Stay up to Date
Our weekly insiders' guide to political and policy news (Saturdays)
The mayor wants to make waves statewide on the homeless issue and the wanna-be-mayor is not ruling out tapping into a trove of resources.
Friday morning, we all woke up to a story in Politico’s California Playbook about San Diego’s Mayor Kevin Faulconer. It said he wanted to take the issue of homelessness to the ballot box in 2022.
Then we got ahold of the press release, which had been sent by the mayor’s chief of civic and external affairs, Matt Awbrey. But it was from Awbrey’s personal account. (Sad face that Awbrey didn’t include the Politics Report in the blast.)
The press statement was vague but intriguing:
Mayor Kevin Faulconer today announced a committee that will develop a ballot measure to reduce homelessness in California.
“I’ve met with Californians throughout the state, from big cities to rural counties, and the concern about the direction we’re headed is real. People on the street are struggling with severe mental illness and drug addiction, trash is piling up in public spaces, and the homelessness crisis keeps getting worse,” Mayor Faulconer said.
But then he included this claim:
San Diego is the only major county in California where homelessness went down last year. Official homeless population counts collected in 2019 showed homelessness skyrocketing in most other counties across the state. Homelessness has decreased 9 percent in the City of San Diego since Mayor Faulconer took office.
The facts: I asked our Lisa Halverstadt to help put this in context.
Faulconer took office in March 2014, just weeks after that year’s homelessness count.
Volunteers in the city counted 2 percent fewer homeless San Diegans in the city last January than in 2014. So that doesn’t back up his claim.
But if you adjust and compare it to January 2015, after he got his feet wet as the city’s chief executive, the city had 8 percent fewer homeless San Diegans in January 2019. That seems to be what he’s referring to.
The numbers also appear to show a 3 percent year-over-year increase in homelessness in the city from 2018 to 2019 driven by a greater number of homeless San Diegans in shelters.
But nobody — Faulconer nor us — should make claims about trends because none of those numbers represent an apples-to-apples comparison. The Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the group that conducts the homeless census, changed its methodology in 2019 at the urging of federal officials. The group has cautioned that the 2019 count wasn’t comparable with past ones.
Another interesting homeless statistic: The Downtown San Diego Partnership does its own monthly count of unsheltered people downtown. For December 2019, the partnership counted 627 unsheltered people. That compares well to 806 counted in December 2018 and 1,012 in December 2017. This may be a direct result of two things: the giant tent “bridge shelters” Faulconer and private partners have put up and the pressure of police clean-up efforts.
There’s now a command center at 17th and Imperial in the heart of the San Diego homeless crisis. And the temporary (?) shelters now have 800 beds.
Faulconer’s mindset: Politico and others tied this statewide push to the increased murmurs that he may run for governor. The theory seems to be that he’s a Republican, yes, but he championed action on climate change. He mobilized on homelessness. The state has all kinds of issues with things like power outages, etc. Throw in a scandal or two in the governor’s office, maybe he could get there?
But even if Faulconer can somehow claim he oversaw a big improvement in the homeless crisis here, he’ll have to overcome the first part of his term. He acknowledged in his State of the City speech this week, as he has many times, that things really got bad there. Here is a part of Faulconer’s speech:
Most everyone turned a blind eye to homelessness.
It was always someone else’s problem to fix.
Then the hepatitis A outbreak hit. And it became everyone’s problem.
Public health officials said they were doing everything by the book.
But people were dying. And things weren’t getting better.
I knew we needed a change.
So I took a good hard look in the mirror.
Our whole region needed to do more on homelessness.
I needed to do more.
So he bought an indoor skydiving facility (as one does!).
Now he is indulging a common talking point: It seems like his ballot measure will attempt to reform criminal laws. Conservatives have been arguing that part of the problem on the streets is that drug possession and other less serious crimes were made into misdemeanors by 2014’s Proposition 47. That initiative made it harder to force people involved in minor criminal activity to either get drug or mental health treatment or go to jail. Thus, they are not getting help they would have and are ending up on the street more than they would have.
It’s a common claim but really hard to get data on. They should prove that there are a bunch of open spots in treatment facilities that would normally be filled with people on the streets or make the case a bunch of the people on the streets should actually be in jail.
