Left in Limbo: the Big Post-Filner Policy Questions | Voice of San Diego

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Left in Limbo: the Big Post-Filner Policy Questions

Mayor Bob Filner leaves many policy questions behind as he prepares for his Aug. 30 resignation.

For weeks, a scandal eclipsed most policy discussion in the city.

San Diegans focused on sexual harassment allegations and ways to remove Mayor Bob Filner instead of city issues that would normally inspire intense debate.

But as Filner prepares to leave office on Friday, the city will need to shift its focus.

City Council President Todd Gloria, who will take over as interim mayor on Friday night, has said as much. He said he plans to review all city departments and take on issues that must immediately be tackled.

That means “swift action on pending items that have languished on Mayor Filner’s desk for months,” Gloria said in a statement.

Here’s a look at some of the major policy questions that must be answered without Filner.

Who should respond to the city’s emergency calls?

The city has an emergency response time problem.

But just weeks after the City Council voted to extend the city’s contract with ambulance provider Rural/Metro Corp., the company filed for bankruptcy.

Then the city shifted its plans and prepared to put its ambulance contract out for a competitive bid, reviving a major policy debate just before the mayor’s resignation.

This sets the stage for a significant decision that could cost the city millions and affect thousands of San Diegans. And it could take place under the tenure of an interim mayor.

How should the city approach medical marijuana?

Weeks after he took office, Filner excited medical marijuana advocates when he attended an Americans for Safe Access meeting and said he’d take action to stop dispensaries from closing.

He later ordered police officers and code enforcement officials to stop referring medical marijuana violations to the city attorney’s office and drafted an ordinance that would have allowed dispensaries to operate in the city under certain restrictions.

But Filner’s efforts at least publicly appeared to come to a halt in April after City Council members rejected the mayor’s proposed ordinance.

Mayor’s office staffers initially planned to review zoning issues and bring the item back to the City Council again later.

A spokeswoman for Gloria, who currently decides whether to schedule Council discussions, said mayoral staffers never asked for another hearing.

Eugene Davidovich, who leads the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates for medicinal marijuana, said the mayor’s resignation means a City Council member will likely need to champion the issue for it to move forward.

Should the city help keep winter homeless shelters open year-round?

Filner also led efforts to reduce homelessness in his short tenure as mayor.

In his first and only budget, the mayor included nearly $2 million to fund homeless shelters, aid a storage check-in program and maintain downtown port-a-potties.

Filner’s resignation creates uncertainty about future allotments.

“My intuition tells me we’ll go back to the previous status quo where (the veterans tent and a winter homeless tent) remain open for a four-month winter season as opposed to year-round,” said Phil Landis, president of the veteran’s tent.

But funding quandaries could come before next year’s budget debate.

For example, Landis said, Filner’s budget appropriations may not be enough to keep a tent for homeless veterans open year-round this year, as the mayor had hoped.

Should the city proceed with managed competition?

More than six years ago, voters said city officials could choose to put city contracts out to bid.

Since then, only the city’s publishing shop has actually completed the managed competition process, saving about $1 million in its first year. Supporters, including Councilman Kevin Faulconer, say the program could save far more if other contracts are completed.

Enter Filner, who directed staffers to conduct a detailed review of the program earlier this year. That left five city services in queue for outside bids as staffers looked at the managed competition process and considered potential improvements.

City officials were set to say in July whether they wanted to continue with the managed competition program or to try a new process. That never happened.

Before Filner resigned, staffers were scheduled to update the City Council and a budget committee in September.

On Friday, a Gloria spokeswoman said she couldn’t speculate on whether staffers would still brief the City Council on their recommendations in light of Filner’s resignation.

Will the Convention Center expansion proceed?

Business leaders have long championed a $520 million expansion of the city’s convention center. Now their years-long quest appears likely to reach its climax.

In October, the state Coastal Commission board will consider whether to allow the expansion based on environmental issues.

Backers have long said the mayor’s support is key to winning the commission’s approval.

Filner, who had previously opposed the expansion, wrote a supportive letter to the Coastal Commission last month.

Steve Cushman, who served as a special assistant to former Mayor Jerry Sanders on the project, said he’s confident the project will win the commission’s approval.

“By Mayor Filner sending the letter he sent supporting the project in its entirety that is helpful. He did what we needed done,” Cushman said.

But Gloria’s vocal support will likely be crucial in coming weeks and it’s unclear how the board might view Filner’s recommendations in light of his less-than-graceful exit.

Will the city continue implementing Filner’s Plaza de Panama plans?

For years, San Diegans debated the best way to kick cars out of Balboa Park’s central mesa.

After a City Council approved plan collapsed earlier this year, Filner came up with another one and budgeted $300,000 to implement it.

City workers later removed parking spaces, repaved the Plaza de Panama and recently began adding furniture.

But the project isn’t finished yet.

The City Council will soon need to decide whether to spend as much as $300,000 to regrade the parking lot behind Alcazar Garden to replace some handicapped parking spaces lost in the plaza remodel, said Bill Harris, a city spokesman.

Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said her office has also hopes to get details on the status of new trams and necessary supplies the city may still need to obtain.

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