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Roundtable On The Issues That Won't Go Away In San Diego

Roundtable On The Issues That Won't Go Away In San Diego
Infrastructure, Airport, Soledad Cross, Chargers StadiumHOST:Mark SauerGUESTS:Tom Fudge, KPBS News Laura Wingard, KPBS News Tony Perry, LA Times JW August, 10News

MARK SAUER: It's black Friday and we're shopping for reasons why some issues just never get resolved in San Diego, including a giant back log of infrastructure repairs in Balboa Park and throughout the city. A replacement for the downtown airport that some call inadequate and dangerous. A cross on public land that remains in spite of court rulings. And then there is the dream for a new chargers stadium. I'm Mark Sauer and the K P B S roundtable starts now. Welcome, it's Friday November 28th I'm Mark Sauer, joining me at the K P B S roundtable today are K P B S news editor Laura Wingard. Hi Laura. LAURA WINGARD: Hi Mark. MARK SAUER: And Tony Perry San Diego bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. Good to see you, Tony. TONY PERRY: Pleasure to be here. MARK SAUER: K P B S news editor Tom Fudge. Tom, glad to have you here. TOM FUDGE: Hey, Mark. MARK SAUER: And ten news I team producer J W August. Good to have you back, J W. JW AUGUST: Thank you, Mark. MARK SAUER: All right. You thought underfunding of pensions was a bad idea, how about underfunding the city's infrastructure? The cost of repairs to streets and structures along with new building products will dwarf the city's employee pension problems and that's the conclusion of a new report by the independent budget analyst Andrea Tevlin. Tom, let's start with your interview you talked to Mayor Faulconer on K P B S this week, what did he say about this massive cost of the infrastructure that's coming? TOM FUDGE: Well, he says he's dealing with it. I guess the only question is he doing enough to deal with it. Basically what he said to me was half of all new revenues in the city of San Diego will go to neighborhood infrastructure, and in addition to that, San Diego is back in the bond market with least revenue bonds. And there will be 100 and 20 million dollars of those every year for the next five years; how many of that will go to is neighborhood infrastructure? It's not entirely clear. But when you look at the big price tag, the entire price tag, a lot of people look at that and say that that is nickel and diming. MARK SAUER: Those bonds themselves -- to be clear we're talking broken streets, sewer pipes. We see these eruptions of water every now and then, I mean all sorts of things are broken in this town. TOM FUDGE: Well yeah, mark, let me give you a list here. Apparently the folks at city hall say we're short two billion dollars for infrastructure repairs. It seems that has been the case as long as I can remember for the past ten years two billion dollars that we have to make up. There is a billion dollars needed for new fire stations, parks and infrastructure. 3.5 billion dollar for new waste water recycling plants MARK SAUER: That just passed last week. TOM FUDGE: That just passed last week and then two billion dollars plus, over 17 years for new storm drains. I love that subject of storm drains it gets me all excited. MARK SAUER: J W? JW AUGUST: Did you mention the housing? MARK SAUER: That's right. The housing is included in that too and that's going to be another several billion. JW AUGUST: Billion there (CHECK AUDIO) talking about real money. MARK SAUER: All right. Let's get to the question then again this is over many years some of these projects are over 10, 15, even 20 years. Some of them are far more immediate. Some of these problems with the water mains breaking, as we talked about, have to be dealt with quickly; so where does the money come from for all of this? TOM FUDGE: Well, I think I already told you what Kevin Faulconer is willing to do at least in the near future. I did ask him about that three point five billion dollars for water recycling plants. He says they are going to apply for state funds, from the dome water bond. They're going to apply for federal funds. Now some other politicians in city hall who say we need to go farther are saying what we need are a big general obligation bond. A bond that would be backed for by the full faith and credit of the city of San Diego. For something like that, you have to go to the voters. So would the voters of San Diego approve a one billion dollar G O bond is a good question. MARK SAUER: It's just a big loan but it's a big one. Tony, what do you think? We get a two/thirds vote on that from San Diego voters? TONY PERRY: Probably not. San Diego voters tend to be cheap and believe that it's our God given right to have things given to us at low cost or no cost whatsoever. Kevin Faulconer, you mentioned that name. He of course was against the half cent sales tax a couple of years ago for other city issues, so I'm not sure he is kind of our savior when we're talking billions in infrastructure or any other problem frankly. TOM FUDGE: You know, when I talked to him he said something very familiar because it was because I heard it said by former major Jerry Sanders. San Diegans need to be assured that their money is going to be spent wisely. Well, I don't know how