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How Will Defeat Of Prop. D Impact City’s Budgeting In 2011?

Audio

Aired 12/30/10

The San Diego City Council faces difficult decisions in 2011 to eliminate a $73 million deficit. We discuss how new faces on the council could influence the decisions. And, we talk about how the defeat of Prop. D will impact the council's ongoing efforts to eliminate the city's long-term debt.

The San Diego City Council faces difficult decisions in 2011 to eliminate a $73 million deficit. We discuss how new faces on the council could influence the decisions. And, we talk about how the defeat of Prop. D will impact the council's ongoing efforts to eliminate the city's long-term debt.

Guests

Bob Kittle, director of News Planning and Content for KUSI.

Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times.

John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint.

Read Transcript

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.

GLORIA PENNER: San Diego voters participated in fairly large numbers in 2010's November election. The last numbers that I saw indicated that the registrar of voters predicted a 65 percent turn out, which was higher than the last non presidential election in 2006. The ballot was exciting with Jerry Brown versus Meg Whitman for governor, whether marijuana should be legalized and if residents in the City of San Diego would be willing to increase their sales tax to help balance an out of whack budget. So Bob, let's start with that sales tax. Proposition D was a proposal to increase San Diego's sales tax temporarily. Why did it go down to defeat so handily?

KITTLE: It went down to defeat overwhelmingly because voters recognized that that tax increase would be used largely to finance the outrageous pensions of city workers and that they want reform of the pension system. They don't want to raise their taxes. And if you think about it, I mean, city workers can retire at age 50 with 90 percent of their salary or age 55 with 110 or 120 percent of their higher year salary. No worker in the private sector gets that kind of pension. And it's really unfair I think to even ask workers who can't get a pension like that, and may have a 401K in which they don't even get a match from their employer, to raise the taxes to cover these escalating pension costs.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, you know, certainly those of us in the media and people who work in politics or government or around downtown, they're aware of the whole pension thing. But you have a lot of voters there. And I'm assuming that some of those voters have heard about the pension problem, but that isn't why they voted against it. Tony do you agree with me?

PERRY: I do. The San Diego voter is cheap. He's living in a fool's paradise in which he believes he can have fairly high quality city services at bargain basement prices. And it worked for a long language time. Then along came labor union power, and the city employees got benefit increases akin to those in every city and hamlet in America, pretty much. And suddenly our budget is out of whack as a result. We cannot sustain both these pensions and our long-term history as sort of a libertarian theme park when it comes to taxation. As I noted earlier, the Union Tribune did that semiannual story that we all do, pointing out that the taxes here are rower or nonexistent compared to other places. And indeed, even the Prop D wouldn't have raised, in six months, it would not have raised the sales tax, because the sales tax is meant to drop down because of a state imposition, would have stayed about the same. San Diegan in the best of times doesn't like to pay money, and these of course are the worst of times. And Bob's exactly right. They look at those pensions and they go, yo, I'm not getting a pension like that. In fact, I'm not even getting a pension at all. Worst possible time to ask the San Diegan to do something he doesn't do even when things are fat.

GLORIA PENNER: John?

WARREN: Well, I think there are two divided San Diegans who dealt with the tax increase. There's the wealthy on the one hand who just doesn't want to pay anymore, and that's a state wide Republican attitude. No taxes for anything, cut off whatever you have to. Then there's a working class element that really doesn't see a benefit, and from what they see in the media, they have no need to have the level of confidence in government that they should reach in their pockets when they already have less than they had before. And so it's not a universal altitude, it's a compartmentalizing of those two attitudes coming together. And this new city council is going to be in trouble because is it only has one of two ways to deal with if this. It either puts the referendums on the ballot to make the change or it just cuts services to the extent that the city no longer works, and boldly let's people no, when you decide to tax, we can get out of this.

GLORIA PENNER: All right, we're gonna talk about the now City Council in a moment. But how much of I political beating, Bob, did the mayor take who was leading the Yes side? He was the cheerleader along with Donna Frye.

KITTLE: Gloria, I think this really is a water shed election for the direction the city will take now to solve its problems of the voters by 62 percent to 38 percent said we are not going to raise our taxes. That was a resounding note of no confidence in mayor Jerry sand uppers and Donna Frye. The mayor had imposed tax increases throughout his career as mayor, he somewhat unexpectedly decided to embrace Donna Frye's proposal for a sales tax increase.

GLORIA PENNER: She didn't embrace his proposal?

