San Diego mayor’s first 100 days called a good start, but many priorities left to tackle

Mayor Todd Gloria discusses his first 100 days in office at press conference in Balboa Park Thursday.
Mayor Todd Gloria arrives at a press conference to discuss his first 100 days in office in the Pan American Plaza in Balboa Park on Thursday.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gloria faced unprecedented challenges with pandemic, looming deficit, and need for federal aid


Todd Gloria’s first 100 days as San Diego mayor have included a long list of accomplishments despite unprecedented challenges and distractions, but even Gloria says he’s barely begun tackling his ambitious agenda.

While community leaders are praising Gloria for being accessible and open to their ideas since being sworn in Dec. 10, groups focused on racial equity and climate change say they’re mildly disappointed and anxious about whether he’ll prioritize their goals.

Others call the new mayor —a Democrat who is arguably the most powerful mayor in San Diego history— a breath of fresh air who has boosted morale among the city’s 11,000 workers and made business and labor groups optimistic.

Leaders of the city’s conservative wing say they won’t know how Gloria will govern until they see his first proposed budget next month and he tackles his first major development project and negotiates new labor deals with city workers.

Aides to Mayor Todd Gloria take down a visual prop used to tout the successes of his first 100 days
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

No one can say the new mayor hasn’t faced unusual challenges during his first 100 days, a milestone he hit Saturday, March 20.

COVID-19 cases were surging when he took office, and the city faced a gaping budget deficit, making Gloria’s top priorities doling out vaccines and lobbying federal officials for what turned out to be $300 million in pandemic aid.

Despite those challenges, Gloria managed to make some key changes in city homelessness policies, helped San Diego adopt its first law governing vacation rentals and created a fund to help poor neighborhoods cope with climate change.

The mayor also provided financial help for businesses struggling during the pandemic, and he made hires and appointments that added diversity to the city’s workforce and volunteer boards and commissions.

“We’ve made progress during my first 100 days, but this is just the beginning,” Gloria said Thursday, March 18. “We have a lot more to do to make housing more affordable for working families, implement strategies to end chronic homelessness, repair our crumbling infrastructure and get San Diego back to work.”

Mayor Todd Gloria does a rehearsal of his first State of the City address hours before delivering it
Mayor Todd Gloria does a rehearsal of his first State of the City address hours before delivering it at the San Ysidro Branch Library in January.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

While Gloria said he’s eager to pivot to those priorities and update the city’s climate action plan, he contends he has set the tone for his entire first term during the first 100 days by prioritizing accessibility, transparency and collaboration.

“Obviously there are accomplishments that were done and that we’re proud of, but I think it’s more about the priorities and the approach as an indicator of what the next four years will look like,” he said.

Former Mayor Jerry Sanders, who now serves as chief executive of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he gives high marks to Gloria for engaging so many groups so ardently amid a pandemic that makes meetings difficult.

“One of our main goals was to have someone who would communicate with us, and he’s certainly engaged the business community,” said Sanders, who has been getting detailed updates from Gloria every two weeks.

Sanders also praised Gloria for looking at all policies through a social equity lens, something the local business community hasn’t previously made a priority.

“I think it would have been a mistake if he hadn’t focused on that,” Sanders said. “All of us need to re-think that issue.”

While Sanders said evaluating a mayor on his first 100 days is an “artificial” media approach, he said he thinks it has put some positive pressure on Gloria to fight through bureaucracy.

Brigette Browning, executive vice president of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, said local unions are generally thrilled with Gloria because of some accomplishments and a new attitude after years of Republican city leadership.

“It’s so different to have someone who actually supports a pro-worker agenda,” she said.

Mayor Todd Gloria does a rehearsal of his first State of the City address
Mayor Todd Gloria does a rehearsal of his first State of the City address just hours before delivering it at the San Ysidro Branch Library on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

On accomplishments, Browning said labor leaders were pleased Gloria focused on rent relief for low-income residents, extended an eviction moratorium and a city policy requiring tourism businesses to rehire laid-off workers by seniority.

Browning said labor also supports Gloria’s focus on equity, noting that a large share of union members are people of color.

