Almost two years ago, in an interview with me, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders declared that if he were to use money set aside for downtown redevelopment to pay off the debt the city owes on its downtown ballpark, it would be similar to someone, short sighted to be sure, cashing out their retirement funds to get through a jam.

Actually, let’s just quote him directly:

For every dollar we might take out of CCDC, we would lose about $7 dollars in leverage. I’m unwilling to now — when we have to put ourselves back on sound financial footing — I’m unwilling to take money out of a long-term investment. As far as I’m concerned, that’s like taking money out of your IRA.

So what are we supposed to learn from the news this week that he has now decided that paying off the ballpark with downtown redevelopment funds is OK?

I don’t mean to throw this back at the mayor as some sort of “gotcha.” I’m serious. Two years ago, the mayor was making the point that he thought of downtown redevelopment savings as a kind of major, long-term investment akin to a person’s retirement funds.

Everyone knows, or you should know, that you don’t cash out your retirement funds even if you’re bankrupt. If the banks, lenders and government come to liquidate you, they can’t take your retirement savings, usually. And the tax advantages of leaving long-term funds alone like that are too good, and the penalties for doing the opposite too painful to do anything other than just leave it.

You only touch your retirement savings in a truly ugly situation — a point in your life when you simply can’t stand the recriminations that might come if you fail to meet your debts. This is how the mayor viewed downtown redevelopment money.

If the mayor saw these funds as equal in worth to retirement savings, then it only stands to reason that, now that he is willing to raid them, he thinks City Hall is in the kind of trouble that makes you do desperate things.


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