Excuse me, but was that the San Diego City Council we were watching on Monday, or just a bunch of hambones offering Academy Award acceptance speeches?
Save for Ralphie “Lord of the Lunch” Inzunza, who isn't saying much these days anyway, Mayor 1Goal and his not-so-merry band of compatriots spent an inordinate amount of time on the “thank you” bandwagon-thanking staff, thanking City Manager-Budget Fairy Mike Uberuaga (who-surprise, surprise-announced the discovery of $2.3 million in additional city money to spend), thanking the birds, the trees, the audience (some of them chefs, more on that later)-thanking just about anybody within thanking distance.
The good thing is no one stared into the public-access cameras and began getting icky-gooey with the television audience, probably all 14 of them.
But no matter. We just thought we saw waaay too many smiles on the faces of the folks who had just cut $27 million more from the city's three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar budget for the new fiscal year, which kicks off July 1. And with their state counterparts weighing the possibility of further cuts to city budgets-a reported $20 million in slash work for San Diego-the pain may have just begun. So quit with the smiling, already.
The Budget Fairy, at the suggestion of councilmembers Michael Zucchet, Donna Frye and Toni Atkins, did manage to pry $2.3 million loose which will be used for some admittedly good stuff, like making sure public bathrooms are cleaned, city-park lawns continue to be watered and that decent hours are provided at city pools.
“It's the best we could do with a difficult situation,” intoned Mayor 1Goal, who continues to inspire with his words of mediocrity. He lauded the “unsung heroes of the budget,” those city staffers who scrimp and scrape and work extra hours-on the public dime, of course-searching out those things that are snippable.
1Goal even mentioned that he worked Saturday with the Budget Fairy and the typically invisible city auditor (can you say “trigger”?), making calls to department heads to see which toes and fingers they could do without for the coming years.
He called the council “a more responsible council than in years past,” we guess for not throwing themselves on the dais and blubbering like schoolchildren who are forced to eat their vegetables before getting dessert.
The mayor also thanked the public, although most of the public probably had no idea for what. Perhaps it was more like one of those “pardon the inconvenience” signs, a precursor to the human misery that could well come in the new fiscal year.
Meanwhile, Murphy urged the public to direct their displeasure not at the city but at Sacramento, where all budget hells apparently originate. (I wonder, with all the unfunded mandates spitting out of Washington, D.C., these days why there is not more furor directed at our prez, Curious George, but I digress.)
Murphy, who has teamed with his county counterpart, Supervisor Greg Cox, in recent weeks to denounce the awful, terrible things that those awful, terrible people in the state Legislature are doing to poor little cities like ours, did find an odd way to encourage the public to write or call in protest.
“They can cut the bureaucracy in Sacramento,” he bellowed, “but tell them they can't do that here.”
That's right. Nobody messes with our bureaucracy 'cept us!
So, we will be enjoying clean public bathrooms while street sweepers continue to turn our streets brown and other bureaucratic deadwood continue to collect paychecks through the wonder of civil-service protection. But if someone breaks into your car and steals your radio, don't wait up for the police.
And don't think that's going to improve any time soon, seeing that the San Diego Police Department will not be sending any new cadets through the regional police academy, courtesy of the new budget.
“I can't think of a time in recent history where the police department has been forced to not hire anyone for an entire year based on their critical budget situation,” interim Police Chief John Welter told CityBeat this week. “We did not get any new officers in the budget, but you're right-I will not be able to replace any officers.”
Each year, roughly 100 officers leave the department through attrition and other reasons, said Zucchet during Monday's session. Typically, new recruits fill that void, but that won't be happening next year.
Welter said the department already has 56 civilian positions vacant. The new budget calls for eliminating an additional 23 civilian. “That puts us at 79 positions down in our civilian ranks,” Welter said. “We have fewer civilians now than we had in 1990.” While the chief said he will do his utmost to keep patrol officers on the streets, he said it's equally likely that other officers and detectives will busy themselves instead with data-entry jobs.
Which raises the question that political activist Mel Shapiro planned to raise at a one-man press conference outside City Hall yesterday. When is the city's downtown redevelopment arm, the Centre City Development Corp., planning to begin repaying the nearly $100 million in loans it owes the city? CCDC, which in 2001 coughed up the city's $40 million share for the downtown ballpark, has no payment schedule with the city and apparently has no interest in paying it back, Shapiro said.
“What kind of city cuts out the police academy?” he said.
Responded Frye, who got snubbed by CCDC and her colleagues when she looked into the debt: “A city with misplaced priorities.”