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We look at the mayor's proposed budget.

April 17, 2012 1:10 p.m.


Erik Bruvold, National University System Institute for Policy Research

Barry Pollard, Coalition of Neighborhood Councils

Related Story: Crunching The Numbers: San Diego's Proposed City Budget


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, for the first time since 2003, San Diego City Council members are considering a budget proposal with no deficit, and no 1-time budget fixes. Jerry Sanders says his 2013 budget mark the end of San Diego's structural deficit. There's criticism about how balanced the budget is, and how it was put together. My guests, Erik Bruvald, welcome.

BRUVALD: Good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: And Barry Pollard is with the coalition ever neighborhood councils. Welcome back.

POLLARD: Thank you very much, it's good to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Eric, San Diego's total proposed budget for 2013 is $2.71 billion. Where do you stand on the claim that this budget eliminates the city's structural deficit?

BRUVALD: Somebody once said it's not the end of the end or the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the beginning of the end. And that's where we stand with this budget. What the city has done is dealt with the structural issue that we would go into budget cycles always with more obligations than revenue was projected to come in, and then a series of 1-time fixes would be done to get those things in alignment so the city could declare victory in June and move on. We, and the city, and the city employees' management, and the council have taken some big steps so we have shrunk the obligations that we have to look forward to every year, and that's brought ourselves into structural alignment. One of the ways we've gotten to that point is by dramatically reducing the amount we invest in infrastructure in this city. So the city is looking to having a nearly billion-dollar hole to look to in deferred maintenance.

CAVANAUGH: You mentioned those 1-time fixes, and I read a lot about -- can you remind us what some 've those fixes were in years past?

BRUVALD: The city would forego its contribution to its reserve funds. It would dip into money set aside for capital improvements and use them for operational activities. It would take 1-time revenue for example from the securitization from are a tobacco settlement and use that on ongoing activities rather than on 1-time spending things. And so what that does is it gets you through this year, but if you don't deal with those obligations, next year, they come right around again, and then that pot of money that you dipped into isn't there anymore, and that's how we get into this year by year crisis budget managing.

CAVANAUGH: You put your finger on one of the biggest criticisms that I've heard about this budget, and it's coming from people across the political spectrum, and that is how far behind San Diego is in maintaining its infrastructure. Does this budget address in any way how wee going to fix that?

BRUVALD: The analogy that I would use is we're barely treading water, and some would say actually indeed the water is up to our whip and getting higher. They calculated about a year ago that if you look at all the basic infrastructure, roads, storm drains, $898 million was the deferred amount of maintenance that we would have to spend just to catch up to get our streets and sewers and storm drains up to snuff. We made some investments in that. They are starting to work on that. But they're not investing enough to hold water. And that's the biggest challenge moving forward for the city. How do we get into -- and address that on? But people see this every day when they drive on streets, and it feels like they're not on a road but a goat trail.

BRUVALD: And they wonder what's going on with our city.

CAVANAUGH: Recommend, the City Council approved borrowing $500 million to fix infrastructure in the City of San Diego. Do you think paying back those loans will ultimately drag us back into a deficit situation?

BRUVALD: No, I think that the hole has been so big, and was going to be so costly to the city in a variety of ways if it didn't address that, that the borrowing does make sense. But even with that amount of money that they're borrowing, they still don't spend enough to keep pace with as building and streets and storm drains wear out. People know this, you resurface a street, and it's good for a while, but eventually the rain and temperature changes and just driving wear its down, and you got to redo it. That's the challenge for the city. It probably needs to spend between 30-40 million dollars above what it's spending to really chip away at that deferred mines backlog.

CAVANAUGH: Another criticism is the concept that San Diego has turned a corner when it comes to deficit, if prop B passes, that would change most city workers' pension, it will wind up costing the stay about 40's million dollars a year for the first couple years. Will that push us back into a deficit situation?

BRUVALD: Any time you change, from the kind of pension system the city has now, there are transition costs. The city seems to have health enough reserve, and positive cash flow, so we look at the projections to be able to manage that. But if you're spending that money to do that transition, you won't have other moneys to restore services, increase the amount of maintenance that you're dealing with, so this is a choice voters are confronted request. Do I spend money now to put myself into a more sustainable labor cost situation or would I rather reject property and have that $40†million freed up in the short term to be able to make investments?

CAVANAUGH: Mayor Sanders has answered critics who say the budget may be balanced but the services are nowhere near where they were ten years ago. Do you think restoring those services should be the goal of our next mayor?

