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IV Update: Calexico Budget Woes, Voter Turnout

Audio

Aired 6/21/10

Why is the City of Calexico facing a substantial budget deficit? What was the Imperial County's voter turnout in the recent primary election? And, how are residents dealing with the numerous earthquakes the Valley has experienced over the last month? We speak to the editor of the Imperial Valley Press.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Earthquakes and aftershocks have become everyday events in Imperial County. We'll follow up on the impact of the quakes and the longer-term impact of the recession. Money troubles are really starting to affect some Imperial County cities but success in the World Cup is lifting some spirits. I’d like to welcome my guest, Brad Jennings. He’s editor of the Imperial Valley Press. Brad, good morning.

BRAD JENNINGS (Editor, Imperial Valley Press): Good morning, Maureen. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: I’m great, thank you.

JENNINGS: Good.

CAVANAUGH: Now, first of all, you know, everybody’s always very concerned and interested in what the weather is like in Imperial County. What is the weather like right now?

JENNINGS: You know, it has been very nice, surprisingly nice. Isn’t today the first official day of summer?

CAVANAUGH: Yes, it is.

JENNINGS: You know, we never really know when summer starts here because it seems like summer for so much of the year. It’s not been too bad. I think the high today is supposed to be, oh, 102, 103, something like that, which, for us, is cool weather.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what is a typical summer day like? What can the temperatures get up to?

JENNINGS: Oh, it could be 115 right now…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay.

JENNINGS: …so we’re lucky. Although later this week it looks like it’s going to be up to 108, 109 territory. So we’re ready for it to start because as soon as it starts, that means it’ll – it’s quicker to ending.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. What are the nights like?

JENNINGS: The nights have been very cool. We’ve had lows in the sixties and the lower sixties, so it’s been very, very nice.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, that, I guess, is the good news. I’m going to move on to stuff that’s not too good, okay?

JENNINGS: Okay.

CAVANAUGH: Your paper ran a story on Sunday about the financial problems the City of Calexico is dealing with.

JENNINGS: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Now what kind of a budget deficit is Calexico facing?

JENNINGS: Calexico has really had some issues. Right now, you know, the projected budget deficit sits at about $5.4 million dollars. I think a lot of people expect that that could change, that could certainly go up. The future right now for Calexico is definitely a little frightening financially.

CAVANAUGH: Now what are some of the factors that have led to this $5.4 million deficit in Calexico? From what I understand, this is – that $5.4 million deficit is double of what they projected the deficit…

JENNINGS: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: …was going to be.

JENNINGS: Yes, it is, it’s double. And that’s why we believe that this number may not be firm. You know, Calexico is like a lot of cities. It’s been hit hard by the economy but it’s also a border city so when you see fewer people come up from over the border to shop, you have less in taxes that you’re collecting. The earthquake hit Calexico very, very hard. They had a lot of buildings that were red-tagged and knocked down, a lot of businesses were closed for a number of weeks, schools were closed for a number of weeks, and all those things really combined to just add to the financial misery that everybody’s been feeling.

CAVANAUGH: Now how is this million – $5.4 million deficit, how is it affecting services in the City of Calexico?

JENNINGS: Well, so far it’s not necessarily but, you know, as we reported this weekend, you know, this could lead to layoffs, it could short some services, and, you know, and that could be anything from street repairs to, you know, maybe fewer hours for workers. You know, they’ve talked about having to deal with the police force where the police are going to actually take a cut in salary, 15%, because they need to do these things to get the budget situation righted. If they continue to have these problems, things could only get worse for everybody involved, from city employees to city residents.

CAVANAUGH: Well, but in addition to cutting back on – perhaps cutting back on city services, what other options are Calexico leaders considering?

JENNINGS: You know, there’s not a lot of things on the table. They have discussed a few things but not done a lot. They’re talking about trying to negotiate with all the bargaining units to maybe lower some rates of pay but, you know, the problem with Calexico right now is, we believe, they’re at a point where they need to stop talking about it and they need to start making some cuts. They need to start doing something now because if they don’t, if you just want to sit down at the table and negotiate and discuss, things are only going to get worse.

