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Grand Jury Recommends Leasing Popular Parks To Bail Out Pension Debt

— The San Diego County grand jury recommended today that portions of Mission Bay, Torrey Pines and Balboa parks be leased out to help bail out a $7 billion pension and debt liability crisis that plagues the City of San Diego.

 Balboa Park on May 7th, 2009.
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Above: Balboa Park on May 7th, 2009.

A municipal bankruptcy should also be examined, the grand jury said today. But the citizens commission said it did not know if such a filing would mean a federal judge could reduce the city's pension obligations.

The citizens commission recommended charging library patrons to check out books, studying outsourcing the city's public libraries, asking voters to junk the "people's ordinance" that prevents the city from charging for residential garbage collection and merging some city agencies with similar county departments.

The grand jury recommended eliminating city-operated garbage collection and hiring private contractors instead, a practice that the report said cut costs 38 percent recently in Phoenix.

The grand jury issued "San Diego City's Financial Crisis, The Past, Present, and Future" to examine what brought San Diego to its current financial condition, and propose plans on how the municipality should dig out.

The report recommended ending a program designed including to benefit the city by retaining experienced workers on the payroll who are eligible for retirement, unless the financial arrangements do not cost the cost extra money.

The grand jury urged each major city department to determine potential cost savings, operational efficiency and revenue sources.

The report also advocates restoration of recent public safety cuts that led to rolling closures of fire stations and elimination of mounted police patrols in Balboa Park and canine units at multiple locations.

And the city's hole is getting deeper, the report warned. Revenues this year will fall $11 million short of expectations because of recession-related drops in the city's hotel bed tax and other shortfalls in sales an property tax flows, it said.

The grand jury recommends that the city hold a public forum with a panel of bankruptcy experts discuss the legal and financial consequences of a Chapter 9 declaration of bankruptcy, by the city if such an action becomes necessary.

But the grand jury said it was "untested" in federal courts if filing for reorganization of the city under federal bankruptcy laws would allow the city to evade its $7 billion pension obligation.

Implementation of a fee for garbage collection would require a ballot measure calling for the repeal of the "People's Ordinance," which prevents the city from charging for most residential trash pickup, the grand jury report said.

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