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San Diego Mayor Sanders Aims To Be A Closer

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders
City of San Diego
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders

With his time in office winding down, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders took to the stage of downtown’s Balboa Theater last night to give his final State of the City.

San Diego Mayor Sanders Aims To Be A Closer
With his time in office winding down, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders took to the stage of downtown’s Balboa Theater last night to give his final State of the City.

The room goes dark and a video begins to play. A young boy appears in a gritty part of downtown San Diego. As Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” starts to play, the boy is seen running past the lot where a new Chargers stadium may be built, then the rendering of a new stadium is faded in. The video continues hitting all the major projects proposed for the city, an expanded Convention Center, new central library, a revamped Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park.

And then the ominous tones of “Hells Bells” rang out across the Balboa Theater. The video screen and lights flashed red as Mayor Jerry Sanders walked on stage. The meaning was clear, Sanders’ term is in its final innings, and just like famous Padres pitcher Trevor Hoffman, Sanders is looking to close out the game with a win.

Sanders is terming out of office. And he began his speech by listing the wins he already counts in his column, starting with financial reforms.

“By working with our labor organizations to dramatically reduce our exposure to skyrocketing retiree health care costs. Our efforts will save taxpayers more than $700 million,” he said, “making this the biggest cost-saving measure in city history.”

Sanders also touted his efforts to reform the pension system and close the city’s structural budget deficit; its chronic problem of spending more than in takes in. He said San Diego must continue to focus on physically improving the city.

“We’ve already invested hundreds of million into community projects, including our aging water and sewer infrastructure,” he said. “And we’re now in the midst of the largest street repaving program in city history -- 150 miles of road, more than were repaved in the previous eight years.”

From there Sanders moved on to what he thinks needs to get done in the coming years. As the opening video demonstrated, major development projects play a large role. He stressed the need to expand the Convention Center, saying the expansion could bring nearly $13 million a year to San Diego’s General Fund. Though critics have pointed out there’s currently no cap on how much the city might pay for the expansion.

The mayor also championed a possible deal to build a new Chargers stadium, though the plan remains vague.

“The approach we’re committed to will keep the team competitive while requiring no new taxes. It will protect the General Fund. It will deliver a positive return on our investment. And it will keep the project affordable by building on regional cooperation,” he said.

Sanders ended his speech by plugging San Diego’s growing reputation for craft beer brewing. But for labor leader Lorena Gonzalez the speech was just more of the same.

“If the mayor’s entire economic program is revolving around low-wage jobs and beer, I think we have a problem here,” she said. “There are 57,000 San Diegans losing their homes and we didn’t hear anything about how we are going to fix that disaster.”

Gonzalez said San Diego needs to think about the long term financial implications before embarking on several major development projects. But Chamber of Commerce President Ruben Barrales liked what he heard from the mayor.

“I think resolving the structural deficit for the city is critical,” he said. “And then, an expansion of the Convention Center and a potential new regional sports complex are great economic news for San Diego.”

Councilwoman Marti Emerald said she generally agreed with the mayor’s optimistic outlook for San Diego. But she said a lot remains up in the air.

“Time will tell to see if some of the bigger projects are going to be workable,” she said.

The crowd at the mayor’s speech seemed generally receptive to his grand vision for the city. But he was briefly interrupted by Occupy San Diego protesters who tried to shout over him. Those protesters were in turn shouted down by the crowd, which began chanting the mayor’s name. Four protesters were arrested and the mayor continued with his speech, demonstrating that, at least last night, he had the home field advantage.

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