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Bill Walton says San Diego mayor should 'step aside' over homelessness issue

The former NCAA and NBA star, and San Diego native, said Mayor Todd Gloria has failed the city of San Diego.

SAN DIEGO — Former NBA star Bill Walton took part in a news conference Tuesday morning with the Lucky Duck Foundation to address the issue of homelessness in San Diego. 

Though the event was to call attention to a new Lucky Duck Foundation initiative, which will routinely grade the county's 18 regional leaders on the job they're doing when it comes to addressing homelessness, Walton took aim at Mayor Todd Gloria once again. 

"We need new leadership, Todd Gloria should step aside," said Walton. "Todd Gloria campaigned for his job on the promise he would fix the homeless, humanitarian and public health crisis in our once great city. Todd Gloria has made it worse."

"Our neighborhood is under siege. Everything we do is dictated by the homeless," said Walton.

"What I want the city to do is their job. What is their basic job? To provide a safe, secure, healthy clean environment for us to live work and play. That does not mean allowing massive homeless encampments that disrupt everything," he said.

CBS 8 reached out to the mayor's office for comment and received the following Tuesday afternoon:

“Today’s ‘news conference’ was simply a tantrum full of self-aggrandizing hyperbole and outright lies. San Diegans are frustrated with the worsening homelessness crisis, and Mayor Gloria shares that frustration. But unlike Mr. Walton, Mayor Gloria is translating that frustration into decisive, sustained action to improve the situation. To say that he has done nothing on homelessness is objectively false.

“Let’s be very clear: Addressing homelessness has been Mayor Gloria’s top priority since day one, and he has done far more to address it than anyone else in our region’s history. He has dramatically increased and diversified the City’s network of shelter beds, launched and expanded and highly effective street outreach program, initiated 18 different policy reforms to make it faster and easier to build affordable housing, directly invested City funds into 10 affordable housing projects, championed efforts at the state level to enhance access to mental health care, and stepped up sidewalk cleanups and law enforcement to protect health and safety in our public spaces. Homelessness is a crisis up and down California and across the nation. It’s an uphill battle and we’re nowhere close to winning it yet, but Mayor Gloria is doing the hard work and leading effectively. We encourage others to do the same.

“I’d like to add that you, the news media, know all of this to be true because you cover Mayor Gloria’s progress on the creation of shelter, housing and services to get people off our streets. You visit these new shelters as they open and meet the people being helped; you examine the numbers provided about how our shelters and services are leading to permanent housing; you witness and ask questions about enforcement operations designed to clear and clean the streets. So you know the ‘nothing is being done’ assertions by Bill Walton and Dan Shea to be false. And they know it too.

“The Lucky Duck Foundation knows the City of San Diego is the only city that took its donated tents – after other cities rejected them – and funds their operation and maintenance to the tune of over $5 million each year without a dime of support from Lucky Duck. Further, the implication that the two tents constitute a large portion of our homelessness efforts is also years out of date. In this administration, the shelter capacity we’ve created far outstrips the Lucky Duck structures – and it’s growing by the week, along with our other efforts to address this crisis.

“Finally, Mayor Gloria is clear-eyed and has been completely honest with the public about the enormity of the challenge our city is facing. It’s unfortunate Bill Walton is quitting on San Diego, but you can be damned sure Todd Gloria never will.”

WATCH: Bill Walton's full comments regarding homelessness in the City of San Diego:

Last week, Walton set off a firestorm on social media, after he publicly called on Mayor Todd Gloria to "clean up our city."

In a series of e-mails to the mayor's office, Walton told Mayor Gloria he's been threatened, chased, and assaulted. 

Walton specifically mentioned the area along Park Boulevard near Upas Street, noting that it's near the San Diego Zoo, Roosevelt Middle School, and the War Memorial Building.

Walton's last email was sent on September 2nd, “You have failed, us and yourself. You have failed to deliver a safe, clean, healthy, and secure environment for us to live, work, and play in our own neighborhoods.” 

Last week, Mayor Gloria's office released the following statement:

Bill’s frustration over our homelessness crisis is shared by people across our city, including the mayor himself, and in cities across the United States. In addition to this being a problem that cities and states across the country are grappling with, it’s also important to note that homelessness in San Diego did not start overnight. This crisis has been decades in the making, and what we see now is a product of multiple administrations not meaningfully dealing with the issue.

But to the issue at hand that stoked Bill’s ire: As Voice of San Diego has covered, people living on the streets since the pandemic seem to be in worse straits than ever, with more behavioral health and substance abuse issues than we’ve seen prior to the pandemic. In our efforts to address the neighborhood impacts of homelessness -- particularly encampments and the trash and unsanitary conditions that result from them -- our crews are finding an increase in hording behaviors and anti-social behavior such as vandalism and unwillingness to put trash in available nearby receptacles.

The reality is that the city doesn’t have carte blanche to fully remediate encampments, but we are doing everything we can within the confines of the restrictions created by legal settlements and Supreme Court decisions regarding how we may clear encampments and dispose of items in the public right of way. We obviously also have to respect people’s civil rights.

The City and its Housing Commission are doing everything within our power and authority to create more shelter beds and options that are suitable to the needs of all the members of our unsheltered population, including non-congregate shelters and shelters that serve people with behavioral health and substance use disorders. We are turning over every stone to create places for people to go to get off the streets, as evidenced by the hundreds of beds we’ve added to the system in the past year and a half.

We’ve stood up a coordinated outreach program to connect people living in encampments to shelter, services and housing and have been successful, through these sustained efforts, in getting service-resistant folks to accept help.

The mayor has leveraged his excellent relationships at the state and federal level and the acumen of his government affairs team to garner funding and legislation to address homelessness. We are getting housing built as quickly as possible and doing everything we can to streamline that. And as you know, the mayor has been a leading advocate for behavioral health interventions that will address the crisis that has only become worse from the trauma of the pandemic and an epidemic of fentanyl/opioid use.

The engine we’ve built is, in fact, working. Our shelters are full and over 500 formerly homeless people were connected to housing straight from our shelter system this year. We’re also making strides on housing. The Community Homelessness Action Plan from 2019 determined the City needed to create or identify an additional 5,416 housing options by 2029, and today – just three years in -- we’re 60% of the way to that goal. The goal obviously is going to be revisited, but the fact is, we have an engine that works.

What’s also critical to address is the upstream factors that are causing people to fall into homelessness more quickly than we can pull people out of it: housing shortages and spiraling costs, a broken health and behavioral health care system, and other factors that are largely outside of the control of city government.

But the mayor is putting the full weight and force of this office to address homelessness-related issues that are in the City’s domain. People can be frustrated and angry about the situation, but they cannot expect the mayor to wave a magic wand. They can only expect him to work extremely hard and deploy all available resources to improve things. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

RELATED: Bill Walton blasts Mayor Gloria over homeless situation in Balboa Park

RELATED: 'Cash for Trash' is back | Program paying homeless to pick up trash in downtown San Diego

Watch Related: Bill Walton blasts Mayor Gloria over homeless situation in Balboa Park (Sep 21, 2022)

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