I’ve heard San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders give speeches now for four years. There are few people more likable and few people who could so endear themselves to a group of people after saying the word “erection” instead of “election.”
He’s a genuinely good man, who I believe is sincere.
But this was the most divisive, most insulting, most unenlightened speech I’ve ever heard him give. Whoever it was who thought it was a good idea to try to shame San Diegans into being great rather than inspire them should never work in the speechwriting business again.
And yes, that’s exactly what his speech was: I’m the mayor. Don’t agree with me? You’re a backward, short-sighted blogger (yes, he went after the “bloggers”) who would have opposed the piping of water to the city when that was first proposed. Oh and you like inertia — physics nerd.
Ulgh. I can go on, and will, but let’s do this point by point.
The mayor started off, of course, in victim mode. Lately this has been his thing: always the victim. Whether it’s the state, or the economy, or the unions, or the bloggers or the “defeatists,” he — and, therefore, we — are being pummeled by things we can’t control. There’s really nothing as refreshing as a politician working hard to help you feel sorry for yourself and articulate your complaints.
It was a tone that set the mood:
I know these are tough times. We’re all trying to spend less money, use less water, and put something aside for the future. I feel for our city and what its families are going through.
Just last week I had the privilege to lobby on our behalf in Washington, D.C., where they can solve all of their budget problems by simply printing more money.
I know, those feds. Total losers. But…
We’re working hard to get some of that money for jobs and economic development in San Diego.
Yes, those really were back-to-back lines, essentially saying: Those irresponsible freaks can’t manage money, so they’re printing it. Don’t worry, I’ve got my hand in the mix.
I’m hoping it was a joke that landed poorly. Otherwise it’s just a really weird way to insult someone. Like a minister preaching at a thief and then asking for a cut.
And I’ve been defending our city in Sacramento, where their answer to budget problems is to steal our money — and expect us to be grateful they didn’t steal more.
Victim. Goal? Deflect anger. Accomplished. He went on — more whining, yes, but something to be proud of!
Well, in the 12 months since the stock market nose-dived, every city and county in America has been hit by the double whammy of plummeting revenues and skyrocketing pension costs due to investment losses.
So light bulbs are going on across the country.
And as they go on, publications like The New York Times and Governing magazine have reported that San Diego was already a bright spot.
The governing magazine story was a five-paragraph brief that concluded the city still had problems but was more stable. Yes, truly a light bulb confirming a dramatic recovery. The second story was just plain weird.
The truth is the massive pension liabilities the mayor inherited are only getting worse. He’s neither raised more revenues nor cut costs in a way that changes that dynamic. The city’s infrastructure is being neglected, and small governments — Maintenance Assessment Districts and Business Improvement Districts — are arising across the city to pick up where the City Hall is leaving off.
The mayor and City Council have done so little, in fact, to deal with its long-term liabilities that we’re about to face the largest pension bill in the city’s history. And before anyone tells you that this is a “black swan” investment year — a calamitous storm no one could have prepared for — go back and read the Pension Reform Committee’s final report from 2004. Better yet, go read the city’s own financial disclosures and reports in 2003 and 2004.
I remember them well. I remember looking at them and noting that it would be 2009. In 2009, they said, when we’d face a pension bill as high as $200 million unless city officials changed something drastic.
Unless we raised taxes or made drastic cuts, we’d face a storm we could not imagine.
Hear that wind? A $200 million pension bill was unthinkable. Now we’re about to eat it.
This is why the former mayor resigned. And it’s why we hired the current mayor — to help make the tough decisions needed to either pay for this or get rid of this liability.
He has not made anything close to decisions like that.
Which makes his next statement so difficult to swallow:
The secret to our success is simple: We don’t run from hard work, or from tough decisions.
True, nobody’s running. They just never faced them in the first place. The mayor promised during his campaign that he would turn to bankruptcy if he couldn’t change the trajectory the city was on through negotiations. At the very least, bankruptcy was a threat that would provoke these kinds of deliberations.
And if he didn’t want to do bankruptcy and challenge employee compensation, then he was obligated to find new revenues. Yet he’s never once even suggested what would have to happen before he raised any tax in the city. Hasn’t made any significant cuts, refuses to raise revenues, discards bankruptcy as an option. What tough decision are we talking about?
He cites a “record of budget cuts” and the actual fact that they were able to pass a balanced budget last year. But that wasn’t a tough decision — there were no contentious service cuts.
