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Top Stories Of 2009: Military Expansion And San Diego Budget Crisis

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Video published December 28, 2009 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: KPBS Senior Metro Reporter Alison St John and KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr talk about the most important stories they've covered this year.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Good evening and happy New Year. I'm Gloria Penner and welcome to this special edition of San Diego Week. 2009 was quite a year for San Diego: recession, water rationing, healthcare reform effort, and war. Tonight we’re going to talk about the top stories we covered in 2009 and why they’ll continue to be important and relevant in 2010. Joining me now are KPBS metro reporters Alison St John and Katie Orr. Welcome to both of you. So, Alison, the military was your top pick for 2009 and indeed the San Diego region is experiencing a boom in the military presence. Where are we seeing that expansion?

ALISON ST JOHN (KPBS Senior Metro Reporter): Well we are seeing it in San Diego Bay, where there's a large number of new ships coming. Just this year, ten new vessels became home ported in San Diego Bay. And another ten at least, there's going to be at least another 20 by the year 2014. So that’s one place. And then up on Camp Pendleton, there's been this huge investment in infrastructure. A lot of barracks, a lot of money being spent on construction and a lot more money is going to be spent up there over the next few years.

PENNER: We’re talking about a lot of money, what are we talking about?

ST JOHN: Well, the figures of $5 billion over a few years have been thrown around. I think $700 million was mentioned for earlier this year with another $900 million to be spent next year. And over the whole Navy region southwest, $5 billion. And that wasn’t even including stimulus money. There may even be more on top of that.

PENNER: So as the war in Iraq continues and the expansion in Afghanistan, what impact is that going to have on the local military personnel and their families?

ST JOHN: Well I think one of the things is you know these deployments that keep coming around and there's no sign of any respite. The families are inured to the fact that their loved ones are going and coming, they're not coming back for good. They're going to hope to get longer dwell times. That’s their efforts. They're expanding the Marines right now to try to give people longer dwell times – that means the time at home. But I haven’t heard many families saying that they’ve actually seen that. And then of course the VA medical center in La Jolla is having to deal with more of the returned people who are wounded. They’ve had 20,000 people enroll since 2003 and they're dealing with 8,000 vets right now.

PENNER: So I'm sire those stories will continue on through 2010. Alright. So, Katie, we turn now from the military in San Diego to City Hall in San Diego for your top story, which is San Diego’s record-breaking budget deficit. How bad was it?

KATIE ORR (KPBS Metro Reporter): Well, pretty bad. The mayor’s office put the deficit at $179 million dollars and then the independent budget analysts put the budget closer to $200 million dollars. So those are pretty big figures.

PENNER: Why? What made such a big deficit?

ORR: Well critics of City Hall say the city spends too much money. It’s living outside its means basically. Also, the city has a structural budget problem where it constantly spends more than it takes in. The mayor says though it’s really just the poor economy. Tax revenues are down and the city has suffered some investment losses, significant investment losses.

PENNER: So we hear the word deficit, but truly what does it mean to us? How does it impact city services?

ORR: Well this time around, city services really were impacted. The public has been shielded a bit in the past, but we are seeing a reduction in lifeguard services, fewer library hours. They're cutting some fire companies at firehouses with two companies. 200 city positions that were filled have been eliminated. So this time around the services really did take a hit.

PENNER: And so there is a smaller city staff, is that what you're saying?

ORR: Yes.

PENNER: Can we expect it to shrink even more?

ORR: Yes. And I asked Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, what that meant and he said, you know, fewer city workers means fewer city services for the public.

PENNER: Alright I’m going to ask both of you what you're going to be keeping your eye on in terms of what's ahead in 2010. What are you going to be looking at?

ORR: Well, people should start paying attention to talk about possible fees for trash collection and storm water. There is a revenue commission in place now that’s going to look at ways the city can generate more money and I think those are going to be some of the things that they suggest.

PENNER: Ok, I’m going to remember that in the year ahead. What about you Alison? What are you going to keep your eye on?

ST JOHN: Well, in terms of the military I think one of the things is the veterans families who I think are one of the most vulnerable members of our population because they lose a lot of the benefits that the active duty military have once the active duty member is discharged. And then the other thing is that at the county level I'm very interested in how the planning process is going to be going next year as they start to figure out where to put all these extra people in the backcountry.

PENNER: Yeah, we’ll all be watching that. Thank you very much Alison St John, Katie Orr.

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