Mayor vows not to veto compromise budget as Council finds $9 million
By Craig Gustafson / SignOnSanDiego / June 6, 2011
The deep cuts once proposed for San Diego parks and libraries won’t happen and the ongoing “brownouts” of city fire engines will stop July 1 — six months ahead of schedule — under a budget approved Monday by the City Council.
Mayor Jerry Sanders had proposed slashing hours at libraries and recreation centers in half two months ago as he wrestled with how to close a $56.7 million deficit in the city’s $1.1 billion operating budget. He recently rolled back most of those cuts as revenue projections improved, but council members said they didn’t think he went far enough.
The council voted 7-1 to drum up an additional $9 million that they’ll use to prevent any cuts to parks and libraries and end the city’s 17-month-old brownout policy, which calls for the idling of up to eight fire engines daily to save money on overtime. The money was made available by tapping reserve funds, slashing the travel and training budget and funding a new fire alert system over two years instead of one to free up cash, among other moves.
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City Council rep for Ocean Beach (and for the rest of District 2), Kevin Faulconer, supported the new numbers. A Republican and potential mayoral candidate, Faulconer told the press that the compromise budget does the right thing by concentrating on maintaining key services: libraries, fire fighters, parks and recreation facilities for San Diegans who use and need them. Faulconer said:
“This budget reflects the priorities of our neighborhoods and the priorities that San Diegans want .They deserve nothing less.”
Another mayor candidate – this one for certain – Councilmember Carl DeMaio – was the sole vote against the new budget. He was opposed because it didn’t deal with the deficit. The right-wing, Republican DeMaio – known for his anti-labor views – would rather risk and even cut services in order to pay off the $41 million deficit – a fraction of the budget of a large city like San Diego.
Mayor Sanders has vowed that he would not veto any of the changes made by the Council today, June 6th. This reaffirms that the new budget will become official.
Come July 1st, everyone of San Diego’s fire engines will be ready to go and be in service that day. The City’s main and branch libraries will remain open 36 hours a week. And recreation centers will be open 40 hours each week. This means both services and resources will be maintained as they currently operate. The new budget also restores previously cut lifeguard training funds.
The pushback from the community – neighborhoods all over town – against Sanders’ original budget which included slashing branch libraries’ hours in half, with the same for recreation centers, boosted the Council’s resolve to resist these areas of the mayor’s original proposals. Sanders’ proposal also only restored brown-outed fire stations by January 1, 2012.
Part of this pushback came from OB. Ocean Beach staged a “support our library” rally and the Friends of the OB Library turned in 2,000 signatures opposed to closures and cut-backs of the libraries. (The Friends’ next meeting is Tuesday, June 14th, at the OB Library, from 6 to 7pm.)
So, the Council had to find other revenue sources to fill the gaps. Expect to see false fire alarm fees, real estate sales of city property worth $2.5 million, no more cell phones for non-emergency personnel, the elimination of 117 city positions – including some that are already vacant, as in 20 cops positions. The new budget also calls for borrowing $100 million; this will go to pay the bills for deferred maintenance, such as street repairs. (Will it also pay for public restrooms that haven’t been built?)
So, do we – once again – say ‘whew! that was close!’ Or do we realize that this particular dance goes on each year. Isn’t it a dance where the grumpy mayor first appears, waves his bloodied ax, and calls for the closures of our libraries and rec centers – the virtual centers of our communities? And then don’t residents appear on stage with their proverbial pitchforks and torches to agitate against any more bloodletting?
Sometimes the councilmembers – much to their credit – push to the front of the villagers and lead the march against the mayor. The characters push and pull, but finally the mayor relents. The play – some call it kabuki theater – ends with a pot of gold miraculously discovered – and everybody sings together as the curtain drops.
Isn’t this what has been occurring at least in OB for the last three years? And by the way, I’m not suggesting that the actions of OB residents to save the library only amounts to stage acting. But it is a dance that the community and our elected leaders seem to play out every year of this damned Great Recession.
How to get out of this rut? How do we re-write this play?
Let me suggest this wild idea: OB – and every community – needs to have a massive, grass-roots movement that acts in the town’s interest, and holds government’s feet to the fire. This movement would be so strong, that libraries and rec centers and fire fighters and lifeguards would NEVER reach the cutting board. In order to do this successfully, this grass-roots community movement needs to be aligned with the labor movement in the city and county. OB needs to be part of a genuine community-labor coalition, a coalition that fights for jobs, the environment, and human rights.
Until all or part of this happens, we’ll continue to play out this little dance with the politicians. But, for now, we don’t need to worry whether our branch library will be open or not the next time we go for a visit, … at least not until next year.