CAVANAUGH: What about this state of fiscal emergency I read that they’re considering? What does that mean?

JENNINGS: You know, I – I’m not sure they know what that means. You know, you can get things when you declare a state of emergency. You can certain fundings, you can get certain help. But this, to me, this is very, very preliminary that they’re even discussing this at all. It is very early in the process. They’re just starting to kind of broach the subject. I’m glad they are and I think a lot of residents are probably glad they are because it’s almost owning up for the first time that, you know, we have a severe problem here and it has to be fixed.

CAVANAUGH: One more question about Calexico. I know that there are six people who are vying for two seats on the Calexico City Council in November. Do you – Is the city’s budget problems, are they a big issue in this race?

JENNINGS: They are. I thought you were going to ask me why would anybody want to run for Calexico City Council.

CAVANAUGH: Sounds like a really hard job right now.

JENNINGS: It does. And, certainly, it is an issue. And I’d say it’s incumbent upon the voters to get the absolute best people who will look at this and take off the rose-colored glasses and realize this is truly an emergency and that means emergency measures and hard decisions have to be made.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s talk about another election related subject. How was voter turnout for the June 8th primary election in Imperial County?

JENNINGS: You know, voting here is always a fascinating thing. Our turnout, it looks like it may end up being just less than 30%, somewhere between 28 and 30%, which is a very low number. Here, for, you know, a non-presidential year or for a primary, not terrible but it’s not very good, the turnout’s not very good.

CAVANAUGH: Now do you know the results of all the elections?

JENNINGS: You know, it’s interesting that we’re talking about low voter turnout and we’re two weeks from tomorrow was voting day…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

JENNINGS: …and we don’t. All the ballots aren’t even counted yet as far as we know. Unfortunately, that’s a trend here. Voting does not get done quickly. They say it takes forever but unless these things are being counted by hand by first grade classes I’m not sure why it takes this long.

CAVANAUGH: Isn’t that odd? Does this – So this is a typical thing that it takes a long time counting votes in Imperial County?

JENNINGS: Yes, it does. It takes a very, very long time. I’m not sure why that is. We seem to have some systemic problems here but we’re hoping – Well, we were told we’d have them last Thursday then we were told we’d have them on Friday and here it is on Monday and hope springs eternal, so we’ll see.

CAVANAUGH: It helps you to learn patience, right?

JENNINGS: That’s absolutely right.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I’m speaking with Brad Jennings. He is editor of the Imperial Valley Press. And this is our Imperial County update. Now we, in San Diego, felt the 5.7 magnitude earthquake that shook last Monday.

JENNINGS: Right.

CAVANAUGH: What was it like for you in the Imperial Valley?

JENNINGS: You know, it was – it was not the 7.2 that we had on Easter Sunday but it was one of those that it felt like it kind of got to a point where it was building big enough that it could be dive under the table time.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JENNINGS: Fortunately, it kind of dissipated. But, you know, it rolled for quite a while. It was – That was probably one of the bigger ones we’d had. I was surprised, personally, that it was only a 5.7.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JENNINGS: It felt a little bit more severe than that. But, you know, I have some people that work here and we’ve discussed this and, you know, their kids were very, very frightened for a while but now they’re just, ehh, you know, another earthquake.

CAVANAUGH: Now that one apparently was centered in Ocotillo and…

JENNINGS: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: …it was not necessarily an aftershock of the Mexican earthquake, the Easter earthquake. What about those aftershocks? How often have you been feeling aftershocks?

JENNINGS: Well, you know, they definitely said this was an aftershock…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, I see.

JENNINGS: …which was strange to us because the other one was centered in a completely different area.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

JENNINGS: I’m not even sure it was the same fault. We felt a lot of aftershocks after the 7.2. They’ve dissipated somewhat. Actually, it had been very calm for a while before this 5.7. I mean, calm as in nothing that really shook hard. So it’s definitely dissipated and we haven’t felt much since this 5.7 so things are kind of calming down.

CAVANAUGH: What are some of the lessons people have learned from the Easter earthquake, you know, residents and businesses that the Valley could apply for the future?

