Three no-ways and three let’s-see-what-we-can-do’s. Those are the answers we got from councilmembers this week about the mayor’s plans to cut library and recreation center hours almost in half. Two others didn’t give us answers.
Depending on how you look at it, the results of our survey could suggest that an hours-cutting compromise might be in the works — bad but not horrible news for recreation and library patrons. Or they could point to one big and bloody battle to come, with those two other council members serving as swing votes.
Dwindle, Dwindle, Dwindle
Besides giving me a chance to dust off some “check out” and “overdue” puns, the city’s proposed library cuts made me wonder: how does our spending on bookworms compare to other cities? I sent a query (along with some “Pick me! Pick me!” wording) to City Hall scribe Liam Dillon, who was answering questions from readers yesterday as the designated People’s Reporter.
The answer: back in 2006, our spending on libraries used to be comparable or even better than several cities. But the spending has since dwindled: the mayor’s proposal would make it only 2.73 percent of the city budget. That’s down from 4.2 percent in 2006 and 3.1 percent in the current fiscal year.
Another budget question: What would have happened if the city never gave big retroactive pension boosts to employees back in 1996 and 2002? With the benefit of hindsight, those look like incredibly boneheaded decisions.
By one estimate, the city could have saved almost $300 million — about $27 million this year.
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That would pay for a whole lot of library hours or cops or fire services or street repairs. And it would make a big dent in the city’s “structural deficit”: the fact that the city takes in less money than it spends.
Wait, you can do that? Well, with creative accounting — “magic,” as the mayor puts it, or trickery, as others might call it — you can indeed. The city finds the money through “one-time” fixes, as Dillon explains. You may do this with your own budget: sell the coin collection to pay the rent or just not bother to fix the leaky roof this year. Do it too much, though, and you’re just ignoring the bigger problems.
An Hour of People Excitedly Talking About Numbers
Our forum this week analyzed the changing ethnic makeup of San Diego, and we’ve posted the audio of the confab.
Transgender and Not Even Out of High School
Isaac Gomez, a high school junior from San Diego, has already gone through the kind of transition that most transgendered people only reach much later in life.
He’s changed his name, gotten a mastectomy (at age 14) and taken on a different sexual identity from the female gender he was born with. On top of all that, he spoke to the school board about how to handle bullying.
In this week’s Q&A, Gomez talks about coming out in middle school, what schools can do to help people like him, and his own experiences with bullying.
He also explains what he thinks people should know about the transgendered: “We’re not as dramatic as it sounds. That’s what I thought at first. That it was this big dramatic kind of drag-show-thing. And it’s just normal people that don’t belong in that body.”
Reality or ‘Budgetary Tap-Dancing’
The school district’s leadership went on the attack yesterday against a claim raised by the teachers union that there are tens of millions of dollars available to cancel layoffs. Not so, says the superintendent as he tried to explain $57 million in “unextended balances/set aside,” terms that sound like they came right out of the Bureaucrat’s Dictionary of Confounding Verbiage. (It’s a 10-volume set.)
The union president scoffed at “budgetary tap dancing.”
News You Can Abuse
The U-T devoted space in its news columns to a staff-written story about the success of the paper’s Groupon-like “Daily Deal” advertising program. “Its success demonstrates the company’s ability to deliver results,” the paper reported, paraphrasing its publisher. “Local journalism hits a new low,” twittered CityBeat’s Kelly Davis.
They’re in the Money
You can check out the salaries of more than three dozen local CEOs thanks to the AFL-CIO’s handy database. A few are in the $10 million-plus range, including the CEO of Bridgepoint — the controversial higher education company we recently profiled — clocking in with a 2009 salary of $20,532,304, 618 times the nation’s median work’s pay.
If you look at the database, note that you can put the CEOs in alphabetical order by city. In addition to the many CEOs in San Diego, there are a few in other local communities, including Poway, La Jolla, Escondido, Rancho Santa Fe and Carlsbad. And there’s one mislabeled as being in “Sand Diego.” (If you’d like to go there, take the bridge over from Boronado.)
What We’ve Learned This Week:
School’s Not Out, but the Library Is: There’s no funding to staff about a quarter of San Diego school libraries, and every seeming solution from volunteers to no staffing at all is filled with problems.
OK, School’s Actually Out: We’ve all heard about the tuition and space crunch that’s plaguing California’s top state universities. Community colleges are facing their own big challenges, and they’re turning away students in droves. (Not to mention dumping summer school, as San Diego’s junior colleges are doing this year.)
Another Fine Mess: The city would really like to get out of paying retirement health benefits to about 1,400 workers, but there’s a big problem: they didn’t pay into Medicare and might not be eligible to get it.
Refugees Miss Out on Support: Due to a screw-up, the county mistakenly didn’t give cash support to refugees from countries like Iraq.
Headline of the Week: “All God’s Children disinvited from San Diego First Church.” — a headline in Point Loma Nazarene University’s student newspaper. The news isn’t as drastic as it sounds: it refers to an organization called All God’s Children.
Quote of the Week (runner-up): “I’d like to see the libraries open 7 days a week and the Mayor’s office open twice a week and alternate Saturdays.” — commenter JamesF on our site.
Quote of the Week (winner):
“After it was over, I said ‘You know, I’m not throwing my sucker in the dirt and now just decimating things just to show you that I was right.’” — Mayor Jerry Sanders to the U-T, complete with earthy analogy, on how he didn’t slash spending on public safety after threatening it may be cut during last year’s election.
Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.