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Sanders to tackle tough issues in State of City Speech

San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders will deliver the State of the City speech in Golden Hall tonight. Hopes are high that the city's first strong mayor will be able to lead the town out of the trouble it's in. Rather than outlining lofty goals, Sanders will be faced with outlining painful reforms to solve the massive deficit and avoid bankruptcy. But his audience will be looking for something to give them hope. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

The newest elected official to join the fray at city hall, Ben Hueso, was elected to city council this week. He's hoping the mayor will rise above the turmoil of the looming lawsuits, endless investigations and daunting deficit, and use the state of the city speech to inspire confidence.

Hueso: "I'm hoping that he's going to have a message of cooperation and the big picture and that we all work together to resolve our city's problem."

However, Hueso, like any other councilman, is quick to point out he'll defend his district from loosing library hours, living with potholes and graffiti, or accepting less park maintenance, in other words taking more than its fair share of the pain.

Hueso: "Yea I'm going to make sure that our district doesn't take the major burden in cuts."

Nobody wants to hear about cuts in services, or raised fees or taxes at least not in their neck of the woods Matthew Adams, Vice President of government affairs at the Building Industry Association , sings Sanders' praises and has high hopes the new mayor will make life better for the development industry.

Adams: "What' I'm looking forward to hearing is the new mayor talking about the need for meaningful reforms that will lead to a comprehensive housing strategy that will cut red tape a bureaucracy and allow us to build the necessary homes that San Diegans need."

Topics like higher developer fees are unlikely to make it into the state of the city speech but Dave Potter, former chair of the Community Planning Group says he hopes Sanders will not talk about streamlining bureaucracy without guaranteeing he'll uphold local planning standards. Potter says neighborhood priorities cant get lost in the reforms, But he says - on the other hand - Sanders needs to bring district reps on city council round to the big city perspective.

Potter: "Clearly he's going to have to set a tone for the council, I think right now there are some of those who really don't want to face up to reality and I hope Mayor Sanders will set the tone and they'll fall in line and we'll get out of this mess."

Sanders has repeatedly said he plans to bring the unions back to the table, as a significant element of his recovery plan. He will have to address the issue of labor negotiations gingerly in tonight's speech to avoid alienating thousands of employees who feel they have already paid a price and should not be skape-goated as the source of the city's woes. Donald Cohen of the Center on Policy Initiatives, a think tank on working families issues, says he hopes the state of the city speech will avoid pointing fingers.

Cohen: " would love to hear the mayor tell the city that we're all in this together and we're going to get out of this together and I would like him to ramp down the blame game, that the city's financial crisis is the workers' fault, there's two directions here - we could go Schwarzenegger o5 or Schwarzenegger o6."

Cohen refers to the Governor's change of face after his propositions to reform California failed at the ballot.
City residents will have to listen carefully to get a sense of what Sanders really plans to do, says Carl Luna, political scientist at Mesa College.

Luna: "I don't think you're going to find the mayor, even if he thinks you're going to have to cut city services , coming outright and saying it, you're going to have to be looking for political ESE like reorganization or reprioritization, that's always a good one."

Luna says Sanders will have to confront what ails the city, but he likely wont go into detail about what austerities will be needed.

Luna: "He might be wise to include a tad of the pain message, the pain's going to be coming, but I don't think I'd say who I was going to spank yet."

If Sanders pitches his State of the City speech just right, he will bring hope to all the various interest groups, without alienating any of them. The first step in making change is getting real about just how bad things really are, and Sanders may focus on that, rather than lofty goals for a future that remains hanging in the balance. Alison St John, KPBS news.

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