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Redevelopment, Pension Reform Focus Of SD State Of City


Redevelopment and pension reform stole the show at San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ State of the City address Wednesday night.

— Redevelopment and pension reform stole the show at San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ State of the City address Wednesday night.

The mayor started his annual speech listing some accomplishments: breaking ground on a new central library, reducing the number of sewage spills into waterways, reducing water usage.

Then Sanders quickly got into issues San Diego may face in the coming year. He saved his strongest words to rail against Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to do away with redevelopment agencies. Sanders said downtown redevelopment has generated nearly $13 billion in private investment in the city. He said eliminating redevelopment areas would generate some quick cash at a steep price.

“To those in Sacramento who circle like vultures, seeking signs of weakness, I say that we will stand united to defend local control and keep our tax dollars here, not pour them in the pit you’ve dug,” Sanders said.

His words were welcomed by local redevelopment officials. Frank Alessi is with the Centre City Development Corporation, which oversees redevelopment in downtown San Diego. He said eliminating agencies such as his would be a step in the wrong direction for the state.

“Redevelopment is a huge generator of jobs, this is what California needs,” Alessi said. “Redevelopment agencies are a huge generator of affordable housing and that’s also what California needs.”

The crowd gathered for the speech seemed to echo Alessi’s feelings. There was a swell of applause when the mayor spoke of his support for redevelopment.

Sanders also addressed the other gorilla issue commanding the city's focus -- the pension debt. The mayor has garnered national attention for his plan to eliminate pensions for non-public-safety new hires, and switch to an all 401(k), individual-retirement-account system. He acknowledged, however, that savings from that plan are a long way off.

“But let’s be clear: No pension reform- not mine or anyone else’s- can generate savings fast enough to close our looming budget deficit,” Sanders said.

San Diego is facing a projected $71 million deficit this coming year and a projected $230 million pension payment.

April Boling with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association is encouraged by the mayor’s 401(k) plan.

“I think it’s a good first step and I was glad to see elected officials in that,” she said.

Still, budget cuts are coming in the immediate future. Sanders said he’ll work to protect public safety and other essential services. But he says this round of cuts will be the harshest San Diego has seen yet.

Frank De Clercq, president of the firefighters union, said he’s not entirely reassured public-safety services will be spared. But he said he thinks city leaders are aware of how much previous cuts have impacted service.

“I don’t believe the mayor wants to go there and I don’t think the City Council will want to make any further cuts. We’re seeing some huge impacts in our ability to respond,” De Clercq said.

Though the city is facing multimillion-dollar deficits, the mayor ended his speech lobbying for several large-ticket items, including expanding the Convention Center, finding a way to build a new Chargers stadium and revamping parts of Balboa Park.

Sanders has two years left in his final term. He said he’ll give everything he has to get those projects through and to get San Diego back on track before he’s out of office.

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