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Evening Roundtable: City’s Budget Deficit And Del Mar Fairgrounds

Evening Edition

Above: Scott Lewis, CEO of voiceofsandiego.org, and Jonathan Horn, a reporter for U-T San Diego, speak with Joanne Faryon about the week's news.

Aired 2/24/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guests: Scott Lewis, CEO, Voiceofsandiego.org

Jonathan Horn, reporter, U-T San Diego

The full Midday Roundtable can be heard here.

— Mayor Jerry Sanders announced Thursday that the city's structural budget deficit has been resolved and that the city would end the fiscal year with an extra $16.5 million.

The mayor said he want to use that money to bump library hours up to 40 a week and increase park and recreation hours to 55 a week. He also wants to increase the size of the next Police Academy class and replace the city's aging fire-warning system.

Scott Lewis, the CEO of voiceofsandiego.org, told KPBS this announcement means the city of San Diego now does not need to use tricks or gimmicks to make its budget appear balanced.

“What they’re saying is now revenues match up with expenses, and that’s kind of a big deal,” he said.

But Lewis said the mayor’s declaration that the structural budget deficit has ended also points to something else: that the deficit existed in the first place.

“The mayor used to say there was no structural budget deficit, and so now for him to say that they fixed it is an acknowledgement there once was one there,” Lewis said. “And he used to poo-poo the idea that it was a big deal that they were using gimmicks and tricks and one time revenues to get through the year, and now he’s saying it’s a very proud achievement to not have to do that.”

Lewis said an increase in revenues from sales and hotel taxes likely brought about the elimination of the deficit, although the mayor’s final budget has not yet been released.

“The mayor’s office has always vacillated between wanting to highlight how bad things are so that they can get some important things done, to wanting to highlight how good things are because it shows how good they are,” Lewis said. “This is another example of that. They want to reframe the debate about how good everything is.”

However, Lewis added, the city still has to grapple with a vast array of infrastructure problems.

Lewis said the deficit announcement could have an impact on the four major candidates running for mayor, especially Councilman Carl DeMaio and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

“Carl DeMaio had a press conference not long ago, a big one, where he said, ‘look at this rec center, it’s closed, I’m going to do blah to make sure it changes,’” Lewis said. “The more that that’s taken away from a candidate, the harder it’s going to be.”

Lewis said the mayor’s announcement would also impact Dumanis, because she is the candidate who has “most clearly attached her own candidacy to the mayor’s track record at city hall.”

“She say’s she’ll basically be continuing his footsteps in the sand,” Lewis said. “Nathan Fletcher will say now we can look to the future and Bob Filner is talking about China or something. I don’t know where he is.”

Lewis also discussed a lawsuit brought by the hotel workers union against a tax hoteliers levied on themselves.

Although voters twice rejected hotel tax increases, Lewis said, hotel owners then decided to agree amongst themselves to increase the tax on hotel rooms, avoiding a popular vote on the issue.

“Now they want to do again,” Lewis said.

But, he added, the hoteliers are “not taking it to the people” by subjecting the tax increase to popular vote.

“The hotel workers might seem like an odd group to sue on that, but the reason they’re doing that is to gain leverage over this discussion of who runs the Convention Center,” Lewis said.

Lewis said hoteliers might attempt to take more control away from the corporation that runs the Convention Center, which could result in the loss of hotel union jobs.

Jonathan Horn, a reporter for U-T San Diego, discussed Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent decision to replace five members of the board that oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

One new member, Tom Chino, of Chino Farms, an open-meeting advocate, released a critical state audit noting improper payments to employees and other violations. Chino resigned last week, apparently in protest over the lack of openness and board inquiries into conflict-of-interest allegations directed at Chino’s lawyer.

Horn said although a seat on the board that runs Del Mar Fairground does not draw a salary, it involves many perks, including a parking spot up front, access to The Turf Club and tickets to events. He said if board members can justify a business reason, they can give tickets to people they know.

But, Horn said, those tickets have been the cause of trouble for the board members.

“(Board member) Adam Day has five children, but he got 12 tickets to Bruno Mars,” Horn said. “The state wanted to know who those 12 tickets went to.”

Horn said the investigation concluded last week.

“Board members divulged who got those tickets, the state said OK, sent a warning letter to the fairgrounds that said, ‘in the future report this more thoroughly,’ otherwise no harm,” Horn said.

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