Alliance San Diego On Possible Ballot Initiative Using Homelessness Crisis To Expand Convention Center

Move would defy the will of voters who overwhelmingly passed Measure L

Alliance San Diego has been asked to respond to the Voice of San Diego story revealing that  Mayor Faulconer is involved in another effort to use the homelessness crisis as a lever to put an expansion of the convention center on a special-election ballot, which would contravene Measure L. We are responding to multiple inquiries all at once to make Alliance San Diego’s position clear.

1. The homelessness crisis is a crisis of Mayor Faulconer’s own making. 

As detailed in a Union Tribune story, the homelessness crisis and related hepatitis outbreak has only worsened during Mayor Faulconer’s tenure, without any meaningful response from the city. Although cases of hepatitis, an almost entirely preventable disease, were first identified in San Diego last November, the mayor did not issue a public statement about the outbreak until three weeks ago. In the face of one of the nation’s biggest outbreaks of hepatitis in years, he announced the city would offer free vaccinations one day a month, hardly the response needed. 

Instead of treating the swelling homelessness, which has left more than 5,000 on the streets, as a crisis, Mayor Faulconer has chosen to criminalize and arrest homeless families, remove public access to bathrooms, and close down housing. See the U-T article for more detail. Instead of adding money to address the brewing homelessness crisis in the city budget, he opted for a $5 million special election in order to run a measure that would tie the fate of additional resources for homelessness to an expansion of the convention center. In the U-T article, his own spokesperson stated that the mayor is as “committed to attacking homelessness” as he is “to expanding the convention center or luring professional soccer to San Diego.”

One is not like the other. Homelessness is a crisis. The convention center expansion and a professional soccer team are not. In the words of Michael McConnell, an advocate for homeless residents, “the city has failed in the worst possible way.” Every time the mayor ties a homelessness response to the convention center, he belies his true priorities and fails to lead. The homelessness crisis requires an immediate response that is focused and meaningful, and is not tied to an election on an issue that has nothing to do with the crisis.

2. Measure L allows for special elections, not special interests.

Measure L, which was passed with support from two-thirds of the voters in San Diego, schedules elections on city ballot measures in November general elections, when the most people vote. The intent of the measure was to give voters, not special interests, the power to make decisions. The next general election is in November 2018, but Mayor Faulconer is involved in an effort to defy the will of the voters and bring a convention center initiative to the ballot before then, in a special election consolidated with the June 2018 primary. 

Based on prior midterm primary elections, the projected turnout for the June election is 30 percent (half of the projected turnout for the November election), which means that a measure could pass with votes from 15 percent plus one of the electorate. While it may be less expensive to run a campaign in June, because you would only have to reach a fraction of the voters, it undermines democratic decision making and allows special interests to use their power and money to influence the outcome. That is why voters passed Measure L, to strengthen our democracy.

Recognizing that emergencies arise, Measure L allows City Council to call a special election for the purpose of bringing a measure to the voters that cannot wait until the next November general election. This is intended to be a limited exception, but Mayor Faulconer tried to use it to bring a convention center to the ballot only months after voters passed Measure L, arguing that rising costs and the money attached for homelessness services were compelling. In their wisdom, the majority of City Council declined to call a special election, stating that the convention center was not an emergency, especially given that the city has not acquired the land needed, and the limited money for homelessness did not meaningfully address that issue.

The convention center expansion is no more urgent today than it was several months ago. The land needed for a contiguous expansion is still not available. Nonetheless, Mayor Faulconer is pressing forward with a proposal repackaged as a “citizen’s” initiative. This new attempt appears to be motivated by a recent California Supreme Court decision regarding the City of Upland, which allowed a dedicated revenue measure brought as a citizen’s initiative to pass with only half of the votes instead of the two-thirds normally required. Though the mayor seeks to take advantage of this case, the legality of applying the Upland decision to a different set of circumstances in San Diego is questionable and would likely draw a lawsuit that would be paid for by city taxpayers. No matter how the mayor’s proposal is spun, the convention center expansion does not justify a special election and does not do justice to the homelessness crisis.

3. We call on Mayor Faulconer to take immediate action to address homelessness.

We urge the Mayor Faulconer and the city to refocus attention and resources on the real emergency at hand, which is the homelessness crisis. This crisis needs a dedicated response, not one tied to the fate of a major development as part of a ballot measure that may or may not win in an election.

Mayor Faulconer has the power to act now. Today. He has the power to open up city-owned buildings to shelter the homeless, not wait for tents to be erected in December. He has the power to reallocate funds for a special election and direct them to proper sanitation, access to bathrooms, and vaccinations. Finally, he has the power to treat this as a public health crisis by expanding services to the homeless, not rounding them up in police sweeps and incarcerating them, which only exacerbates the hepatitis crisis.

Above all, addressing the homelessness crisis will take leadership. We call on Mayor Faulconer to lead. This is not the moment for political opportunism. This is the moment to bring about real change. We stand ready to partner with the city on real solutions to this crisis.