Now, to be clear, the mayor and City Council did impose 6 percent compensation cuts on the city’s blue collar and police union workers. The other two unions agreed to similar cuts. This was a tough decision, no doubt. But it was like pouring a pitcher of water into an empty swimming pool. The trajectory of the city is accelerating far too rapidly downward.
Sanders was hired to change this.
But remember, he’s the victim here:
I feel like the guy who wins a pie-eating contest, only to learn that First Prize is more pie.
That pie has been there the whole time, J-Man. You told everyone you saw it and would deal with it.
As I mentioned, when the annual required contribution to the city’s pension system comes due in July 2011, it will be the largest pension payment in city history.
There has been considerable speculation about what the size of that payment will be, but whatever the amount, let me be clear:
We will make our full pension payment, to the penny.
The Mayor and City Council do not determine the amount of the payment, nor should we.
Of course, they don’t determine the size of the bill. But the mayor got an actuary and empanelled a private task force to make the case for a lower bill. And the pension board’s former chairman said the city would simply be insolvent unless the pension system tweaked the rules and lowered the bill.
They say this is necessary to deal with an unprecedented financial crisis. This is, of course, the exact same rationale that the city used in 2002 when deciding to, well, I’ll let him throw the previous mayor and City Council under the bus:
Nor should we repeat the mistakes of our predecessors and shortchange the retirement system so we can avoid making tough decisions.
Finally, we get to the capital projects. As I predicted before the speech, the mayor would tell us to build a new main library, a new City Hall and a new Convention Center. And, as predicted, he would decline to talk about the sacrifices needed to build these things.
What I didn’t expect was that he would add, so forcefully, a litany of insults about those who had questions or opposed the plans.
Virtually every major project in the city has encountered opposition from groups who have no faith in tomorrow, who view all progress with suspicion, who don’t believe we deserve to be a great city.
If these people had their way, we’d still be riding ferries to Coronado.
There wouldn’t be a Mission Bay, or a trolley system, or a vibrant downtown with homes, shops and restaurants.
We might not even have clean water piped into our homes.
For the record, I’m a huge fan of water. It’s key to my whole plan to stay alive.
Again, this was the most belligerent, divisive speech I’ve ever heard the mayor make — and I’m including the campaign attacks he would will himself to make.
So if you don’t believe that the city’s highest priority is a Convention Center or that the best way to connect people to the internet is to construct a massive building than you don’t want the city to be great?
This is paramount to saying that if you don’t support a president’s decision, you don’t support your country.
There are legitimate and major questions about not only how a new main library would be funded downtown but whether it’s the best investment for a city claiming to try to do three things: 1) create a valuable public gathering space; 2) connect people to the internet and; 3) build an architectural marvel for a city devoid of them.
But put all that aside and let’s look at his speech:
In the case of the new Central Library, the funds for construction would come from sources that could not be used for daily operations, or for any other library project or branch improvements.
Let me repeat that: The funds for its construction would come from sources that could not be used for any other library project or, for that matter, any other City service.
There’s no way you could word this in a more disingenuous way. No, the $80 million earmarked for the new main library could not be used for daily operations of other libraries. And it could not be used for other library projects. And, it could not be used for any other city service.
It has to be spent downtown.
But it could build sewer lines, fire stations, roads, sidewalks and on and on and on.
In fact, drum roll, the $80 million could also be used for the project the mayor declared was supported by a “virtually unanimous” (isn’t it either unanimous or not?) unnamed group: the expansion of the Convention Center.
Which brings us to the end of the speech: Yet another real-time contradiction. I could hardly listen.
Remember, this is the mayor so averse to taxes — the guy who wants us to step up and do something bold but refuses to even consider that these bold choices would require bold sacrifices.
And again, it’s everyone else that is the coward, not him. He’s the victim:
“If we do expand, who will pay for it?”
Whenever we ask that question, no one raises a hand.
Poor mayor. He goes on:
The people who don’t recognize these opportunities — or are scared off by any hint of dissension — or are waiting for a consensus to develop among the bloggers — often wake up one day to realize that their opportunity has passed them by.
Yes, San Diego, your opportunity to have everything you want without having to sacrifice anything to get it is passing you by. Soon, you’ll have to sacrifice.
The city is fundamentally unbalanced. This will have to change someday through higher taxes or a realignment of employee compensation. In fact, both will probably have to occur and we should have a leader willing to talk about it — not help us whine about it.