Three Takeaways from the $4 Billion Decision - Voice of San Diego

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Three Takeaways from the $4 Billion Decision

We talk tradeoffs, downtown and how the big list can still be
changed.

 

My story on the city of San Diego’s decision to lock in $4 billion to combat Gov. Jerry Brown’s redevelopment-killing plan focused on the San Diego Unified School District’s brazen play for millions more from redevelopment coffers.

Three other takeaways from the City Council meeting are worth noting:

1. Tradeoffs!

If you’re spending $4 billion, there’s something in it for everyone. Like affordable housing? Here’s $1.7 billion. How about parking lots? $121 million. Maybe you like historic preservation, $180.9 million more. Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to emphasize that the $4 billion in funding comes from a big pool of property taxes — someone wins and someone loses with each decision.

We’ve focused on how those tradeoffs affect schools and the state, but the city has tradeoffs of its own.

Overall, the city receives much more money from redevelopment than it would otherwise, siphoning dollars from schools, counties, other local governments and, indirectly, the state. The problem is most of that money is restricted and only can be used to build stuff rather than pay down the city’s budget deficit. Monday, the city’s independent budget analyst estimated that the $4 billion decision could cost the city’s cash-strapped day-to-day budget as much as $20 million a year starting in 2013. Again, the city gets to spend much more than that through redevelopment, but $20 million could pay for regular services, such as fire and police, that redevelopment can’t.

Further at Monday’s meeting, public speakers addressed more tradeoffs over and over. Just one speaker apart, a downtown redevelopment booster and a teacher’s union official had vastly different takes. Pat Stark, who’s on a downtown redevelopment advisory committee, made a plea that the council shouldn’t shift a $9.2 million annual bond payment from its day-to-day budget onto redevelopment.

“There’s just not enough money,” Stark said. “We start doing that, you’re doing exactly what the governor is trying to do. You’re trying to steal money from one pot and put it into another pot.”

Camille Zombro, a vice president of the teacher’s union, followed Stark and told the council it should be spending extra money on education, not projects.

“The projects that may be delayed by this money can start later,” Zombro said. “But please don’t ask your children to start their future later.”

2. Downtown vs. Everyone Else

Something got into City Councilman David Alvarez on Monday. Alvarez, who represents the city’s southernmost neighborhoods, railed against the downtown focus of Monday’s spending spree. He voted not only against the $4 billion deal, but also individual projects expedited for downtown including a $616,000 dog park and parking lot.

Alvarez’s point was that downtown was receiving an unfair share of city resources and effort — and didn’t deserve it because downtown isn’t as rundown as other neighborhoods.

“It might be easy for people who have never been poor to water down the definition of blight to fund pet projects while ignoring the real needs of poor neighborhoods,” Alvarez said. “It’s a lot harder for those of us who have personally experienced poverty and who live in blighted neighborhoods to accept this inequality.”

There are two caveats to Alvarez’s statement. Downtown has the most projected growth of the city’s redevelopment areas so it has the most money available to spend. That could explain, in part, why downtown is getting $2.7 billion — or more than 60 percent — of the $4 billion plan. Also, one major downtown effort listed is $1.1 billion for unspecified affordable housing projects that could go anywhere in the city, including more impoverished neighborhoods.

Still, just because downtown money could be available doesn’t mean it has to be spent.

3. Make a List, Check it Twice

Up until Monday, city officials told me that if a redevelopment project didn’t make the $4 billion list it couldn’t be funded if the governor succeeded in eliminating redevelopment. That’s changed.

Now, I’m told that the mayor can add any redevelopment project he wants provided that the total spending plan doesn’t exceed the $4 billion the council approved. Even though the list provided minimal funding for a proposed Convention Center expansion and downtown Chargers stadium, it could change at any time. (Like all projects on the list, the council would still need to approve them before they’re built.) All it would cost is some of the other projects from the $4 billion the city now hopes will be at its disposal over the next four decades.

Update: Just received an email and spoke with Sanders’ spokeswoman Rachel Laing. She assured me that the Mayor’s Office developed the $4 billion project list with the intention that it would be set in stone, especially if the governor’s redevelopment elimination legislation passed. In other words, no substitutions.

“From a practical perspective, we believe the list voted on is the final list,” Laing said.

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

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