Mayor Jerry Sanders will declare the city of San Diego’s “era of decay and neglect” at an official end this evening in his third State of the City address.

San Diego’s 34th mayor chose the newly renovated Balboa Theatre as the location for his annual address to serve as a metaphor for his efforts to restore the city’s financial health. The city-owned history theatre, once a community jewel, fell into disrepair in the 1980s, but was recently restored with the help of $26 million in city redevelopment funds.

“This theater was rescued from disrepair and restored to greatness because men and women came together and applied their talents to its restoration,” the mayor will say, according to an advanced copy of the speech. “In the coming year, we will continue doing the same thing for our city.”

That metaphor underscores the theme of this evening’s address, as the mayor hopes to remind residents of the decrepit state of San Diego’s affairs when he took office in 2005 and show them the progress he’s made since then. At the same time, the mayor showed a new ambitious side in his speech, promising to take the lead on the region’s water-supply challenges, an expansion of the Convention Center, countywide fire coordination and constructing a new port of entry at the U.S./Mexico border.

In an interview before the speech, Sanders said he wanted to contrast City Hall two years ago to City Hall today because incremental change isn’t always obvious. “What I want people to focus on is the fact of where we were two years ago and here we are now,” he said.

Barely anyone speaks about bankruptcy anymore, he said. “We’ve stopped some of the bleeding here and now were’ going to starting working on the patient,” Sanders said.

The comments are likely an effort to stem some of the most frequent criticism lobbed toward Sanders: that his efforts to enact some of his promised reforms have been slow to take hold. In his 2007 speech, the mayor forecasted that the city’s credit rating would be restored and it would be back on Wall Street by the summer. His privatization efforts, known as managed competition, were passed by voters in 2006 but have yet to come to fruition.

“Tonight, I report progress — not perfection — but measurable progress,” Sanders’ speech states.

The mayor claimed success on a whole host of issues. The key accomplishment sited: The formulation of a five-year financial plan that address eight historically neglected areas, including the city’s pension and retiree health deficits, streets and storm drains, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and emergency reserves.

Last year, Sanders set aside $102 million to begin paying down the accumulated deficits in those areas. In the coming year, he is proposing bumping that up to $146 million, including $70 for streets and storm drains. He said he will be releasing an updated version of the five-year plan Friday.

Sanders also for the first time widened his reach beyond the city limits and promised to spearhead regional fire prevention efforts with county Supervisor Ron Roberts and to lead an effort by Southern California mayors to push for a state bond that would build a canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The proposal to build the canal has come in the wake of a judge’s decision to shut off pumps at the delta that bring water to San Diego over concerns for an endangered fish.

In the large part, the mayor had refrained from announcing major initiatives outside of the city’s finances in his first two speeches, saying such things would be inappropriate. However, this year, spokesman Fred Sainz said the mayor now believed he had enough successes under his belt to take a more ambitious approach.

On that note, Sanders said he would lay the groundwork for a future expansion of the Convention Center, an endeavor that was likely 10 years away.

In his previous two speeches, the mayor expressed his interest in working with City Attorney Mike Aguirre. This year, he took a few veiled shots him. Sanders pointed out that he’d relied on Aguirre’s advice in believing that a judge would rule employee pension benefits illegal, which a judge didn’t. The mayor also said that the mandatory water conservation advocated by Aguirre is extreme and still not necessary. Sanders also blamed Aguirre’s inaction for allowing employee benefit cuts that were once agreed to by unions to now be contested in court.

Here’s a copy of the speech and the mayor’s accompanying fact sheet. Check back this evening for a full story on the speech.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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