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San Diego City Council Begins Review Of Budget Devastated By Coronavirus

A closed sign at the San Diego Public Library Kensington on April 6, 2020, because of COVID-19.
Andi Dukleth
A closed sign at the San Diego Public Library Kensington on April 6, 2020, because of COVID-19.

San Diego City Council members Monday started a week-long review of the proposed budgets for each city department in the upcoming fiscal year, with all of them facing significant cuts forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled the spending plan on April 15, which calls for the elimination of 354 city jobs — many of them in the libraries and parks and recreation. The spending cuts will impact virtually every city service, including tree trimming, road maintenance, arts and culture funding, code enforcement and even police.

San Diego City Council Begins Review Of Budget Devastated By Coronavirus
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

The mayor is not proposing eliminating any sworn police officer positions, but he is cutting some civilian positions in the department as well as some officer overtime and funding for STAR/PAL, a police-led program that serves disadvantaged youth.

San Diego City Council Begins Review Of Budget Devastated By Coronavirus

The city estimates the economic toll of the pandemic on city finances will be around $300 million between the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, the 2020-2021 fiscal year beginning July 1. This is largely because of lost hotel and sales tax revenue. The city is eligible for up to $248 million in federal aid, but that money can only be used to reimburse costs directly related to the pandemic response, not to make up for lost tax revenue.

Chief Operating Officer Kris Michell noted Monday that some of the assumptions in the initial budget were already out of date.

"We are doing the best we can to project out," Michell said. "But those projections really don't mean much until we start to see where the bottom is and we start to turn around on the health side that will then impact the economic side."

Faulconer's budget also proposes permanently closing the Mountain View/Beckwourth Library, the city's smallest. A report from the Andrea Tevlin, the city's independent budget analyst, said city officials believe the Valencia Park/Malcolm X Branch Library, about 2 miles away, could fill the void left by the library's closure.

Council President Georgette Gomez, whose district includes Mountain View, said her constituents and residents of other historically disadvantaged neighborhoods were feeling the economic crisis much more acutely than better-off neighborhoods. A study from the San Diego Association of Governments last week found unprecedented unemployment rates in some low-income neighborhoods.

"Over 30% of our population is unemployed right now," Gomez said, referring to neighborhoods including City Heights, Logan Heights and San Ysidro. "And I only hope that as we're moving forward and we're making these decisions of cutting services that are really important to these districts, that we keep that in mind."