long we have to go before city residents are assured that city hall is going to be competent, but he still, you know, using that line which you would expect from a fiscal conservative which, as a republican, you can say he is (CHECK AUDIO). JW AUGUST: They'll always do bonds but they won't do a sales tax. They won't charge more for storm waters fees because then they'd have to put it out front for the public to vote on it. TONY PERRY: It's sunny here so we never get one of these situations, snow, that doesn't get swept up et cetera or heating oil that doesn't get delivered so we never have a catastrophe that makes people think maybe we ought to put some money behind this. Pot holes, you know, just swerve your S U V around them. And if you don't live in one of the neighborhoods that seems to have the water main breaks you can live with it, so we're so lucky here. But I think it lulls us into thinking we don't have any problems here. MARK SAUER: And how did we get here, Laura? LAURA WINGARD: Well, that's just it. I think the legacy of the pension scandal has, you know, damaged the city's relationship with the voters. They don't want this. And they don't trust the city to spend their money wisely. They basically underfunded the pension system for quite a while. Several years then they didn't disclose it to their bond holders, the very kind of people they would go to for these bonds that Tom is talking about. And I think, you know, so there is a federal investigation that comes in. You can't issue bonds in the city which made us not repair roads, not fix anything, I mean just total deterioration for years. Finally near the end of Jerry Sanders time in office they were allowed to issue bonds again, but that is, you know we're not Enron by the sea any more, but in the public’s mind, here, I think they are just a little hesitant. Are we ready to open our wallets and hand money over to the city? I'm just not sure they would vote for that. MARK SAUER: Before we leave this topic we mentioned at the outset the report by the independent budget analyst and counselor committee will take that up in January so that will be a robust meeting as president of the counsel described it this week. JW AUGUST: And just recently I don't know if you'd call it infrastructure, but after the fires they found all of these shortcomings in the fire department and the police department and think that should be prioritized but where will you get the money for that. TOM FUDGE: Let's not forget the fact that we recently had a report that showed that police officers in San Diego are among the lowest paid in the state. And just about the lowest paid of cities of our size, so that's another issue. TONY PERRY: Another thousand (CHECK AUDIO) then almost any other big city in the country. MARK SAUER: All right. We're going to move on now. It's hard to imagine any issue that's been debated and studied more than a new airport for San Diego. Lindbergh field is a hemmed in, one runway relic critics say, and costing the region billions in unrealized commerce each year. So Laura, we've been yammering about a new airport for as long as I can remember and I figure I'll be dead and buried 50 years and we'll have another committee studying a new airport here. What is it with this airport? Why can't we get this done? LAURA WINGARD: I think we can almost guarantee you it will still be one runway. You know they really -- the business leaders have, as you know for decades, say we're just not going to be able to thrive because we're in this global economy. We need to have a more robust airport. Every attempt to move it from its current location with where there is not a lot of place to grow every attempt has failed. And so, you know, but they are saying, you know our high tech community would be more row bust, we would have more business if we could have more international flights if we could expand it a little bit. And they are aiding gates and things like that but ultimately will it be enough? I'm not sure. JW AUGUST: They are always doing the sky is falling the sky is falling. When they were doing the argument for Miramar it's going to be over 2015 we're in trouble. Now I think the sky falls in 2038 I have a little mistrust of when they tell me that. TONY PERRY: And it's so convenient I'm at my office and I'm on a flight in ten minutes. Try going to the airport in Denver you have to drive to Kansas basically. MARK SAUER: In Denver you can fly internationally to well over a dozen destinations. TONY PERRY: Same is true in Phoenix if the air pollution doesn't knock you over in your car as you're driving to their two-lane airport. TOM FUDGE: Mark, I remember a story that was told to me by the late Neil Morgan, from U T San Diego and also Garry Bonelli who was at San Dag at the time. A time when the navy offered Miramar air station to the city of San Diego for a buck. They just wanted to get rid of it and the reaction at that time, I think at the early 50's was why would we want an airport way out there. So it really kind of gives you an idea of how our idea of what a city is has changed. But the question that occurs to me and I've thought about this a lot, do we really need in San Diego an airport with two ten-thousand foot runways. I think there are a lot of people