JENNINGS: Well, I think the first thing we learned is falling to the floor and weeping doesn’t help. Well, I learned that lesson personally. You know, I think, obviously, older buildings have to be shored up. You can’t – You know, we have such stringent earthquake codes in this state but there are a lot of older buildings that you can’t wait, you need to tear them down, you need to take care of them now before it becomes a big issue. Earthquake insurance is very, very expensive but it can pay off to have it. A lot of people saw some damage and those things are important. Cities, in these very tough times, it’s good to have a little money tucked away because if you don’t have any money in your coffers at all and you’re hit by an earthquake, it’s only going to make things worse. And don’t wait for the federal government to bail you out because it takes a long time.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, I was going to ask, aren’t there federal monies on the way to help out?

JENNINGS: Allegedly. I think they’re going to arrive about the same time we get all the votes counted.

CAVANAUGH: In other words, don’t hang by your fingernails.

JENNINGS: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I heard that there are new numbers on the Imperial Valley unemployment rate released today. What is the latest news on the employment rate?

JENNINGS: You know, the unemployment rate is still in the upper twenty percentage points. It’s not good. It’s less but when you’re pushing anywhere between 25 and 30% as a standard number, it’s nothing to write home about. We’ve gotten used to it. In a farm economy, you’re going to see these kinds of things; obviously, we’re going to have high unemployment. And with this economy, it’s hit us even worse. It’s gone down some, which is positive movement but our unemployment rate is still very, very high.

CAVANAUGH: All right. It probably is still the highest in California.

JENNINGS: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, another issue that’s been in the news is the illegal immigration law that was recently enacted in Arizona. I’m wondering how residents in the Imperial Valley are reacting to the passage of that law.

JENNINGS: Well, you know, we definitely had, initially, some protests to it. There were protests on this side of the border. There were protests across the border in Mexicali. You had the Calexico City Council react to that and pass a resolution condemning it. Even the board of supervisors, a number of supervisors made very strong pronouncements against it and they discussed passing a resolution but they haven’t done it because I don’t think all of them necessarily agree with it. But there was definitely a lot of people here who were unhappy with it. Of course, there are some people who support it. I don’t know – We haven’t seen any big push here from the people from Arizona that would be crossing into Arizona…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

JENNINGS: …crossing here. We haven’t seen any evidence of that. We haven’t heard anything from the Border Patrol about that. But it definitely bothered a number of local residents.

CAVANAUGH: Right, yes, I was wondering what fallout there might be from the Imperial County on this new Arizona law. So apparently that’s something that both you and the Border Patrol are looking out for.

JENNINGS: We are and so far we haven’t seen anything at all.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

JENNINGS: No real negative effects with pushing people here.

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Well, finally, let’s end on a really good note and that is how excited some people in the Imperial Valley are about the World Cup and specifically about the Mexican national soccer team.

JENNINGS: People were very excited about this. This was a big deal. It was kind of like Super Bowl Sunday. It was very interesting. As a matter of fact, we went to Mexico, across the border, and we also went here locally to a couple places, particularly a local eatery and you could tell fans were a little crazy because one guy talked to us and said he called in sick to work so he could go and so he could watch this game with his friends. Well, his name and city were printed in the newspaper so I’m sure his boss wasn’t feeling too good about it.

CAVANAUGH: No, no.

JENNINGS: He must’ve been so swept up in the excitement of the win that he forgot himself.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, my goodness. And it’s all strange to you because you don’t care about soccer at all, do you?

JENNINGS: You know, I am not a soccer fan but it’s the fact that everybody’s excited about that Mexico won, I think that’s great. It’s good for everybody else, so I guess I’m just waiting for the regular football season to start.

CAVANAUGH: Now, if Mexico does advance, I would imagine that you’re expecting more and more people to perhaps call in sick.

JENNINGS: That’s probably true. We’ll kind of have to watch out around the newsroom here.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for speaking with us today. Thank you, Brad.

JENNINGS: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Brad Jennings, editor of the Imperial Valley Press, and he’s been giving us an Imperial County update. And if you would like to comment about anything you hear on this segment or any other on These Days, you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, we want to take your calls from a pay phone if you can find one. We discuss the vanishing pay phone as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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