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Mayoral candidates lay out economic plans

With just a month to go before the San Diego mayoral election, the leading candidates have spent the past couple weeks releasing detailed proposals for how to get the local economy rolling again.

For City Councilman David Alvarez, the top goal is to shift development efforts away from downtown and into the communities with the highest needs. "Our tax base will keep eroding as long as we have neighborhoods with double-digit unemployment," he warned.

City Councilman Kevin Faulconer wants lower taxes, fewer fees and less red tape, arguing that City Hall "can help small businesses thrive by making it easy to do work with [City Hall]."

Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher emphasizes building the high-tech, biotech and clean-tech industries, using business retention programs, job-training and incubators to "establish San Diego as 'the world's most innovative city' -- and the best place to invent new innovative products and services."

And former City Attorney Mike Aguirre says his main priority is to pare down the city's structural deficit, especially by cutting pension payouts. "When you spend money on one thing, it's not available for something else," he said.

Except for Aguirre, who concentrates almost solely on the deficit, the leading candidates tend to agree on most of high-profile issues, such as expanding the Convention Center, developing stronger ties with Mexico, aiding the homeless and keeping the military here.

But there are major differences in how they set their priorities and how they propose to achieve their goals.

Following is a rundown on issues where their differences are most apparent:

* Infrastructure -- With an $898 million backlog in infrastructure projects, the top candidates agree that one of their most important tasks as mayor is to fix the city's roads, streetlights, sidewalks, transportation lines and water and sewage systems.

All three also say the money needs to be targeted more at low-income neighborhoods that have long been neglected.

Fletcher's plans are arguably the most detailed. He wants to spend $150 million a year on infrastructure, after hiring a chief infrastructure officer to set priorities on the spending.

"We can create thousands of jobs in San Diego just by fixing our city's crumbling streets," he said, citing a recent study that suggests that 17,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion a region spends on infrastructure.

* City planning -- The city's Planning Department is in the process of rebuilding after being gutted by former Mayor Jerry Sanders. Each of the three leading candidates support the re-emphasis on planning and zoning, which they say will give manufacturers, retailers and residential developers clearer guidelines on their plans to grow and expand.

But there are rifts between the candidates regarding how the zoning should be handled.

Faulconer's views on planning, for instance, focus on manufacturing. Within his first 100 days in office, he wants to launch a comprehensive survey and economic development strategy based on how much land is currently available for industrial use.

In the meantime, he is backing a referendum by local shipbuilders and dockworkers' unions to overturn the Barrio Logan community plan, which establishes a six-block commercial buffer zone between industrial areas and businesses. Faulconer believes the plan does not give the maritime industry more space. Alvarez says the plan reflects six years of compromise between the industry and residents.

Despite the disagreement, Faulconer says he agrees with 90 percent of the plan Alvarez crafted.

But Fletcher says the dispute is an example of the City Council's inability to agree on clear planning goals. He suggests an outside voice might bring a different perspective.

* High-tech businesses -- All the leading candidates stress their desire to increase San Diego's role as a hub for high-tech, biotech and clean-tech businesses. Alvarez offers a vague promise to "align city incentives and credits" with the needs of tech businesses, but his rivals offer much more detailed plans.

Faulconer plans to develop a plan with local universities as well as such organizations as Biocom and Connect to boost the number of federal research grants by 50 percent by 2020.

Fletcher wants to work with the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. to convince clean-tech companies from Texas, biotech labs from Boston and cybersecurity and data-mining firms from New York and Washington, D.C. to move or expand into San Diego. At the same time, he says he will personally contact the leaders of every biotech firm in the city during his first 100 days in office and make the case for them to stay in the city.

Fletcher also wants to create a cluster of tech-related factories in Otay Mesa to allow local tech companies to make their goods in San Diego instead of elsewhere. He hopes to convince at least one major tech manufacturer to move there by 2017.

Each of those plans face major hurdles. The clean-tech companies around Austin, for instance, benefit from lower costs of doing business -- ranging from taxes to real estate -- that San Diego can't match.

* Economic development -- Alvarez's top priority as mayor would be to create GrowSD, a public-private partnership aimed at spurring economic development in the city's neglected neighborhoods. He said that within its first six months of operations, he would want GrowSD to produce a list of prime redevelopment sites throughout the city, with a detailed plan on how to move projects forward.

Initial funding for the group would come from $80 million in federal and state seed money over the next seven years, with additional money coming from nonprofits, foundations, redevelopment revenues and federal "new market" tax credits, which are designed to stimulate growth in low-income neighborhoods.

Faulconer hopes to stimulate development through the recently created Civic San Diego Economic Growth and Neighborhood Investment Fund, which is dedicated to securing new market tax credit funds and managing community investments. During his first year as mayor, Faulconer plans to add grant writers to the program who can help attract more federal funding.

Fletcher wants to reorganize the Development Services Department to create a new Economic Development Department focused on job creation. Within his first 100 days in office, he hopes to submit his reorganization plan to the City Council, as well as restore economic development funding to the city's Small Business Enhancement Program and Business Improvement District Council.

Fletcher wants to work with the San Diego Workforce Partnership to create the San DiegoFirst program, which would try to match the skills of local jobless workers with the requirements at job openings among the businesses participating in the program. The businesses will be asked to try to put a priority on hiring the jobless. Fletcher says he intends to make City Hall the first participant in the program, as an example to other employers.

* Job-training and business incubation -- All the major candidates want to help develop better job-training programs at local universities. But Faulconer and Fletcher also stress the importance of creating business incubation centers for launching high-tech startups, such as the EvoNexus incubator that has launched 57 enterprises and created 700 jobs since its founding in 2009.

Fletcher wants to transform the Old Central Library into an incubator and job-training center during his first year in office, with its first graduating class in 2017. Faulconer wants to work with local property owners and universities to create at least four incubators by the time he leaves office.

*Affordable housing -- Alvarez wants to create more affordable housing by bolstering such tools as the city's linkage fee, which requires commercial developers to help fund low-cost housing projects.

"Companies cannot locate here or expand if their workers cannot find affordable housing," he said.

But Faulconer, however, opposes the fee, saying it stifles growth. "Because other cities in the region do not levy this tax, San Diego misses out on economic investment opportunities that would otherwise occur," he said.

* Cutting fees, taxes and red tape -- Faulconer, who last year commissioned a performance audit of the Development Services Department Project Tracking System, wants to use the information to speed up the permitting process within his first year of office. In addition, he wants to permanently allow deferrals of the Facility Benefit Assessment Fee so developers can pay it after completing their projects instead of at the beginning. He also wants to proactively issue environmental impact reports on local communities so they will be ready when development projects are launched, instead of delaying construction.

Fletcher says that within his first 100 days in office he wants to offer expedited permitting for businesses that are creating "high-quality jobs."

Alvarez wants to bolster the city's Office of Economic Growth Services, which offers permit assistance, loans and incentive programs to startups, by creating a Small Business Task Force spearheaded by small businesses and entrepreneurial associations that will evaluate all the existing services for small businesses and determine what else is needed.

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City of San Diego Executive(s):

Sherri Lightner

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Kevin Faulconer

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Todd Gloria

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Myrtle Cole

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Mark Kersey

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Lorie Zapf

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Scott Sherman

  • City Council Member

David Alvarez

  • City Council Member

Marti Emerald

  • City Council Member

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