who argue that that would be nice if we could do in a way that would be convenient and politically acceptable, but is that something we really need. I think there's a lot of disagreements. MARK SAUER: The length of that meaning you could fly internationally and not have to do your hopping through L A. TOM FUDGE: Well, J W, I was going to make that point. Keep in mind we now have for instance the Boeing Dreamliner that can fly from Lindbergh field all the way to the Far East. That is technology that didn't exist 20 years ago. And so as air craft advance it is going to change the question of what kind of airport we really need. MARK SAUER: A lot of people of course have said Miramar is the logical place, let's get that away from the military, let's make that a second, now we have two major ones, freeway access all of the infrastructure. TONY PERRY: Miramar not going to happen. Carmel valley not going to happen. Brown field not going to happen. Coordination with the Mexicans at Rodriguez not going to happen. TOM FUDGE: Wait a second. You say that's not going to happen. TONY PERRY: Not going to happen. MARK SAUER: They're going to have the pedestrian bridge, right. TONY PERRY: Pretty minimal in terms of sharing a tower and all of the rest of that. I remember once Bill Mitchell was on city council, an interesting man, and he suggested an offshore airport and then he had a suggestion that planes only take off from there, they not land there. That was not as workable as it could be. But we've been looking at this forever and ever. LAURA WINGARD: In 2006 we looked at nine location ones being the Imperial Valley, could you imagine we're going to build a mag lev train. MARK SAUER: Disneyland train. LAURA WINGARD: And then we're going to get to Imperial Valley and catch a plane then we go back to what Tony said at the beginning. I can be to that airport from my house 15, 20 minutes if there is a little traffic on the five. So am I going to give that up to go to the Imperial Valley to catch a plane? JW AUGUST: It's not bad, go to the other cities. It's not L A. It's not, you know even when it's bad it's not bad. TONY PERRY: And the great P S A crash is not because the airport is close to downtown, it was because we allow private plans and airliners to share. A lot of places don't do that particularly with only one runway, so the argument against the airport. MARK SAUER: That was a fatal crush in the late 70's. TONY PERRY: I don't think there is much resonance with their average person why do we need more than we have, that might led to growth I don't like growth. LAURA WINGARD: It sort of works for us. While the business community is saying we need this to grow underlying that our voters don't want to pay higher taxes. They are also very content to be the eighth largest city in the U S, the one runway airport they don't want to be open to more congestion. MARK SAUER: This almost certainly would have to pass a major vote, a major campaign with the voters. LAURA WINGARD: Sure, and you know Miramar went down to defeat it was 60 -- over 60 percent of the people that was a resounding no. TONY PERRY: I remember that. MARK SAUER: We're going to shift to another topic that is another issue that seems to get resolved but never really goes away. Highly controversial cross atop Soledad Mountain in La Jolla. A Christian cross was first erected there in 1913 the current one was built in 1954. But time after time judges ruled the cross is a religious symbol and cannot remain on government owned land twice the U S Supreme Court has declined to hear appeals. So Tony, why do some people get so riled up about this and why does it go on for now 20 years? TONY PERRY: First lawsuit 1989 and there had been argumentation even before that because their strongly held views first amendment on one side. Separation of church and state on one side. Respect for America's war veterans in a military town on the other. I talked to a professor once who was not involved, merely watching it. He said there are some such strongly held viewed on both sides people will litigate forever. And indeed, I don't know about forever, but they have certainly been litigating. We're almost back at square one. It's up at the ninth circuit and both sides think it will go to the United States Supreme Court for the third time. First two times the high court said no deal with it at your level then come on back to us, dodged it. But give a little body language which embattled the people that want the cross to stay, suggesting that when it gets to us we will declare it a war memorial and therefore permissible on public property. Gentlemen start your attorneys. There have been different attorneys different litigants, different judges. The city council has turned over a whole bunch of times. MARK SAUER: The County got involved at one point. TONY PERRY: It changes, but the issue remains and the cross, 43-feet tall now with hundreds of plaques in honor of not just war veterans but military personnel. Big ceremony on Memorial Day. All of the politicians go out there I don't see it going away in the next calendar year before it gets to the supreme. MARK SAUER: As you mentioned just to bring folks up on the status, it’s at the ninth circuit. Supreme Court says you're going to have