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Mayoral candidate Todd Gloria sits down with La Jolla Light; explains why he wants to lead San Diego

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Todd Gloria is a candidate for San Diego mayor, former District 3 San Diego City Council member and current California State Assembly 78th District member.
(Photo by Howard Lipin / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

La Jollans will vote to help choose the next mayor of San Diego on primary election day — Tuesday, March 3, 2020 — ahead of the Nov. 3, 2020 general election.

La Jolla Light recently sat down to interview the top three candidates running to fill Kevin Faulconer’s vacancy — Barbara Bry (D), Todd Gloria (D) and Scott Sherman (R).

According to a Feb. 11 San Diego Union-Tribune/10News poll, Gloria has the support of 29 percent of likely voters, followed by Sherman with 18 percent and Bry with 13 percent. (Regretfully, a combination of space and manpower limitations prevented the Light from including the three other candidates — Tasha Williamson, Rich Riel and Gita Appelbaum Singh — who each had 5 percent support or less.)

La Jolla Light interviews with the candidates for the District 1 City Council seat (being vacated by Barbara Bry) can be found on the Light website at bit.ly/2HiADph

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The Light’s interview with Todd Gloria — candidate for San Diego mayor, former District 3 San Diego City Council member and current California State Assembly 78th District member — appears below. Also, see the Light’s interviews with other mayoral candidates:
Barbara Bry: lajollalight.com/news/story/2020-02-20/san-diego-mayoral-candidate-barbara-bry
Scott Sherman: lajollalight.com/news/story/2020-02-20/san-diego-mayoral-candidate-scott-sherman
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• Interview with Todd Gloria:

In 2013, you were already Mayor of San Diego. You could have run in the special election — which gave us Kevin Faulconer — with a distinct advantage. But you declined. So why now?

Todd Gloria: “If you go back to 2013, I had to do the job as mayor. And to put it very simply, it was a question of being mayor or running for mayor. So it was a matter of choosing to do one thing well or two things poorly. I would think that people would expect a true public servant to set aside their ambition and focus on solving problems. And that’s what I chose to do.”

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So, when you look at the City today, what’s the major thing or two that’s wrong with it?

Todd Gloria: “There’s a specific and then there’s a general thing. Specifically, we are not making the progress we need to make on homelessness. This is a crisis and it’s affecting every community in the City. This is in the context of us spending more than we ever have on this particular problem. But it’s not getting better. So that’s a specific thing that needs changing.

But broadly speaking, you know people need to see they have a future in this community. And I think because of the high cost of living here, particularly housing, people who may have been born and raised here don’t see a future for themselves. We will not be a great City if we are just for the very wealthy who can afford to live here and the very poor who are trapped here.

We have to have a vibrant and working middle class. And I’m running for Mayor to make sure that there’s a pathway to stability, to success, to opportunity here in San Diego.”

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The housing crisis shows up in a lot of ways: affordability, homelessness, short-term vacation rentals, height restrictions. It’s all tied together, right? So there are a lot of moving parts. Other than the word “priority” —which everyone uses — how do you approach it?

Todd Gloria: “Well, it does have to be a priority. I think that word is important for homelessness because I don’t feel this crisis got the priority that it needed until Hepatitis happened (Hepatitis A outbreak in fall 2017/winter 2018). And at this point, the priority has been on stuff that tends to make for a decent photo-op but doesn’t actually solve the problem.

On housing writ large, I see it as a shared responsibility. New homes, particularly homes that working people could afford, can actually be community-enhancing; community-improving.

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But what do we need to do? The City released a report of what it permitted in this City over the last decade. And it shows that the preponderance of the housing was at the luxury end of the market; the vast majority of it.

Interestingly, there is some production at the very-low and low-income level of the market; roughly 4,400 homes over 10 years. That middle part of the market over that decade was just 33 homes.

So, what do you do to change that? Well, if you look at what was produced at the low-income and very-low income level, it’s not enough. But 4,400 homes compared to 33 homes shows that there is the potential of us helping to make more opportunities — more spots — for working people to exist.

What do we do? The City was a leader in the late 1970s when it created an affordable housing trust fund. I would suggest that we should create a middle class-housing trust fund. A vehicle for where we could help finance and incentivize the construction of homes that people who work full time could actually afford.

Also, I think anchor institutions could be major funders of this. What do I mean? You’ve seen major investments from Google and Apple and other major corporations in California investing literally billions of dollars to try and address the housing crisis. We could talk to our same anchor institutions here. Folks who may not see themselves as creating low-income jobs but who know that they’re creating working- and middle-class jobs and want to see those workers have a fair shake. We could compete for some of the Smart Growth grants at the state level that we don’t currently take full advantage of.

Two other quick ideas. One is we provide expedited process in the permits for affordable housing developers, recognizing the public good that that is and giving those folks front-of-the-line privileges.

