Opinion: San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria is expecting big changes in housing and policing

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New San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s place in city history dating back to 1850 is assured as its first openly gay mayor and first mayor of color. But, as he told the national news site Huffington Post, he wants to be known as a mayor measured by accomplishments “who happens to be Brown and gay.”

It’s early, but he’s eyeing big changes. In a Zoom interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board on Thursday morning, his 42nd day in office as Gloria told us twice, he made it plain that — in addition to focusing on multiple crises including COVID-19, climate change and a large city budget deficit that rivals the one in the Great Recession — he expects to be a change agent on two huge issues.

For the record:

8:35 AM, Jan. 22, 2021An earlier version of this editorial listed an incorrect day for our interview. We apologize for the error.

On housing, it’s been a decade since the Census Bureau first put out a report that factored in cost of living in determining poverty rates — and found California was the most impoverished state because of housing costs. And it’s been six years since then-Gov. Jerry Brown decried the focus on building expensive subsidized government housing instead of making it much easier for the private sector to build shelter. Yet reform efforts led by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, have largely fizzled because the focus by Democratic lawmakers — including many in San Diego — is a continued push for subsidized housing that has a high cost per unit and helps relatively few

people who really need the help.

“My focus, and I really want to be clear, is the unsubsidized housing,” Gloria told us Wednesday. He said he told housing staffers that “I will have their backs” as they pursue and approve innovative proposals that yield less costly “prefabricated housing, accessory dwelling units, duplexes, row homes, town homes.” And he spoke with justified enthusiasm about a Family Health Centers of San Diego project in El Cerrito to use customized shipping containers — with already-completed state inspections on their suitability for use as housing — to build up to 170 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments in a 119,000-square-foot building.

Good. Current housing policies aren’t working.

San Diegans should expect policing changes as well. Gloria wants to use mental health professionals instead of officers with homeless residents, and he acknowledged concerns that Police Chief David Nisleit had said little about systemic racism suffusing law enforcement. While Nisleit supports de-escalation training and banned use of the chokehold, his department consistently downplays studies that show people of color are more likely to be stopped by San Diego officers and that Black suspects are far more likely to be physically subdued.

Gloria said he was in the process of informing Nisleit “what my expectations are and seeing whether or not he can meet them. I believe he can. I’ve known Dave for a long time. I think at his core, he is a decent man.” This can be seen as an admonition — or an ultimatum. How the chief adjusts to the new mayor will be a huge story in 2021, if not beyond.

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