Politicians are fond of telling people that things don’t cost real money when they actually do. San Diego’s most recent example came during last week’s City Council decision to spend $2 million on an environmental review for a possible new Chargers stadium.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Council members sought to blunt any wariness over the price tag for the review – which the team not only doesn’t want, but is actively undermining – by repeating that the $2 million price tag wasn’t a big deal.

“It’s a new revenue source for unrestricted use that was not budgeted for in the FY16 budget,” Faulconer’s spokesman Matt Awbrey told us. “There will be no service-level reductions as a result of using these funds.”

Councilwoman Myrtle Cole repeated the line last week in a KPBS interview, calling the $2 million spent on the stadium study “unanticipated” and emphasizing that it wouldn’t subtract from city services.

That explanation’s a red herring. The $2 million is simply $2 million. The city could have used it on anything it wanted. And it decided to spend it on the stadium.

Faulconer, Cole and others point to the source of the money, a convoluted repayment of cash from the state that city leaders hadn’t expected to get back.

But even if the money is the municipal equivalent of finding a $20 bill in your pocket, city leaders chose to spend it on, to keep the metaphor going, a bunch of lottery tickets instead of dinner.

We hear all the time about how the city doesn’t have enough money to pay for things. Here are a few things that could be funded with $2 million:

Three new two-person fire crews, which are reducing response times in needy neighborhoods

Four additional hours a week at every branch library in the city for a year

Three additional hours a week at every recreation center in the city for a year

A new neighborhood development blueprint, known as a community plan update

Multiple public restrooms in neighborhoods with large homeless populations

I could keep going. But the point is this: Things cost money. And when you buy one thing, it means you can’t buy something else. Remember this when city leaders try to pretend otherwise.

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...

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