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Those of us who have the privilege of doing business in San Diego know that we have a unique business community that looks beyond each member’s own narrow interests to ensure a positive climate for all business.
We regularly devote time to one industry’s growth initiative knowing that its growth will affect many different business sectors. For instance, growth in the clean technology sector, and the good-paying jobs it generates, will ultimately benefit the real estate and construction industries and business-service firms.
We also frequently engage on local civic matters that might not seem directly related to business, such as the city’s annual budget, knowing that the quality of life in San Diego and the effectiveness of our local government has a very real impact on all of our success.
That’s why I’m supporting Proposition D, which represents the first time all of the natural adversaries at City Hall have come together to put forward a constructive solution to the city’s seemingly endless cycle of deficits and service cuts. With Prop D, everyone has stepped away from their ideological stances to meet in the middle for a practical, permanent solution to the city’s structural deficit.
Certainly, it was not easy for a Republican Mayor, who has consistently opposed any new tax by working every angle of reform and strategic cuts (totaling over $300 million so far), to concede that the recession’s toll on city revenues was simply outpacing his solutions. And I know it wasn’t easy for organized labor to soften their staunch resistance to managed competition and other initiatives they’ve fought on behalf of their members. And it sure is unusual to see Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilmember Donna Frye form the Dynamic Duo.
But this type of cooperation among adversaries is what’s needed in crisis situations. And make no mistake: We are in a crisis.
When you’re idling eight fire engines a day and leaving communities without adequate fire and 9-1-1 paramedic coverage in order to balance your budget, it’s a crisis. When you’re planning to lay off sworn police officers who are now keeping our streets safe, it’s a crisis. When you’re considering shutting down libraries and recreation centers because you simply don’t have the funds to operate them, it’s a crisis.
In my view, the severe reduction of services we face is a crisis not just for residents, but also for our businesses, which rely heavily upon San Diego’s safety and unparalleled quality of life for our success.
Imagine the impact to tourism and our thriving downtown entertainment district if the Gaslamp Quarter bike unit is dismantled or the Homeless Outreach Team reduced — both very real possibilities. Restaurants, nightclubs and hotels downtown rely on a solid police presence to keep order and create a sense of safety that encourages convention attendees to dine out, shop and spend money that cycles through our economy.
Beyond tourism, our high-technology, biotech and other high-paying sectors are in constant competition against the Bay area, Austin and Chicago for successful companies. Our advantage in keeping our homegrown entrepreneurial success stories and attracting others to San Diego is our quality of life — with our ideal weather, our beautiful beaches and parks and our low crime rate at the heart of our attraction.
While budget cuts can’t affect our sunny climate, they certainly can hamper our enjoyment of it when our beaches aren’t groomed, our parks aren’t maintained and our crime rate rises.
And a few years in a child’s life when their local library and recreation center is shuttered can have an enormous impact on their success in school, their long-term health — and our future workforce.
Why would we risk these impacts to our city when we have a sensible option to avoid them and the opportunity to solve our chronic budget problems once and for all?
If the temporary half-cent sales tax were onerous to business or San Diego families, I could understand strong resistance — and would probably join it. But the fact is, other local municipalities as well as the state of Arizona have found that slight increases in their sales tax had no impact on consumer spending and didn’t send shoppers elsewhere.
The impact to families is estimated to be on the order of 30 cents per day for a median-income household’s taxable purchases — hardly worth allowing our essential city services to be decimated.
I know many of my colleagues in business are concerned that this temporary budget relief will sap the will of the City Council to continue reforms, but I believe the proposition’s requirements of reform steps — along with the mayor’s continued determination to permanently solve the structural budget deficit — will keep reform progress marching forward.
As a longtime San Diego businessperson who has been a strong advocate for good government, I urge the voters to support Proposition D, and keep our quality of life the envy of the nation and contribute to a healthy, growing economy.
Mel Katz is executive officer at Manpower and the former chairman of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, San Diego Convention Center Corporation and the San Diego Workforce Partnership.