Councilmember Gloria to the Rescue – The Sins of San Diego Mayors – Part 2

by on February 22, 2023 · 14 comments

in Election, History, San Diego

By Norma Damashek / NumbersRunner / Feb. 22, 2023

(Here is Part 1)

Councilmember Gloria Bounds to the Rescue (2013–2014)

According to the City Charter, the presiding officer of the city council has limited authority to act as mayor in the event of an unplanned vacancy in the mayor’s seat.

With a wink and a nod from City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, Councilmember Todd Gloria put his feet up on the mayor’s desk and immediately got to work reorganizing city government in his own image.

He hired an efficiency maven from Indiana, touted as an expert in privatizing city government (supplementing our in-house expert in  privatization matters–former councilmember Carl DeMaio).  Far exceeding his limited authority, Interim Mayor Gloria hired, fired, rearranged, undid, proclaimed, reversed, and erased all traces of ex-Mayor Filner’s popular reforms and political direction, saddling the next “strong mayor” administration with his own hand-picked officials, appointees, directors, restructured lines of authority, policies, decisions, and hidden alliances.

(The city has resorted to temporary mayors in the past: Bill Cleator held the honor for 4 months… Ed Struiksma for 6 months… Mike Zucchet for 3 days (a whole other story)… Toni Atkins for 5 months.  None had abused the position as Todd Gloria did for for 6 months.)

Our parade of mayors resumes with Kevin Faulconer (2014-2020)

Kevin Faulconer passed himself off as a moderate Republican.  As Mayor, he was one of the most airbrushed, remote-controlled officials our city has yet produced.

  • He was already on record–alongside Mayor Sanders, Carl DeMaio, the SD Taxpayers Association, and the Republican Lincoln Club–as a promoter of the shrink government ploy on the 2012 ballot to wipe out reliable retirements for incoming city employees (excluding police).
  • A few years later, Mayor Faulconer was on the speaker’s list at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference held in San Diego (reminder: ALEC is a Koch brothers/tobacco industry-funded/ conservative conglomerate of legislators and corporate lobbyists who create and promote model bills and resolutions that advance “free-enterprise” objectives like minimizing corporate regulation, reducing taxation, loosening environmental regulations, tightening voter ID rules, weakening labor unions, and promoting gun rights).
  • Despite his sun-kissed smile and ingratiating persona (what a contrast to Bob Filner!), Mayor Faulconer managed to back away from nearly every municipal challenge that crossed his path and substitute wishes for action.
    • as the city’s homelessness count worsened and complaints from downtown businesses and residents grew, he responded with a list of empty wishes–but no action
    • he wished that unhoused people would be dispersed from downtown.  Jagged rocks were installed beneath sheltering overpasses to discourage and disgorge them
    • he wished for the deadly hepatitis A epidemic to magically disappear.  His unconscionable incompetence as a manager contributed to 20 deaths and over 400 hospitalizations as disease swept through downtown streets
    • he wished for voters to endorse an increase in hotel taxes (TOT) to finance his #1 priority –the expansion of the downtown Convention Center.  As a cynical campaign sales pitch, some funds for homeless services were tacked on to the proposal
    • he wished for an overall plan for temporary housing and emergency shelter.  His newly-hired “senior advisor for housing solutions” resigned after a few months on the job… no explanation… no replacement… no plan forthcoming

But wait!  Though Mayor Faulconer’s inactions were bad enough, it got worse whenever he did take action:

