Zapf On Redevelopment Funds, Water Rates, Trash & Pensions
Lorie Zapf was elected in 2010 to replace the termed-out Donna Frye as the City Council representative from the 6th district. We ask her about the controversies that followed her during the election and the big issues in her first months in office, including water rate increases and the city budget.
Lorie Zapf, San Diego City Councilmember for the 6th District.
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CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The last time we talked with assembly woman Lori Zapf on this show, she was a candidate for the 6th district council seat. Now she about six months into her term, casting votes setting agendas, hearing public testimony. Very different from campaigning for office. So we felt we'd check back in and find out how one of San Diego's new council member system finding her new job. It's a pleasure to welcome back San Diego City Council member Lori Zapf. Good morning.
ZAPF: Good morning, thank you.
CAVANAUGH: So what has been the toughest vote for you so far?
ZAPF: Oh, the toughest vote. Actually, the other day just this week it was a tough vote on the homeless shelter. We all absolutely wanna help our homeless, but we also have to protect our tourists and our businesses, and the world trade center building, it's really, you know, it's expensive. And there's a lot of funding that is up in the air. And I understand that the operator works on grants. And you can only apply for grants on a yearly or -- you know, every other year. So we have to go on faith, and they say that the project that they run in Los Angeles they've always received their grant moneys, but let's face it. The state, the federal government, everyone who provides grants, these are all taxpayer dollars, and they have to be raised. So it was difficult because we want to help the homeless, but I want to make sure -- make sure that the project in front of us, all of the services that they're representing are going to be, you know, available that they absolutely will be, and that we're not gonna go into this and a couple years down the line say, oh, we're not able to come through 'cause we didn't get all the grant moneys might have other big concern of course is that we help our San Diego homeless population and that they get priority, and that someone from Minnesota doesn't get off the greyhound bus station a few blocks away, walk over, and somehow displace our San Diego residents that we're trying to help both with mental health, about transitional housing, getting back into life.
CAVANAUGH: And so just to be clear for our listeners, exactly what did you vote to do.
ZAPF: We voted to essentially sell the world trade center building which is -- I can't remember exactly, but it's right downtown.
ZAPF: Sell that building to an organization named Path, and they will take that, it will be rehabilitated, are the redevelopment agency will be helping with loans, other grants, so this whole building, I think it's about $23 million in rehab to get it up to code, and to get it to where it needs to be, and then you need to then talk about all the of the yearly operating money.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you mentioned redevelopment agencies, and of course, that was also the subject of a very big vote this week at the City Council. And the City Council approved $4 billion in redevelopment spending, [CHECK] proposed elimination of redevelopment agencies. Why did you vote yes on these projects?
ZAPF: Because these -- there are 18 redevelopment areas throughout San Diego. I know that the downtown one gets all of the attention, but there's actually some in every -- I believe every district, maybe not one of them. But I have two redevelopment areas in my district alone. And one of them goes all along Moreno boulevard up to Clairemont drive, and it goes out to another district, the sports arena area. And that area is really hurting economically. The businesses are dying. And we -- it's just been sitting dormant. We could actually use our redevelopment moneys to help to revitalize that area, create jobs, do store front improvements, help small businesses, and that would all go away, all of it. We also have affordable housing moneys in the Linda Vista and Clairemont areas, not to build more affordable housing but to help homeowners bring their properties up to speed in blighted -- in these really kind of blighted areas. And so what we kid was locked in projects that were already in the work, under way, and it came out to four billion over, you know, many, many years, many years, but these projects, I put in two in my district, one in Linda Vista, and one in Clairemont/Linda Vista. And the thing about that, if we didn't do it, we wouldn't lock the moneys in. Now the mix of projects can be changed. If people are unhappy with some of the projects that are in there, they can be eliminated and changed. But you can't add new projects to it and let's not just, you know, sort out because some people were unhappy maybe with a particular project, and let's prioritize them. Let's do the ones you get the biggest bang for the buck right up front. And some of these projects if you look at it, they're targeted to start many years from now, many years from now.
