San Diego’s mayoral candidates want to find you a job. If you’ll give them a second, they’ll let you know there’s nothing more important to them.
City Councilman Carl DeMaio: “I know how to create jobs.”
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis: “My biggest priority is jobs.”
Congressman Bob Filner: “My chief priority in San Diego is jobs.”
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher: “My job is job creation.”
The candidates’ focus on job creation shouldn’t surprise. Unemployment remains around 9 percent in San Diego, the legacy of a ghastly four-year-old economic downturn. Despite all the talk of local issues like pensions, Chargers stadiums and streets, jobs hit closest home. No issue resonates more among voters than the economy.
But their promises have a problem. Mayors have much less direct influence on economic development than they do on the other big ticket items.
“What a mayor can do for the local economy is not as large as what voters may think,” said Enrico Moretti, an economist at UC Berkeley who is writing a book on jobs and local policies. “By and large, local economies follow state and national trends.”
Still, San Diego government’s hands aren’t tied. Five San Diego economists told the City Council last week that politicians could make progress by improving San Diego’s quality of life and streamlining land-use and permitting regulations.
Take housing costs. Right now, San Diego has some of the highest prices compared to other regions that it fights with for jobs. You can blame that on the sun and the sand. But long building-permit approval times and development fees add to the price tag, the economists said.
Streamlining those processes could lower San Diego’s cost of living and make it easier for the area to attract middle-class jobs.
“For very specific things, like the competitiveness of housing, cities can have a real impact,” said Marney Cox, chief economist at the San Diego Association of Governments.
It’s also worth noting that the economists contend San Diego government can promote economic development simply by doing what it’s supposed to do. A balanced city budget, well-maintained streets and a healthy K-12 education system can lead businesses to trust San Diego.
“I think there’s a sense that the firms have to feel confident that the city is on a long-term, sound financial footing and can manage its obligations,” said Dan Seiver, a finance professor at San Diego State University. “Fears that it can’t, I think, are a distraction and a real negative.”
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 email@example.com or 619.550.5663.
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