April 17 2013 09:52 AM

City Council likely won't agree, but they'd better keep their mitts off shelter money

Bob Filner
Photo by David Rolland

Yeesh. We could hear them immediately: San Diego City Councilmembers Lorie Zapf and Scott Sherman, incredulous and indignant over Mayor Bob Filner using the budget process to shamelessly wage a partisan, vengeful war against City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

On Monday, Filner unveiled his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, and it includes a cut of $1.4 million to the City Attorney's office amid the mayor's plan to solve a $38.4-million deficit. Howls of protest came immediately from the pro-business Lincoln Club of San Diego County, whose president, T.J. Zane, charged that Filner's proposal "appears to be nothing more than political retribution."

Coincidentally, the Lincoln Club was a big-time backer of Prop. B, the pension-overhaul initiative that voters approved last June. Prop. B resulted in costs of roughly $21 million for the next fiscal year, which accounts for 55 percent of the problem that Filner was tasked with solving. So, frankly, we're not the slightest bit interested in anything the Lincoln Club has to say about Filner's ideas.

Now, do we think it's possible that Filner was wearing his signature ear-to-ear grin while he was approving the proposal to cut Goldsmith's budget. Yeah. We think that's very possible. Filner's clearly no fan of the city attorney, and his brand of politics can be hardball. But the cuts are also easily defensible.

Filner's budget people tell us that since 2009, other City Hall departments have reduced positions by 6.5 percent—a total of 675 fulltime positions. During that same time, the City Attorney's office has added between seven and eight fulltime-equivalent positions, an increase of nearly 3 percent. If Goldsmith were forced to cut 6.5 percent of his positions, that would be 22 jobs. The $1.4 million that Filner's proposing to cut from the office equals 13 positions—a 3.7-percent reduction. In terms of overall budget, it would represent a relatively small 3-percent trim—half the size of the compensation cut that city workers took to help the city deal with the Great Recession. If the City Council were to agree to the cut, Goldsmith would still be ahead of the game compared with other departments.

Filner is already being put on the defensive for suggesting the cut, but we'd argue that the City Council should be required to make the case as to why the City Attorney's office, which has a recent record in court that's less than stellar, should have been adding positions when everyone else has had to make cuts. We're particularly interested in what Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, whose rhetoric is all about fiscal conservatism, and the other council Republicans have to say about increased legal spending in the face of questionable performance. Where's the accountability that conservatives are always talking about?

Goldsmith's defenders shouldn't fret, though: There's no way the City Council's going to go along with Filner's idea—Council President Todd Gloria has already hinted as much. If the council restores that $1.4 million, we fear that it might see another line item as an easy offsetting cut: the $1.3 million Filner has proposed to make the emergency winter homeless shelter a year-round facility. 

The city of San Diego years ago signed on to the Plan to End Chronic Homelessness (PTECH), which is based on the idea that long-term homeless people are better equipped to tackle their problems if their housing situation is more stable. The shelter tent is a far cry from ideal housing, but it's a hell of a lot better than the street; the tent is staffed by people who give a damn. San Diego has been increasing its stock of the kind of permanent supportive housing thatís called for in the PTECH, but demand far outweighs the supply. The shelter keeps homeless people safe not only from the elements but also from dangerous characters on the street, and it's that sort of peace of mind that helps stabilize vulnerable folks and, hopefully, puts them on a path toward recovery.

So, City Council, if you want to maintain the City Attorney's bloated budget, fine. But you have to find the money somewhere, and you'd better not find it in the homeless shelter.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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