San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders always has had trouble with the present in his annual State of the City addresses. The past, he’s told us over the previous six years, was horrible.
The mayor always spoke most eloquently about the failures of leadership that led to the city’s financial crises. The future, he’s told us in more recent speeches, is bright. Reforms he’s led in San Diego’s pension system and investments he wants to make in big buildings, he said, will make declining library and recreation center hours a thing of the past.
Wednesday night, however, Sanders’ speech will have to address the present. The mayor’s ability to ridicule the past or revel in the future won’t resonate as much with the reality that his leadership is in its final year.
The time to evaluate the present-day State of the City, and Sanders’ effect on it, has arrived.
In many ways, the present isn’t all that bad. Expect the mayor to take a victory lap over the city’s longstanding budget deficits, an issue that has dominated his tenure. The city faces a $31.8 million gap next year, but the mayor has vowed to close the city’s structural budget deficit before he leaves office. The budget trends are so promising that major city leaders already talking about restoring services cut in years past.
Sanders also is expected to reveal that fundraisers have secured the final private donations to finish construction on the new $185 million downtown library. The library, which sat on the drawing board for three decades, would allow him to stamp his name on a major San Diego landmark.
In other ways, though, the present isn’t that kind to the mayor’s legacy.
San Diegans now get considerably less from their government in services, particularly in libraries and parks, than they did when Sanders took office. The mayor hasn’t figured out how to keep the city’s streets and other infrastructure from further deteriorating. It will be interesting to see whether he makes a nod to or ignores these less shiny characteristics of his tenure.
In short, Sanders likely will forecast victory, but will he acknowledge the casualties?
Other present-day issues likely will make up a major part of the speech. Sanders is trying to push through three big civic projects this year. The $520 million expansion of the Convention Center faces legal, fiscal and environmental hurdles. Sanders and the Chargers are singing Kumbaya again over an $800 million downtown football stadium, but the project suffers from a lack of a financing plan. A $40 million proposal to eliminate cars from Balboa Park’s central plaza recently had a legal setback.
All these projects have been on the mayor’s agenda for years. Will he just extol their virtues or break new ground in detailing how these get done?
Sanders will deliver his seventh and final State of the City address at 6 p.m. Wednesday night at the Balboa Theater downtown.
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.
Like VOSD on Facebook.