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There was no shortage of pomp and circumstance as San Diego’s movers and shakers gathered on the night of January 13th, 2010 to listen to Mayor Jerry Sanders’s annual State of the City address. The gilded walls of the newly restored Balboa Theater provided an appropriate backdrop to the Mayor’s speech of lofty goals and future dreams for the city of San Diego. The beginning of the speech started predictably enough — with several references to his family and a few quick jokes about the length of his speech. However, Sanders soon dove into his plans for the upcoming year, glossing over a variety of possible future ventures that included a new Chargers stadium, improvements to the convention center, and even the possibility of a rebuilt City Hall.
Often, San Diego was described as a land of hope — Sanders struck a tone of quiet optimism by making a promise to the city of San Diego that he would fix San Diego’s structural deficit within the next 18 months. He further acknowledged that it would be “unglamorous work.” But whether his tactics would be effective is another argument in and of itself.
From my perspective, his ideas simply do not add up. It is a completely legitimate thought to invest in infrastructure to bring long term profit to a city, but not in the climate the nation is facing currently. With the recession still dangerously looming over all of the citizens of San Diego, the people do not deserve to have their money gambled with in the form of hefty new expenditures. In response to these assertions, Sanders said that he would make no bad deals. But how can we trust the City of San Diego to make effective deals when they haven’t been proven to work before?
Long-term solutions, such as the ones that Sanders is proposing, require a steady source of income. Needless to say, that stability has been absent in city politics for a long period of time. What the city needs now are short-term, effective changes that can help seal the immense deficit before the city spends inordinate amounts of money on projects that don’t guarantee instantaneous profit. With the citizens of San Diego suffering right now from lack of funding for city services, we don’t need any more outlandish solutions that solely focus on ensuring the future. Instead, there needs to be a greater focus on the present: on the park service hours that are being threatened, on the city employees that are being laid off, and the on the spiraling debt that the city has accumulated. It’s unfathomable to me that so much focus is being directed towards options that possess legitimate risk, the very reason that the nation is facing a recession right now. And as much as I want to believe that Mayor’s words that “no bad deals will be made,” prior knowledge prevents me from doing so.
One specific idea that struck me as particularly troublesome was the Mayor’s description of the privatization of city services as a dynamic idea that was long overdue. Not only does this idea defeat the entire purpose of a city government, but it also jeopardizes the safety of its citizens. The responsibility of a local City Council is to insure that its citizens possess the best possible amenities. Leaving these projects up for profit-driven contractors opens them up to avarice and dwindling quality of services.
As much as I wanted to enjoy Sanders’s speech, I could not. His promises of a gleaming San Diegan utopia were hard to believe because there was no solid foundation to back them up. If there is no present to build upon, by definition, there can be no future. At the end, Sanders posed a question to the audience: do we want to move forward or lag behind as a city? I found the answer to that question to be contradictory: if we are already lagging now, there is no way we can move forward.