A few things to talk about:

  • OK, this U-T editorial today supporting the schoobrary is garbage.

    With San Diego’s unemployment rate on the rise, this project would generate up to 600 high-paying jobs at the peak of construction. It’s the classic public works stimulus for San Diego’s economy, and work could begin on it immediately. Immediately, that is, except for a $20 million funding shortfall that could be covered by the San Diego Unified School District’s proposal to take over the sixth and seventh floors of the new library for a 300-student high school.

    Even if you assume the cost of construction for the downtown library hasn’t gone up since the 2005 estimate and even if you take the boosters at their word that they’ve raised $33 million (even though they’ll only disclose the donors of $3 million) the project is short $45 million!

    Basic arithmetic: There is $80 million in downtown redevelopment funds (which could be used for a vast array of other needs) set aside for this supposedly. There is $33 million pledged from mostly unidentified donors. There’s a $20 million grant from the state (that we have to beg them to extend). Now, unless the U-T is using a bizarre form of mathematics unknown to us mere mortals, this means there is a total of $133 million set aside for this library. And the cost — again, assuming construction costs have stayed the same for four years — is $185 million.

    I guess they could be saying that the project could and should begin without adequate funding — that money will magically appear halfway through construction. This isn’t entirely stupid: If you want to shove a project down someone’s throat, the best thing to do is to start it and throw up your hands later when you run out of money and tell the public there’s nothing you can do but ask for more — unless they want to leave a half-finished skeleton downtown.

    Library boosters have had a hard enough time rounding up the $33 million in donations since 2002. Is it really wise to just start building assuming that you’ll round up an additional $30 million minimum after construction begins?

    This gets to the heart of my frustration with this project. It’s not the project, it’s the deception. If San Diegans voted on a small tax to build this thing, I’d bow down and push as hard to get it done as anyone ever has.

    But relentless library boosters like the U-T have determined that the only way to get it built is to deliberately mislead people at every turn: The mayor saying that this is being paid for without dipping into city general fund dollars. Not true, the money is downtown redevelopment tax dollars that could be used for many many things, including things for which the general fund is paying. The estimates for this thing haven’t been updated since 2005 and they won’t be until philanthropists commit tens of millions more to it: i.e. give us money, then we’ll tell you exactly how much it costs.

    And the U-T now is pretending that the only thing standing between us and a new library is the “labyrinthine” safety rules that might keep us from awkwardly shoving an unneeded high school into a library that will cost so much to run we can’t even make use of its top floors!

    No, what’s standing in the way of the library are two things: money and distrust. I keep waiting for rational thinkers to emerge on this schoobrary thing. There’s no demand for a new high school downtown.

    However, there is demand for an elementary school — and the Proposition S funds being sent to this farce could help pay for one — but they can’t put an elementary school on top of a library.

    So I guess we won’t build an elementary school because we are most concerned, apparently, with using new school funds to build a new downtown library not to fill the school system’s needs.

    (Another bit of irony: The U-T adamantly opposed Proposition S. It was Proposition S which is making these funds for the schoobrary available. So I guess Proposition S is OK now that it can help leverage the publisher’s philanthropy.)

  • City Attorney Jan Goldsmith called yesterday to confirm that the new gang of four at the City Council can indeed sign a memo together to get something on the full council docket. Had they gotten one more member, a fifth, it would have been a majority and it would have constituted an illegal private serial meeting. Maybe.
  • I also heard from Donna Frye who called to say that she thought the suspicion that they were doing something outside the purview of what’s allowed by the Brown Act is further justification for their move to lower the threshold of council support that’s required to go around the council president.

    Confused? Remember there was an undercurrent to this discussion. On the one hand, a commenter made the point that the very fact that Frye and her City Council colleague Carl DeMaio could get something on the docket without the support of the council president proved that they didn’t need to lessen the council president’s powers in order to get things on the docket.

    Frye says that the amount of behind-the-scenes effort it took to get four people to support this to get it on the docket was too much and communicated something that people took as an illegal secret meeting. For that reason alone, she says, they have to make it easier to get things on the docket when you have to go around the council president.

    “Even though it doesn’t violate the letter of the Brown Act and it’s legal, it certainly has the appearance of violating the spirit which is why it makes sense to reduce the number of council members required to get something docketed,” Frye said.

    What do you think?

  • And finally, I will be on Editor’s Roundtable Friday morning. The topic will be the Chargers and their falling out with the city of Chula Vista, and the city of San Diego’s always interesting politics. Of course all topics revolve around the collapsing economy.

    But speaking of the Chargers and mayor of Chula Vista, whose little fight I chronicled last week, I heard from the chairman of the port commission, Steve Cushman, who had a couple of observations to share.

    Cushman said that he thought Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox was just plain in the wrong when she accused the Chargers of being secretive and disingenuous in their dealings with the South Bay city.

    Cushman’s thoughts are interesting, after all, because it’s the port that would have much of the say over a waterfront stadium and he has generally been working closely with Cox as they jointly pursued the Gaylord Entertainment convention center and resort.

    “I have to respectfully disagree with Mayor Cox,” Cushman told me. He said the Chargers weren’t holding anything back from Chula Vista. They had been asked to back off from their pursuit of the stadium while the city and port tried to lure Gaylord to town.

    “They were asked to back off, and they did,” Cushman said. “That’s why they were silent. To characterize it any other way is just not true.”

    And he added a bit of news. Cushman said that now that the Sunrise Powerlink is on tap, there is a good chance that the power plant sitting at the end of the South Bay will be gone within a reasonable amount of time — as in soon enough to build something for the Chargers.

    “I am hopeful that the power plant site will now be available in a reasonable period of time,” Cushman said.

SCOTT LEWIS

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