to let that appeal play out on the lower court before we take it up. TONY PERRY: It's true most of the rounds have been won by the folks, now the A C L U. That say it's impossible to have the cross on public land. There was a big court case on in 2008 a federal judge said no, that is a war memorial and went up to the ninth circuit a couple years later they said no that's a cross, take it down. A couple years later he gave in, Judge Larry Burns, all right but let’s give everyone a chance to appeal. So some folks tried to jump over the fence and go to the U S supreme. They said no deal with it. Now as I understand it's up that ninth circuit they are looking at an appeal of the judge down here, his agreement with them, so they have to decide whether to re affirm a decision they certainly already made a couple of times. Then it goes back to the U S Supreme Court, some negotiation it's going on between the two sides. MARK SAUER: Maybe take the cross somewhere else. TOM FUDGE: And I'm glad you bring that up because there are some solutions, for instance there are some people who suggest look there is an Episcopal church up there close, why not move the cross there, so there are solutions. MARK SAUER: Why not remove the cross with something non-controversial as a war memorial. JW AUGUST: And that is a beautiful church too. A beautiful location. TOM FUDGE: I don't know. This is a very serious issue. It deals with issues, constitutional issues that are very important there are strong arguments on both sides. But this is something which is just become absolutely farcical. I mean I don't think I've ever seen the legal system take so long to make a decision on anything. JW AUGUST: It's emotional too. It's like a Row V. Wade sort of issue. Both sides because both sides dig in. TONY PERRY: When it first started in the late eight tease there were not the war memorials, and so the folks defending the cross have in essence changed what it is and they base their argument of hey, it's not just a cross it has all of these memorials take a look. The other side says that's just a hype. You're trying to get away from the real issue which is church V state on public property, right. We have new issues the basic issue remains, new issues. New lawyers. New litigants. The original litigant died, but his place has been taken by other folks TOM FUDGE: Keeping the cast of characters straight on this is near impossible. LAURA WINGARD: The other thing is when it gets to the supreme court and they make a decision then congress is going to intervene that's what we've had happen before we get the law makers in there to try to make it fit whatever the new things are. TONY PERRY: It if there is ever a move to actually take down the cross, how many people do you think will be out there putting the bodies between that and the earth mover or whatever. It is going to be really messy. TONY PERRY: It's a huge (INAUDIBLE). One side -- they are both real serious but the folks trying to save the cross these are people who didn't break faith with us, we're not going to break faith with them. In a military town. MARK SAUER: Again, don't look for any time soon to see this thing resolved. TONY PERRY: I don't believe so while there are lawyers, it will stand on their hind legs there are a number of nonprofit advocacy groups that have jumped in to defend the cross as well as the United States attorney, department of justice. Now on the other side the A C L U, so good attorneys passions on all sides. MARK SAUER: All right. We'll keep watching that one. All right. We're going to move on to our last unresolved issue Qualcomm's stadiums best days are long gone. Care worn doesn't quite cover the physical problems and the N F L refuses to consider a new super bowl here without a new stadium. J W, we've been debating a new charger stadium for a long time at least ten years, are we any closer now to resolving this one. JW AUGUST: Well, some things are happening right now that may speed up the process, actually maybe something going on. First off, the N F L in October did their first survey in the L A market prelim, they haven't done one since 1990 in L A to see if over two thousand people surveyed to see if there is any taste for moving an N F L team there. Apparently the information they got back there was pretty positive. The chargers because of their fan base and the T V revenue have to depend non-bodies coming to stadium. 30 percent of their bodies are coming from L A, that is the dynamic here. MARK SAUER: So a real possibility that team could move then? JW AUGUST: What's going on, the N F L is saying and the mayor, Garcetti said recently one year we're going to have an N F L team here, there are the raiders, there is the chargers and there is team in St Louis. St. Louis can leave now. The chargers can leave now and it won't cost them very much. All three are options for L A. N F L is surveyed they know a team will do well there. Something has got to give. TONY PERRY: But, the politics in Los Angeles are quite a bit different than San Diego in many ways. One way it they are similar is the mantra, no public money for a stadium. So, and an N F L survey I don't think got into that. It didn't ask by the way would you vote in favor of higher taxes to subsidize this. So. JW