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Filner Stresses Transit, Environments, Neighborhoods In State Of The City

January 16, 2013 1:28 p.m.


Bob Filner, San Diego Mayor

Related Story: Filner Stresses Transit, Environments, Neighborhoods In State Of The City


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.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, there was good news and not so good news since San Diego mayor Bob Filner's first state of the city address. He referred to San Diego as a patient whose prognosis is cautiously optimistic. He joins us to explain his diagnosis and expand on the wide range of plans he's planned for this city. Good morning, mayor Filner.

FILNER: Good morning, thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Let's start with the reason a city needs a diagnosis in the first place. It's our financial health, obviously. Can you explain to listeners why you are project ache deficit for this year when we were told by mayor Sanders we were in for years of surpluses?

FILNER: We have gone through a touch decade, and mayor Sanders had projected a $5 million surplus this year and proceeding into the future what. He did not take into account or was not fully clear on was that there are landmines along the way. For example, the end of redevelopment that we are going through means that certain projects are going to become part of a city budget. For example, CCDC, the center city development corporation, was paying for the annual bond payments on Petco Park. That has now been transferred to us, and not considered in the budget. There are costs associated with us going to a new pension system which the voters voted on. That was not included in the budget. There is -- so there were things some of which are still moving parts. The legislature and the finance department of the State of California and the courts are testing Proposition B and other things. So what we did was a worst case scenario, which could be as high as $40 million for a budget deficit. I'm hopeful that some of the decisions will move in our favor and it won't be as high, but we have to plan for that now deficit rather than a surplus.

CAVANAUGH: Is that truly the worst case scenario? We have seen budget deficit projections increase in this city as we get closer to when you actually have to release your budget. Is $40 million the worst case?

FILNER: Well, it's always a moving target. You're in a dynamic situation, and things change when you have a $3 billion operation like we have in the City of San Diego. And revenues change with the economy. So you can only make your best judgment. And we see these decisions on the state and court level as being the most difficult for us to dial with. There can be some big liability case that we don't want know anything about either. So clearly there are -- and you try to build in reserves and liability funds and all this. But we have to plan for about a $40 million deficit. And that means we will not advance as quickly as I would want on some issues, although there's some interesting -- on the plus side, for example, we have a judgment from SDG&E and from the county of San Diego that put roughly $30 million into our budget that was unforeseen. We have certain reserves that are is there that came in a good year. So I still think we have to be very optimistic about the future. We're going to move forward in this city. And also that means not just dealing with the financial deficit, but reprioritizing things. As I said in the speech over and over again last night, we want to move from concentrating solely on redevelopment needs downtown to other needs and interests in our communities which have been neglected. Even with the macrofinancial problems we may have within the budget, I'm going to be shifting priorities to our neighborhoods, to the infrastructure that people need away from some of the special interests that have really Danny a lion's share of the money. I also want to be helping small businesses in the neighborhood. I've been going through our contracting procedures, for example. As a big operation, we have hundreds and hundreds of millions of contracts. Why aren't they going to small businesses in San Diego instead of big businesses from out of town? I haven't approved a lot of contracts just in my first few weeks here because I want to see our small businesses really take hold.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Let me follow up on something you said just a minute ago. We have lived here in San Diego through years of deficits, and we know that when we have a $40 million deficit or whatever the deficit is, city services don't tend to expand, they tend to shrink. And you just said a line a minute ago, some things you're not going to be able to move forward as quickly as you wanted to. What are those things that are going to have to take a backseat as you determine how big the deficit is?

FILNER: Well, right now, we're formulating a new budget, it's due April 15th, and we will look at that. But we have decided to move forward on opening libraries and rec centers and fire stations. And I would like not to move back on that. People were feeling much better. That's a symbol of what kind of city we have when you have the services for our children, our seniors. So I'm trying to keep the forward motion on services. As we may have to contract our -- pull back on -- I don't know, advertising for big motels around the nation.

FILNER: I think it's our neighborhood infrastructure and quality of life that would come before making sure that the Marriotts and Hiltons get their advertisement around the nation.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Okay. One more question about the deficit and the potential to save money at City Hall. I want to talk about the negotiations you plan to have with city workers about freezing pensionable pay for five years. What is the city willing to negotiate? Let's say, are you willing to offer nonpensionable salary increases to to city worker?

FILNER: Let me first say, the voters voted Proposition B, which in and of itself did not have much cost saves. It had cost problems which we have to face this year. But the real call saver was a call for a 5-year pensionable freeze which can only happen in the negotiation process that would bring down our debt about $1 billion over the next 30 years.

CAVANAUGH: Just to point, that is still going through the Courts, right?

