SAN DIEGO — Acting Mayor Todd Gloria called Wednesday for San Diego to do better in finding shelter for its rising number of homeless people.
“We’re a great city,” Gloria said during a state-of-the-city speech in the renovated Balboa Theatre. “But we cannot be America’s Finest City while thousands of our neighbors are living on our streets.”
For the coming year’s budget, Gloria pledged a reshaping that “better utilizes” money from the city’s general fund to expand current programs, including the winter shelter. The city now spends about $1.9 million a year for homeless services.
According to last year's tally, San Diego has more than 5,700 homeless people, with most living on the streets or in hand-built structures or in vehicles.
Gloria's staff said he would redouble the city’s efforts to get federal funds for homeless programs.
One of the first things that Gloria did after taking over Aug. 30 when Bob Filner resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct was to rehire Washington lobbyists that Filner had fired.
"Too often, when looking at challenges as complex as homelessness, people are tempted to throw their hands up and throw in the towel,” Gloria said. "We will not be doing that. We are San Diego."
Gloria’s 35-minute speech leaned on the city’s innate smugness — including its unofficial nickname, America’s Finest City, popularized in the 1970s when Pete Wilson was mayor.
But he also noted the city’s problems: pothole-filled streets, neglected neighborhoods, increasing pension costs and a growing "income inequality."
In a comment sure to provoke opposition from some in the business community, Gloria, 35, a Democrat, said he supported increasing the minimum wage for workers in San Diego. He did not specify an amount; the state minimum wage is $8 an hour, set to increase to $9 in July and $10 in 2016.
"Let's start paying people enough so they can afford the rents and mortgages in this city," he said.
On one hot-button issue, Gloria was more noncommittal: whether the city should build a stadium for the San Diego Chargers to ensure the team does not leave.
The editorial page of the U-T San Diego is leading a campaign for a new stadium to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium. But a large segment of the public is stoutly opposed to using public money.
Gloria said that he believes that the coalition that was cobbled together to win approval for an expansion of the convention center shows a "consensus" that will allow a new stadium is possible.
Gloria is set to remain acting mayor until the winner of the Feb. 11 election is sworn in March 4. He has yet to endorse either of the two candidates: Councilman Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, or Councilman David Alvarez, a Democrat.
Although Filner's name was never mentioned, Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner, in introducing Gloria, said that, as acting mayor, Gloria has had to restore order at City Hall and public respect for government.
Gloria said that when he took over from Filner the city faced "an unprecedented crisis of confidence."
Once he moves out of the mayor’s office, Gloria will return to being the council president, a post that allows him to act as chairman of council meetings and influence the agenda. He also represents the 3rd District, including downtown, Mission Hills, Hillcrest and Golden Hill.
Of his months as acting mayor, Gloria said, "As a Native American, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Dutch, gay guy, and the son of a hotel maid and a gardener, it is fair to say this was not an expected experience."