“Sanders said another savings in the works will come from using managed competition to lower the cost of city employees performing jobs that private companies can do for less. One such job is residential trash services. San Diego city employees are paid to collect trash. Most other California cities contract with a private company and residents pay for their own trash services.
“We don’t have to have government employees mow the laws in our parks. We don’t have to have government employees pick up trash,” Sanders said.
Mayor Jerry Sanders reviews his legacy at La Jolla luncheon La Jolla Light 9/11/12
Three months to go in the last term of our first strong mayor — Jerry Sanders, and the legacy polishing tour has begun. No doubt his remarks played well at the La Jolla luncheon. Sanders is broadly perceived as an avuncular type who hasn’t threatened the smooth flow of day to day life or the high self regard of the people who really matter in San Diego while he took on the task of balancing the city budget.
There has been no such Mayor Sanders legacy tour in City Heights. Can you imagine our mayor delivering the same speech to the folks who patronize the Mariscos San Germán Taco Truck, or the Au Chau or Denny’s restaurants?
Mayor Jerry Sanders? Our mayor has seldom appeared in City Heights, except for a few of the budget hearings. Otherwise he never had a reason to appear in City Heights. We are not the people who really matter, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been affected by his eight years in office. Regard the wreckage that has become the “new normal.”
Sanders assumed office in late 2005 after a special election. He spoke immediately about reducing the city workforce. By 2006, it was apparent that he had taken a neutron bomb approach to city services– keep the buildings open while wiping out the workforce that did anything more than keep the lights on and the doors open. In City Heights, that had an immediate impact. We lost our Community Service Center, the only center south of Rte 8. This was the most heavily used Community Service Center in the city, where City Heights residents paid their utility bills and found a consolidated service point for accessing city services. These Community Service Centers continued to exist north of Rte 8 as “boutique” services for more affluent communities until they too finally succumbed to the budget ax.
We lost Park and Recreation staff who supported the soccer fields and other programs. The cost of swimming in the municipal pool increased. Library hours were decreased, and kids had no place to go to complete homework assignments on a computer, as required by their schools. Then our police storefront community service centers, with their multilingual staff were left out of subsequent budgets. Code compliance positions were cut. The City Heights Weingart Library Performance Annex- our cultural gem- was threatened with dissolution.
When we turned out to protest these cuts– and we did, our mayor revealed how deeply he was both annoyed and threatened by our challenges. In a KPBS interview in 2008 , he described the citizens who waited hours to address the city council budget hearings, standing there with babies in their arms and detailing the impact of the loss of library hours or threatened branch closures as if they were special interest groups.
Only an utterly juiceless technocrat would ever ever dismiss the calls for support of vital, core city services as those of a special interest group. Citizens who support their libraries are special interest groups? Park and Recreation supporters are special interest groups? This same mayor spent our summer vacation a while back surveying football stadiums to determine how to pitch yet another diversion of our public funds to private entities.
The damage that has been done is not only to our most visible core services. The behind the scenes machinations that have lead to the privatization of city services and secretive agreements with private entities cannot be ignored. It is a convenient lie to think that the people who pick up our trash, develop summer reading programs for our kids, mow the lawns in our parks and monitor soccer fields pushed the city towards bankruptcy. Can you imagine the response if Sanders said to this luncheon group- “If we weren’t such a short sighted self indulgent bunch, we would all be paying $15 a month for trash pick up and we would be having a whole different discussion about city services. ” The chicken cordon bleu would have hit the fan. That is not the legacy polishing speech.
City Heights is the secret sauce for “doing the job for less.” We’ll work two non-living wage jobs with no health care benefits and walk four miles home from our janitorial jobs downtown that end after the buses haves stopped running. We will continue to be starved of public investments and services. We are one side of the privatization coin- the tails you lose side.
The question for voters in City Heights is whether we will embrace the new normal. Carl DeMaio is certainly pointing us down that path. He too, is working on his legacy.
This article originally appeared at San Diego Free Press.