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You know the expression, attributed to Albert Einstein, that we can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created them? That saying comes to my mind with nearly every plan I see proposed to address our city’s challenges with our finances, infrastructure, safety, services and quality of life.

Our city’s difficulties result from a history of building systems according to unsustainable principles. We’ve constructed new developments freely, on open space, without ample levies to properly supply and maintain infrastructure, in order to keep the retail prices down … while true costs rise. The bills catch up with us and we refinance, borrow from the future, and liquidate real estate to keep the budget working. Citywide, we often rely on cheap labor to keep our service economy working and tax revenue up. This system is inherently unsustainable, and no tweaks to the system will change that.

We need a new way of thinking about our city, a way of thinking which emphasizes community and fairness, which is honest about the costs of construction, and which values a small footprint and living within our means — and enjoying it more — instead of seeking a high-revenue but fragile “economy”.

What I see in Eric Bidwell is a person who’s thinking about the whole system, and how we can rework it so that everyone is better off than they are now. Think about it: what would it mean if our city had low energy usage, low maintenance costs, an honest budget, and wages high enough that all of our community could afford to live safely? That city would naturally become infused with community, shared responsibility, and joy. It would be a city worthy of the moniker “America’s Finest.”

It might sound unrealistically Utopian: a city with no losers, only winners. I think that idea is threatening to a lot of us: we think we need losers so we can be winners. But surely we know we can all win if we work together. And that spirit is best manifested by a mayoral candidate who keeps his environmental footprint so low he lives off $6000 a year, who sells and wears T-shirts instead of suits, and advocates rethinking the city’s financial situation from the ground up, rather than trying to re-budget within the existing system. And yes, a candidate who is more concerned about honestly addressing the city’s future than with developing a mainstream look for television.

Eric Bidwell is a serious candidate. He’s asking us how serious we are about making our city better. I think we can step up, affirm that we want to be a part of it, and join him in that effort. In my next posts I’ll look at a couple of his ideas and examine how they could play out in San Diego in the near future.

— JAY PORTER

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