KITTLE: No, he embraced hers. The proposal was actually brought to the City Council by the public employee unions. Ben Hueso put it on the council agenda, Donna Frye endorsed it, with this notion that there would be some reforms that would accompany it. The mayor jumped on board, and all of them ran down this blind alley without really thinking about the voters. So it was a very ill advised strategy from the beginning. But what elections do, they clarified the political situation. And I think this election clarified that the voters, don't ask them to raise their taxes. That's not going to work. You've got to resolve the pension crisis.

GLORIA PENNER: How could the mayor, Tony, have misjudged the voters so much?

PERRY: Well, don't forget, this wasn't, as Bob points out, this wasn't his idea. This was other people's idea, and he was dragged into it, just weeks earlier, he had said, no, wee not gonna do this, and then assemble like that person who sees everyone running in a different direction, says, look, my people are going somewhere. I better lead them. And he did. And it was messy, and it was ugly, and all those, I'll do this, that and the other, all that "mother, may I" stuff, that apologetic, as they say, you can apologize your way into someone's heart. And that's basically what they were trying to do. I think it is a water shed for somewhat different reasons than Bob. I think it will scare -- they're already very scared, council members new and old into ever asking for anything that will bring more money into city hall. I think they are terrified, for example, to ask that we change the free garbage pick up rules so that the apartment dweller isn't subsidizing the folks in La Jolla and Tierra Santa homes of that's one of the oddest situations going.

GLORIA PENNER: Let me ask you about that. Do you think we're gonna see a change? Could you think that they will be --

PERRY: No.

GLORIA PENNER: Pay for trash pick-up?

PERRY: I think they're gonna work on it -- and Tom Fudge did a nice piece on his blog with this. I think they're working on sort of a halfway major that will bring some of the revenue into the city based on cutting some people out of the government subsidy for trash pick-up. I mean, trash is really an enormously insane idea. We have city employees picking up trash for million dollar homes, and the people there pay nothing. So we're getting hit double on a thing like that where every other big city, suburb, you name it, makes people actually pay for the cost of, you know, carrying away their vichyssoise cans, but I think the terror factor in city hall is so large now, I'll be interested to see anyone step forward and try anything.

GLORIA PENNER: John?

WARREN: Well, I just as Tony was talking, remembering the list that we saw in the paper recently, you know, the commercial parking situation hoar where we could raise a hundred million dollars a year if we tax the parking structures, ace parking, they have all of these spaces. Not a dime's being paid. The trash, I mean people in the county pay for trash privately, but we've got this idea that we don't touch any of these things. And we cannot continue to go the way we're going.

GLORIA PENNER: So John, is San Diego guilty of bestowing financial favors such as benefit boosts to city workers without knowing how to pay for them? Or no tax on parking structure owners such as ace for what they collect? Is that what we are? Not we, not us. The politicians.

WARREN: Remember something about San Diego. Before we got district elections, a certain element of this community controlled everything. Of other people were just figureheads. That element, that money factor still controls, that money factor still says no taxes, the rank and file people were not paying taxes, they're not voting in numbers, they're not getting involved to the extent that this revolution that we're talking about needs to take place. And it's going to continue unless there's a real crisis.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's get down to the nitty-gritty on this. If voters trusted that their city is not mismanaged, would they go for a tax increase?

KITTLE: Oh, I think they would, Gloria. But let me say in defense of getting rid of my vichyssoises cans, that trash collection is not free. We pay for it. It isn't free. It comes out of the rest of the taxes that we pay, property taxes and sales taxes and everything else.

PERRY: Somebody pays for it, but there's no check off of a specific property tax.

KITTLE: It's not designated on, you know, a separate bill each month. But it's not free, let me point that out. But secondly, if the City Council privatized trash collection, San Diego is the only city in the county out of 19 counties or 18 cities, rather, it's the only city in the county that has municipal workers collecting trash. And because they have large pensions and large benefits, it's much more costly. So would the voters approve a trash tax? Well, if the City Council privatized trash collection, I think the voters might have more confidence in their City Council, and they might indeed repeal the 1919 people's ordinance which prohibits a separate trash collection fee for single family homes.

GLORIA PENNER: John?

WARREN: Well, I think that if we look at -- we don't hear people in the county hollering about paying for treasure pick up. They always have. I paid for it when I was in the county, and it was just a part of life. So I think, yes, privatizing could be a way to go. But we still have to get a credibility factor at city hall that we don't have. Of none of this will happen with any validity until people feel confident that those making the decisions are really working the best. And that can't be restored over night.

