San Diego Mayor Jerry Sander’s fourth annual state of the city address called on the city’s residents to make sacrifices and volunteer their time in order to help the city through the tough economic times it faces.
Since he was elected in 2005, Sanders has never been able to give a very upbeat state of the city speech, with the pension debt and city’s lack of a credit rating marring his first years in office, and the global economic crisis hitting San Diego this past year.
In the months ahead, Sanders said he would ask for the sacrifices of city employees and citizens alike, saying the city will likely have to raise fees, and require volunteers to help with upkeep of parks and neighborhoods.
“What draws so many people here is our quality of life,” Sanders said. “Yet many view our quality of life as a birthright, rather than something that needs to be sustained through determination and even sacrifice.”
Sanders announced he will utilize the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol (RSVP), a volunteer organization of more than 400 people who assist the police department and help look after foreclosed homes, so they don’t fall into disrepair and degrade the neighborhoods around them.
He also acknowledged that fees on everything from parking meters to dumping trash in city landfills may go up this year, and said it’s highly likely that the city will go to mandatory water conservation by the spring.
Sanders did not announce any sweeping new projects in the address, however he did announce a plan to redesign the transportation network from the airport to the San Diego Convention Center called the Destination Lindbergh project.
He also expressed a commitment to expanding the San Diego Convention Center and the border crossing in San Ysidro.
He also announced the possibility of combining a central library with a 300-student high school, a plan that could potentially help fund the new library, which has been desired for some time.
“The money offered by the school district -- when combined with the state grant we otherwise might lose -- has the potential to close our funding gap and move the project forward,” he said. “It is a concept that deserves a full and fair hearing."
The city’s unions are due for contract negotiations this year, and Sanders said he will seek “long-term” solutions to ease the cost of retirement benefits.
“It is not my intention to begin these negotiations in public, but tonight let me say this to our employees and the unions representing them: You have seen tough times, and we understand that,” Sanders said. “Everyone is hurting. But difficult times can bring perceived adversaries together, and I see much common ground between employees and taxpayers. Both want a fiscally stable city government that provides quality services.”
He applauded the city unions for restructuring the retirement system for newer employees into a hybrid 401(k), and asked for more such cooperation.
Sanders touted his successes over the past few years, including the city’s recent return to the bond market with a successful water revenue bond.
He also discussed the managed competition program, which he said has led to a leaner, better functioning city.
In the months to come, he said he wants to expand managed competition, including to the City Council.
“If you take nothing else away from this evening, hear this: there is no role here for the forces of obstruction and denial, or for selfish posturing by those who think they do their share by suggesting sacrifices others can make,” Sanders said, not speaking specifically to the council, but the entire city. “Their practice of postponing our day of reckoning has only succeeded in digging us into deeper holes each year.”
In light of recent troubles at redevelopment groups like the Southeastern Economic Development Council, Sanders said the city is strengthening its oversight of those groups.
He said he wants the city’s redevelopment arm, the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC) to “take (a) more active role.” He didn’t specify if that means paying some of the city’s debt for Petco Park, as many critics have said the group should.
Despite the troubled economic times, Sanders said several times during the speech that he didn’t want to sound too pessimistic. He said San Diego had come a long way in recent years, and he was hopeful for the future.
“On our worst day, those of us who live in San Diego are better off than so many others. We should always remember that,” he said. “My optimism has still another source, and that is the amazing progress this city has made in just three years. It fills me with confidence in what we can do with four more.”
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