Why wouldn’t we provide similar incentives and similar prioritization in the permitting process for middle income projects? You know, front-of-the-line privileges. Time is money. If you save time, hopefully that’s reflected in a reduction in the rent or “For Sale” price.

And the last thing that comes to mind is just a quick idea of what we can do to make a difference. We have a lot of public property that we don’t use to its highest and best use. If you remove the land costs out of a transaction, that’s a substantial part of the cost of new construction. And that cost could be reflected in the rents and “For Sale” prices once they actually come on line.

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You know, we’ve built a lot of libraries and fire stations and other public infrastructure projects that would be perfectly appropriate for having additional housing above. Those are City-owned assets that we should leverage further.

I did a bill last year to take away the state building in downtown San Diego that is two full City blocks immediately adjacent to Little Italy — blocks that could be zoned for very high density housing — to give that property to the City for the production of low- and moderate-income housing. Again, leveraging already publicly owned assets to provide more opportunities for working people to be able to live here. These are ideas that take it more from just rhetoric of prioritization to actually this is how we can get there from here.”

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Whose leadership, past or present, do you most admire and why?

Todd Gloria: “My mentor has always been Congresswoman Susan Davis. You know, I met her when I was 14 years old. I remember getting a hall pass from my guidance counselor to come in and apply for the Enterprise Fellows Program. I was accepted in that program and Susan was running that program. So I met her at a very young age and we have had a multi-decade relationship that has guided my career.

I learned the practice of public service from Susan. Susan is a social worker by profession. It’s a really different skill set for the work of politics. Most people think of attorneys as being the logical step before running for office. And that approach can sometimes be about arguments and you know, litigation and fights and all that kind of stuff. Susan’s approach is much more about listening to people; about connecting folks to resources; helping to solve problems. What I admire about her leadership style is that it is very kind. It is very concerned. It’s more about listening than talking. And it’s about trying to solve problems for people.”

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What do you see as the essential balance in civic discourse?

Todd Gloria: “If you’re doing this job correctly, you’re listening more than you’re talking. During the course of a campaign, I don’t necessarily live up to that. (Laughter) I do a lot of talking. But in the course of governing, I hope I hit that mark. And what I learned is that for many of the most difficult conversations I’d have with everyday San Diegans, it occurred to me in the conversations, I would explicitly ask ‘Were you looking for me to solve the problem or were you looking for me to listen?’ You’d be shocked the number of times the response was, ‘I just want you to listen.’ People just do not feel heard.

That’s exactly how you have a situation where certain issues are elevated as being the highest concern in our community, when truly the biggest issues are not often discussed. We spend an inordinate time talking about things like scooters, which are certainly an issue. I don’t want to minimize it. But in the day-to-day existence of the average San Diegan, the cost of housing is their primary focus and concern. And I get a lot more questions about one than the other.”

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If you were to make a presentation to teens and young adults, how would you advise them to view authority?

Todd Gloria: “The demographic you describe is interesting because they are so well informed. They have access to a ton of information. But they arrive at this with a heavy level of skepticism; about politics, about politicians, about just government in general. What I found successful in talking with younger people is the fact they are all very service-oriented. Every one of them graduates now after having done a tremendous amount of community service. And they’re animated and they’re passionate about subjects like gun violence prevention and climate change. They are issues that they are deeply concerned about and they have a history of actually taking direct action.

What I say to them is it’s not sufficient to just serve food at a homeless shelter. You have to engage in politics in order to solve the root problem. That’s a bit of a hook they can get into. They recognize they may have done a beach clean-up. But by God, if we pass some legislation that would reduce the amount of single-use plastics in the community, maybe they wouldn’t have to do that as much. ... When speaking to young people (I see) they have a servant’s heart. They have a tremendous amount of information. They know what the solutions are. They just have to be told, or explained to them, that they are part of the solution. They are the solution that they’re waiting for.”

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You helped author the Climate Action Plan, one of your big achievements as Interim Mayor. So how do you rate the City’s progress on it so far?

Todd Gloria: “Not good.”

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Is it even viable?

Todd Gloria: “Yes. Even though the 100 percent renewable goal can be overwhelming to people who maybe don’t have a lot of information. On a good day, we’re already running at 50 percent of renewables. So it isn’t the leap that most people think it to be.

I am critical of the City’s current progress on implementing the plan. The best example I can give you is when the plan was adopted in 2015, it was obvious we would need to move to a community choice energy effort in order to implement the 100 percent renewable energy goal. Instead, the City spent years and a lot of money studying whether or not we need to move to that form of procurement. That’s just time lost.

The fits and starts around implementation of safe bikeways are another example. Even though we’ve authorized and voted for plans to do miles and miles of these things, the approach has been very slow. Can we make up the difference? Yeah. And importantly, we have to. What choice do we have? The climate is changing.