PERRY: I think the San Diegan has, and others have written about this, there is a self pity factor in the San Diego zeitgeist that says, oh, I've been treated so very, very wickedly. It's like a Chinese opera, for goodness sakes. The landlords, and they're bad, and the intelligentsia, and they're bad. Except we have the politicians and the labor unions, and it's this sort of operatic drama that we go through.

GLORIA PENNER: There must be a reason that we go through it. Obviously it's working.

PERRY: Well, it's very comforting. When in truth, as they say, we're sort of living in this fool's paradise, that, for a long time, it worked. It worked okay. Then along came the labor unions and the great contract increases of 99 and 01 with no way to pay for them. And then certainly this rub Goldberg system that we had through the hill within and the hedge cock, and the O'Connor years and some of the Golding years, suddenly it didn't working and it doesn't work big time.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. We can't let this segment go without first dropping into the new City Council, Bob. That's the election saw Donna Frye replaced by lorry, and ben Hueso by David Alvarez. Will those changes really mean anything and what the council does this year?

KITTLE: So what is the new zeitgeist of the Chinese opera at city hall? That's the question we're going to answer here. I think we are gonna see some significant changes, Gloria. Primarily because of Laurie Zapf, a Republican replacing Democrat, Donna Frye. You now have three republicans on the City Council, and a Republican mayor. That's enough to thwart a lot of things that the City Council otherwise might do. David Alvarez, the other new member of the City Council is something of an unknown quantity. He was not endorsed by most of the labor unions but he was endorsed by the firefighters. The question is, will he align himself with the pro union majority. Or at least the other four on the council who are clearly pro labor, or will he be more independent? And we won't know that until we've seen some crucial votes ahead.

PENNER: Okay, so we're gonna watch for that, no predictions on that one. But I am gonna ask you for a prediction, even though we're looking backward. But backward sometimes means that tomorrow will be more like yesterday. Whatever that means. Anyway, I would like your prediction, I'll go once around. We have 2011 as the run up to the 2012 election for mayor. And we know that Carl DeMaio became very visible when he led the fight against Prop D. Who should we be looking at in terms of a prospective mayoral candidate that might rise to the top? Who should we start with? All right. We'll start with Bob Kittle.

KITTLE: Well, obviously Carl DeMaio would like to mayor and he's running for mayor. Kevin Faulkner who also opposed prop D and pension reform, would like to be mayor. Congressman Bob Filner will like to be mayor. Steve Francis who has run in the past, entrepreneur, would like to be mayor. There are more on this list -- Nathan Fletcher. Very successful assembly man, very attractive former military man, I think wants to be mayor. There is speculation that Bonnie Dumanis might like to be mayor. So it's a very long list with an open mayor's race in 2012.

GLORIA PENNER: And what do you think is going to shake that list down from long to short?

KITTLE: I think whether you're an insider at city hall or an outsider will be one of the things that sorts out the wheat from the chaff.

GLORIA PENNER: Which will have the advantage?

KITTLE: The outsider.

GLORIA PENNER: The outsider. And go ahead, please, John Warren.

WARREN: I think Bob Filner will be a very serious and strong contender for mayor.

GLORIA PENNER: You think he wants to come home again?

WARREN: Oh, I know he wants to come home, and with the power shift in the House and Republicans now controlling, he's lost his chairmanship. He becomes a minority factor in terms of the committee, and he's been there some 20 years of there's not more he can do on that end of I think he'll be a very serious contender for mayor. And I think there are a lot of people who like to be. I don't see Steve Francis coming -- if he comes back, Nathan Fletcher, people are buzzing about him, but, you know, folks have a tendency to frown at people who seek office and then leave office going for something else on a real quick track.

GLORIA PENNER: But he's been identified with some of these closed door deals in the state legislature. So I think there are some people who are worried about that.

WARREN: Well, there were some people who wanted to see Schwarzenegger become president and thought they could change the constitution too. Of but I think time will shake most of that down.

GLORIA PENNER: You wrap this one up for us, Tony.

PERRY: If Bob Filner jumps in, then we may see actual differences between him and others. The other folks who we mentioned, Faulkner, DeMaio, Fletcher, Dumanis, Francis, pretty much peas in a pod, San Diego politicians. And it would be a personality contest. Filner jumps in, then I think we're starting to talk about real intellectual differences between him and the others. Of course, Bob's personality would also come to the fore, and that could be an issue too.

GLORIA PENNER: Very good. Well, thank you very much, gentlemen. We're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we're going to talk about 2010 and San Diego's military community. This is the Editors' Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.

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