BRUVALD: Well, I think there are lots of priorities that the city has to do, I think some people are going to talk about we need to get our library hours back, our rec center hours back, we need to restore the number of police officers in places where crime is the a particular concern, and at a quality of life issue. The city for decades has underfunded basic maintenance, they say, and in some cases, it's been a save a dollar on Tuesday to pay $4 on Friday: When people blow a transmission because they hit a pot hole or fall down on a cracked sidewalk, when storm drains back up, and we get flooding that can cost millions of dollars of liability the city has to pay that. If there's going to be a health debate. San Diegans care about their streets and storm drains, then they need to voice those opinions because there are going to be lots of on other people clamoring for that money.

CAVANAUGH: Let me bring in Brian Pollard. You were at a protest at City Hall yesterday, not so much about what was in the budget but how it was put together. And if you could just for starters for listeners who aren't familiar with the coalition ever neighborhood councils, what is it and what does it do?

POLLARD: Certainly. And it is good to be here and have that conversation, I think it will do a lot to clear up a lot of things and start a conversation about more inclusion. But the coalition of neighborhood councils is part of an alliance, with a variety of different organizations, families, people, religious groups, that are typically and have been underrepresented, marginalized in the City of San Diego. It basically is a group of neighborhood councils, that are located all throughout, in this case, district 4, that represents Encanto, valence yeah park, skyline, all of the different neighborhoods, and if you could picture a whale and a hub, then the CNC is the center of that what I mean and all of the neighborhood councils are surrounding that hub. We're just one member along with a lot of other organizations that are coming further clearly to what we did in the redistricting campaign, and try to get those voices that aren't normally order had, heard, together. And sort of range an opportunity for us to sit down and talk about some of the issues that we think are important.

CAVANAUGH: What are your concerns about the way this proposal was put together?

POLLARD: Well, there are three primary areas I would really like to address or have the city involved in a conversation about. Equity, of the allocation of the budget, community involvement. Getting the community at the table not after the fact but when the budget is being designed. And the third area is in the area of transparence. There's a whole lot of different things that are going on that not a lot of people know about. How projects for instance with CIP are prioritized.


POLLARD: Capital improvement projects. And it just goes throughout the system of our local government here, there seems to be not a clear mechanism of explain what is going on, how that money is being appropriate appropriated. And an after the fact perception of community involvement.

CAVANAUGH: It's my understanding that the mayor goes to each of the city departments in trying to come up with a budget and asking them what they think they need, how much they're going to money the city is going to take in, how much it needs to spend, different projects and so forth. Are you advocating for more input from communities at that level, when the city departments are actually discussing what it is that they're going to ask for in the next budget?

POLLARD: That makes sense. My background is in corporations. And CEOs typically go to their department heads and give them a percentage of budget for cuts or for increases, and those department managers come to their employees, shall I say, and so what I think what would be a good start is to get community leaders involved on that level, the director of park and rec, the director of public work, and get people that actually live in those areas and get their ideas. I was recently talking to some people in Oak Park about park and recreation, and they were laughing because the changes that were suggested at oak park will not work, and it is a waste of money. And I've heard that all throughout different communities. If they were at the table when that budget is being designed, they could probably make better suggestions and save money, and it's simply because they live there! They live there. They're not downtown, they don't live in some other area making decisions about what "should" happen.

CAVANAUGH: As I said in the beginning, the hearing begins now that this budget proposal has been presented. And some say, you want to weigh in on the city budget, why don't you come on down and talk about your concerns? Is this process not good enough as far as you're concerned?

POLLARD: Well, look at the history. It has not generated a whole lot of positive results. It is certainly an opportunity for residents to voice their concern. My sense is by the time it gets to that level of interaction, it's pretty much a done deal. There may be some fine-tuning, some tweaking, blue it's pretty much going to take an contact of Congress to get question major changes done. And you will of this could be perhaps better managed by getting input earlier in the process, and I'm not one that likes a lot of meetings and town hall meetings, something as
important as the billion, I think needs to have some small focus groups downtown. A group of us met with the director of public works for about four meetings, and those meetings were very uncomfortable for everyone sitting at the table. But there was some checks and balances and some honest conversations about what works with contracting, capital improvement projects, even what the website is to look like that the mayor just announced a few weeks ago because those people at that table are the users. So it makes sense to get ideas from the customers and then move with it.

CAVANAUGH: Them is just the beginning of our honest conversations about this new budget for the City of San Diego.