Mayor Faulconer to Add Two More Notches to His Legacy Belt

by on October 27, 2020 · 5 comments

in Energy, Ocean Beach, San Diego

San Diego skyline with snow in the mountains, winter 2018, by Fred K.

By Frank Gormlie

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has about six weeks left in his occupation of the mayor’s office. Either Bry or Gloria – both Democrats – will be sworn in on December 10. And Faulconer will leave his stint in city politics, which included being the head executive since he won that special election in February 2014 when Bob Filner resigned. Before that, Faulconer was the councilmember for District 2 – which includes Ocean Beach and most of Point Loma, of course – for 8 years.

Yet, he is too young to retire. And riding on the history that with Kevin as mayor, San Diego was the largest city in America with a Republican mayor, a future political office is not out of the question. In fact, there’s been all kinds of speculations that he was positioning himself to run for California governor. To do that, he needs a legacy – and he sure has been busy at work creating one (Convention Center expansion, homelessness, climate “action, moderate positions on some social issues, etc.).

But now it appears, Faulconer is getting ready to add two more notches to his legacy belt. He is championing two significant policies in his last weeks – during the pandemic it seems, when public input is at a minimum – and during the lame duck session, before new city councilmembers, the mayor and city attorney are inaugurated.

TheVoice of San Diego outlined one, recently. Headlined, “Faulconer Positions Big Move for Lame Duck Session,” Faulconer’s so-called Complete Communities plan,  the Voice reports, will be considered by the City Council on November 9.  The Voice describes the controversial plan as “a set of policies that would encourage dense development near transit and change the way developers contribute to park and transportation funding.” More on that later.

The other notch is awarding SDG&E San Diego’s utility franchise – again. The city is about to end its 50-year agreement with the energy company and had asked for bids from other power entities – and at least two others were interested, Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Indian Energy from Orange County.

But the bidding ended Friday, October 23, and the only thing we know is that SDG&E put in a bid. Is the city really about to sign a 20-year agreement with the utility that has held a monopoly in San Diego for one hundred years?

Incomplete Communities Plan

For the last 5 months or so, the OB Rag and others have been critical of Faulconer’s so-called Complete Communities roadmap. In June, OB Planning Board vice-chair Kevin Hastings wrote about the effects of the proposed plan on Ocean Beach, and how it would bring high-density and remove Floor Area Limits to Ocean Beach housing:

The Complete Communities proposal would allow FAR up to 800% and allow as many units that would fit based on the Building Code minimum of 150 feet² per unit. The only real limitations would be setbacks and the 30-feet coastal height limit. And while the 30-feet height limit has been in place for nearly 50 years, it is no longer sacrosanct.

The OB Planning Board, at their June meeting, voiced strong opposition to the large increase in Floor Area Ratio and density and opposed the off-site exception for affordable housing.

Political insider Norma Damashek thinks the plan should be jettisoned. She wrote:

The truth is, Complete Communities it designed to meet more of the economic needs of the development industry than the need for adequate, affordable housing of the city’s “diverse group of workers” and other essential sectors of our population.

Damashek also sees a racist underpinning to the plan.

The Complete Communities proposal, with its mandates for vigorous urbanization of San Diego neighborhoods, flips the proverbial American Dream of Suburban Paradise on its head. … But notice that– intentionally or not– the beneficiaries of San Diego’s newest housing policy are once again almost exclusively White individuals and couples.

Then in July, the leaders of San Diego’s community planning committees rejected the plan, saying it didn’t reflect the unique nature of San Diego’s neighborhoods, it didn’t provide sufficient affordable housing and it actually would lead to parkland shortages. The group of planning committee chairs (CPC) also asked, “why the rush?” In a press statement, they stated:

It was noted that the City’s Housing Element shows that more than 174,000 homes can be built under existing zoning. The CPC is not satisfied with answers from Mayor Faulconer’s Planning Department — about why a long-term plan should go forward in a rush, without taking time for a full public review.

