PODCAST: Barbara Bry on Smart Cities, Homelessness, Affordable Housing, and Dockless Scooters with Darin Andersen and Dennis Gakunga

July 3, 2019

Sustainability in the City of San Diego

We have a climate action plan that's in full swing. Our goal is to get to a Zero-Emissions by 2030~2035 to get more people out of their cars and using transit, biking or walking.

Becoming a smart city is going to be a key part of achieving our goals. We are using technology right now to provide better constituent services and make sure that government is more effective, more accountable, and more transparent.

One of the key things we've done in the last few years is install new LED street lights from general electric. Just by installing them, we're reducing our electricity cost by about $250,000 a year. Second, they have sensors on them that we can use to meet our climate action plan. We need to be able to measure how we’re doing.

We’ve realized in San Diego is that cities are at the forefront of climate change and particularly being a coastal city, we face a lot of issues because of sea level rise and it was actually the City of San Diego a bipartisan effort that passed all the council unanimously with a broad base of support from all over the community.

The City of San Diego hasn’t been data-driven in making really important decisions. We haven't worked as well with the county as we need to in addressing serious issues like homelessness.

That is starting to change.  

We need to have a data-driven approach and know what the outcomes are going to be. We need to require measurable outcomes from programs for which we're going to be providing funding.

I don't even know how much money the City of San Diego is spending on homelessness at this point in time. I keep getting new information because it's buried in different departments. For example, some of the funding is buried in the police department because we're spending police overtime to guard a storage center.

Segwaying into the discussion about talent – I thought it was very important what Mike said about, “Do you have the talent to you know do what you need in terms of you've got all this data but who's analyzing it?”

Yes, we are continuing to produce talent in San Diego and we have great talent here, but honestly we need to do a better job of developing our homegrown talent. Otherwise, our employers which include government at all levels and Private industry aren't going to have the workforce they need for the future. This is one of my key concerns right now.


Background

I was born in Philadelphia but I've now lived in San Diego longer than anywhere. I've been here all since 1981. I have two daughters who are 37 and 34 who live here and I have two grandchildren who live here.

I am a San Diegan.

I came to California to be a journalist. I worked for the Sacramento Bee and the LA Times. I covered economic issues and state government. Then I ended up working at the Connect Program in its early days at UCSD. Connect was started in 1985 to link high-tech entrepreneurs and scientist with the resources they needed to start businesses and commercialize products. I was there for 10 years and then left and became an entrepreneur in my own right and was on the founding team of several local companies (mostly in the software and e-commerce space)

I'm not a career politician. I won my first elected office in 2016, so that's just a few years ago. I never expect at this moment in time I'd be running for mayor but I got to City Hall and found out something that every city resident should be aware of, and that is in the city of San Diego I believe City Hall is a mess.


My vision for the City of San Diego

I think we can use technology to manage our city better. I've found bad deal after bad deal and the mayor is responsible for delivering city services well for keeping us from doing bad deals.

My vision is a technology and arts hub downtown.
My vision does come out of my many years as a tech entrepreneur and my long-term support for the arts; science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Homelessness

Are we a city where we're going to treat every person in a humane way?

That starts with acknowledging that people become homeless for different reasons – like someone could lose their job.

What I'm learning from meeting with current and former homeless people is that most people don't have a safety net. Some get sick or they lose their job and then they can't afford to pay the rent. They’re either living on the street or in their car.

People become homeless because they get out of the military and they have PTSD. They may have a drug or alcohol problem or be mentally ill.  

We need different approaches for each person.
I would start by making sure we do NOT criminalize the homeless.

Yesterday, I had three people in my office who have either are currently living in their car or RV or have before. They can't afford to renew their registration. Then they get a ticket that they can't pay. Then their vehicle gets impounded and it escalates…

What if we just had a simple revolving loan fund that would pay for the registration?

We're now fortunately doing safe parking lots in the city of San Diego so we have a safe place for people to go at night.

There's some simple things we could be doing that would do a lot to treat everybody with humanity.

Affordable Housing

In the City of San Diego, the most important thing we're doing right now is updating our community plans to allow for more density and communities around transit.

We have three big ones coming in the next few months: Mission Valley, Kearny Mesa and Morena Boulevard. By allowing for more housing units to be built by right give certainty to both communities and developers about what's going to get built where.

What's important when we update community plans is that the community gets input. At the end of the day, the council votes. We don't make everyone happy but everybody got to have input. We also do need to streamline development services and make it easier for developers to go through the process to get the permit.

Those are two major things we can do to provide for more housing.

In the long run we have to get more people out of their cars.

What are we going to do in the short run? That's why I think my vision for a Technology & Arts hub downtown is so important to create more good jobs downtown.

In the morning the commute going north is terrible and the reverse in the afternoon because more of the good jobs are in the north.

I view a Technology & Arts hub downtown as both an economic and environmental imperative.

We have fairly good Transit coming into downtown right now. The trolley to UCSD will open in the fall of 2021. It's exciting to see it under construction.

We're going to need to demonstrate that we can solve both the First Mile and the Last Mile problems first – getting people to the trolley and then once they get off getting them to their place of employment.

Many of it won't be walkable so we're already talking with MTS about what kind of trams and other kind of systems they're going to put it put in place.


Micro-mobility Solutions

I think the city of San Diego let the scooters overwhelm us without being as proactive as we should have been.

I asked the mayor the minute they appeared on our street to you and a half ago to issue a moratorium, to do an RFP, to really take charge instead of letting the company's overrun us and actually use our infrastructure for free and make money on us.

We finally did pass an ordinance that went into effect July 1.

I think it's not enough.
I'm going to I'm calling for a ban on the beach boardwalks because I think that is a very confined space and we've already seen a number of accidents anecdotally.

We've called the emergency rooms and we are seeing a number of serious head injuries.

Sacramento very stupidly passed legislation that doesn't even allow us to require a helmet for people over 18 and I think this is going to end up being a public health hazard.

Going into the Fourth of July as we're doing this podcast – I am really frightened about the kinds of injuries we could see over this weekend, the busiest weekend at our beaches and on our boardwalks.

I think we need to be more proactive.

Sacramento Politics

I just wanted to touch on one more issue regarding housing and that is who should decide what gets built in our cities.

I am very much opposed Sacramento dictating to cities what we can build in our neighborhoods. I very much support local control local planning groups. They should be making the decisions – we in our own cities should be making our own decisions.

Sacramento is trying to pass legislation that would change the zoning in our residential neighborhoods .

It's backed by Wall Street.

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