By Doug Porter
This week local politicos will be making the rounds, led by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Councilman Mark Kersey, promising to repair San Diego’s infrastructure. Potholes big enough to be named, geysers from broken water mains regular enough to be a tourist attractions and crumbling sidewalks unsafe at any walking speed are facts of life in America’s Finest City.
Smiling faces from city hall will be front and center in the media, pitching Councilmember Kersey’s “Rebuild San Diego” ballot measure promising three decades worth of improvement with no tax increases. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it probably is.
Despite the billion with B numbers you’ll be hearing, this “dedicated funding stream” is not enough money and rife with the potential to degrade other city services.
What It Is
The “Rebuild San Diego” ballot measure came about after informal talks between representatives of local power brokers fell apart. The mayor made statements supportive of creating efficiencies with current resources rather than new taxes to implement a fix.
Discussions between business groups and organized labor –which included paying for polling– dissolved when it became clear that the conversations were going nowhere over questions about prevailing wages. So it became Kersey’s job to find a plan that would make do.
As it stands now, Councilman Kersey’s plan would commit future growth in three of the City’s existing revenue streams – sales tax, the general fund and pension reform savings – to neighborhood projects. Accepting its projections at face value, $5 billion would be made available for infrastructure projects over 30 years.
Mayor Faulconer endorsed the proposal earlier this month at his second “State of the City” address. The current wave of publicity comes as the City Council is scheduled to vote at 2 p.m. Tuesday to direct the City Attorney’s office to draft the language for the “Rebuild San Diego” measure so it can be ready to be placed on the June 7, 2016, ballot.
Like so many proposals coming out of government (at all levels) these days, the Rebuild Plan uses long-term projections to generate impressive monetary talking points. FIVE BILLION DOLLARS…over 30 years… Wow. Who could turn that down?
Except…there’s the teeny little problem of the city needing $1.4 billion (and counting) for infrastructure repairs over the NEXT FIVE YEARS. A KPBS story quotes Kersey saying the plan only raises “a few hundred million dollars” in five to 10 years.
There’s also the issue of sales tax revenue growth–projected to net the city $3 billion to $4 billion over 30 years if the economy continues on its current trajectory.
Is this thinking coming from the same mentality that held savings and loan investments after deregulation were a safe bet, or the internet bubble would never burst or real estate would continue to appreciate indefinitely? Thirty years without a major recession? Really?
The Union-Tribune report on Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin’s analysis said she called the plan prudent, with a couple of asterisks:
Tevlin’s most significant recommended tweak is allowing the revenue requirements to be suspended for a year if two-thirds of the City Council declares a financial emergency, most likely amid a significant recession.
“We believe a provision requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote to suspend the measure represents a good safeguard that allows some financial flexibility for unanticipated budgetary emergencies, while retaining the underlying infrastructure funding commitment,” Tevlin says in her report.
She also suggests that controversy over what constitutes infrastructure spending should be solved by having the measure declare it includes maintenance and planning of projects in addition to actual construction cost.
This “financial emergency” proviso is huge. This proposal amounts to budgeting at the ballot box, a concept with –at best– a checkered history.
The legislature is still “paying back” money to education “borrowed” so as would appear to be meeting the provisions of Proposition 47 from previous budgets.
The supermajority vote idea sounds great until you realize that an obstinate minority can tie up the process for reasons having nothing to do with the “emergency” at hand. Ask President Barrack Obama about how that’s worked for him.
The biggest issue buried in all the assumptions of Kersey’s proposal is the potential for neglect of other parts of the city budget; libraries, police, fire, lifeguards, etc. Unless you’re looking to drown government in a bathtub, it’s reasonable to expect the costs for these entities to grow as San Diego’s population increases by more than half a million people over the next 30 years.
If we all agree that infrastructure work is a priority, and we all get to vote in city council races, why do we need to enact a law telling the council what to do?
The answer is to that question, is a “Look, Faulconer’s doing something” re-election campaign and a back door sop to advocates of shrinking government.
I’m betting most of the city council won’t dare risk the adverse publicity of saying no to this lame idea. Let’s hope they throw in some language protecting other parts of the city in the future.
This is What Democracy Looks Like
Senator Bernie Sanders campaign got some local notice this weekend with an event at the Observatory Theater in North Park. Several hundred people filled the venue to watch a live-streamed speech by the candidate exhorting volunteers nationwide to keep working hard on his campaign.
Supporters in 35 cities nationwide organized similar events at high profile venues. Parades were staged in cities like Chicago, Oakland, Boston (Over 100 in a snow storm) and New Orleans.
Here’s a snip from the Union-Tribune’s coverage:
“I’m very impressed with what Bernie wants to do, changing the country,” said Susan Wayo of Solana Beach, a board member of the Rancho Santa Fe Democratic Club. “Bernie has the best interests of people who are disenfranchised – more so than Donald Trump does. I hope sanity will return to this country. We can’t have a bigot for a president.”
