I often tell people that I write about two things: the city’s budget and big buildings. Both have dominated Mayor Jerry Sanders’ agenda during his now six years in office. And as he enters his final year how he resolves those issues will lay the foundation for his successor, define his legacy and shape San Diego for years to come.
Here’s an update on major issues that Sanders has discussed during his tenure and what to expect in 2012. (Sanders laid out his plans in a Union-Tribune piece earlier this month.)
Sanders’ office projects a $31.8 million deficit for 2013, the latest in an 11-year series of budget gaps that’s defined the city’s ongoing financial crisis. The mayor has vowed to leave the city with a structurally balanced budget. That means the city’s expenses will line up with its revenues without budget tricks.
Most political observers believe Sanders will reach his goal. Likely helping him out will be the city’s annual pension bill, which should to be lower than projected next year because of strong investment returns. Look for the new pension figure to come out around the same time as Sanders’ State of the City speech in mid-January.
To be sure, balancing the budget will be no small feather in Sanders’ cap. Still, the cuts he’s made have reduced city services, resulting in fewer library hours and worsening streets. We’re planning to do a comprehensive evaluation of Sanders’ tenure with a focus on his financial promises and city service levels in 2012.
After decades of sitting on the shelf, a new downtown library began rising from the ground in East Village in summer 2010. Sanders urged the City Council to approve the $185 million project. But there was a big risk. The city was $32.5 million short and was relying private donors to raise the funds by the end of this year.
It looks like that risk is paying off. A library fundraiser told me recently he expects to secure the final contributions by the deadline. The current plan, the fundraiser said, calls for Sanders to announce the donors at the State of the City speech.
The Convention Center
Sanders continues to push hard for a $520 million expansion of the Convention Center. The project moved forward last month with the latest in a series of piecemeal City Council votes. A couple of issues to watch as the expansion gathers steam.
• What’s the city’s bill and its risk? No matter what boosters might say, the current plan calls for the city’s day-to-day budget to pay $105 million over the next three decades. City leaders also are solidifying contributions from the Unified Port of San Diego and from visitors through a hotel-room tax hike. This strategy leaves the day-to-day budget at risk of paying more. The council is expected to vote on capping the city’s contribution in January.
• Who will control the center? The current under-the-radar kerfuffle pits the hotel industry against labor leaders over who will control over the center’s sales and marketing. This fight, as our own Scott Lewis wrote in May, has been a long time coming. But expect it to boil over sooner rather than later in the new year.
More than two years of talk about a new $800 million downtown stadium for the Chargers has yielded few tangible results. One stadium consultant arrived with much fanfare, but left quietly 18 months later without much to show for his work.
The city and the team need to produce some sort of proposal soon if they’re going to make the deadline for a long-planned November 2012 stadium ballot measure. Sanders has hired a New York-based financial advisor to help develop a proposal. The mayor expects to release a plan in the first three months of 2012.
The Other Big Projects
Sanders is shepherding a $40 million proposal from philanthropist Irwin Jacobs to remove traffic from Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama. They’ve been met with opposition from preservationists who argue that it hurts the park’s character. City Council voted in July to allow Jacobs to fund an environmental review of the proposal. But a Superior Court judge issued a tentative ruling recently saying the vote was illegal. It’s unclear how the court’s decision will affect the project.
One other big building remains moribund. Sanders had wanted to build a new City Hall, but he pulled a public vote planned for November 2010 after boosters were reticent to fundraise. The new City Hall dropped off the mayor’s agenda after that.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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