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During his State of the City speech, Mayor Kevin Faulconer outlined his priorities to define San Diego’s global identity.

This week, City Council members will release budget memos that typically go unnoticed, triggering an important citywide discussion. The city of San Diego’s last budget totaled $3 billion. The next one will be more. To make the most of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars, the city’s hustle starts now to get moving on a few major changes.

San Diego needs a big emphasis on street repairs and other infrastructure improvements. So an early priority should be securing funding for the city’s maintenance needs, as well as investing in new projects like safe sidewalks, prioritized where they’re needed most. While we’re at it, the city should review how it chooses which project to tackle next. Does a new fire station in Encanto take priority over potholes in Linda Vista? If the city is going to make the best use of taxpayer dollars, we have to be confident in its prioritization policy.

While our state’s record-breaking drought has been a defining issue of recent years, San Diego ratepayers are still faced with increasing rates, failing water mains and continued dependence on imported water. City Council must strengthen its commitment to securing local sources of water for future generations.

There’s a note of optimism to the city’s initial progress in opening municipal data to the public. San Diego’s new chief data officer, Maksim Pecherskiy, has an innovative vision for rolling out a proactive transparency program, but there is still room for improvement. Building out the Open Data Department this year would reinforce this new focus. Similarly, as the city finds new uses for its data, it should give special attention to how exactly that data is published. People want useable formats, including functional spreadsheets and geocoded data. The ability to manipulate this wealth of information will open new doors for civic engagement and innovation.

Challenges in meeting fire and medical response time goals continue to be a struggle in several neighborhoods, but solutions are being tested. Council members should call for a review of the city’s “fast response” pilot program to learn whether this approach is an efficient way to quickly improve safety in underserved neighborhoods. In fact, any new programs should undergo thorough review before further investments are made.

Addressing the pollution washed onto our beaches after it rains will be a defining challenge for local governments this year. Regulators have introduced new requirements for the cleanliness of stormwater runoff. Public agencies and private businesses are not yet confident about how new permitting requirements can be met in a cost-effective manner, if at all. The city needs a deliberate strategy that involves more finesse than simply throwing money down the storm drain.

Our city’s livability will again be at stake this year. What solutions will be offered to engender more housing affordability, better public health outcomes and more vibrant communities?

Community plan updates should be a priority. When residents are engaged in the discussion, we can ensure neighborhoods grow in a way that is respectful, but also provides the growth we need to make housing affordable. The clash between what we all want for our city and what a vocal minority will allow to be built in their “backyards” requires a solution that bridges the divide between advocates for change and adherents to the status quo.

Our city’s direction should be a public struggle. In a speech designed to cement San Diego’s reputation as a world-class city, Faulconer outlined his vision for 2015. Let’s get started.

Sean Karafin is vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Karafin’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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