Can New City Council Fix San Diego's Budget Mess?
San Diego will welcome two new city council members next week, and say goodbye to longtime Councilwoman Donna Frye and Council President Ben Hueso. The council will also select a new president on Monday, and begin discussing how to cut the city's $73 million budget deficit. How will the makeup of the council change once Lorie Zapf and David Alvarez take office? Who will be the next council president? What impact will Donna Frye leave on city government? We discuss what's on the agenda for the new San Diego City Council.
David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat
David King, editor and founder of sandiegonewsroom.com
John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint
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: Monday is going to be a big day there at city hall in the council chambers because two new council members will be seated, a new president of the council will be chosen, Donna Frye will be a memory 678 so how will she be remembered? We're gonna start with that, and how will this new council perform? And are they up to the enormous financial challenges already nipping at their heels? I will start with you David Rolland, council member fry, you wrote a tribute to her for Wednesday's San Diego City beat and for our listeners who haven't read it yet, what is it, David, that you believe characterized her time in office?
DAVID ROLLAND: Well, it's interesting, she came into office as an environmental activist. She was the founder of a group called Stop. It was surfers tired of pollution. And she came in sort of on a platform of cleaning up the ocean, trying to, you know, do whatever she can do improve neighborhoods, and to kick open the doors of government so that people could see what was going inside. She was really sort of an activist who got in, got in on the inside. But I think -- her legacy, I believe will be more in terms of being a fiscal conservative. And I think that might surprise a lot of people who don't pay super close attention, that she was one of the people -- there was an early, I think it was when Dick Murphy was still the mayor. It was just as -- just after things started really getting bad, 2004, 2005. When we learned about all the disclosure problems with the city not being honest with bond investors and the condition of the pension fund and all that. Donna Frye, I believe it was Donna and council member Brian menshen were the only two people who voted against the next round of pay increases for city employees of then she became a consistent vote against pay increases from there on out. Until, I think it was last year, to a unanimous vote for a compensation decrease for city employees, where everybody voted for that, but she was really one of the first to really hold the line on employee pay.
GLORIA PENNER: John Warren, you've been following Donna Frye's career as well. Why is it that she is iconic [CHECK AUDIO] and then she was anathema to others who said she was the no vote. She just said no.
JOHN WARREN: Well, I think that's why she was an anathema to them, because she was a no vote, she voted her own mind, and she didn't seek a compromise with them in terms of many of the votes that came down. And I think she was a maverick in the sense that when she decided to run for mayor, she did a write in campaign, and she really shook things up in terms of position that she took. She was also one of those people who was very -- who emerged in retrospect as a hero with all of the pension discussions because of the hard line she took when certain revelations came out about the, up, pension inadequacies and under funding of so there's things have worked together in terms of Donna maintaining her personality in herself and we've seen a full circle where she and the mayor, you know, they jointly did ads for Proposition D, and yesterday in council chambers she was urging people to love one another and to get along. And just to show how much she meant it, she leaned over and told Carl DeMaio she was gonna give him a hug. And it was a real love fest for a few moments. So she's just been a real interesting person.
GLORIA PENNER: She has been an interesting person. And that we have to give her, whether you loved her or didn't love her, she was interesting. At this point, however, her successor is Laurie Zapf, who is rather new to politics. What do you know, David, about what she has in common with fry other than her gender?
DAVID KING: Nothing. I think they're gonna be very different. Fry, Donna Frye also hugs me. You know. Donna Frye is admired by people. Donna Frye was a leader. And Donna Frye was always engaged. She was never sitting idly by and just wiling away the time. There was always a light on behind the eyes, and she cared. And she was involved. Will and she was a leader of the Democrats on the city council, she's considered that way. She's looked upon as the leadership. Laurie Zapf will be from the political opposite spectrum, you know, the opposite end of the political spectrum. And can be expected to vote the opposite way that Donna Frye would have voted on just about everything.
GLORIA PENNER: Okay, well, as you can tell, we are talking about the San Diego City Council. We've kind of been focused on the fact that Donna Frye is leaving today, last day, and that Laurie Zapf will come in and take her place, and we're sort of giving a little fare well analysis of Donna Frye. But now I want to extend this out ward a bit more, David, and look at the council generally. They have a very tough year ahead. I mean, they have to do something about the budget which has really stymied the best and the not so best minds in San Diego. Will this new council with the addition of Laurie Zapf and David Alvarez and good-bye Donna Frye, good-bye ben Hueso, will it be up to the job?
DAVID KING: Well, that will be, I think, largely on the shoulders of -- well, it's on all of their shoulders. I believe that Tony young who represents district four, I believe that he will be elected as the council president. He will be the one to set the tone, we'll be the one to,you know, to,a point other council members to chair in very important committees. I talked to Tony yesterday, and he says he doesn't know if he's going to be elected. He says he hasn't counted the votes. But he said if he were to be the council president, he would take the first -- he would set up, basically, a 90-day period where he would establish an action plan, you know, moving forward. And you're right. It's all about balancing that budget. What we're facing is somewhere between -- depends on what factors you consider, but this city on July 1st will be short somewhere between $70 million and about a hundred and $18 million if you factor in the crushing healthcare liability for retirees.