Other supporters said they agree with Sanders’ progressive socialist views, focusing on health care for the poor, protecting immigrants and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
“It’s the perfect time for progressives,” said one supporter.
Tagami, assistant director at a research company, said she believes Sanders is electable, and could beat front-running Republicans Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “This is a fully citizen-funded campaign,” Tagami said. “Somebody below the poverty line who gives $15, you can be sure they’ll show up to vote.”
This is What Oligarchy Looks Like
The news coming out of Flint Michigan gets worse by the day. Tens of thousands of people in the majority black city were exposed to toxins after officials switched the source of their tap water.
Presidential candidate Jeb Bush had his “heck of a job” moment this weekend as he both praised and defended disgraced Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for his response to fallout resulting from the water crisis.
Court depositions made public this weekend by The Daily Beast revealed the decision to switch water sources was initially rejected by local officials and subsequently overruled by officials in the Snyder administration.
Howard Croft, the former director of public works for Flint who resigned in November 2015, asserted more than four months ago in a videotaped interview with the ACLU of Michigan that the decision to use the dangerously corrosive river came directly from the Snyder administration.
In the interview, Croft said that the decision to use the river was a financial one, with a review that “went up through the state.”
“All the way to the governor’s office?” the ACLU of Michigan asked him.
“All the way to the governor’s office,” Croft replied.
The original argument for switching the water source –that it was a cost-cutting measure for a failing city government– began to fall part over the past few days as newly released emails reveal rejected offers by the previous supplier that would have saved even more money.
Journalist Steve Neavling of the independent newspaper, Motor City Muckraker suggests that the ultimate goal was to break up and privatize the water agencies.
And then there’s this:
…the city’s government continues to charge people for the poison water and then threatening to foreclose their home or take their children if they refuse to pay. Michigan law states that parents are neglectful if they do not have running water in their home, and if they chose not to pay for water they can’t drink anyway, then they could be guilty of child endangerment. Activists in Flint say that some residents have already received similar threats from the government if they refuse to pay their bills.
Flint residents have recently filed two class action lawsuits calling for all water bills since April of 2014 to be considered null and void because of the fact that the water was poisonous.
“We are seeking for the court to declare that all the bills that have been issued for usage of water invalid because the water has not been fit for its intended purpose,” said Trachelle Young, one of the attorneys bringing the lawsuit said in court.
From the ‘We Told You’ So Department
The Union-Tribune and other news outlets have noticed something unusual afoot in Mission Valley.
San Diego televangelist Morris Cerullo, widely known for his overseas healing crusades and the occasional legal skirmish, is now hoping to cement his spiritual legacy with the help of hologram-filled catacombs, a 20-foot tall wailing wall and an interactive Biblical museum.
More than four years after purchasing a foreclosed Mission Valley hotel, the sometimes controversial Pentecostal preacher is banking on faithful followers and religious-minded tourists to flock to a planned Christian-themed resort that will transport visitors back to Biblical times with underground passages reminiscent of Rome, an homage to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and a domed theater outfitted with full motion seats and sensory effects simulating wind, snow and fog.
The $125 million project, which still needs the approval of the San Diego City Council, promises to transform the 18-acre site of the nondescript Mission Valley Resort and mini-mart into a tourist destination that Cerullo’s world ministry is convinced can draw as many as 400,000 visitors a year. And not all of them will be seeking out the gospel according to Cerullo, say project leaders.
Cerullo’s grand vision made the pages of San Diego’s LGBT Weekly last March, with the report noting:
Cerullo has proven to be a controversial figure and is not a supporter of LGBT equality. Cerullo’s Web site openly supports Alabama’s Chief Justice Roy Moore in his defiance of the Supreme Court over gay marriage. Cerullo’s “Prayer Targets” include, “God’s intervention in preserving Christian liberties in our nation.” This is in support of pastors who turn away same-sex couples who want to marry.
In April, OBRag/SDFP editor Frank Gormlie also made mention of these plans as part of his ongoing reporting on development in Mission Valley.
County Shares Employee Data by Accident
SC Magazine published a story on Friday saying that personal information, including Social Security numbers, of all county employees was given to Wells Fargo Bank by mistake back in December.
Data on employees who had signed up for Health Savings Accounts managed by Well Fargo was supposed to be transferred. Instead, the county’s telecommunications service provider, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services, incorrectly programmed the system handling the data transfer.
The county’s Department of Human Resources has apologized and is offering free credit checking services to its employees.
Live From New York…
If you haven’t seen Tina Fey and Darrel Hammond’s spot on SNL parody of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump, you need to go find it.
In the meantime, I’m offering up this top and bottom comparison of the real and the surreal. (It’s more fun when you click on the unmute button in the lower right hand corner.)
On This Day: 1851 – Sojourner Truth addressed first Black Women’s Rights convention. 1858 – Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” was presented for the first time, as the daughter of Queen Victoria married the Crown Prince of Prussia. 1915 – In New York, Alexander Graham Bell spoke to his assistant in San Francisco, inaugurating the first transcontinental telephone service.
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