Numbers don’t tell the whole story. But they tell an important part of it.

Over outgoing Mayor Jerry Sanders’ seven-year tenure, many of the numbers significant to San Diegans’ quality of life have improved.

Crime is down. So are police response times. Hours at recreation centers held steady. Most surprisingly, city library hours — once were veering toward extinction — improved by almost 10 percent during Sanders’ tenure.

The one key area that shows definitive decay is street conditions. The city periodically assesses its roads and its figures show that the overall road network is down more than 12 percent and projected to get worse for at least the next five years.

Other numbers, notably those relating to the Fire Department, don’t appear here. That’s because they were incomplete and documented in a way that makes good comparisons tough. This is a blight on Sanders’ record. As we noted in our evaluation of his promises about city finances, Sanders broke his promise to provide a report card about the services provided to taxpayers.

“He didn’t favor being measured,” Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said.

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Public Safety

San Diego is one of the safest big cities in the country and safer than when Sanders took office. Crime is trending downward in big cities around the country, but not necessarily to the degree that it’s slowed in San Diego. Here it’s down by more than a third and police response times are all down by double digits. The Police Department also now is hitting its goals for responding to incidents in all priorities.

All of this happened during an era of fiscal chaos and austerity.

Still, all was not well with the Police Department during Sanders’ tenure.

The department had a series of misconduct and favoritism cases over the past couple years, the most serious one involved a traffic cop who was convicted of soliciting sexual bribes while on duty. The police chief blamed budget cuts for less internal oversight.

The department was a national leader in neighborhood policing for focusing on crime prevention as much as crime response — but that approach took a hit during Sanders’ time in office.

The department now is seeking tens of millions of dollars in increased funding.

And the numbers might be taking a troubling turn. If the trend through the first 10 months of the year continues, violent crime will be up by more than 10 percent in 2012, said Asst. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.

“Obviously,” Zimmerman said, “it’s a concern.”

Libraries and Rec Centers

Budget deficits forced huge cutbacks to hours at the city’s libraries and recreation centers.

But with better-than-expected tax revenues pouring into city coffers in recent years, Sanders has restored those services. Hours at recreation centers are about the same as when Sanders took office, and library hours are up by almost double digits.

That’s a far cry from April 2011, when Sanders proposed reducing branch library hours to an average of 18.5 a week to close a budget gap. Those cuts never happened, and library hours citywide now are expected to average 45 a week this year.

The city doesn’t have a goal for hours in libraries or recreation centers, making it hard to judge Sanders’ performance on those metrics. Go back a few years before Sanders was elected, for instance, and library hours were much higher than they are now.


Sanders fell short on street repairs probably more than any other issue. Early in his term, he promised that 75 percent of the city’s roads would be in good condition, typically pothole-free, by the time he left. Now, at the end of his tenure, the city says that 42 percent are in good condition.

San Diego’s overall road network has decayed by more than 12 percent and is projected to get worse over the next five years.

We’ve done a lot of reporting on streets recently. Our in-depth story found Sanders’ vow to improve roads among the infrastructure-related promises broken by his administration. I also appeared on radio to discuss the latest on streets.

Where’s Fire?

Last year, a major study on the city’s Fire Department found it was meeting its goals of responding to serious medical incidents and fires less than half the time.

The Fire Department provided little information about its performance over Sanders’ tenure. Those figures show it’s still struggling to come close to new lower standards the study recommended.

Sanders’ final budget figures also don’t include the cost of other aspects of the study, according to the independent budget analyst.

Bottom line: The numbers — to the extent they can be evaluated — don’t look good.

Still, Stewart Gary, the consultant who wrote the city fire study, was effusive in his praise of the outgoing mayor. Sanders, Gary said, showed political guts to ask for a fire study when he knew the results weren’t going to be pretty and deserves credit for not burying the report.

“On fire service issues, the mayor has been the most thoughtful, thought-provoking, tough yet caring about fire service customer service issues than any other big city mayor I have ever consulted with,” Gary said.

Graphics by Ashley Lewis.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. 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 or 619.550.5663.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Like VOSD on Facebook.

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.