  • in his early days in office, Mayor Faulconer created a charity called One San Diego to finance events and various furnishings inside the Mayor’s office.  He distributed some turkeys on Thanksgiving for impoverished residents in a few city neighborhoods
  • contributions to his charity (slush fund?) were solicited by Mayor Faulconer from individual and corporate donors, many of whom had business before the city.  The ins-and-outs of these “behested” payments to his charity– reaching $1.6 million by the end of Faulconer’s term in office—teetered on the edge of corruption.  One San Diego was dissolved shortly after Mayor Faulconer left office
  • Mayor Faulconer, as the city’s chief executive officer, accepted an offer to purchase the former Sempra headquarters office building at 101 Ash Street
  • the deal was handled by Cisterra Development (a generous donor to Mayor Faulconer’s One San Diego charity) and involved an elaborately choreographed handoff
    first, Cisterra arranged to purchase the abandoned building from owners Sandor Shapery and Doug Manchester
  • then, in a creative arabesque, Cisterra sold the property to the city, erasing evidence that Mayor Faulconer and ex-council president Todd Gloria were engaged in doing business with Papa Doug Manchester (another generous benefactor of the Mayor’s)
  • Mayor Faulconer was the ultimate decision maker in the 101 Ash St. affair.  His brainless action–enabled by then-Councilmember Todd Gloria– to purchase the building AS-IS, without first obtaining a building appraisal and assessment of its condition, planted a ticking time bomb in the bowels of City Hall.  The entire transaction was an unmitigated catastrophe for San Diegans

But wait again…there were more real estate fiascos:

  • Mayor Faulconer engineered the purchase of a Kearny Mesa operations yard used for maintaining the city’s fire trucks.  The costs of needed improvements to the property rose from an initial estimate of $6.5 million to an actual $14.8 million
  • Mayor Faulconer squandered millions of dollars above appraised values to acquire motel property for use as transitional housing for former drug offenders.  Here again, he skipped performing basic assessments of building conditions.  Improvement costs came in at $2 million more than the original estimate
  • The Mayor engineered and fast-tracked a $7 million purchase–once more without a prior city appraisal–of a defunct indoor skydiving building for use as a one-stop homeless “navigation” center.  Mayor Faulconer ignored dissenting voices.  The voice he did heed was that of influential political financier and hustling dealmaker David Malcolm–whose personal finances were intertwined with the city’s purchase of the skydiving lead balloon
  • Mayor Faulconer paid out untold millions on a contract to outfit the city with “smart street lights.” Plagued by mismanagement, cost overruns, maintenance problems, and deceptive practices, the project had to be rescinded and completely overhauled
  • Mayor Faulconer’s last ditch efforts at legacy projects still clog the city’s agenda: the Midway Sports Arena… loose construction deals with San Diego State University at Qualcomm Stadium… non-standard city parks…defective and deceptive zoning overhauls entitled Complete Communities

Bringing up the rear in our parade of mayors is our current chief executive Todd Gloria (2020-??).

Existing evidence reveals that Mayor Gloria is as ruinously incompetent at running and managing city government as was his immediate predecessor.  He is proving to be as devious… irresponsible… reckless… dishonest… over his head…and yes, corrupt as those who paraded behind him.

This may sound peculiar, but–in a city like ours where truth is stranger than fiction–have you noticed that Mayor Gloria is really a doppelgänger–a 21st century reincarnation of former Mayor Susan Golding?

He is (as she was) laser-focused on his personal political future.  He has (as she had) abused his contract with the San Diego public by prioritizing his personal welfare over and above the welfare of 1.4 million San Diegans.  And coming full circle, Todd Gloria’s unbridled political ambitions (coupled with defective judgement) are digging the city’s financial hole (first dynamited by Mayor Golding) wider and deeper than ever before, accelerating the city’s descent into financial crisis.