CAVANAUGH: What about the theoretical argument that Governor Brown is using to argue against continuing redevelopment agencies? The idea that right now, the state can afford to let counties and cities apportion some of their property taxes towards redevelopment that all of this needs to go into a larger pot, education, public safety, etc, what do you think about that?
ZAPF: This is such a complex issue. He does have a point in some redevelopment agencies across the state have abused it. Absolutely. They're calling, you know, golf courses blighted areas. It's unfortunate that we are getting hit because a lot of other cities have abused it. However, in our area, we've actually been a mottle across the state in doing the right thing with ours. Now, part of the thing that people don't realize is that the redevelopment moneys, part of it are passed through agreements for education. So let's say that the money is actually frozen, property tacks are frozen at a certain level on the day the redevelopment agency is formed. Those property taxes still go to the state. It's what is over and above that that you did because our city made things nicer, more businesses, more people wanted to move there, and it's those additional property tax dollars that because we did redevelopment that we're talking about. And we do have pass through agreements with the schools, they get dollars for education. Now, if he's successful, those local school dollars will go to the state. The education bureaucracy in Sacramento. And one thing that is going on, I call it a bait and switch, really, or a money laundering, one of the two, is what's going on here is that the money will go to the state education bureaucracy, they'll spend that money on the schools, and free up moneys from their general fund, the state, to pay for things that the governor's not tackling, pensions for the prison guards in the pension system. So it's really our loam tax dollars going to the state, right into that bureaucracy, and we're losing local control. I personally think it's a really bad idea, it's so unfortunate that the baby's looking to be thrown out with the bath water because of abuses in other redevelopment agencies.
CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with sixth district San Diego City Council member, Lori Zapf. We actually do have a call right now, Lori, Daniel is calling from Clairemont, good morning, Daniel and welcome to These Days.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello, Maureen. This is really frustrating, Maureen 'cause I really don't think you know what you're talking about. I've been here for 12, 13 years, I ran for City Council in district three, and there's been a lot of abuse by the redevelopment system here, it's very, very conducive to the old boys network downtown, and that's where all the funds, over $1 billion of the funds have gone down there, and that's what we're bonding for, and they're not paying the payments on a good regular schedule to pay it off. They keep on leaving it on so they get more principle so that more money has gone to insurance friends, to friends within bonding, financing, and also the development, right? The also the development, right? The developer get tons of money, and they give them gifts of free land and infrastructure?
CAVANAUGH: Daniel, did you want to talk about a community garden?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, because that's the big thing. We have an opportunity here the Clairemont with all the big power lines that we have coming through to use that land underneath there for community gardens, and then we as vested interest people can use our water to help water those community gardens, and maybe give good fruits and vegetables to our community at a low or no cost.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask the council map Zapf here, Lori what about a community garden in Clairemont?
ZAPF: Let me tell you, one of the biggest frustrations I've had in the past few weeks, there was a community garden in a redevelopment area that was, you know, came before us. And it's a vacant lot, it has weeds, years away from anything happening to it. And so somebody had proposed a community garden. $46,000 for permit fees, because it's not zoned, agricultural, then it'd have to be rezoned 67 it's just crazy, it completely lacks common sense. I'm a big advocate, and really it's not just me, it's the entire council. We should have community gardens. It shouldn't be so complicated, it shouldn't be so extensive. This is one of the frustrations and lack of common sense that is happening. And so as a group, unanimously, we have asked for changes to be made to expedite. What can we do to get community gardens going? What kind of a life are we all gonna live and what kind of a city government do we have when it costs $46,000 in permitting fees to grow some vegetables for goodness sake? It's crazy.
CAVANAUGH: Well, along the lines of community gardens, a controversial vote that you cast very early in the year was to approve a water rate hike that was not popular.
CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering why you chose to do that.
