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When we held our post-election panel discussion back in November, we tried to make it a more forward thinking conversation: Where were San Diego politics headed?

Tom Shepard, the political consultant who was one of our speakers, made the observation that he thought the seriousness of the city’s financial problems would unify what was generally perceived to be a very labor-friendly City Council behind some tough compensation stances. That turned out to be a pretty prescient prediction.

I don’t think it’s all that surprising that the City Council voted to impose tough contracts on the police and blue-collar workers. After my interview with Kevin Faulconer and Tony Young, it was pretty clear that getting five votes to impose the mayor’s contract proposals was totally realistic. What was surprising — amazing even — was that the City Council voted unanimously to impose the contracts.

That was a jaw dropper. That Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald and Ben Hueso went with this — let alone Sherri Lightner and Young — is a big deal.

Not only was the majority of the City Council considered to be beholden to labor, but the body had also now been granted more power than it had in previous years: It was allowed to not just reject or impose the mayor’s proposals on employees — it could have also, essentially, negotiated with the employees itself. The new city attorney had determined that the City Council could simply tell the mayor to come back with something more amenable to the employees.

That they didn’t is really a powerful message. They might really understand just how bad things are.

I’m not going to get too emotional here. But think of the possibilities. If we all agree things are bad, then we can start arguing about how to change them! It’s like dream world for me.

Lest I get too excited, there’s no question we’ve kicked this can down the road. For the first time in a long, long time, we’re going to see declining revenues in the city. Add this new reality to the rising liabilities we’ve been building for several years, and you have trouble down the road. The city’s political leaders could have taken bolder steps to persuade employees to help us contain those liabilities. At the same time, they could have done a tremendous amount to correct the structural imbalance at City Hall.

But we still have a city that is set up to spend more than it is set up to bring in.

At least we might be getting to the point where everyone understands this.


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