Regardless, Faulconer has undoubtedly done some polling and decided — along with Barbara Bry — that the public believes the homelessness problem is about crime, mental health and drug issues, not housing.
If I’m not thinking about how to vet that correctly, let me know. Because we and some other journalists and think tanks in California are going to have to vet these facts thoroughly. Faulconer and others seem ready to make it a big part of the state’s politics in years to come.
For the podcast, we have been doing interviews of candidates for the county supervisor and mayoral races. (We have had to leave a lot of primaries out. There are a bajillion City Council candidates, congressional candidates, school board candidates and more and we’re not the grinders at the Union-Tribune editorial board.)
I have done three interviews, one with Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who is running for mayor, one with Terra Lawson-Remer, who is running for county supervisor and the other with Joel Anderson, also running for county supervisor.
The one with Gloria had a couple of bits of news or at least stuff you, dear readers of the greatest Politics Report in San Diego sent on Saturdays, may care about.
I asked Gloria about that thing we’ve written about a couple times – the one hiccup of his campaign for mayor so far: His opening of a 2020 campaign for Assembly and the awkwardness of having to fix his paperwork error by filing an official statement saying he was running for Assembly, even though he was not. He was running for mayor.
Anyway, he was contrite and fine on that point. But then we had this exchange (lightly edited):
POLITICS REPORT: Was there any part of you or your team that was potentially strategizing or strategizing for the potential that that money could have been sent to a local Democratic Party and help you in this race?
GLORIA: Well to be clear, that would be legal. But to date, we have not done that. And I don’t foresee needing to do that. But you know, it would be legal to do that.
But, at this point I made it very clear to the speaker that while I am hoping to become mayor of San Diego, I am, again, a perfectionist. I’m not going to phone-in my last term in the Legislature. And that involves an engagement in politics that makes sure that we continue to enjoy the strong, super-majorities that we have so we can pass the cutting-edge, progressive, first-in-the-nation legislation that we’ve been doing. So this is all in furtherance of the job.
POLITICS REPORT: So it might happen? You might be able to bring that money or you might consider bringing that money in?
GLORIA: It’d be legal to do it. I mean, at this point, I don’t have any plans to do that. I mean, again, it’s possible. It’s legal. It’s allowable. Other candidates have done it, including candidates who are running for office in this cycle. I don’t think it’s quite fair to have different rules for particular candidates, i.e., myself.
But, right now, we don’t, we don’t have plans to do that. In fact, you know, that account is not quite as robust as it once was because we’ve been investing in folks and candidly, we’re doing well raising funds into my mayoral campaign. People have been, I think energized by this candidacy and they are looking for a different approach to civic leadership here in San Diego and are investing in our campaign.
Why it matters: The account had $275,000 in it as of June. As he said, he’s spent that down supporting other candidates and causes but even if it’s half that, that’s no joke in a mayoral campaign.
In 2018, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez directed $355,000 to the Democratic Party to support its top causes in that election cycle. And its top cause was the election of her husband, Nathan Fletcher, to the county Board of Supervisors.
I had a long, very wide-ranging conversation with Lawson-Remer. We got into economic theory, international trade and the protests in the ’90s against the World Trade Organization and lots and lots of talk about housing. But one nugget stood out. I asked her if she felt like county employees were compensated correctly. She said no.
“They don’t have the time to go and do the outreach to find out who is eligible for CalWORKs and CalFresh and county services. They literally don’t have the time to do that. So then all of us in San Diego suffer. Our community suffers because we leave money on the table that we could be getting from Washington and from Sacramento and investing in our local economy in addition to ensuring that people have food to eat and some sort of basic social safety net. And we’re not doing that basic work, uh, because our county employees are so understaffed that they don’t have time to do the outreach that they need. And in this, it just runs the gamut. So, I have huge respect and for our county employees and I’m really proud to have earned their endorsement because I think that they’re going to be my boss.”
Andrew Keatts was off Friday. Lisa Halverstadt was not, and she was very helpful. If you have any feedback or ideas for the Politics Report or if you want to shoot me into a region of dense liquid metallic hydrogen surrounding a solid core, the nature of which has yet to be determined then please send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.