Interim Mayor Todd Gloria discusses city business left behind by Bob Filner, including the future of a homeless shelter that may soon run out of funding to sustain operating on a year-round basis.
San Diego's interim mayor is wasting no time tackling problems and unfinished business inherited from the chaotic, nine-month reign of former mayor Bob Filner.
Todd Gloria already has reversed some of Filner's directives, including an order that kept city authorities from cracking down on marijuana dispensaries.
Right now police and code enforcement officers report no pending cases against medicinal pot shops.
Federal and state authorities have been busting city dispensaries ever since Filner opted the city out of enforcement actions earlier this year.
But the interim mayor says non-enforcement amounts to "rewarding bad behavior," and that he’s ending his predecessor’s stand-down posture.
"The solution is not to ignore the law; the solution is to change the law to allow them to operate in an effective fashion,” Gloria told reporters Thursday at the first news media briefing in a planned weekly schedule of such sessions.
“What I want to do,” Gloria added, “is provide some certainty for the patients who need it and to the neighborhoods who are afraid of it so we can tell them what the rules of the road look like. Right now we have none."
A proposed ordinance now making its way through community groups – one more restrictive than Filner had offered -- is expected to come before the Planning Commission and City Council early next year.
It would allow cannabis outlets only in certain industrial and commercial zones, and prohibit them for locations within a thousand feet of schools, playgrounds, child-care facilities, parks, libraries and churches.
Under the proposal, dispensaries would have to be non-profit operations with limited business hours, and staffed by security guards.
Armed robberies at pot shops in recent years have raised deep concerns among neighboring merchants and residents.
Another piece of unfinished Filner business involves a homeless program shelter that the former mayor boosted from winter-only operations to year-round status.
But may it soon may run out of money.
"The lack of adequate funding for homeless programs is another example of a mess left by the previous administration, that I must now clean up," Gloria said at Thursday’s news conference. "It's important that we recognize the possibility that these shelters may have to close in April."
It seems Team Filner had under-estimated the year-round cost of running a Barrio Logan shelter for single adults, and one for veterans in the Midway District, by more than $930,000.
The operators of the Barrio shelter are doing turn-away business every night -- because it's not only a roof over 220 heads and beds, it's got resources that have transitioned over a thousand homeless into a wide range of rehab, housing, and employment opportunities.
"It's saving the taxpayers millions of bucks, and we all know that,” says Bob McElroy, founder and CEO of the Alpha Project for the Homeless. “But the reality is, there's a lot of stress. The stress level's gone through the roof because our people need time. That's our biggest challenge -- to get people to literally detox from the street."
Others are just trying to find stability in times of crisis.
"It's terrifying,” shelter resident Pamela Cooks said of the uncertainty surrounding the program’s future. “I came here in February. I'm recovering from cancer. I had surgery. This is my home. I would be out on the street, recovering. I'm still getting chemo twice a month. And I need this."
From the politicians, bureaucrats and philanthropists, the folks housed there are hoping for solutions – fast.
"I wish they could just sit down and compromise and figure something out,” said Janice Phillips, another shelter dweller. “Put those biased opinions aside and just get along and work it out for the homeless and everybody."
Gloria told reporters today that he's taking a hard look at city administrative costs in all this, and will tour the shelters with his staff and Housing Commission officials "in the coming days" to "determine a path forward".
Another of the 15 items of pending Filner initiatives that Gloria outlined Thursday was moving beyond the former mayor’s work on Plaza de Panama, in the heart of Balboa Park.
Gloria has emphasized that another look at billionaire Irwin Jacobs' controversial makeover proposal for Plaza de Panama isn't 'in the picture' any time soon.
He's just focused on sorting out problems and issues raised by the former mayor’s autocratic June 10th removal of parking spaces from the plaza, to turn the Plaza de Panama into a pedestrian-friendly promenade while still maintaining circulation of through-traffic.
Not long after the dust and debris settled from the elimination of dozens of parking spaces, many of them allocated to the handicapped, came growing complaints from seniors and the handicapped.
Now it’s become clear to city officials that more senior-friendly spaces need to be designated in the nearby Alcazar Gardens parking lot -- which still may require a fair hike, scooter or wheelchair ride to certain attractions in the middle of San Diego's "Crown Jewel".
The interim mayor is tasking Park and Recreation experts with finding the best possible solution.
"Further, the trams that were promised to assist in circulation through the park are expected to be operational by mid-October,” Gloria said. “The previous administration neglected to consider the need for fuel tanks to run the trams. So those are now under construction, and hopeful to be completed soon."
Gloria noted that a CalTrans construction project will involve closing the Cabrillo Bridge for about four months starting January 2nd, temporarily leaving Plaza de Panama accessible by vehicle only from the east.
A permanent closure, long under discussion, would be an issue for the next mayor.
In other developments, Gloria announced that he’s moving to lobbyists to work on city issues in Washington D.C. and Sacramento, planning a meeting next week with the Chargers over the team’s hybrid stadium/convention center proposal, and jump-starting managed competition processes that would invite competitive private-sector bids for outsourcing stormwater, street-and-sidewalk maintenance and landfill operations.