AUGUST: But there are four or five different plans out there, up in L A to find the dollars. TONY PERRY: And it kind of stalled out in this moment JW AUGUST: The Hollywood track, the old Hollywood racing track, I think that is still active and those guys have deep pockets. TONY PERRY: We took a hit a minute ago at our mayor for being small ball oriented, not a big kind of thinker that is what people are now saying about Eric Garcetti up there. And New York Times said he seemed not all that enthusiastic behind putting his push behind a new stadium and a new team. MARK SAUER: What kind of money are we talking here? Over a billion dollars if you look at San Francisco. TOM FUDGE: I think the estimates are close to one point four billion dollars for a new stadium in which they will play ten games a year. TONY PERRY: A city that also has infrastructure and airport problems and cop problems and pension problems JW AUGUST: But it's L A, the second biggest market in the United States. Think of the T V contract. Leverage it like the dodgers. TONY PERRY: What worries me the chargers might see another team moving in and then that motivates them to get up there and be that team up there for fear of losing 30 percent of their market. JW AUGUST: And they're going to have to keep the chargers happy, that's 30 percent of their market. Somebody is going to have to give them some money if they stay here. MARK SAUER: Well let me ask about that one plus billion we were talking about over all, what would be the public -- a third of that maybe would be the public part of that. TOM FUDGE: I've heard three hundred million dollars, 400 million dollars. There are some who suggest that the city should sell the property at Qualcomm stadium then take that money and put it into the stadium. JW AUGUST: They're talking about you're spending X millions now to maintain that there is deferred maintenance there of 70 million you talk about that maybe it's not that big a change (CHECK AUDIO) check audio. LAURA WINGARD: Here we have, we're dodging pot holes, our sewer lines, our storm drains, everything is a mess. Let's give the chargers three hundred million dollars or 400 million dollars for a stadium, how will you get that past the voters? TOM PERRY: That's almost another airport, that's to say I sit there and I watch the team and hey it seems kind of fun, or I have my, you know, my B B Q in the parking lot. I guess I haven't picked up the mantra that the U T editorial and sports page has this is a dump, this is awful. It just seems like it's do able. TOM FUDGE: Well J W, how bad is Qualcomm stadium, is it problem? JW AUGUST: It's cold and drafty and it feels kind of uncomfortable. MARK SAUER: Leaks. The sewage backs up and the visitors -- never the home team's dressing room but the visitors. JW AUGUST: You know what it's been far worse stadiums in my life, still it's not as fancy as some other places you go. MARK SAUER: Here is it problem, with baseball pad rays could say small market we need revenue we can't compete with the Yankees and the tigers and the red socks. Here they can't say that. They have a salary cap, they have enormous T V money. I don't think they even really have to sell a ticket to make money because the T V money is so big here. TONY PERRY: But some day the old man Mr. Spanos won't be with us, there will be inheritance issues I think, with that family. They've got to be looking down the road and there is a bunch of relatives. MARK SAUER: But it gets back to Laura's point. What appetite does the public has by saying we need to N enrich the Spanos more. JW AUGUST: Well J M I, the guy who did the ball park, the baseball park are suggesting what I would love to see a picture of a double layer center where you have football stadium on the top and convention center underneath, a two decker. LAURA WINGARD: You know I bet since 2002 when the chargers first came to the city of late and said we need a new stadium, how many designs have we seen maybe eight? They were going to use re development money in Mission Valley, people are like Mission Valley is a blighted area. They come up with the plans and keep talking but the chargers play there every season everyone makes their money and I think going back to L A there is a theory the N F L doesn't really want a team there because they use L A to leverage getting stadiums built all across the country by saying hey we could move your team to L A and then, you know, the voters in Jacksonville build a new stadium -- (CHECK AUDIO) TONY PERRY: Look from the chargers point of view. They move their product 100 miles north suddenly the value of that franchise goes up by 20, 30,40,50,60 percent. They are looking at tax problems some day when the old man is not with us, from a business stand point we know San Diego. MARK SAUER: We'll have to leave it there and see how that plays out going forward along with all of these other unresolved issue. That wraps up another week of stories at the K P B S round table. I'd like to thank my guests Laura Wingard of K P B S news. Tony Perry of the Los Angeles times. Tom Fudge of K P B S news and JW August of ten news. All of the stories we talked about are on our website K P B S dot org thanks for listening today and joining us today on the round table.

