For the first time in seven years, San Diego has a new Mayor who will set and direct policy for the City of San Diego in the coming years. While legislative and entitlement processes remain the same, every new leader brings with them new priorities, new policies and generally a new way of doing things. With Mayor Bob Filner’s first few weeks in office complete, he has shown that he has new plans for San Diego. Based on our observations of these first days, we have compiled a few tips to guide you in working with Mayor Filner and his administration.
1. Focus on neighborhoods
“…on inauguration day or swearing-in day, I’m spending the whole day in neighborhoods. I’m going to schools and then I’m doing these neighborhood receptions. I think that shows a whole different way. We’re not doing some downtown-sponsored inaugural. No, we’re going to the communities and saying ‘You’re my boss.’”
While community outreach is always a key component in public affairs strategies, working directly with the local neighborhoods that will be impacted by a project is crucial under Mayor Filner’s leadership. Throughout his campaign, Mayor Filner focused heavily on putting neighborhood interests in front of business or development interests. His choice of spending time in the City’s neighborhoods on his first day as Mayor reflects how he will spend his time in office. As you plan your projects, look at your community engagement strategies: Are you communicating with nearby residents? Are you asking for feedback? More importantly, are you incorporating their feedback? When you ask for opinions, you need to be prepared to not just listen but to integrate that feedback where possible to help build support for your project.
In addition to residents, engage with community planning groups. Community planning group support will be vital during Mayor Filner’s administration. During his first speech as Mayor, Filner identified plans to work to restore City services, specifically the planning function. The changes he has planned will specifically grant planning groups more authority.
2. Examine infrastructure and livability needs
“That means we’re going to complete the update of neighborhood Community Plans, and as part of that process we are going to ask neighborhoods to prioritize their public facilities needs and help us develop a program for financing those improvements. Along the way, we will protect urban open spaces, reduce storm water pollution and make our neighborhoods more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly.”
Throughout his campaign, Mayor Filner referenced the need for creative financing to fulfill the needs of the City’s neighborhood infrastructure needs. This could lead to an infrastructure bond or an increase in community benefit districts as a way of providing neighborhoods with services that have disappeared throughout the years. In fact, on December 12 our new City Council President, Todd Gloria, proposed the creation of a new council committee to focus solely on our City’s infrastructure backlog, the first step in what they hope will lead to a ballot measure in the coming years to address the infrastructure problem. No matter the outcome, the infrastructure in proposed projects will be closely reviewed. Additionally, Mayor Filner has stated his want for more livable spaces, for increased open space, trails and pedestrian-friendly features in neighborhoods and developments. Whether it’s a pocket park or a bike path, including and highlighting these components in your project is important and will create a project that will better serve the needs of residents.
3. Support community-based organizations
“There’s going to be some whole new initiatives — international involvement, artistic support, environmental, the use of environment for tourism, use of neighborhood art and accomplishments for tourism. I want that to build up an excitement about the city heading toward, of course, the 2015 centennial at Balboa Park.”
Beyond infrastructure, Mayor Filner is also looking to new initiatives for the City, ranging from artistic to environmental, that will often include local community organizations. As you make plans, consider your relationships with community organizations. Whether through your project or your relationships, you have the opportunity to positively impact the community around you. Identify potential groups in your community that reflect your goals as a company and consider working with them.
We expect the next few weeks to be interesting as Mayor Filner’s office gets settled in and begins the hard work of managing the eighth-largest City in the country. No matter what happens, Filner’s administration is sure to leave its stamp on San Diego. We congratulate him and wish him the best as he moves forward.