To illustrate, let’s take an independent tour around our present-day mayor:

  • As of today, the city is over $5 billion in the red.  This is the gap between the city’s projected infrastructure needs over the next five years and the funding available to pay for them.  Right now, the city is unable to pay for normal municipal services like paving the streets, upkeep of city parks, repairing streetlights, adequately staffing city departments, or creating alternatives for people who camp out on our sidewalks and alleys…unable to pay for crucial repairs to roads, flood prevention, bridges, upgrading our sewage system and storm drains…unable to provide new infrastructure needed to keep up with persistent demands to increase housing densities and construction….
  • Consider this: it was Todd Gloria as then-president of the city council, who promoted the most disastrous real estate deal in our city’s history: the acquisition of the derelict office building known as 101 Ash Street.   It’s still a puzzle–did he do it out of ignorance? stupidity? carelessness? or simply as a favor to some cronies?
  • And once he became Mayor, Todd Gloria compounded the fraud.  Amid lawsuits and general chaos over what to do with an unusable, abandoned, valueless, high-rent, 19-story office building across the street from City Hall, Mayor Gloria foisted a sleazy (possibly illegal) “settlement agreement” on San Diego taxpayers.  It’s called borrowing from Peter to pay Paul…at public expense.
    • here’s how Mayor Gloria’s “settlement” deal works: the city buys–with cash–the offending property for $132 million.
    • the cash comes from raiding public funds that have already been earmarked for street paving, flood control, and city parks (public projects)
    • after purchasing the property, the city goes to the Wall Street bond market and borrows around $175 million to backfill the budget and pay for designated on-hold public projects.
    • of course, the city will pay interest on this borrowed money
    • this means that Mayor Gloria’s initial role in the AS-IS purchase of a building that was asbestos-ridden and electrical and plumbing-delinquent, when added to Mayor Gloria’s “settlement agreement,” will cost San Diegans $11.6 million each and every year for the next 30 years.  That’s $348 million of public money
    • with leadership schemes like this, is it any surprise that the city’s existing funding gap has tripled in the past four years?
  • The Mayor’s judgement was already suspect when he (alongside then-councilmember Kevin Faulconer) used his influence as Interim Mayor to award a flimsy sole-source contract to an inexperienced organization (Balboa Park Celebration Inc.) to organize what was to be a gala celebration of San Diego’s Centennial anniversary.  Through failed leadership and lack of oversight the venture collapsed, stiffing the public for $3 million in the bargain.
  • Years earlier, then-councilmember Gloria engineered the establishment of the Balboa Park Conservancy, whose mission was to raise funds to maintain and improve the park (Balboa Park was in his council district).  The Conservancy stumbled, sputtered, and languished under his negligent supervision.  Today, under Mayor Gloria’s indifferent eye, Balboa Park is on life support.
  • It was not the last time that San Diego taxpayers had to pick up the pieces following Todd Gloria’s ineptitude.  A jury found that councilmember Gloria improperly pressured city staff at the Planning Department to fudge a report about a disputed expansion of the Academy of our Lady of Peace, a private religious school in North Park.  The city was originally slapped with a $1.1 million fine for this unethical interference (but managed to settle the matter for half that amount).
  • Unfortunately, Mayor Gloria’s judgement or devotion to the public welfare have not improved over the years.  His recent “settlement” of the 101 Ash Street scandal is–for him– a crude but crafty get-out-of-jail card that sweeps under the rug the central role he played from the start.  And it lets off the hook his fellow-perps (past, present, and future campaign donors).  Apparently, the District Attorney can’t prosecute a politician for bad judgement …or stupidity.
  • Then there’s the Mayor’s curious decision to cherry-pick the ”Midway Rising” multi-billion dollar master plan proposal for massive redevelopment in San Diego’s Sports Arena community.  The business record of his anointed firm– Zephyr Development– is pockmarked with tax liens, breach of contract, lack of experience with large projects, civil complaints, partnership disputes, and more.  Yet, Mayor Gloria disregarded these red flags when he chose Zephyr over competitive bids.
  • Surely, the Mayor’s decision can’t be chalked up to bad judgement… or stupidity.  Is it possible that that Mayor Gloria was influenced by the $100,000 campaign check written by the company’s chief official to help get him elected mayor?  The city’s Ethic Commission seems to be asleep at the wheel.
  • Also menacing for the San Diego public is the fact that Mayor Gloria is a consenting captive of a formidable pileup of San Diego’s entrenched power brokers whose mission is to drive and accelerate economic and residential growth and development in the region–with scant regard to issues of equity, justice, quality of life, or negative environmental impacts.