The Issues That Won't Go Away

Year after year, decade after decade they hang around, dancing in and out of our line of sight as they gain strength and then fade. They are the issues that won't go away, first chronicled in a 1996 KPBS special by Gloria Penner.

These issues are whoppers, big and costly and stubbornly resistant to easy solutions. That, of course, is why they never leave us and why some have actually become urgent.


Crumbling Infrastructure

From San Diego's streets and sidewalks to its storm drains, sewers and water pipes, from Balboa Park to the Convention Center and Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego has deferred maintenance on almost everything for what seems like forever.

San Diego's independent budget analyst Andrea Tevlin estimates that the city has a backlog of about $2 billion on infrastructure repairs and another $1 billion on new infrastructure. These eye-popping figures don't include the $3.7 billion the city wants to spend to recycle wastewater into drinking water.

The Airport – Moving Or Staying?

San Diego has waffled on where to put its airport since 1923, when the Lindbergh Field site was first proposed. The other big contender at the time was Montgomery Field.

Fast forward past many studies and surveys conducted by many committees and task forces predicting airport gridlock and proceed to 1994 and the closing of Miramar Naval Air Station.


The glimmer of hope in the civic eye that Miramar could be the answer to the limits of Lindbergh was dimmed when the land was immediately transferred to the Marine Corps.

More studies and even a public vote later, here we are still, with a land-locked, one-runway smallish airport with an incredibly convenient (and perhaps dangerous) location.

And, of course, we have another survey. This new one, of 350 local business leaders and companies, calls Lindbergh Field a significant regional bottleneck with too few direct international and even national flights to connect with customers in the global economy.

Mt. Soledad – The Cross We Bear

Architect Donald Campbell designed the large, modernistic Christian cross which was erected on Mt. Soledad in La Jolla in 1954. It is actually the third cross put up on that location. It has been involved in litigation for the last 25 years.

Attempting to put an end to the controversy, the City of San Diego sold the cross and the land it stands on in 1998 to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, which made it the centerpiece of a Korean War Memorial. Later, the land was transferred to the federal government.

Whether on city or federal land, the cross was ruled unconstitutional twice and ordered removed by a federal judge in 2013. The order, of course, was stayed pending an appeal.

A New Chargers’ Stadium – Yes Or No?

Some people call Qualcomm Stadium a dump. Any number of others say it’s just fine. The big question is, if a new stadium is to be built, who will pay for it? The secondary question is, where will it be built?

Many stadium proposals have surfaced over the last several years: a new stadium on the waterfront downtown; mixed-use stadium-convention center, also downtown; a new stadium in Mission Valley; a new stadium in Chula Vista.

Constructing a billion dollar sports facility using public money for all or part of the project is a very hard sell. On the other hand, losing the San Diego Chargers to a city willing to build the team a sparkling new venue is equally unpalatable.