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SD Council Object To Increase Police Funding, Reduce Library Hours In Proposed Budget

The official seal for the city of San Diego appears on a door to City Hall in...

Photo by Angela Carone

Above: The official seal for the city of San Diego appears on a door to City Hall in this undated photo.

The San Diego City Council found much to like in Mayor Todd Gloria's proposed $4.6 billion budget Tuesday, but two facets — reduced library hours and increased police spending — look to be contentious issues going forward.

Gloria, who revealed the budget last week, intends to focus much of the coming year's finances on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. He touted nonprofit and small business loans, building "sexy" streets, reducing police overtime, investing in the city's Climate Equity Fund and a focus on supporting the San Diego Convention Center.

No council action was taken Tuesday.

Due to effects of the pandemic, the city faced an expected budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year of $124 million — a figure exceeding the entire Parks and Recreation Department's annual budget.

Last month, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law, allocating approximately $306 million in federal relief to San Diego, which Gloria proposed to use to strengthen the local economy and stabilize city finances.

"Without this federal relief, we'd be looking at massive reductions," Gloria said.

Gloria's budget represents a 13.4% increase over last year's budget — an increase of more than $537 million. Much of that increase — around $400 million — is attributed to the Pure Water Project.

Despite the increase, Gloria also proposed reducing the city's library hours to Tuesday through Saturday, a savings of $6.9 million, his staff estimates.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno found those cuts unacceptable, particularly because of the digital divide in her district. Council District 8 represents San Ysidro, Barrio Logan, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights and has a majority Latino population and has a high percentage of people who speak English as a second language.

Moreno and Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera said any library hours lost will negatively impact their constituents.

The library cost-cutting measures come next to a proposed $19 million increase to the San Diego Police Departments' budget. The city has increased SDPD's budget for the last 10 years, an increase of more than $200 million since 2011.

Last year, when then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed his budget in the heart of COVID-19 lockdowns, one council meeting nearly totaled 12 hours — largely as a result of hundreds of public callers and more than 4,000 emails demanding the council not only reject the mayor's proposed $27 million increase to the San Diego Police Department but cut the existing budget dramatically.

Despite the massive public comment, the council passed the budget and the uptick in police spending 8-1. The political calculus could be very different from 2020.

While the city council is legally nonpartisan under state law, a 6-3 advantage leaning toward Democrats last year is now 8-1 with only Councilman Chris Cate representing Republicans.

Cate, chair of the council's Budget & Government Efficiency Committee, has set public hearings on the budget from May 5-11.

"I have always been transparent with the residents in my district regarding the city's finances, and as budget chair, I plan to do the same, city-wide," he said. "We need to be fiscally prudent and focus on core city services for our residents. I look forward to working with everyone to build a budget that will be reflective of all San Diegans."

Councilman Stephen Whitburn said the budget and the Democratic alignment on a local, state and federal level represent an "unprecedented" opportunity to deal with the homelessness crisis. He encouraged the public to have empathy for those without homes in possible future talks about placing shelters and resources in neighborhoods.

Major money items in the budget include:

— $10 million in nonprofit and small business loans in hard-hit industries and owned by people of color;

— $10.2 million to support the convention center, intended to maintain good-paying jobs and keep San Diego poised for its tourism economy to rebound;

— $10 million to build quality, complete "sexy" streets in communities of concern, with another $30 million planned to come from debt service;

— Investing $22.1 million in the city's workforce to make their salaries more competitive with other local agencies;

— More than $10 million for immediate actions to serve those in crisis on the streets, and funding to support the new Homelessness Strategies Department to ensure the city is set up to be successful in its efforts to end homelessness;

— $4 million in proposed savings with across-the-board decreases to San Diego Police Department overtime;

— Investing $5 million into the new Climate Equity Fund; and

The $4.6 billion budget proposal recommends spending levels for city operations and capital projects for Fiscal Year 2022, which runs from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. The final budget will be adopted in June following several weeks of review by the public and the City Council.

The full budget proposal can be found at sandiego.gov/finance/proposed.

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