FILNER: Prop B is still being tested in the Court, why. But the vote of the voters which asks for a pensionable pay freeze in five year, I'm going to try to implement it. No. 1, a 5-year agreement gives stability to the system, it allows us to do things in out years you can't do right away. It brings down the cost of our pension debt just by having a certain contract here. Our pension debt is based on a 4% salary increase. If there is no salary increase, it brings it down 20% right there. So you can do things for employees. And they haven't had a pay increase for seven or eight years, and they haven't had real respect from the city government for a while. You can do things for employees that don't involve their pensionable pay. Whether it's in their healthcare dollars that they get, whether it's in allowances that the public safety employees get, say for their uniforms. Whether it's a certain kind of specialty pay for doing certain things. You can in fact help the bottom line of the biweekly paycheck in ways that do not involve pensionable pay, do not involve long-term commitments and bring down that debt but still reward our incredibly good public employees for doing a job for our city. These jobs have to be done, whether it's trash collection, whether it's handling your 911 calls, whether it's maintaining our parks and libraries, the jobs have to know done. And we need to raise the morale, and in a lot of ways that means raising the paycheck of our city employees, and we're going to try to do that in ways which do not affect the long-term health of the pension system and bring down that debt.

CAVANAUGH: You made many people happy in your speech last night when you told us that the Chargers won't be leaving town, at least not this year, and that you're committed to work with the team so that the Bolts don't bolt as you put it. But the team still wants a new stadium. Do you support a new stadium?

FILNER: Well, what I said was I don't want to have a stadium that is going to cost the public the kind of money that it has in the past. We should not have any public money into a new stadium. But what we announced yesterday with the Chargers not exercising their annual option, which they have under their lease to move, and even more important the NFL wanted anybody who wanted to move into the Los Angeles area had to notify them within a couple weeks of the super bowl, and the Chargers announced that they were not going to submit that either. So what that does is give us time. It gives us a year where we can take a deep breath. The Chargers have hired a new general manager and coach. We can relax a little bit. And we could talk about what their plans are, why Qualcomm is out of the picture or not, where we might go, what are the incentives that they can give to the city. I think they have to give back to the city as much as they're asking for us. You got a billionaire owner of a team that makes hundreds of millions, I don't think he needs a billion dollars of public subsidy. But let's say this was a plan that the area around Qualcomm can be redeveloped, and new park land for example for the San Diego river built into that, let's say a new stadium involved a sports arena like atmosphere also so we can develop the area around the existing stadium and Point Loma. That gives the opportunity for public funds that could be used to offsite anything that the Chargers wanted to do. So I think we could do it without any net cost to the taxpayer.

CAVANAUGH: As an aside, we reported that UT owner Doug Manchester was floating the idea of maybe a redeveloped Qualcomm stadium. Do you see yourself teaming up with Manchester a project like that?

FILNER: I think we have to look at all options. But let's keep in mind we not only want to keep the Chargers. What if they had a stadium that had a roof on so you can do concerts, it would serve as part of the extension center expansion, you can put basically a floor underneath the stadium and have basketball and hockey and soccer. And we can begin to have national events like the final four for the NCAA basketball tournament, or major league hockey again or soccer. Imagine the kind of thing that would make that stadium operating 300 days a year instead of 8 or 10, or 12. So I think there's some exciting possibilities. We're not going to allow them to extort money from the city as they have in past negotiations. But I think there's some exciting possibilities.

CAVANAUGH: Your speech last night was filled with possibilities for San Diego. And just about every area you could mention, especially when it came to neighborhood redevelopment. But also as you mentioned, the redevelopment money is gone from the state now. And all of the other initiatives that you're proposing, do you foresee asking the City Council or the voters in San Diego to approve any new taxes, any new fees, in order to fund some of these projects?

FILNER: You know, I don't see that on the horizon because one, the public is not going to approve anything. But more important, we have a $3 billion operation at the City of San Diego. That's a lot of money. That should be enough to pay for the kind was things we want to do. But there are things that if we did creatively -- one example, I'm going to mandate that public buildings be solar-powered within five years. And someone said how are you going to pay for that! Well, it turns out that not only for individual kinds of solar installation but for a city contract, there are companies that will do this without any upfront capital cost. And the payment comes from the savings in the energy bill. So we can in fact solar power, which will save us long-range in the future, helps you with climate change and all that without any upfront cost because we're paying for it out of energy savings. And we can be very creative in things like that. So I think we can do things. When I talk about the port and expending infrastructure, a lot of that money comes in from the private sector that is coming in to use the port. And the other public/private partnerships that we can envision. And as I said earlier, when you shift priorities around, money may come available that was used for something that we now see as a lower priority, move it into a higher priority item.

CAVANAUGH: I had so many more questions for you about your establishing an office in Tijuana, about medical marijuana, the letter you sent last week that is stopping the city attorney and other offices in the city from shutting down medical marijuana collectives, so many more questions! Let me just end it here. After fighting so hard to be mayor during this last six weeks, are you enjoying it?

FILNER: Oh, yeah. I enjoy the ability to bring changes and to improve people's lives. It's also very humbling, to be entrusted with the responsibility of running the 8th biggest city in the nation is awesome. It's awe-inspiring in a way. And you want to keep your feet to the ground to be understanding that this is -- you are the servant of the people. And they've entrusted you with this responsibility, and you have to handle it wisely. I get up every morning excited to do all these things, and I've had a good time so far. There were controversies already. But I think the city feels that we're moving forward with a new sense of excitement and a new sense of possibilities.

CAVANAUGH: The invitation to you is always open to come in and talk about these very important issues on the city.

FILNER: We should do it on a once a month basis where people can call in and ask the mayor type of thing. I'd be happy to do that with you.

CAVANAUGH: Love to hold you to that, yes. Let's plan on that. Thank you so much.