(For a more complete analysis by the Committee of Planning Chairs, go here.) The Voice also had more of a critique and said Faulconer’s plan “devalues parks”, and is being rushed in a nontransparent process.

With five seats on the Council up for grabs this election, it is not clear whether Faulconer has five votes on the Council for the plan now – during the lame duck session. Five of the nine Council members who will vote on the plan next month will be replaced by early December. And there’s the second reading, when the Council votes on the measure again, but it will be a vote of the new City Council. The Voice reminds us:

This time four years ago, there was another vote scheduled before the outgoing City Council after Election Day. The Council on Nov. 14, 2016, just after that year’s election, unanimously voted for a second time to greenlight a lease-to-own deal for a high-rise building you might have heard about, located at 101 Ash St.

Will We Be Stuck With SDG&E?

There is so much politics involved, as you can imagine, with signing up a utility company for our fair city for twenty years. But the deadline is over, and everybody is mum, including Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Indian Energy. The city council wanted a bidding war, Barbara Bry has interest in Berkshire and will recuse herself from any future votes on the franchise issue if they are involved, and the Mayor wants his legacy belt to shine. And SDG&E wants to continue providing the city’s gas services and electric services.

Faulconer said:  “I’m pleased the City received interest from the energy industry and look forward to seeing an open and fair competition before the City Council to ensure ratepayers get the best deal possible.” Well, what happens next? The San Diego Union-Tribune helps us here:

According to plans laid out by Faulconer’s office, the bid or bids will remain sealed by the city clerk until a date has been set on the City Council’s docket to reveal — in a live, open session of the council — what each bidder has offered. Docketing a specific date is up to the president of the City Council, a position currently held by Councilwoman Georgette Gómez.

Under an Invitation to Bid specified last month by Faulconer, companies must meet a number of minimum requirements to compete for the franchise agreement — most notably, paying an upfront fee of $80 million ($70 million for the electric franchise and $10 for the gas franchise) and agreeing to a 20-year term. The city is requiring that the $80 million must come from shareholders of the company that wins the franchise, not from ratepayers.

City officials have hoped more than one company will compete to win the agreement, thus sparking a bidding war that would allow the city to obtain more favorable terms. If more than one company submits bids that meet the requirements, the firms can then compete to win the council’s approval by upping their initial bids. …

If only one company puts up a bid, that does not necessarily mean it will be awarded the franchise. Any new franchisee must also receive a two-thirds super-majority of the City Council’s nine members.

The criticism of this scenario has been real. Some groups believe the 20-year term is too long. Others say a vote on how to proceed on the franchise agreement should be left to the new City Council.

Last Friday, a group of six protesters gathered in front of City Hall and called on the city to reject a possible bid from Berkshire Hathaway Energy. PacifiCorp is a Berkshire subsidiary serving utility customers in the West and oversees four dams on the lower Klamath River. The demonstrators represented a coalition of environmental and Native American groups in multiple states and say they want to protect Pacific salmon;  the company has been dragging its feet on removing the dams. “There are better ways to supply us with sustainable energy than damming our watersheds,” said Olympia Beltran, a nurse living in San Diego.

Also, a coalition of environmental and political groups sent a letter to the City Council that criticized Faulconer, saying he did not put in enough protections for the city and taxpayers into the bid requirements and “put SDG&E’s interest over the public interest.” The group includes the Climate Action Campaign, NAACP San Diego and the Citizens Franchise Alliance.

Others have called for the city to run its own electric and gas services with a municipal utility, like the LA Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District. If no bidders meet the minimum requirements, Faulconer’s plan calls for the city to explore creating a municipal utility.

Incomplete communities and another two decades with SDG&E are staring San Diegans in the face. Perhaps we’re all just stepping stones for a run for the highest office in California and part of the notches in Faulconer’s legacy belt.

