I have been brewing a theory for a while that the as the city of San Diego continues to struggle financially, there will be a directly proportional rise in a decentralization of core government services and infrastructure efforts.

Plenary Session Part I

Neighborhoods will start to look after themselves and provide what they need or want in parks, amenities, even public safety. To be even clearer: If you care about, say, a skate park in your neighborhood you’ll form a little group, collect money, pay for its upkeep and then look across the park at something else the city is neglecting, etc.

Let’s call it “The Dissolving City.”

This is already happening, of course. The city has dozens of business improvement districts, each of which basically exist to pick up where the government has left off. The area’s hotel owners have banded together to pass their own tax to market the region and fund pet projects. This is how the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, in the midst of a severe budget crisis, has found itself with more money to spend than ever before.

So when I heard about the task force being formed to study whether the city should (not “could”) build an enormous expansion to its already very large convention center, I started to ingest the news with this preconceived notion in mind.

Here the city is, falling apart, but somehow preparing itself for the costliest construction project it has perhaps ever undertaken.

Either we’re nuts, or some are gathering together, getting ready to pass the collection plate to make sure that while the city sinks, something they care about survives.

This is smart on their part. Whether I or anyone else disagrees, we should all understand what’s going on. So I’ve spent as much time as I could spare the last couple of days talking to people involved about the Mayor’s Citizen Task Force on the Convention Center Project.

Notice, first off, the name of the Task Force: It’s the Mayor’s Task Force on the Convention Center Project. The most important part of the discussion, whether it should be a project at all, is already decided and framed appropriately.

Steve Cushman, the chairman of the Port Commission and a co-chairman of the task force, wanted me to know it’s not a given, yet, though, that this is a project the city’s leader will pursue no matter what.

“The mayor said: ‘Tell me if this doesn’t make any sense. If you do, I will drop the issue — never bring it up again,” Cushman said.

My guess is that the task force will not tell the mayor that it doesn’t make sense. Over coming days, let’s try to figure out whether we think it does.

I’ve done a few interviews and have been reading a bunch of documents, and over the next few days I’ll roll out what I could collect.

But if you all give me a hand, we might come out with more insights. I’ll repost all the best comments and observations.

So! Insight posse, let’s get to work. Here are some documents I need help reviewing:

  • The Draft: This is the most important one right now. A trio within the task force itself is trying to take everything the group is doing and synthesize it into a draft recommendation. The trio is obviously supportive of expanding the Convention Center — they are: Mike McDowell, the vice president of the Lodging Industry Association; Lorena Gonzalez, the secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council; and Vince Mudd, a businessman and active leader of the Chamber of Commerce. Their document is located here. What do you see in it? What’s interesting?

    I found a couple of things and have some thoughts. How about you?

  • Here is a presentation consultant Piper Jaffray made to the task force outlining a proposed expansion, its cost ($750 million!) and potential ways to pay for it.
  • And finally, the pretty pictures.

As I said, I did a bunch of interviews and have a lot to share, but what do you see in all this? If the city has $750 million to spend on stoking and sustaining its economy, is this really the best way to spend it?


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