ZAPF: Well, that whole thing was actually in the works for many, many months before I was even elected. This was from the metropolitan water district. And so they were getting their money from us, in San Diego, no matter what. It was either gonna come out of our aging infrastructure moneys that we would have to postpone even more, and we just had another water pipe, you know, burst not that long ago, or it was coming through a rate hike, and it was about $4 for a family of four on average per month. I would have been a symbolic vote of no. Instead of what I chose to do was get something done, get some real reforms and get the spotlight on metropolitan water district, because I believe from everything I've seen and read, they are out of control and abusing their power. And we are help little here in San Diego. We're helpless. And so I've actually created -- asked to create legislation, it has been created, we have a bill, I can't remember the number right now. Nathan Fletcher is the sponsor of that bill, and that bill will create a rate over sight committee for metropolitan water district, which is the Southern California region, and we enter another bill in the works that will create an audit. Because they are spending -- it sounds so innocuous, or it's just a pass through. It's not just a pass through of the cost of water of it's a pass through of all their expenses, including their pensions, their travel expenses, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on landscaping and RV parks outside of San Diego. And they pass through all those costs to us. I also asked to -- for the city to enjoin more actively with the county in a lawsuit against MWD because it looks like they are over charging us to the tube of 35 million, so I am really hoping we can get rebates, get this money down, freeze any rate increases, but if I had just simply voted no, it would have passed anyway, and we wouldn't have any of these reforms.
CAVANAUGH: Now, we have really quite -- quite a lot of things to talk about and very little time this morning. I apologize for that. But I don't want to let you go without talking about -- there's been so many ideas floated about how to slow the rise of city worker pensions and our healthcare obligations for city worker retirees, what idea do you favor?
ZAPF: Well, I favor a hybrid of a couple of the proposals out there. I like the idea that councilman DeMaio has of freezing pensionable pay. But also extending the 401K -- you could have a hybrid, your pensionable pay is frozen at a certain level. We've got all these competing ideas out there, but we need to have something that blends -- something that's gonna give us immediate cost savings, and also down the line. And so that's things that are going on right now, and I can't talk about some of the stuff because it's going on with the labor unions, but there are good proposals there that will save a lot of money and the retiree benefits with healthcare without hurting, that is fair to tax papers and our retirees as well as a hybrid. So I'm really hoping the parties can come together and put something before the voters. Because the voters, we're the employers. And when somebody comes to us, an employee comes to us, we have it say here is the package that we can afford that is fair to you and fair all around. But these are tough decisions and they took years and years and years to get to this point. And you can't unravel it all at one time. But I think there are some great ideas, like I said, freezing pensionable pay, a 401K, and also managed competition. Putting out for bid our services where the city employees compete with the private sector, and let me say one more time, I know I've said this before, in the majority of cases that it's done across the cases, the city employees win. They win and the taxpayers win because there has to be at least a ten percent cost savings. And so a lot of times they can identify, the city employees know where there's savings. But we need to inject competition. We need to have incentives in there because, you know, people go to working they're fine, they don't want to cause waves of I've seen this in my career. But if you're like, oh, boy, you know, this is it. Wee we've gotta get savings or we might lose our job. I have a lot of faith having talked to so many voters during the campaign, and so many that I went to, house to house, they work for the city. They know where the cost savings are. And so I'm really optimistic. This has been a fun time to be at the city. I'm buoyed, I see a lot of -- more camaraderie amongst the City Council members of I thought it would be more divisive. But I think everyone's going, you know, we've gotta do this and work for the taxpayers, we're not gonna always be together. But you're seeing a lot of unanimous votes which is terrific. But I think I'm enjoying them, I have good relationships, I really enjoy going to work every day and being an advocate, being here, being able to make some changes and be a voice for common sense.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for coming in. We didn't have enough time, but thank you. I think you just gave us an over view of where you're at, and where your mind is about this stuff, thank you, San Diego City Council member, Lori Zapf.
ZAPF: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And if you would like to comment please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, the pride and sacrifice of a deployment to Afghanistan. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.