Mayor Kevin Faulconer pauses during his “State of the City” speech. Image from City TV feed

In his final “State of the City” address, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said San Diego and other California cities must focus on treating mental illness and substance abuse to end homelessness.

“If you think someone living in a canyon and on drugs is going to turn around without intervention, you’re kidding yourself,” said Faulconer.

He said he was proud of San Diego’s efforts to provide new affordable housing, but argued that lack of housing isn’t the fundamental problem.

He vowed to work in the coming years for a state ballot initiative to give authorities the power to intervene to help homeless people suffering from mental illness or drug abuse.

“California has lost its way on homelessness and it is up to us to find the moral compass,” he said. “It’s time to get real about these problems.”

But he expressed pride in the steps that San Diego has taken, many in the wake of the hepatitis A outbreak in 2017. He said 100,000 people had been vaccinated, bridge shelters and safe nighttime parking lots had been set up, and funding had increased significantly.

And he announced plans to send county mental illness teams into all homeless bridge shelters this year.

The annual event at the historic Balboa Theatre at Horton Plaza is a “who’s who” of San Diego County government, with state assembly members, county supervisors, mayors from around the county and Mexican elected officials among those in the audience.

Looking to the future, Faulconer urged approval of the ballot measure to raise the hotel tax to expand the convention center, fund homeless services and repair roads.

He said he would use his final year in office to encourage widespread housing development, urging a “yes in my backyard” welcoming of new development

“We are conditioned to believe communities that get more homes lose – and communities that stay the same win,” he said, arguing that is a “false debate” that has led to the housing crisis.

He said San Diego has already approved “some of the most aggressive housing reforms in California,” while also fixing half of the city’s streets since 2014.

Reflecting on his time as mayor, he said the office is full of surprises, citing the hepatitis A outbreak as an example.

“The minute you think you have anything under control, you don’t,” he said.

And he said the hardest time for him was meeting the family of San Diego Police officer J.D. DeGuzman, who was gunned down in 2016 by a gang member.

Faulconer ended the evening with an upbeat appeal to San Diego to persevere in solving its problems.

“We are going to finish strong, and there is no better time to start than right now,” he said.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.