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Sounding Board: Top Priorities

The Daily Transcript introduces Sounding Board, a regular opinion page feature focusing on current issues. The Daily Transcript will engage community leaders in a dialogue and publish their comments. Readers' comments are also welcome. Send your responses to soundingboard@sddt.com.

Daily Transcript Question: What three issues, other than the pension crisis, should the next mayor of San Diego make as top priorities after taking office?

1. Take any and all steps necessary to complete 2003 and 2004 audits.

2. Develop an accurate budget that reflects the real cost of running the City. This should include funds necessary to bring reserves up to at least 7 percent, full funding of the pension on specified schedule, funding to address infrastructure and deferred maintenance also on a specified schedule. This budget should also require full cost recovery, where appropriate, for City services.

3. Develop a five-year economic plan using the five-year economic forecast that was developed earlier this year by the City Manager. The assumptions contained in the plan should be revised to reflect the accurate cost data included in the above- mentioned budget.

4. Initiate department-by-department efficiency review and follow through on any cuts in personnel that result from that review. Resist pressure from special interest groups to restore proposed cuts in the next budget.

-- John O'Neill

Chairman, San Diego Taxpayers Association

The first thing I see is the erosion of city services. The Zoning and Code Enforcement Department is in total chaos. There is still no manual for code enforcement and the codes aren't being enforced. People are building these huge walls in La Jolla and it's starting to look like Caracas.

The second issue is the ongoing problem of deferred maintenance. It ends up being much more expensive in the long run and that infrastructure is crumbling at a time when there has been a significant increase in many salaries.

The third thing is a four-hour wait to pull permits at the city, versus a virtually painless process at the county level.

The city is absolutely horrible to deal with.

-- Joe Graham

Past President San Diego Association of Realtors/Westland Properties

First, they have to develop a sustainable economy.

Next they must confront the infrastructure needs.

Then they have to move decisively on making housing a priority.

-- Paul Tryon

Executive Director, Building Industry Association

Affordable housing that is within reasonable (30 minutes) commute of jobs.

Traffic (impacts and is impacted by No. 1).

Restoring services that have been cut due to budget, yet are actually costing more over the long term: road repair, tree trimming, etc.

-- Mark Steele

Chairman, San Diego Telecom Council

In light of the recent tragic events in the Gulf Coast, San Diego must re-evaluate its disaster preparedness and elevate this requirement to our highest priority.

San Diego depends on several key economic activities -- high-tech and biotech, tourism, recreational goods, and defense. The mayor should develop and economic development plan for each of these clusters that incorporates our research based institutions and universities, chamber, EDC, CONNECT, CCDC, Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the trades associations including BIOCOM, Telecom, the Software Industry Council, the Security Network, American Electronics Association, etc.

Our city is filthy -- trash and weeds in every median, roadside, parks, etc. Given the financial restraints, the mayor should lead an effort to clean up our streets and neighborhoods similar to what Mayor Giuliani did in New York City -- suggest a much stiffer fine for littering.

We have a housing crisis that will affect our long-term economic growth and competitiveness if not checked. The Mayor should develop a plan to increase the supply of affordable housing.

We have a limited amount of available industrial lands to accommodate future growth and the mayor must insist that city planners develop a long-range plan that balances the need for industry growth and the need for additional housing supply.

-- Duane Roth

Executive Director, CONNECT

There are quite a range of high-priority issues that the next mayor will need to tackle with urgency. Three crucial issues include:

Ensuring that there is sufficient affordable housing to continue to keep businesses in San Diego and to attract more;

Providing excellent fire protection -- not enough has been done to safeguard the city in terms of purchase and installation of communications technology or purchase of firefighting planes and helicopters; and

Capitalizing on the concentration of biotechnology and telecom companies in San Diego and taking all steps necessary to make San Diego a recognized center of excellence in these areas.

These steps will help us continue to improve our tax base and our financial situation.

Camille Sobrian

Director, Marketing & Business Development, Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP

I don't think you can talk about priorities for the next mayor without talking about economics. We need to balance the budget, fully fund public services such as police, fire, and disaster preparation, and increase those services so vital to a thriving society such as childcare and education.

Additionally, the new mayor needs to restore the public trust in the governmental process. Across this country there is a general distrust of government officials. This is especially true in light of the recent mismanagement surrounding Hurricane Katrina. San Diego is not immune from this distrust.

The next mayor must ensure an open and accountable government and work hard to garner the trust of the people of San Diego.

Stacy L. Fode

President, Lawyer's Club

First, balancing the budget for real. We not only have pension debt, but we have also had an operating deficit in the budget for the last 10 years and we have to deal with that.

Second, the city has to deal with public safety equipment and fleet needs. We have woefully under-funded the investments into replacement of police and fire equipment. The most important focuses are the police cars, fire cruisers, and then implementing the public safety communications system. We are asking that the mayor work with the county. It would save both the county and city money.

I think the city also needs to take an assessment of the water, wastewater fund. That has become the fastest growing revenue fund for the city to take money from. We are concerned that without some sort of independent audit, that we might actually see those fund siphoned off. The U.S. Attorney has also expanded her investigation into the water and wastewater funds.

-- Carl DeMaio

President, founder of The Performance Institute

Previous Sounding Boards:

Initial Actions (Sep. 6, 2005)

Financial Remedies (Sep. 2, 2005)

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