Wednesday, June 7, 2006 | Voters appeared to hand four members of the San Diego City Council impressive mandates as of press time. None of the candidates had to promise much in the way of reform to earn them. Three of the four have the opportunity to stay on the council for perhaps the next eight years.
They have a chance to define the city.
We congratulate Ben Hueso, Kevin Faulconer, Tony Young and Donna Frye. They have worked for and earned the respect of their neighbors. We encourage them to use their popularity not only to protect their political careers – by keeping their districts happy – but to look beyond their own neighborhoods and at the city as a whole. So far, only Frye has shown the willingness to do so; even her harshest critics recognize her as a voice for reform on the council. They have the opportunity now to effect real reform. Their mandates allow them not only the security of knowing they have the support of their constituents, but the political capital as well to present comprehensive ideas.
In fact, there’s no reason why these four should do anything but break hard and fast from the practices of their predecessors. They not only have the opportunity it seems, but the outright responsibility to come up with a different way of doing business at City Hall.
We, and the city, are starved and begging for ideas: new cuts, new revenues, new taxes, new initiatives – anything. The entire city government structure is built to foster debate yet, time after time, the council acts meekly to rubber stamp a proposal brought to it, not by it.
But it’s now that the city most needs new, fresh and exciting ideas. How about a comprehensive infrastructure initiative: a pledge of some kind that all city officials would make to focus first and foremost on the city’s streets, sewers, parks and sidewalks in place of the dozens and dozens of amorphous booster groups the city funds with little or no return on its dollar. A city facing a tough journey should shed its jewelry and focus on its shoes.
Not a single reform has yet taken place to address the massive pension deficit that will eat up city budgets for years to come. Yes, two years ago, a charter amendment was passed under former Mayor Dick Murphy that will force the city to reckon with a large payment to the beleaguered retirement system. To make that payment in coming years, the city will have to reform, but no plans are in the works right now.
And yes, the previous mayor and city officials pulled the quickly rising cost of retiree health care benefits out of the pension system. But nothing has been done to set up savings for the looming liability.
In other words, we’re doing a great job of talking about all these problems and facing them with more frankness than other municipalities – not necessarily by choice.
Unfortunately that’s only the first in a 12-step recovery process. Rather than just make it through their next eight years in office, and help the city make it to the next rest stop on a road to ruin, these four re-elected officials have the golden opportunity to lead us to a different road.
Here’s to the hope they take it.