Coalition Calls On County Supervisors To Add Evening Budget Hearing
Five San Diego County supervisors didn’t respond during a Wednesday meeting after community members requested the elected officials adjust the schedule of June budget discussions to allow more working families to attend.
The supervisors, all Republican, have held evening budget meetings in June for the past two years so those with day jobs could have a say in the county’s $5 billion spending plan. But in December, the board decided against the practice for 2018. Supervisor Bill Horn said members of the public could take off work to participate in daytime meetings, while others pointed to poor participation in past budget meetings and opportunities to engage online.
A handful of speakers Wednesday called on elected officials to reverse their decision and some community members submitted what they said was a total of 275 signed petitions in support of an evening meeting.
Paola Martinez-Montes, director Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment’s San Diego office, told supervisors the evening meeting is an opportunity for low-income workers to personally advocate for themselves, while a web-based process may not offer the same level of participation.
“The fact is that people are coming to you to ask for basic needs, like food stamps and assistance with their rent — they probably don’t all have computer access. And so for you to say that you’re opening it up to more folks in the community through that medium, it totally shows how out of touch this board is,” said Martinez-Montes, whose group is a member of the Invest in San Diego Families coalition.
Martinez-Montes told KPBS that organizations counted about 380 people in attendance at the evening budget meeting in 2016 and nearly 1,100 people in 2017.
After the testimony during non-agenda public comment, the board moved on to the next docket item without responding to the speakers. Later Wednesday afternoon, Supervisor Ron Roberts said "he wouldn’t be surprised to see a discussion on an evening budget session come up at a future meeting," according to an email from his spokesman, Tim McClain. McClain also said the clerk of the board tallied 141 public speaker slips from last year's meeting and 39 from the year before.
Representatives for Supervisors Bill Horn and Greg Cox told KPBS the officials had no further comment, while Gaspar and Jacob did not immediately respond to email or phone messages. However, Gaspar had issued a statement Tuesday afternoon when asked about the Invest in San Diego Families coalition’s plan to present the petitions.
"It’s unfortunate that the leadership of SEIU is spinning this in a negative way when the reality is our Board has taken an innovative step to expand and enhance the way we receive testimony on the budget using the convenience of technology," said Gaspar, referencing the county employee union that is part of the coalition. "Additionally, the budget portal and the 2018 Board Meeting calendar were both heard and voted on in public meetings."
Cox had proposed adding an evening meeting to the 2018 budget schedule back in December.
"I think it’s something that we should extend to the public, an opportunity to those people that are working during the day that don’t want to take time off during work, to come down and do a presentation or make their comments know, concerns known, in regards to the county budget," Cox said.
The measure died after others did not express support, including Horn, who directly opposed the idea.
"I do not like the evening meeting," Horn said. "I think if you're a concerned citizen and you're concerned about the majority of our budget, which is $5.7 billion, you can make the time to come down here and testify to us."
Roberts said he did not strongly support the idea because participation was not significant in past years. Jacob and Gaspar also spoke against an evening meeting citing poor participation and the opportunity to engage online.
At least two — but possibly three — of the supervisors will not be serving on the board next year. Both Horn and Roberts are in the final year of their last term after holding the seats for more than two decades. San Diego voters approved term limits in 2010. The primary election for their successors is in June.
Depending on this year’s election, Gaspar may also leave the board. The first-term supervisor is running for the 49th Congressional District seat, which became a wide open race after longtime Rep. Darrell Issa announced his retirement last month.
Supervisors Jacob and Cox will term out in 2020.
At the December meeting, Cox had also called to schedule in-person meetings for the county’s Community Enhancement Program, which is when community groups give presentations to request grants for projects that boost tourism and economic development. The supervisors had previously established a web-based portal for groups to upload video presentations, but Cox, Horn and Roberts said they wished to also continue the public meetings.
Roberts said the process has introduced him to a variety of organizations operating in his district. As an example, he pointed to the City Heights-based nonprofit Karen Organization of San Diego, which supports Burmese refugees.
“I became familiar with them because of a presentation and they do exceptionally fine work with their community. I mean they’re really a partner for us, helping people getting resettled and getting established,” Roberts said. “It’s just one example, I could cite a number of them. I think we’ll lose that if we change this system.”
The measure to include in-person Community Enhancement Program hearings but not an evening budget meeting passed with Cox, Horn and Roberts approving. Jacob and Gaspar voted against.