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Wow. You push hard enough for something, get a bit disillusioned, forget about it and then, suddenly, it happens.

As part of his effort to appropriately allocate costs throughout the City system, Mayor Sanders is including a $5 million contribution to the PETCO Park debt service costs from the Centre City Development Corporation in the FY09 budget. The contribution comes after months of discussions and is the first of what will be annual contributions designed to reduce the City’s costs for this obligation. Total debt service costs for PETCO Park are $11.3 million annually. CCDC’s contribution to meeting those costs is expected to grow in coming years.

This is excellent news. We pushed for this to happen exactly a year ago in this editorial. The mayor flatly opposed the idea that redevelopment funds set aside for downtown could be used to pay down the ballpark debt.

Here was an exchange I had with him in May of last year.

Me: Some people like Donna Frye and Peter Q. Davis have said they think that CCDC should have to start to pay down some of the debt on the ballpark and take over some of those obligations. Yet you’ve been sort of deaf to those concerns — at least, you’ve ignored them.

Mayor Jerry Sanders: Ignored, that’s a strong statement. I’d say I’ve actively opposed.

SL: Why?

Mayor: If we go back and look at what CCDC was developed for, we see it’s doing exactly what we’ve asked it to do. It was developed in the 1970s to turn downtown from a place that nobody would go to after dark to a place that is now one of the most vibrant places in San Diego. We asked it to turn into a place that would take the housing overload from other communities in San Diego and that’s exactly what it’s done. It’s starting to produce and been producing a lot of cash for the city: the sales tax, [transient occupancy taxes], jobs, housing units. It’s done all of those things. The reason you go outside the city to do something like that instead — part of redevelopment we manage inside the city and those people are paid inside the city’s pay scale but when you’re doing a CCDC-type thing — which requires vision and the skill to manage complex issues — you want to get the best people you can. So you take it outside the city’s bureaucracy so that you can do that.

Seems he’s changed his tune.

Having downtown redevelopment funds pay down the ballpark debt is a great first step toward freeing up millions in the city’s budget to pay for more important things. It’s also a great step for the mayor, who now has taken the first action toward redirecting funds from pet projects of downtown boosters to the nuts and bolts of infrastructure and safety throughout the city.

Congratulations to activist Mel Shapiro, City Councilwoman Donna Frye, Peter Q. Davis, the former head of the Centre City Development Corp., and Carl DeMaio, the conservative activist now running for District 5. All of them pushed hard for this to happen. Finally, this takes courage for the mayor to do yet it is completely logical and a welcome development.

Nice.

Frye gave me a quick quote: “For years and years, when I proposed this as a solution, I was told that it couldn’t be done. However, I did not believe that so I kept pushing it. Patience is power,” she said.

DeMaio? “We’re absolutely thrilled,” he said.

As am I.

Update 1:18 p.m.: Mayoral candidate Steve Francis says the mayor didn’t go far enough:

Unfortunately, Sanders’ action is too little too late. It shifts less than half of the city’s ballpark bond payment, and then only seeks gradual increases in future budgets. It doesn’t go far enough — CCDC should pick up the entire $11.3 million cost each year…

… I have also put forth my proposal to shift the Convention Center’s operating subsidy to the hoteliers’ Tourism Marketing District. This initiative can save San Diegans $4 million a year. I challenge the Administration to embrace this change next,” Francis said.

SCOTT LEWIS

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