Thursday, June 16, 2005 | On Tuesday afternoon I glanced at Yahoo!’s “top news stories” and immediately became alarmed when I read the headline “Thunderstorms Destroy City Hall in S.D.” Was the national press again casting a voyeuristic glare upon the saga of San Diego’s political and fiscal catastrophes? What new local calamity could warrant the piercing metaphors of “thunderstorms” and “destroy”? By god, what else could have gone wrong here?
After clicking on the headline and speed-reading the story, my nerves cooled. The report, courtesy of the Associated Press, was about an actual thunderstorm that really destroyed the city hall of a small town in South Dakota. While I empathize with the plight of the people affected by this natural disaster, I was relieved that the civic disasters in San Diego had not yet merited such a metaphorical headline by the otherwise composed pens of the AP.
This wave of emotions got me thinking. If I am capable of having throbbing heart palpitations at the thought of additional political problems hitting San Diego, think of what the resting EKG of a member of the city council must be! These men and women must experience more peaks and valleys than the high Sierras!
For a moment – and I know it’s difficult – imagine a San Diego without a $1.3 billion pension deficit, a dead duck mayor or city councilmen on trial for taking bribes from strip clubs. Imagine the innovative public policy that the people of this city could develop to fix some of our more drastic problems.
A few cities in California, unburdened by pension deficits and the like, have come up with some good ideas and managed to actually make them work.
Upon his election as mayor of San Jose in 1998, Ron Gonzales recognized that the burgeoning economy of Silicon Valley was making homes too expensive for schoolteachers. He immediately started the San Jose Teacher Home Buyer Program, which since 1999 has provided no-interest loans to 437 teachers to use as down-payments on their homes. According to David Vossbrink, Mayor Gonzales’s communications director, the average loan the city gives out through the program is $37,600, totaling $16.4 million to date.
The city of San Francisco has the Healthy Kids program, a health insurance plan that offers medical, dental and vision coverage to children up to age 19 from low-income families for the generous monthly premium of $4 per child.
When he first ran for mayor of Oakland in 1998, Jerry Brown daringly committed to have 10,000 new residents living in Oakland’s downtown. At the time of the announcement of Brown’s “10K Initiative” downtown Oakland was high in crime and unworthy of the title “neighborhood.” More than six years later, Mayor Brown’s goal of 10,000 will soon be eclipsed. Brown himself lives in a downtown condominium with his fiancé and their dog.
With continuous headlines of investigations, deficits and possible corruption, it’s hard to imagine such strong policy being planned or implemented in San Diego.
Despite stratospheric housing prices, seemingly insurmountable traffic and the looming transition to the strong-mayor form of government, our elected officials simply don’t have time to come up with good ideas, and even if they did, lack the funds to implement them.
That truly is a civic thunderstorm leading to destruction.
Ramsey Green is a native San Diegan and manages a regional energy efficiency program. He has taught high school social studies in South Louisiana, organized political campaigns and worked in politics and public policy within San Diego and New York City. Reach him at