Our home-grown “growth machine” members range from bankers, to big business owners, to consultants, to convention center purveyors, to developers, to financiers, to building trades unions, to hoteliers, to law firms, to lobbyists, to newspaper owners, to the real estate establishment, to land speculators.

  • On any day of the week, you’ll find Mayor Gloria sitting at the feet of local lobbyist Colin Parent (regional avatar of San Diego’s YIMBY cult and opportunistic executive director of Circulate San Diego).  Colin Parent’s land development mission is Mayor Gloria’s mission.
  • You’ll find the Mayor issuing directives to rewrite the city’s zoning codes, eliminate neighborhood voices, and reduce environmental standards.  With his gift of hyperactive happy talk, our Mayor delivers deceptive promises of “affordable housing” as a pretext for generously gifting his campaign donors free rein to overdevelop San Diego with high-rise apartment buildings and dense backyard units in residential areas throughout the city–without analyzing or evaluating long-term consequences.

It’s not very different from the city purchase of property without appraisals or assessments–except for the massive scale differential and predictably devastating outcome.

  • And in an ominous throwback to his Interim-Mayor days when he hired an out-of-town “efficiency expert” who specialized in privatizing government services and selling city functions to the private sector, Mayor Gloria just signed contracts with two private companies to replace city staff and take over decision-making functions in our city’s Planning /Development Services Departments.
  • And while Mayor Gloria announces almost daily: “Addressing homelessness is my top priority as your Mayor,” some may remember when Interim-Mayor Gloria reversed a program–previously funded by then-Mayor Filner– to keep shelters open year-round.   Closing cold weather shelters eventually led to a deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A just a few years later.  You might think he had learned something from that tragedy.
  • But the acts of addressing and accomplishing are not synonymous.   Mayor Gloria has been unable to accomplish even the limited task of providing and maintaining desperately needed public toilet facilities in downtown locations.  He shifts the blame for his inability to ameliorate the problem and sputters incoherent excuses: “I don’t have enough park maintenance people to keep this thing clean, right?  So just for God’s sake, if you see someone messing this up…this is getting crazy…. I think my staff’s gonna have a heart attack… be a decent human being for God’s sakes. And flush when you’re done if it’s not too much…”  This is our Mayor talking.
  • A couple of years ago there was an editorial headline published in the San Diego Union-Tribune that warned: “Keep Faulconer Away From City Real Estate.”  It came too late.
  • We’re overdue for a follow-up warning from our daily newspaper: “Keep Gloria Away From City Real Estate… Away From the Planning Department… and Away From All Important City Business.”  But it may already be too late.


Our Parade of Mayors leaves us with many questions.  We can start with this one:

  • what can explain the degree of incompetence, insubstantiality, indifference, shortsightedness, and inadequacy that has defined San Diego’s political figures?

Incidents of low level corruption are unavoidable but they’re not necessarily fatal.   What is fatal to the public good is the lack of fervor, integrity, intelligent conviction, stability, and dedication to public-oriented service from the people we elect to city government.  The reasons aren’t obvious but they’re worth debating.

We need to ask ourselves: Are the people of San Diego better off since we switched to a “Strong Mayor” form of government?  Was it a wise decision for San Diego to throw out our City Manager system?

To be more blunt: were we fu*ked over?  Are we being screwed?  Have we had it with political bullsh*t from unworthy city leaders?

If so, let’s unzip our collective lips– not to fool around with language niceties… not to indulge in salacious gossip… not to be the most correct person in the room — but to demand the initiation of a formal process to reevaluate the city’s governance system and reform our City Charter.  This time, we must insist that neighborhood voices dominate the process.  It sounds mundane, but self-preservation and the future of our city are at stake.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page February 22, 2023 at 11:09 am

As is typical of the government agencies, they did not provide simple trailers, these are expensive trailers evidenced by the pop outs. These would really only be ideal for families because they are so roomy. There is no reason they can’t be in use. They have water and sewage tanks. Water could be brought in and the holding tanks pumped regularly. Electricity is easily available and, if not, generators would solve the problem. There is no reason these trailers could not be occupied today.