Kenneth Malbrough, a longtime community leader from Southeastern San Diego, said Gloria appointing many people of color to his staff and city volunteer boards sends a strong message to long-neglected neighborhoods south of Interstate 8.

Malbrough, a former city firefighter, also praised Gloria for personally visiting those neighborhoods and creating a Black Advisory Group to focus on issues affecting the city’s Black community.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Marlbrough said.

But Ellen Nash, leader of the Black American Political Association’s San Diego chapter, said local Black leaders are mildly disappointed Gloria hasn’t acted on a 100-day plan they proposed to tackle police reform and racial equity.

“We felt it was very realistic and doable,” Nash said of the six-page plan that includes more than 25 specific policy requests and recommendations.

Nash credited Gloria for meeting with Black leaders to discuss the plan and said she’s optimistic they will hear back from the mayor soon. But she said they had hoped for quicker action when they created the plan.

“He did meet with us and that says a lot,” Nash said.

Nash also praised Gloria for launching recruitment efforts for an executive to lead the city’s new Office of Race and Equity, which was spearheaded last summer by Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe before Gloria was elected.

The city skyline is in view as San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria arrives at a press conference
The city skyline is in view as San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria arrives at a press conference
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Nash said Black leaders are hopeful Gloria will appoint people of color to top city positions, such as the chief operating officer post now held by Jay Goldstone on an interim basis.

“It’s one thing to hire people of color, but it’s another to hire them into leadership positions,” Nash said.

Nicole Capretz, co-author of the city’s Climate Action Plan and leader of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said she’s also mildly disappointed Gloria hasn’t unveiled his plan to reduce reliance on cars in favor of transit and biking.

Capretz said local environmentalists also are eager to see Gloria’s approach to a new franchise agreement for gas and electric service, stressing that the city needs to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“I’m not saying Todd won’t do these things, we just don’t know,” Capretz said. “I think we’ve seen some encouraging signs.”

Those include Gloria’s support for a countywide plan to revolutionize mass transit, including a new mobility hub connected to the airport.

Capretz said Gloria’s first city budget, due to be unveiled April 15, will also be telling, especially regarding money needed to achieve the city’s climate goals.

“What are his investments going to be?” she said.

Gloria said he’s also eager to move forward on climate initiatives, but he can’t establish new goals for getting people out of cars until the county’s regional planning agency, the San Diego Association of Governments, finalizes a new regional transportation plan.

Mayor Todd Gloria leaves his office in San Diego City Hall on Friday, March 19, 2021.
Mayor Todd Gloria leaves his office in San Diego City Hall on Friday, March 19, 2021.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“We need the data from SANDAG to say with more specificity to the public how we make that shift,” he said.

Councilman Chris Cate, the city’s only Republican elected leader, said it’s far too early to tell what kind of leader Gloria will be.

While Cate praised Gloria for delaying possible budget cuts until the city’s amount of federal relief was known, he said Gloria hasn’t yet dealt with a major development policy or proposal, or completed ongoing negotiations with city labor unions.

“We need time to determine what paths he’s going to take and what his term as mayor will look like,” Cate said.

The proposed city budget will be a key look at Gloria’s priorities, Cate said, stressing that he would like to see a conservative approach to spending despite the $300 million the city got in federal aid.

“I fully expect him to take the responsible approach and not go on a spending spree,” Cate said.

The conservative Lincoln Club of San Diego County offered similar sentiments.

Club President Brian Pepin praised Gloria for quickly applying his experience as an eight-year councilman and four-year state Assemblyman to unprecedented challenges. But Pepin said the proposed budget will define Gloria’s leadership approach.

“Mayor Gloria will need to quickly pursue fiscal reform and deliver a more streamlined and efficient city government,” Pepin said. “It’s the only way he can deliver on his vision for San Diego.”

Gloria said it’s been a challenge to avoid losing sight of his agenda while dealing with so many priorities simultaneously.

On his side are the immense experience he brings to the job, having a council controlled by his own party, and the credibility he brings to equity issues as a Latino and Filipino.

“The list of key issues we have to deal with right now is extremely long, and few of the things on the list are easy, but I’m not complaining,” Gloria said. “I asked for this job.”

—- David Garrick is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune