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Mayor Sanders And NFL Huddle To Keep Chargers In San Diego

A rendering of the proposed Chargers stadium in downtown San Diego.
A rendering of the proposed Chargers stadium in downtown San Diego.
Mayor Sanders On The Record
GuestCity of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders

CAVANAUGH: Jerry Sanders joins us to talk about pot holes and stadiums. And later, we get some outrageous tips on how to learn to be Latina. This is KPBS Midday Edition. Our top story on Midday Edition, San Diego mayor, Jerry Sanders, joins us he's had a victory this week with the pension reform initiative he supports qualifying for the ballot. But several of the other projects the mayor has backed are a bit up in the air. And mayor Sanders is heading into his last year in office. Welcome back to the show. SANDERS: Thank you very much, Maureen. CAVANAUGH: You know, last month, we interviewed reporter Liam Dillon about an in-depth story he did on infrastructure repair in San Diego and how the money the city had already borrowed for repairs, for, like, fixing pot holes and bad roads, was not being spent in a timely fashion. Why has it taken so long to make these repairs SANDERS: I think there's been a couple of issues that have played into this. We were out of the bond market for a long time, literally, the city was not there because they didn't have audits, department have any of that stuff done. Once we were able to clean up all the audits and get back into the bond market, the structure in place was pretty outdated on how you spend that money. And what we have done, and we've worked pretty hard over the last several month, we've cut the processing time down in half. So it was taking about 10020 days for the bids and tracts to be awarded since the last four months. We also went to City Council, and there's a lot of outdated rules that make since 10 or 15 years ago that don't make sense now. We took a package of ideas to council about how to change it to get it down to a 30-day time frame. CAVANAUGH: One part of this article was about how the city decent even know how many things need to be to be repaired or how much it's going to cost. Do we know that information now? SANDERS: It depends on what part you're looking at. I think it's difficult for any large organization to know every piece of infrastructure and how it looks. We have a road index updated every year, which sign ace numerical score of our streets which let's us know which streets need to be resurfaced. We also did a public inventory of buildings and that kind of thing. It costs a lot of money to bring the people in to assess what you need to have done. And we didn't want to be spending money that we weren't going to spend to repair some things because we simply didn't have that money. That's always a move target, and we're working to update that. And as we go out with more bonds to actually fix the infrastructure, we'll start working on those things that are closest, and the pieces of property that need to be fixed the most CAVANAUGH: The 30 part of article I wanted to talk to you about is the idea of borrowing more money for infrastructure repair. Although the original money hadn't all been spent yet. Is that something that the City Council and you are -- is that something that you support, borrowing an additional 5 hundred million SANDERS: We'll be borrowing about another hundred million. Probably some time in the spring, we should have encompassed most of this money and start doing the work. We've led about 65 projects that spends about $10,020,000,000. We had about $100 million bond, plus other money come some of the taxes on gas, and SANDAG, and that type of thing. So we'll probably be needing that money to keep the resurfacing going. But we resurfaced over 100 Miles Of Road this year, which is the most we've ever done. And we want to continue that and catch up. So we'll probably be going out about every 18 months with $100 million bond. CAVANAUGH: All the drivers listening to us are saying yes, thank you. The comprehensive pension reform measure that I talked about at the open that you support qualified for the ballot this week. Some people characterize this as city leaders in a battle with city workers, including firefighters. And I'm wondering, because you must have heard that kind of criticism, I wonder as mayor how you reconcile your position in this fight. SANDERS: Well, it's not a battle against city workers, and it's not a battle against laborer unions or a battle against anybody. There's a fundamental flaw in retirement systems all over the United States right now. In defined benefit plans which the city has and government has, and the universities have, and all public employee groups, you simple he do not put enough money in those anymore. And people are retiring earlier and living longer. Those systems were divined in the '40s and 50s when people put in their shares the entities put in the right amountef year because there was no option on that. And people didn't live to be 85. They literally retired at 62 or 65 and lived for a few more year, and the systems worked. Now, over the period of time of collective bargaining and with all of these things, cities have not put in the correct amount, governments have not put in the correct amount to cover it. The employees frequently don't have to pay any of the share. Many are starting to pay part of the share. And then that he retire earlier because it's been going backwards instead of forwards. And then they live another thirst years after they retire. They're simply not stipulatable. And my position has been we can promise you anything you want, but that doesn't mean we'll be able to deliver it. And that's exactly where we are on these pension systems. And we have a new generation of worker, and this doesn't affect any existing employees. This affects new employees who'll be hired knowing this is going to be the system. Many of them want that portability, because we find a lot of people don't stay in a job for 30 years to collect a pension. So they'd like to be able to take that 401K with them CAVANAUGH: There are some people who support reform measure, pension reform, who do characterize it as a battle with laborer unions SANDERS: Well, I'm not battling with anybody. What I've been trying to do, and I think what our program has been is we want to bring the city back into some type of fiscal stability. And when I took office about six years ago, there were no audits, we owed money to everybody, the pension system was 65% funded, the roads were in horrible shape, we cannot borrow money. And all along, we have been trying to whittle away at all these things to bring the stability. With next year's budget, there'll be no structural deficit, and there has been a structural deficit for well over 30 years. So we have whittled away at that by becoming more efficient, using managed competition by eliminating a lot of positions in the city. Also whittling down the payments we need to make for retirement systems. Just the payment for the retirement system in the general fund, which is about a billion dollars, it's about $231 million. And that's not sustainable. You have to cut other services just to make the retirement benefit payment CAVANAUGH: Let's move onto some other projects that you'd like to see get on the ballot. Andin that you're meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goddel tonight about the new San Diego Chargers stadium, where weer that. Where do those plans stand right now? SANDERS: Well, I met with him this morning, about 6:30 because I had things I couldn't get out of. So that was the best it time CAVANAUGH: Then you can tell us about the meeting! SANDERS: Well, the meeting was good. Mr. Goddel simply said that he supports the franchise in San Diego, wanted to know where we were in this terms of the stadium issue. And I kind of briefed him on the fact we hired Lazard to help us figure out a financing method for it, that we don't see going to the public for a general tax increase because that's a very difficult thing, especially during a recession. We're evaluating our assets looking at how you finance our portion of a stadium, and I think it's something that can be done, we met with the county yesterday, the county has been wonderful to work with. What we're looking at is what the project should look like and how it makes economic sense. CAVANAUGH: Right. I'm just wondering how, without asking for additional taxes from the general public and with redevelopment agencies as we know them basically a thing of the past, where does the money come from? SANDERS: Well, for instance we have the Qualcom site. It costs us in our best year $12 million just to keep the stadium open. That's how much we lose. If you start looking at that, and avoiding that cost, you can bond that out over a long period of time. There's all the the property there, which is 10060 acres in the center of the city. People think that's worth a billion dollars. Upon that's not worth anywhere near that. They've got a tank farm with all the gasoline seeping under there for years, we're in litigation right now with the company that has that. It's polluted. We know that. But there's still ways that you can monetize that asset also. And that's really what we're looking at. CAVANAUGH: You've got to have a lot of stadiums like that to make a price tag of $800 million. SANDERS: We don't know that it's going to cost 8 hundred million. And that's one of the things Lazard has said. We do facts. We'll drop the facts on this, get a good idea of what it's going to cost, then you construct a factual basis for doing it. If you put it downtown, you enhance the property around it much like we saw with Petco. Apartments restaurant, all of that, are the realities. In mission valley, there's no economic benefit because there's nothing around there that draws people in. So people go to a Chargers game, they go into the parking lot, bring their own food and beverage , go into the stadium, leave back out in the parking lot fair while, then drive off. They don't go to restaurant, shops, don't do any of that because there's nothing around there. If you have it downtown, you can have an entertainment zone around it enhance the property values around it CAVANAUGH: Did you get any sense from commissioner Goddel that he would like to see the Chargers stay here? SANDERS: He said he doesn't like to see franchises move. He was in support of the stadium. He believes dean Spanos wants to stay here. He's been a part of this community fair long time. I thought it was a great meeting. We're just moving ahead and trying to construct a case. CAVANAUGH: One quick last question. The last time we heard anything about the stadium plans, there was an idea from the Chargers to combine the Convention Center expansion with a new stadium. Do you like that idea? SANDERS: No. And I'll just be blunt. We need contiguous space, which means it has to be at the Convention Center that we already have. Having something six blocks away doesn't work for the types of conventions we're trying to draw in. We see it as two separate projects but two projects that we're working very hard on and believe both are very doable CAVANAUGH: We asked for questions from our audience when we knew we were going to have you on, mayor Sanders, and this comes from Jason via Facebook. He asks "do you know what the occupy movement in San Diego means or stands for, and do you agree with it? " SANDERS: Well, I can't say I agree or disagree because it seems to me the occupy movement is made up of a lot of different groups of people who all have different issues that they're trying to address. Some I probably agree with, some I probably disagree with. Some I really don't think much about. I believe in the right of people to have the opportunity to protest, and that's what we've tried to protect. CAVANAUGH: As you know, the San Diego occupy movement went to court this week and basically asked for a restraining order to stop the city employees from what they claim is the suppression of their free speech rights to assemble at civic center. What is the problem with this peaceful assembly? SANDERS: There's no problem with a peaceful assembly. What we have said is you can come out and protest all time. We don't care about that. We'll protect your right to do it. But you can't put up tents in the middle of the civic center, you can't set up cooking areas, can't use the stair wells and everything as urinals or restrooms. That's just not what it's designed for. We also have two office buildings there, and that's emergency space people need to get out into. Our fire marshals were particularly alarmed by all of the at the points and all of that. Upon they're occupying third avenue now, and that's fine. But they just simply can't pitch tents anywhere they want and expect to stay there the whole time CAVANAUGH: Now, the police have sort of, like, a dead of the night kind of raid against the occupiers and I think that made a lot of -- that made a lot of people concerned about what's going on here. Why did that happen and did you approve it? SANDERS: Well, yeah, I did approve it. I talked to the chief of police, and there's a couple things in that. We have been working with the occupy people. This didn't just happen in the middle of one night with no warning. There had been several days of conversation saying you have to remove the tent, have to remove the tents. Then some of the occupy people said we don't speak for anyone else. We can't do that. The police warned several times. And in the middle of the night, you have to be able show they're actually sleeping there, that's what they did, and that's the reason they did the raid then CAVANAUGH: Any chance for designated space for these protestors? SANDERS: No, I don't think so. I think they've designated a space themselves on third avenue. It seems to be working fine. They can go onto the concourse and do the demonstrations or the protests. The police officers actually clear the streets for them when they do a march. I think that the police officers have bent over backward, they've done an incredible job of mediating with people. And I think it's working fine CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you about the crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries across California. I want your take on that. Were you surprised by that? SANDERS: Well, I guess I was surprised at the proliferation. I was surprised at the fact that most of the people I saw going in and out of those didn't appear to have any infirmity at all. A lot of them appeared to be very young, riding skate boards and all of that. I think basically what we were seeing is the legalization of marijuana even though it's illegal. I have no problem with doctors prescribing medical marijuana and a way to get that. I do have a problem when you can go in for a visit with somebody who claims they're a doctor, and for $25 will give you a medical marijuana card. That doesn't make and sense to me. Whether it's legalized or not is not the issue. People should vote on that, and they've done it a few times. But I don't think you can have those every block because they're very disruptive. And I walk down Adams avenue and park boulevard and 30th, and just in that short period or that short space, there were probably 30 of those medical marijuana places, so called medical marijuana places upon I've talked to people that have occupying -- that occupy the same shopping center, or whatever, and it's tremendously disruptive with the kids that come in there. CAVANAUGH: And is it -- would it be wrong for me to describe your attitude toward city regulations for medical marijuana as a sort of hands-off? You kind of let the City Council take care of that? SANDERS: Well, the city attorney is the one who took care of that. CAVANAUGH: Yeah, now, yes. SANDERS: Yes, because I think what he did is looked at the law and the zoning law, and who's actually responsible and found out it's the building owners, and you can't have it in those spaces. CAVANAUGH: You just mentioned walking around Adams avenue and all around Kensington and so forth. Anyone who has seen you in the last -- -- -- -- SANDERS: With the budget will know eliminated, and we've got that done. NO. 3 is the Convention Center, No. 4 is the stadium CAVANAUGH: And I really wanted to talk to you about the plaza de Panama. Will you come back? SANDERS: I will CAVANAUGH: Okay. Thank you so much. I've been speaking with San Diego mayor, Jerry Sanders. Thanks again.

On tonight's show, Amita Sharma speaks with Mayor Sanders on a range of local issues.

The Chargers will take on the rival Oakland Raiders tonight at Qualcomm Stadium, but that isn’t the only important football meeting to take place today.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders early this morning to get a status update on a new Chargers stadium. Sanders said he believes the meeting went well: He said Goodell, along with team owner Dean Spanos, supports keeping the team in San Diego.

"He said that he does not like to see franchises move," Sanders said. "Now, there’s never a never in that. But he was supportive of the Chargers staying in San Diego. He says he believes Dean Spanos wants to stay here. I believe Dean Spanos wants to stay here. He’s been a part of this community for a long time."

Sanders said he does not envision asking the public to pay for a new stadium through a tax increase. He said a consulting firm hired by the city is trying to figure out a financing plan.


The mayor’s office estimates the public contribution would cover about half of the stadium’s cost. The team has suggested the project could run about $800 million.

While stadium talks are not yet settled, Sanders had a victory on another issue this week: The pension reform initiative he supports qualified for the June ballot. The mayor is one of the leading campaigners behind the initiative. It would replace city pensions with 401(k)’s for all new employees, except police officers. It would also freeze the base pay of current city employees for five years.

Sanders said the pensions systems in place today don’t work like they did when they were designed in the 1940s and 1950s.

"People didn’t live to be 85. They literally retired at 62 or 65 and lived for a few more years and the systems worked," he said.

But union leaders maintain the ballot measure is an attack on city workers. They point out San Diego is not enrolled in Social Security, so new workers would not have a safety net if their 401(k)’s dropped significantly in value. Voters will weigh in on the issue in June.


Several of the other projects Sanders has backed are up in the air as he heads into his last year in office. For more from the mayor, listen to KPBS Midday Edition and watch an interview with Sanders on KPBS Evening Edition.