San Diego Proposed City Budget Highlights

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May 18, 2017 (San Diego) Mayor Kevin Faulconer gave to the city his proposed 2018 budget, which shows the following trends, While we have a larger budget, we also have a deficit that will need to be closed down. This is to the tune of 81 million and it is due to obligations to retirees who are living longer.

The total budget numbers are as follows starting in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016.The total adopted budget that year was $ 3,103,389,335 and the proposed budget is $ 3,336,355,794, with an increase of $ 232,966,459. This is an increase of 7.5 percent. There were some changes in the revision as well. 

Originally there were some serious cuts to things like the arts and even public safety. There are still some confusing cuts. Such as a cut to code enforcement. This is straight from the budget: “Reduction of Code Compliance Positions: reduction of funding and positions for investigation of low-level code compliance violations.”

This will affect a department that is already strained to the limit and has trouble enforcing violations by slum lords in neighborhoods as city heights. In 2015 we found out that the city did not have enough personnel to clean that mess. Cutting this personnel even further will make it even more difficult to make sure the minimum requirements at rental properties are followed.

There were two other areas that jumped at us. One of them was the Convention Center and the economic impact of Comicon to the city. This is not small potatoes. And it also emphasizes how much tourism is central to San Diego’s economy.

This is again from the budget: “The top five major revenue contributors for the fiscal year 2016 were San Diego Comic-Con International – $140.0 million, LIGHTFAIR International – $70.7 million, Realtors Conference & Expo – $58.0 million, ESRI User Conference 2015 – $56.9 million, and ESRI User Conference 2016 – $53.8 million.” The center will also host major medical conventions this year, such as the American Diabetes Association. This brings people from all over the world to the city. This is the argument to the expansion of the center.

There is another point in the budget that needs to be explained, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman will have to retire soon. This is part of her contract and her retirement is part of the retirement system phased out with Prop B. She will have to be replaced. The city has assigned $100,000 for a national search for the next chief of police. Especially in the activist community, this is seen as a waste of time and money. However, in the bigger picture, San Diego PD needs new blood and outlook at the top to solve many of the issues that it has. $100,000 may very well be money well spent if the city finds a fresh set of eyes, that wants to bring the department back to what it once was in the late 1980s and 1990s, and that was a department focused like a laser beam on community relations and policing.

Granted, the other thing the department needs to do is stem the flight of officers, and it is not just officer pay that is the problem,  Or for that matter media critiques. The study that the city wants to do in retention though, will only help if the city is willing to be very critical of itself and make some real changes. The first thing that needs to be said is that “chasing the radio,” is not conducive to solid community relations. The city could start that effort by looking at some of the interviews with force veterans from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) report. That report, while it was not supposed to do that, found tensions with the communities the department serves, and they were quite deep. They also found very low morale and as we said above, it diagnosed one of the serious problems running from call to call. Most of the findings were not news to those of us who have paid attention to the issues that have been building over the years. 

Older officers also spoke to PERF about those halcyon days of community policing, and to many of them, that is one point they would like to return to.

We also had another line from the budget that caught our eyes. The North American Free Trade Agreement is essential to the regional economy. This was highlighted in this section.

International Trade

The Port of San Diego’s transportation and economic initiatives have made San Diego a center for international trade. The Port of San Diego offers world class maritime facilities built around a natural harbor. According to the International Trade Administration, exports passing through the San Diego- Carlsbad metropolitan statistical area in 2015 was approximately $17.4 billion. This places San Diego as the 20th largest export market in the United States, represents a $4.0 billion increase since 2009 export figures, and accounts for 10 percent of the State of California’s total exports. The region benefited immensely from free trade agreements, with exports in this area representing 48 percent of the 2015 total exports. Top trading partners included Mexico, Canada, China and Japan.

Whether you think that free trade is a good idea or not, or the current form it has taken is a good idea or not, San Diego depends on it. It is part of our DNA. So any dramatic changes, because the White House decides to withdraw from the agreement, will have an immediate and negative effect on the local and regional economy.

This is not to say that free trade should not be renegotiated. Withdrawal though will not have a good effect in the short to medium term.

In the revision, some of the funding for the arts was restored, as well as other areas. Not enough to make for the shortfall. The economy continues to expand in the region. It is expected to continue to do well. So we must ask what is going on in the forecasts?  One criticism that has been made over the years is that the city tends to forecast in very rosy terms. So even in good times, the city can get in trouble. The other reason, we are going to say it. is that the cuts are at times done in areas that medium to long term hurt the city.

Budgets are always a political statement. Mayor Kevin Faulconer when a member of the Council, said that the city’s commitment to the arts was going to be tested in hard times. It is being tested, and perhaps will fail. In an economy that depends on tourism, this could also be a shortsighted cut. However, this will not be the last word on the budget. This is just the proposed budget. The adopted budget will have some differences in allocations.

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