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Polecat October 27, 2020 at 2:44 pm

I have read about Complete Communities on the City website, and it seems like a good idea to me. I also don’t see any alternatives out there to meet the state requirement of additional housing construction.

https://www.sandiego.gov/complete-communities/housing-solutions

I don’t think Ocean Beach’s 0.7 FAR makes much sense since it is in a central location on a major bus line which itself links to Old Town trolley hub. It won’t be unlimited, the plan will make it 8.0.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie October 28, 2020 at 7:14 am

Polecat – not certain where you live, but you’re out of sync with OB’s efforts to control over-development – and OB’s FAR makes a lot of good sense and has staved off massive apartments and condos for years that crowd everybody else out.

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Avatar Lyle October 27, 2020 at 5:33 pm

My basic problem is “the state requirement of additoinal housing construction”. It seems to be applied uniformly across the whole state, but the whole state is not uniform. We have community plans because even communities within the same city are not uniform. Uniformity is not necessarily good. I was taught that in my elementary school. Joni Mitchell (sp?) sang a nice song about it in the early ’70’s (maybe late ’60’s). https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=little+boxes

When I first moved to California I moved to eastern Chula Vista into a 1970 tract which had uniformity in Spades. Absolutely houses made of ticky tacky that all looked just the same (otherwise not a bad community). I later moved to OB (“highlands”) to get away from that, and boy was I happier then. I had an elderly neighbor who encouraged me to fix up my place to make it what I wanted, NOT what he or anyone else wanted, NOT what the neighborhood standard prescribed, but what I wanted. Still, I did need to comply with zoning rules which were there to control how much affect I had on my neighbors.

It seems to me that this initiative to REQUIRE all communities to support more density and more housing for more people was pushed through by some overly -liberal state legislators (who we mistakenly elected) as quietly and quickly as they could while we were all worrying about Trump and Covid.

So now our local planning boards are considering it a done deal and they approve a lot of stuff they don’t necessarily agree with but feel they must approve in order to get along.

What if the citizens of OB felt that way in the ’70’s ? What if they said “O well, the COE wants to build some jetty’s and they are the federal government, so I suppose that we need to get with the program and support what they want to do”.

I don’t know how (nor have skills) to resist this movement, but I think rubber-stamping whatever the state wants us to do is not going to help maintain the atmosphere of the residential areas of OB, or Point Loma.

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Avatar kh October 27, 2020 at 10:25 pm

Some OBceans helped stir up a hornets nest on this issue and coordinated with other community leaders. The powers that be are still marching this goofy proposal to council, but the opposition has gotten them to trim off some of the more terrible points, including some that directly affect our neighborhood. This includes lowering the FAR limit in coastal areas, exempting RM-1 zones entirely (which is east of sunset cliffs blvd), and requiring it include more affordable housing units. This also makes it less lucrative for builders.

This may be going before city council on November 9th. If you have input, please take the time to call in with public comment.

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Avatar Mat Wahlstrom October 28, 2020 at 2:15 pm

There’s a third notch Faulconer’s trying to add to his legacy belt: the Plan Hillcrest Focus Plan Amendment, https://www.planhillcrest.org/

Just four years ago, a Community Plan Update for Uptown was pushed through that threw out the recommendations of the community at the last minute, and left a four-block hole in the area around the Hillcrest sign for a later “specific plan amendment.” But instead of looking at fixing that little hole, the powers that be have opened up *the entirety of Hillcrest* for a developer-friendly do-over: “As part of the approval of the 2016 Community Plan Update, the City Council recommended staff consider a Specific Plan for the Uptown Gateway in the Planning Department’s Work Program. This Focused Plan effort is the department’s approach in response to Council’s recommendation during the adoption of the Uptown Plan.” https://dd48e4fb-db0c-46a1-b903-50d8bf1516b6.filesusr.com/ugd/987270_29ce16c08fef47668ac41dd9381932c1.pdf

I’ve yet to receive an answer explaining who initiated this, or how or why it can be justified, but the bulldozers are being revved for Hizzoner’s political donors on this just as surely as they are for Complete Communities.

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