to vote! But they know playing games can hinder them from all of this, and make them NON-participants, non-HUMAN, and take up your cause! Not sure if your the Kenneth Gardner of San Diego, Santee, or El Cajon, but if former you are not a constituent of San Diego, so should maybe just come and help & be more silent on City of San Diego issues.

    Martin Eden
    Martin Eden

    Foulconer's approach to homelessness has been a disaster and a national embarrassment.  Do we need a tax to spend more money on that?  Other cities have solved the problem.  In San Diego it just gets worse.  San Diego's homeless population may as well burn that 10-15 million in cash to keep warm rather than fuel more callousness and stupidity.

    Bruce Higgins
    Bruce Higgins subscriber

    As stated in the article this is a classic political dodge: To gain a tax increase for a favored project, throw in something that people want.  There is just enough there to say that they are doing something, but not enough to make an impact.  The other issue here is where are the guarantees that the money will actually be spend on homelessness and roads?  Many organizations have had money approved for one purpose and shifted the spending to something else.  It is clear that homelessness and roads are not really a priority for either the mayor or city council.  I am therefore suspicious about where the money will actually be spent.   

    Sharon Parks
    Sharon Parks

    @Bruce Higgins and there lies the problem Just look at the Fat-Cats who think they OWN this city, now they don't know what to do, since they have been stealing government funding for the poor for years. Look into their lives homes the way THEY live and WHERE they live. This is not a Monarchy............


    Bob Gardner
    Bob Gardner subscriber

    Tis time to eliminate all special elections. They cost the taxpayers (not the politicians) a ton of money. And of course the politicians use our money to try to jury-rig the election process.  These ballot measures should have to wait until the general election in 2018. So I will definitely vote NO and hopefully all the other voters will see through the ruse the mayor is trying to pull by hoping for a small turnout.

    merlot4251
    merlot4251 subscriber

    This ballot proposal is about the goofiest thing I have ever seen.  (1) No spending plan on homelessness.  Talking about a hotel tax increase that creates a $140M bond ... how in the world does that happen?  They are two separate sources of money, tell me how one leverages the other.  (2) No spending plan on infrastructure repairs yet (that I am aware of).  (3) And finally, $685M on a convention center expansion on land that currently belongs to someone else.  Remember, folks, that the City lapsed on exercising their option on this land in 2015 and handed it to the other developers who now have legal right to the land.  Do they expect the developers to willingly hand it back?  More $$$ out the window on litigation ...


    Three separate initiatives under one umbrella.  Each issue is important ant deserves a separate proposal.  Otherwise the mayor is wasting everyone's time with this foolish proposal.  It deserves the same fate as the Chargers ballot proposals.