Whew! For a time there, it was beginning to look like the Magic Budget Fairy would be a no-show during the San Diego City Council's seven grueling weeks of budget hearings that finally wrapped up this week.
But lo and behold, like a buzzing cicada waaay far afield, the Budget Fairy did arrive this week in the form of City Manager Lamont Ewell, who really wanted to be Budget Fairy last year but couldn't because former City Manager Mike Uberuaga had the costume and wouldn't share.
With Uberuaga finding his wings clipped months ago, the Budget Fairy mantle now belongs solely to Ewell, the affable but clearly overwhelmed top wonk at City Hall who looks sharp in the fairy duds but wields a mean-some say disingenuous-wand.
Earlier this week, Budget Fairy Ewell bonked a few people on the head as he sprinkled pixie dust on the proceedings, which led to a great poof of billowing pink smoke and, once it cleared, a noticeable soreness in one's backside. Despite the discomfort, the incantation had miraculously excised a heretofore-unknown wad of spendable loot from the city's kitty-$10 million, to be exact.
Jumpin' lightning bolts of serendipity, you say? Not hardly. This is where the fairy tale morphs from Oz to Grimm, like the Indiana Jones scene in which a Nazi watches a flying angel turn into a screaming Reaper.
As Spin Cycle explained last year, City Hall likes a good drama this time of year-it has to, otherwise we'd be left with the impression that the city truly is run by the seat of its clown pants. The drama, essentially goes something like this:
Mayor Wizard: I'm afraid I have some bad news that just came out of the sky like a bolt of 60-watt lightning. We'll need to close pools, libraries, blood banks, regular banks, streets, parks, Piggly Wigglies (if there are any here) and Frisbee-not regular-golf courses. I realize this will cause egregious pain to many of you, but fortunately not the ones who frequently shove money down my pants.
The Public: Oh, no, Mr. Mayor Wizard! Please save our streets and trees and parks and, um, those places where people read. You know, um, libraries! Yeah, libraries.
Mayor Wizard: You poor, tiny, insignificant people. I almost shed a tear hearing your stories of suffering and sacrifice. Oh, Budget Fairy, what can you do for these wee folks?
Budget Fairy: Do? I'll tell you what I'll do! I'll pay a visit to the Imaginary Money Vault and see what's left. (Sound of footsteps.) Well, I'm back and I just found an extra $10 million to spend!
The Public: Yippee, we're saved! Hurrah, hurrah, long live the Budget Fairy!
Mayor Wizard: What about me?
The Public: OK, you can live, too, Mayor Wizard.
Last year, the previous Budget Fairy found only $2.3 million in the magic vault, but that was enough keep city pools open, park lawns watered and public bathrooms cleaned. True, Padres owner/downtown kingpin/filthy-rich millionaire John Moores could have used the dough, but an election year was looming and brown parks and bathrooms aren't usually good political selling points.
With another election looming, Mayor Dick "Wizard" Murphy has been extra busy on the Wizard Phone of late, and the Budget Fairy listened.
Let's raid our well-depleted reserves! the Budget Fairy shrieked. Let's un-fund those phantom jobs we keep stringing along for no apparent reason! Let's raise taxes, er, I mean fees! Swimmers, fire-fearing homeowners and bouncers be damned!
"Shocking!" exclaimed Carl DeMaio, San Diego's own free-for-the-asking budget basher and resident Robin Hood, about "the revelation that city bureaucrats have been sitting on more than $10 million in available funds this whole time." DeMaio questioned "whether the funds they claim are actually going to be available or are just gimmicks to balance the budget on paper."
Silly Carl. Welcome to the world of the Magic Budget Fairy. "Yes, I saw him flying over," Councilmember Donna Frye, a Budget Fairy expert, told CityBeat.
To understand the Budget Fairy, you must know of its native land, a mythical place far, far away where rulers frequently meet with head-shaven, money-loving trolls at places like Hob Nob Hill, even when those rulers have been spied upon at such places by black knights and stand accused of black deeds.
It is a place where toxic dumps-affectionately called "tumps"-co-exist alongside places of amusement where visitors scream in wretched delight as their chariots skirt under waterfalls while passing dangerously close to bubbling vats of bilious concoctions.
Curiously, it is also a place where do-gooders are frequently vilified for not having an ox to gore, where questions of public servitude are thrown back in your face like cream pies.
Councilmember Ralphie Inzunza-otherwise hailed as King Lunch in the netherworld-tried such a Budget Fairy-esque technique this week by suggesting that because Robin Hood DeMaio didn't want to reveal his salary as head of the Performance Institute, that he is somehow a hypocrite when it comes to transparency.
If Inzunza would ever pull his face out of his Blue Plate Special, he might understand that what private organizations pay and what we as taxpayers fork over for such sophomoric observations are two very different beasts.
But Inzunza is a huge fan of the Budget Fairy. We know this because he asked-and received-his wish to keep his district's libraries closed on Sundays in lieu of keeping a second community center open for the coming budget year, which begins July 1. That way, he can be looked upon as the Lord of his Realm rather than a bibliophobe who wouldn't crack open a book, be it literary or budgetary, if his political life depended on it.
Instead, he spends 90 minutes breakfasting with Mission Bay hotel owner/political powerhouse/moneyman Bill Evans prior to the arrival of the Budget Fairy.
Buzzing cicadas, indeed.Write to spincycle@SDcitybeat.com.