Press Conferences and Vanity Shovels Cannot Hide the Truth About San Diego’s Crumbling Infrastructure

by on April 11, 2014 · 0 comments

in Economy, Politics, San Diego

vanity shovelsBy Doug Porter / San Diego Free Press

Newly elected Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s been on quite a tear lately, putting forth a smiling face at press conferences in various neighborhoods around the city. Yesterday cameras rolled as the mayor and local politicos including Councilman Todd Gloria posed and preened over a gateway renovation project on 25th Street in Golden Hill.

Hizzoner says he’s making good on campaign promises to direct more monies (50% of revenue growth, as I recollect) toward street and infrastructure repair. He proudly announced yesterday that $22 million of the anticipated $35 million growth in next year’s inflow would be dedicated to that cause.

It played real well on TV. Sadly, the truth of the situation is that revenue growth, which will likely come from an improving economy, can’t even begin to address the $1 billion hole San Diego faces when it comes to the basic the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed locally.

Implicit in Faulconer’s campaign promises about fixing up the city were the oft repeated claims of savings to be realized by so-called pension reforms. The reality is that current estimates of pension payments by the city don’t project any revenue increases until 2018.

Ergo, the $22 million figure could well be all there is by way of increased revenues. (And if Papa Doug Manchester’s wet dream about Obamacare destroying the economy were to come true future tax revenues could easily decline.)

Blame It on the Lawyers

riskOver at Voice of San Diego, Catherine Green points out a major stumbling block standing in the way of other monies that might be used for upgrades and repairs:

Other factors are holding up most of the money Faulconer planned on delivering for infrastructure fixes.

During his campaign, Faulconer pledged a minimum of $180 million in yearly spending on infrastructure fixes. As much as $120 million, or two-thirds of the money, was supposed to come from loans, not cash from the city’s day-to-day budget. The loans have hit a roadblock, in the form of Cory Briggs.

Briggs, a lawyer and frequent thorn in the city’s side, officially filed suit on behalf of his group San Diegans for Open Government to stop an in-progress $120 million bond, the U-T reported. Briggs says the City Charter requires voters’ approval before the city can borrow money.

Now, before you go blaming Briggs for the potholes in your neighborhood, remember that these funding “work-arounds” have been all-too-common in recent years. Republicrats and so-called ‘taxpayer advocates’ have used fear and uncertainly in the electorate about tax increases to their own advantage in political campaigns. Now we have laws–that these guys built their political mojo on–making it damn near impossible to increase taxes.

So the go-to solution, once these types are in office and find projects they want to fund, has been to create “not-a-taxes” (think Tourism Marketing District fees) and stretch legal definitions (in the case of bonds) beyond the intent, if not the letter, of the laws they had placed on the books.

Briggs is just asking them to face the consequences of what the local politicos have enabled.

Another Money Pot?

pie alvarez 2At KPBS we learn about yet another source of cash being eyed by City Hall:

This is not the only money pot the new mayor is tapping with an eye toward fixing streets, building libraries, and repairing fire stations. Faulconer has also suggested that Community Development Block Grants, known as CDBGs, be utilized for neighborhood infrastructure improvement. That has raised concern from nonprofits who have in the past applied for the grants to help augment social services, like helping the homeless.

Community Development Block Grants were used by Mayor Faulconer’s backers as a means of attacking City Councilmember David Alvarez during the recent mayoral campaign. Multiple mailers went out accusing Alvarez of planning to use the funding for City Heights, San Ysidro and southeastern San Diego to the exclusion of other areas in the city.

Some of the mailers quoted Faulconer promising “every neighborhood receives its fair share of community funding.” The truth is CDBGs can only be used in areas defined by the feds as economically distressed, which in San Diego means…wait for it… City Heights, San Ysidro and southeastern San Diego. Rancho Bernardo was never going to see any of that money no matter who got elected.

But there is another way the block grants can be used by city governments to increase funding for non-distressed neighborhoods.

City Beats Kelly Davis quoted Jay Powell, former director of the City Heights Community Development Corporation (and occasional SDFP contributor) in an detailed exploration of the Faulconer administration’s position on CDBGs. Mostly the article was about a potential conflict with non-profit organizations working in those neighborhoods should more of those moneys be directed toward basic infrastructure.

Via City Beat: (You should read the whole article for better context than I can provide here)

“When we look at capital-improvement budgets, and we say, ‘Alright, Scripps Ranch, here you go: Here’s your list, and here’s how much you’re going to get for your stuff,’ and then we look at City Heights and we say, ‘OK, City Heights, here’s your list, and here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to take CDBG money and spend it to fulfill your list, but we’re going to take general-fund money and use it to fulfill Scripps Ranch’s list.’”

Infrastructure-deficient neighborhoods like City Heights should be getting double scoops, Powell said. “Now we’re talking; now we’re making progress. Now we can attack the deficiencies.”

Craig Gustafson, a spokesperson for the mayor, said infrastructure improvements in CDBG-eligible areas won’t be limited to CDBG funding. “Just because they are getting CDBG money will not preclude the city from spending other money there, as well.”

So we’ll see. Mayor Faulconer will be unveiling his budget next week.

The Statewide Implications

11Tim-Donnelly-405The near-daily Faulconer photo ops serve a larger purpose for the California Republican Party. Let’s face it, having a smiling mayor in a major city is just about the only good news the state-wide GOP has seen lately.

The highest-profile candidate for Republicans for statewide office in 2014 is Tim Donnelly, who’s in the news this week after a speech he gave as a leader of the Minutemen organization back in 2006 came to light. Donnelly says he’s not backing away from his claims that illegal immigration would lead to a fight comparable to the Civil War and criminal gang members in the U.S. illegally amounted to an insurgency.

From the Los Angeles Times:

As Republicans seek to improve their standing among Latinos and women, fresh controversies in California could further damage the party with both groups.

On Monday, a GOP gubernatorial candidate’s inflammatory rhetoric likening illegal immigration to war came to light. The previous day, a conservative website on California politics was launched, featuring a raunchy photo-shopped image of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — a depiction that prompted the most powerful Republican congressman from California to remove his column from the site.

The trouble came as the state Republican Party has been trying to claw its way back to relevance, with GOP voter registration in California at a historic low and every statewide office held by Democrats.

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