Geoff Page February 23, 2023 at 1:42 pm

Sorry, wrong post.


Gravitas February 22, 2023 at 11:55 am

WOW…Give a Pulitzer Prize for reporting to Norma Damashek!! Honest, Clear, Brave. All Mayors discussed joined the “Unholy Trinity” of developers; union contacts guaranteed wages for those developments; and campaign contributions for next public office. City is now a disgrace….once a paradise.


laplayaheritage February 22, 2023 at 1:31 pm

Mayor Todd Gloria is also using the City of San Diego’s 42% Weighted voting power at SANDAG to bind together the 101 Ash Street mess with a new SANDAG Central Mobility Hub (CMH) for the airport.

Thereby making the full San Diego County region accountable for the $20+ million it will cost to demolish 101 Ash Street, and Billion for a new city hall.

A total of 4 Tally votes are required from the 18 cities + 1 county at SANDAG

Solution: Fight the 101 Ash Street + SANDAG Central Mobility Hub (CMH) project when it goes before the California Coastal Commission (CCC).


Bradley Bang February 23, 2023 at 9:56 am

I really enjoyed reading Norma Damashek 2-part article about our mayors past and present. It was very well written and I learned a lot about the politics surrounding our past and present mayors. I think the current economic/political issues facing California and San Diego especially in coastal urban areas are pushing for consensus on what are we going to do to address a host of issues including homelessness, climate change, public transportation and land use. I want to praise the reporting at the OBRag for their efforts to make our government more transparent and accountable. There is also a lot of corruption and unethical actions going on and it’s very hard to keep it all straight. As a citizen of National City I have a lot of interest in what’s going on in our big city neighbor to the North although I can’t vote in SD city contests. I wish some of your reporting could extend into the South Bay as it did when we had the SD Free Press. My concerns regarding your reporting which not only includes this story but many other articles I read in the OBRag especially during the last election is that the reporting is no longer even-handed. It is obvious from the article that the author has a bias especially against our present mayor because of the redevelopment of the Midway area. Now I’m all for your reporting of some of the incompetence of this effort and that officials be held accountable and transparent however we did have two votes on this matter and the public has spoken that we need a plan to redevelop the area. The Yimbys and the Nimbys are not cults they are people who are deeply interested in these issues. Many of them are interested for financial gain others for personal selfish reasons. Your reporting needs to reflect all of those reasons. The purpose of government is to help realize the people’s wishes and dreams. Your honest reporting can help make that happen. If you aren’t careful about reporting with some integrity on your part you add to the noise.


Paul Webb February 23, 2023 at 2:30 pm

Bradley Bang, I’m guessing that Norma was biased against Mayor Toddy long before the Midway redevelopment project. She is a very astute observer of San Diego politics and is to be commended for the reporting she has done. She is always willing to skewer those most deserving, including liberal democrats, as witnessed by her comments on Bob Filner.


Geoff Page February 23, 2023 at 2:48 pm

Paul, I did not respond to Mr. Bang because he read like a plant to me. All those compliments, then heartburn about what she had to say about Midway? Bias? Norma’s piece is filled with facts, not bias.


Bradley Bang February 23, 2023 at 5:19 pm

Well Geoff I’m not a plant just an individual who does enjoy the Ob Rag and especially your excellent reporting on the goings on at the Midway Community Planning Group and Midway Rising. I wish we had more excellent reporting about different community groups that meet and conduct city business such as yours. My compliments are sincere and I choose to write in this manner because I feel that discourse is better served if we communicate to each other in a more understanding manner. It might not be the fashion but it serves me well. I agree Norma’s piece is filled with facts hence the compliments. I just think your purposes and the city would be better served if you were even-handed with your commentary while also providing reporting of the meetings, incidents and fact checks on our local politicians. I think we are all in an awful mess, many people are angry and we need calmer voices providing leadership to the situations.


