Who's running this thing? In effect, Faulconer is.
  • Who's running this thing? In effect, Faulconer is.
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It's been almost a year since the departure of city planning director Bill Fulton was announced by San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer

Bill Fulton

Bill Fulton

Fulton's two-sentence August 1, 2014, resignation letter to Faulconer, obtained from the city after a request under the state's public records act, left much unsaid.

"It is with great regret that I submit my resignation as Planning Director for the City of San Diego as of September 13, 2014," wrote Fulton.

"It has been a pleasure to serve both you and the people of San Diego and I will always cherish my time here."

The same day, David Graham, deputy chief operating officer in charge of neighborhood services and former land-use honcho for Republican ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, offered a bit of spin.

"Bill Fulton has tendered a letter of resignation to allow him to accept a position as the Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University," Graham said in his August 1 memo to the city council.

"Bill is accepting a position of national and international importance to urban research. The Kinder Institute sought a visionary leader of unquestioned intellectual breadth and significant practical experience with urban issues within the academic, government and private sectors."

Graham's memo also moved up Fulton's departure date. "Bill's last day will be August 30, 2014." Then he added, "The City will begin a national search to fill the position of Planning Director."

But if the Faulconer administration was in a hurry to see Fulton go, it has been slow in coming up with a replacement.

It wasn't until December that a solicitation for candidates was posted on the city's website, with no closing date. A reply deadline was set subsequently for February 6.

"The ideal candidate will be an experienced planning professional who is a visionary and inspirational leader with a solid grasp of planning and urban design practice and an ability to manage a department with 75 employees," said the announcement.

"The City has a long and proud history of city planning dating back more than a century, when the legendary urban planner [John Nolen] prepared his first plan for San Diego."

Many close observers of city hall were not surprised when the then-58-year-old Fulton left for Texas.

In July 2013, the ex-Ventura mayor and publisher of the California Planning and Development Report had been hand-picked for the $175,000 a year post by Democratic former mayor Bob Filner, whose election had been fiercely opposed by the city's big-money development lobby.

Seven weeks later, beset by a burgeoning sexual harassment scandal, Filner was forced to resign.

Following a February 2014 special election, developer-backed Faulconer became mayor, making it clear with his endorsement of a high-dollar referendum campaign against the Barrio Logan community plan that preserving the city's traditional planning process was not at the top of his priority list.

Neither is a new planning director, based on word out of city hall this week.

"The City is continuing to evaluate candidates for the position," emailed mayoral aide Matt Awbrey in response to a question regarding the matter.

A source close to the department says there have been some failed attempts to lure individuals into the position, but there are no details.

The vacancy has in effect made Faulconer the city's planner-in-chief, as evidenced by his hurry-up ballot proposal for a scheme to build a new Chargers stadium and massive commercial and residential development on the present Qualcomm stadium site in Mission Valley.

Ironically, Kinder Institute, the Texas-based urban think tank that provided Fulton with his new job, was founded with a $15 million endowment from Houston philanthropists Richard and Nancy Kinder.

All fun and games on the top side of the asphalt (Qualcomm Stadium)

All fun and games on the top side of the asphalt (Qualcomm Stadium)

He is chief executive and chairman of Kinder Morgan, the giant oil and gas pipeline firm that has long been at odds with San Diego over petroleum leaks from its big tank farm north of Qualcomm Stadium.

In late May, the federal Ninth Circuit appeals court ruled that the city may proceed with its $250 million lawsuit against Kinder Morgan to recover cash for what the city claims have been contamination damages to the long-controversial stadium and future redevelopment site.

Fulton's voicemail message at Kinder says he is on vacation until July 20.

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