GLORIA PENNER: Before I go to John Warren who wants to comment on what you just said about Tony young, I want to ask our callers what kind of confidence do you have in the new city council that takes place, starts on Monday, to resolve San Diego's dire budget woes? Our number is 1-888-895-5727. 895 KPBS. Let's talk a little bit about Tony young. To what degree would Tony young or anybody who's named council president influence the council's decision, John?
JOHN WARREN: Well, first I want to address the Tony young issue. You know, he would become the first African American council member to become president of the City Council. But I must say that I and a number of people in the district, I'm not really impressed with the idea of Tony becoming council president. I don't really think that he's up to it. I'm concerned about the politics that he's demonstrated during this Wal-Mart big box ordinance. And the politics of how that's been handled. And I think that it should be the best qualified person and that there should not be a move to have this symbolic gesture because he's wrung and he's African American, he's the longest sitting council member there. And I think a lot of that is playing into it. He hasn't done the job he could have done as budget chair person for the last two years. And I think quite frankly, Carl DeMaio has shown more leadership as chairman of the budget committee.
GLORIA PENNER: Okay, well, you had order that from John Warren who is the editor and publisher of San Diego voice and viewpoint. We'll come back and talk a little bit more about this questions to whether Tony young is the right person to be the president of the San Diego City Council. Now, remember, these are opinions from the editors. And they are here because they do have opinions of so we'd like to hear your opinions as well. We're gonna take that short break, then we'll come back and get opinions from David Rolland who's waving his pencil at me. This is the Editors Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.
This is the Editors Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner, and I hated to interrupt that music, I was really, really mellow there for a moment.
DAVID KING: It was depressing.
GLORIA PENNER: Well, despite the fact that we left with a slight altercation here at the table regarding the value of Tony young as president of the San Diego City Council if indeed he is elected by he's colleagues. So John threw down the gauntlet, and it's being picked up now by David Rolland.
DAVID ROLLAND: Well, I'll say first of all that CityBeat did not endorse Tony young in the most recent election. Of it was sort of symbolic because we knew that he would coast to position in [CHECK AUDIO] but I think Tony is probably a reallyd good choice for council president because he has been the chair of the budget committee, he's been deeply involved. He is a moderate. I'd like him to be more progressive on a lot of issues, but this council coming in has no clear leading voting blockides logically speaking. You've got Carl DeMaio and I'm just shocked that John thinks that Carl DeMaio would be a better council president. He is the most polarizing figure in San Diego politics.
JOHN WARREN: Oh, I didn't say he'd be a better 81.
DAVID ROLLAND: You said he'd be more qualified.
JOHN WARREN: Well, he is, based on what he's demonstrated so far. At least he's put something out there.
DAVID ROLLAND: He's put something out there, you know, and some of his ideas will get a hearing, and some of them will -- may get five votes. It certainly won't be his entire package. But he has a way of -- his rhetorical approach, he has a way of polarizing people. So even if he has good ideas, sometimes I think he just makes people so mad that they don't want to follow him.
GLORIA PENNER: Okay, so you're talking style. I tell you what, this is what we're gonna do because we need to wrap this up. I want to hear from Daniel in Clairemont, and I'm going to ask David King to give us the final remarks so he has a chance to get in. Daniel in claimer, you're on with us at the Editors Roundtable.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, Gloria, and this is specifically for David Rolland. Stop these senior situations, just come with us, we're hiking the day, urban canyons and old bridges by Balboa park, walk with him on Facebook issue that's for anybody who's under employed or unemployed, that's totally free, something to do December nights. And the other thing I wanted to say is, Donna Frye worked really hard for us, and [CHECK AUDIO] but the City Council, I do not trust that they're gonna do anything because everything has gotten so much worse. We have so many more problems of the budget deficits and all of the infrastructure deficits that they have are much more than ten years ago when I went to the City Council and tried to help them.
GLORIA PENNER: Okay, well, thank you, Daniel. Automobile it's a daunting task, and so David King, if you would just wrap up this segment for us.
DAVID KING: Yeah, I think Tony young is considered a reasonable person and a solid member of the San Diego City Council. And I think he will become the next president. But, you know, is he the best man for the job? I don't know that he's the best one to keep council meetings going and the organizational thing. Maybe Kevin Faulkner would probably be a little better suited for that, but you're not gonna see one of the minority Republicans made president. And David Alvarez just got here. And sherry heighter in and Marty emerald are just kind of weird. So it's gonna be Tony young.
GLORIA PENNER: Well --
GLORIA PENNER: All right, well --
JOHN WARREN: Tell us what you really think.
THE COURT: Save us, David Rolland.
DAVID ROLLAND: Well, there was a way to put a huge dent in the deficit. But it had to start about two years ago. This city could make trash collection must more equitable and make in the process -- generate about $35 million a year in reef new. Same with the strong water fee. If they recovered from property owners the full cost of the storm water program, that would also raise about $31 million, you'd be more than half the way there by now if you started implementing those measures two years ago.
GLORIA PENNER: All right, gentlemen, so that takes care of the San Diego City Council for the next four years, at least. And we'll be watching of let's move on.