Part of San Diego’s brand is our quality of life, our natural resources, our environment. If we’re not protecting this, our edge against other cities is lost. Right? So we got to do our part. I say to people: I’m the mayor who wrote the Climate Action Plan. I now want to be the mayor that implements it.”

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Where do you get your news?

Todd Gloria: “I read the U-T (The San Diego Union-Tribune) everyday. Voice of San Diego. I subscribe digitally to the Washington Post and New York Times. We at the state, you may know, get news aggregations, news clippings everyday and they draw from all the major publications statewide: Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, etc. Also NPR. Obviously, I’ve been a public radio nerd for a long, long time.”

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What do you want the City’s relationship with SDG&E to be and how will you get it there?

Todd Gloria: “We have made a decision to procure energy a different way. But they are, and I anticipate will, continue to provide municipal energy delivery to buyers. SDG&E is going to be a part of that for quite awhile. They have been a partner on a number of things I think are important. They have certainly stepped up on renewables and are among the leaders in the state; I daresay the nation.”

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What are your plans to support small businesses in light of the “retail apocalypse?”

Todd Gloria: “What I hear mostly when I talk to small business owners is two points. If they go seek a permit or something like that, generally the feedback I hear is that it takes too long, it’s too expensive, it’s too uncertain and we should be in the business of providing more certainty, swifter responses, reduced costs. The 11,000 people who work for the City, work for the Mayor, and so I would hope to drive a culture change at City Hall that is much more customer service-oriented, that’s much more responsive, and where it’s possible to find ways to drive down costs (that impede progress).

The other thing that comes up a lot from business owners is the high cost of housing. The high cost of just rent in general, whether it’s for their own business or for the ability to recruit and retain employees. You know, if their employees can’t make ends meet with the job they have, they can’t keep them for very long.”

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In some communities, residents are very involved. As mayor, what’s your job regarding that?

Todd Gloria: “I have a number of communities in my district that are very active. And I love those communities because it becomes very clear what they want. I’m a big list-maker in terms of how I organize my day, and I have a list to know what I can accomplish. When you have communities that are being crystal clear about what their priorities are — what needs to be done — that makes my life easier. Right? So I appreciate active communities like Pacific Beach. They are not unclear about what are their priorities.

But I also don’t mind trying to correct people, when people’s frustration with a particular issue causes them to embrace, perhaps, the wrong solution. What do I mean? The vehicle habitation ordinance is a recent example. If people are so frustrated about homelessness, the City Council could adopt something that, in my judgment, actually makes the problem worse. I live in Mission Hills. There are people who sleep in their cars on my block. They were there before the ordinance was passed. They’ve been there since the ordinance was passed. The only difference is, now the City’s in a position of ticketing them.

If they live in their car, presumably they don’t have the financial resources to pay off a ticket. So if they acquire enough of those, their credit’s going to get ruined. If they do it for too long, their car’s going to get impounded. Eventually, they could get arrested. If there is someone who is having difficulty affording housing, who now has bad credit and a criminal history, we’re actually making the problem worse.

My responsibility in a role like this is that when I know something is not the right solution, to do my best to communicate clearly to say I understand what you’re getting at, this may seem like the harder path, but this is the right one because it’s going to get us to where we actually want to go, which is not having people sleep in their car, which I think is the intent of that particular ordinance.”

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If you could only accomplish three things as Mayor, what would they be?

Todd Gloria: That we created a City that works well, particularly for working- and middle-class people. I don’t think that’s currently in place. If you have a million bucks, you’ve got plenty of housing options; life is pretty good for you. Right now, I’m concerned about the people who don’t earn enough to afford the housing that we’re producing, but make too much to qualify for the programs that we offer to help people out. I think people who work hard and play by the rules have a place here. They can have a future here. That’s a macro-level goal that would be an important part of what I’d like to do.

I’d like us to continue to lead. The Climate Action Plan is a wonderful template for what I’d like to do: big, bold policy making that drives an agenda, not just here locally, but around the country. Ultimately it’s gonna mean a lot of early investment in research is going to happen here because we pioneered it first. That’s good jobs, the kind of stuff that allows people to afford to live here. So the two kind of connect.

And the last thing, and I say this with a tremendous amount of respect as a third-generation San Diegan, we have to stop the small town mentality that often guides the City’s decision-making process and embrace the fact that we’re a big city. We’re the eighth largest in the United States. We’re the second largest in California.

We continually talk about the same subjects over and over again and they don’t seem to get solved — the airport, stadiums, convention center expansions. We talk about things a lot that other cities have solved — scooters, vacation rentals. These are issues that other cities have adopted ordinances around and rules and laws about, that we can’t seem to get to. We have to set all that aside to create the bandwidth, the space, to work on housing affordability, solving homelessness, investing in a 21st century infrastructure system.”

Learn more about Todd Gloria at a78.asmdc.org


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