Frank Gormlie February 23, 2023 at 2:56 pm

BB – hey, we’d gladly do all that you want us to do, just simply send us the money necessary, like a cool million or two. We’re all volunteer writers and citizen journalists and don’t have the resources to do all-around all-encompassing posts. If you want that kind of reporting, look to the U-T, Voice of SD, Times of SD, La Prensa.

We’re upfront about our biases, unlike most of the other mainstream media and press, who maintain their biases and pretend they’re being even-handed. Just the kinds of stories that are reported on and published is a strong bias in and of itself.


Chris February 26, 2023 at 11:39 am

You must be new to the Rag. From it’s very beginning as an underground alliterative newspaper in the first half of the 70s to it current incarnation as an online blog (over 16 years at this point I think) it’s never claimed to be unbiased. It’s always been upfront as progressive leaning and touted itself as such. Same thing with the FP. And both have been very upfront about who they like and don’t like as far as elected public officials.


Geoff Page February 23, 2023 at 1:48 pm

Once again, an amazing piece of writing. I got the chills when Norma said Todd was the reincarnation of Golding, so very true and equally horrifying.

I think one law we should pass for this city is that any person elected as mayor cannot run for higher office when they leave office. History is that the mayor’s job is merely a steppingstone to higher desires. Luckily for the world, Golding’s steppingstone sank. But, Norma is correct and all those new bike lanes attest to that.


Mat Wahlstrom February 24, 2023 at 12:56 pm

This. Every word of it. Kudos, Norma!


Warren February 26, 2023 at 4:01 pm

A sad but thorough summary. A death by a thousand cuts is the best way to describe what has and is happening to San Diego. It is sad that the print and electronic news media has not done type reporting before.
Part of the responsibility for our current mess belongs to the voters. They voted for term limits, or as I call it a power shift to money interests (developers, consultants, power brokers, etc) away from the citizens. The vote on eliminating the Council/ Manager form of government to the strong Mayor. Think about those terms they say a lot, many vs one. The vote on the pension “reform” driven by Carl DeMaio’s desire to be Mayor. As someone said the voters get the government they vote for. Many thanks for taking up this issue.
I hope we can get the Council/Manager form of Government to the ballot now that voters can see what the a “Strong” Mayor has enabled!


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman February 26, 2023 at 5:54 pm

San Diego has reached a low-point, no question about it. It’s taken years to get to this nadir. Officially, where exactly are we? As California has turned “Blue,” so has local government: a Democrat is the awful Strong Mayor; the enlarged City Council is majority Democratic; even most of the once-right-wing County Board of Supervisors are Democrats. Trustees on the Board of Education are Democrats and have had their responsibilities whittled down from citywide to small districts and are led by a longtime Labor unionist. Even the County District Attorney changed her former GOP affiliation to Independent.

You’d think a lifelong Democrat like me would think she’d died and gone to heaven. But I just feel adrift and appalled and apathetic at the political self-dealing and parochial narrow agendas being served, and the conflicts of interest and even occasional episodes of outright law-flaunting. It doesn’t help that valiant mainstream and alternative local journalism is on life-support and there is no Republican Party counter-balance anywhere in sight.

What to do, folks? Whatever. But when you do do something, think about the structural symbolism in our City Administration Building’s Council Chambers. There’s an auditorium of seats for the people facing an extremely high-walled paneled dais where the powerful Strong Mayor never publicly appears. But there are placards and places for our elected area representatives to sit in a remote semi-circle behind microphones. It’s impossible for the petitioner at the auditorium-floor mic to know where to look when trying to address the entire voting body.


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