SAN DIEGO—Mayor Todd Gloria took aim at the city’s most pressing issues in his third State of the City Address, including infrastructure, public safety, homelessness, and housing affordability.
“None of tonight should come with the suggestion of mission accomplished,” Mayor Todd Gloria said Jan. 11 night. “Our city has crawled out of the deepest of valleys, and we now find ourselves climbing the highest of mountains. The summit may be far in the distance, but San Diego is taking steps every day to reach it—and we will.”
After delivering his first two State of the City addresses virtually to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Gloria gave this year’s speech in front of a live audience at the Civic Theater—which sits smack in the middle of Downtown’s civic core that the City plans to redevelop into a new City administration hub and thousands of homes for working-class San Diegans.
“This once-in-a-lifetime transformation will revive the Downtown civic core, create a welcoming place of beauty and culture that will serve generations long into the future and that is emblematic of the big-city energy we must embody,” Gloria said.
The mayor came down hard on the use and sale of fentanyl, a powerful opiate that has seen a massive increase in use, as well as overdoses and deaths in the past five years.
Fentanyl overdoses claimed the lives of more than 800 San Diegans in 2021, 113 of them homeless, according to the mayor’s office and the San Diego Police Department (SDPD). Five years ago, there were only two reported deaths of homeless people from fentanyl overdoses.
“We need stronger laws at the state and federal level that give teeth to law enforcement’s efforts at the local level,” he said. “Current laws do not fully take into account the game-changing reality of how potent and deadly it is, nor its outsized impact on our most vulnerable residents.”
In November, he signed an executive order to strengthen and prioritize enforcement around illicit fentanyl, and he has asked federal leaders to permanently classify it as a Schedule 1 drug.
Gloria touted the city’s declining crime rates, down 7.5 percent in 2022. Property crime went down by 9.7 percent, while the most serious violent crimes were down by 13 percent, according to the latest data from SDPD.
He then tied the drug into the city’s homelessness crisis, saying fighting its proliferation in the community worked with his strategy to get people into safe housing by investing in robust street outreach, increased shelter capacity, and more permanent supportive housing, as well as advocacy at the state and federal levels to reform and strengthen mental-health and substance-abuse interventions.
Gloria said street outreach and shelters serve as important and effective connections to housing.
“I am so proud to report that in 2022, more than 2,200 people ended their homelessness through the city’s outreach and shelter system,” he said.
The vast majority of those people—nearly 1,900—had moved into permanent housing, according to city data.
According to the mayor, the growing number of homeless people is due to the rising cost of living.
“It’s clear that we must focus more attention on the upstream causes of homelessness to give people a better shot at remaining housed through tough times,” he said.
The city has created more than 658 shelter beds for people experiencing homelessness since April 2021—a 61 percent increase—yet has also set records for the most homeless on the streets of downtown San Diego—1,839 in December—and the number of homeless deaths—more than 574 in 2022.
Gloria announced that, as early as next week, the city will open part of the old central library in Downtown as a temporary shelter for women and soon will open a large shelter with private rooms for families. He also announced that the city plans to open a fourth site in its Safe Parking Program for people who have vehicles but not homes.
Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages—one of the city’s largest homelessness-focused organizations—said Gloria’s actions were in the right direction.
“Mayor Gloria committed to programs and initiatives that have been proven effective, and Father Joe’s Villages knows first-hand how these endeavors have a positive impact,” Vargas said.
Gloria said he will continue to support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s CARE Court initiative—which is intended to connect people struggling with untreated mental illness with a court-supervised care plan—and will work with Sen. Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) to reintroduce conservatorship reform legislation.
Moments before stepping on stage, Gloria signed an executive order directing all relevant city departments to complete their review and approve 100 percent affordable housing projects within 30 days—a process that right now can take upwards of six months.
This was an additional step in his efforts to increase the affordable housing supply in the city.
“We all know where our failure to build more homes has gotten us: sky-high rents, homelessness, families moving out-of-state, bright people leaving us for lower-cost cities,” he said. “It causes many of our residents to not see a future for themselves here.”
To address this, Gloria said that this year, he and City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera will build out their recently announced framework to strengthen protections and assistance for renters to prevent additional homelessness. He also announced that the San Diego Housing Commission will double the funding for homelessness prevention programs from $2 million to $4 million.
“Increasing the number of affordable homes available to San Diegans is key to ending homelessness. … and his assurance of tenant protections will prevent more people from falling into homelessness,” Vargas said of Gloria’s address.
In December, San Diego was one of seven cities in California to earn the state’s Prohousing Designation, a recognition for committing to policies and practices that will help remove barriers to housing production and one which gives San Diego a leg up when applying for housing grants.
For infrastructure, Gloria announced the city is doubling the number of miles of freshly repaved streets compared with each of the prior two fiscal years. When including the slurry seal, the city intends to resurface 283 miles of resurfaced streets this fiscal year—more than a 40 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.
Gloria pointed to his proposed update of the city’s Street Preservation Ordinance as an additional tool to improve San Diego’s road conditions. The amended ordinance would require utilities that dig up the streets to repair them more fully and quickly and pay for the expense.
He also announced a new initiative to streamline permitting and reduce fees for property owners to repair sidewalks in front of their homes or businesses.
Sophie Li contributed to this report.