Politics Report: Mayor Proposes Library Layoffs

Politics

Politics Report: Mayor Proposes Library Layoffs

The mayor is proposing major cuts and actual layoffs in the library system with budget increases elsewhere. It’s a budget talk time.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria delivers the State of the City Address from the San Ysidro Library on Jan. 13, 2021.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria delivers the State of the City Address from the San Ysidro Library on Jan. 13, 2021.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria has aligned himself closely with libraries for many years.

He was part of the City Council that managed to get the Central Library built and he was, not without luck, the leader of the city when the new Central Library opened. His name will forever be at the top of the plaque outside the building commemorating its rise.

This year, as the elected mayor, he decided to give his first State of the City Speech in the city’s newest library in San Ysidro, near the border.

Gloria talked about how its creative employees managed to provide a wi-fi signal for neighbors and learning opportunities during the pandemic.

“This library, and what it means to this community, is a symbol of who we should be as a city,” he said.

One of the things we should be, then, is closed on Sunday and Monday. Even after getting a massive rescue package from the federal government and laying out $100 million in new spending in other parts of the budget, the mayor has proposed a 10 percent cut to the budget of the San Diego Public Library system.

He wants to clear up the helter-skelter hours libraries were open before (some were open Sundays, some weren’t, etc). He wants them to be open just Tuesday through Saturday every week. And he wants to lay off 153 people, many of whom are hourly and part-time. And those are not just government “layoffs” that are just vacant positions or whatever, but actual layoffs. It’s a $5.6 million cut from last year’s budget.

A few months ago, we wondered what he meant when he said he was going to address the city’s structural budget deficit. The mayor’s office says this is what that looks like.

“For the last several years the city has spent more than it has taken in, creating a structural budget deficit. We need to make reductions and find efficiencies to eliminate this imbalance that we inherited and in light of the ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic,” said Jen Lebron, the mayor’s spokeswoman, in a statement.

Michael Zucchet, the general manager of the Municipal Employees’ Association, the union that represents many librarians and other city workers, said the cuts were a “punch in the gut” and that Gloria’s rationale that the city doesn’t have the money for them doesn’t hold up. The city’s budget includes many increased spending promises, including $10 million to homeless programs, a $10.2 million special subsidy to the Convention Center and many new hires. The budget also proposes a more than 3 percent increase to police department spending.

“If there weren’t a spending spree going on, maybe that rationale would make more sense but it seems like something else altogether is going on,” he said.

Zucchet said that the union would be fighting the cuts and that most of the people on the City Council don’t support them.

It’s quite a fight to pick.

Why the cuts weren’t deeper: Gloria’s cut to the library hours actually saves $6.9 million but he wants to spend an additional $1.2 million on “e-materials and virtual hours in communities of concern.”

The Politics Report asked Lebron what a virtual hour is and she mentioned the Do Your Homework at the Library Program and Library NExT – both programs put in place under the previous mayor.

Library NExT is “a series of workshops for elementary, middle and high school students on topics including robotics, circuits, Quest for Space: Heat Experiments on the ISS and 64 + other STEAM subjects.”

The Politics Report definitely knows what those things are. (Seriously, they sound pretty cool. But, for now, those programs are on Zoom. And Zoom is not cool. That is not our bias showing. That is a fact. Zoom is not cool.)

All this talk about library hours does assume they’ll actually open for hours beyond the very restricted options they have now.

Prop. H: Suspended

We discussed a few weeks ago how a quirk of Proposition H, a 2016 voter-approved ballot measure that dedicated certain types of future revenue growth to infrastructure investments, could make a big difference in the 2022 budget.

That scenario is playing out, but Gloria is exercising his right to waive the initiative to make the requirement go away, he announced in his budget rollout this week.

Background: Prop. H said half of the growth in revenue increases would go to the city’s woeful streets, storm drains, sidewalks and other related physical needs. But it treated different types of revenue differently.

For sales taxes, it set the 2016 budget as its baseline. Through 2043, half of any increase in tax collections above that baseline – adjusted for inflation – will go into an infrastructure fund. So far, that hasn’t been very meaningful. The city has never approached the inflation-adjusted 2016 collection total.

But for hotel taxes, it’s different. There, the growth is figured from year to year. That meant when the globe encountered a life-altering pandemic that ended leisure travel, the city’s hotel tax collections plummeted. Now, they’re expected to rebound quite a bit. And half of that rebound – $20.3 million in this case, according to Gloria’s budget – is slated for the infrastructure fund.

But, there’s a backdoor, and Gloria has decided to walk through it.

“As discussed later, the Fiscal Year 2022 Proposed Budget includes the proposal to suspend the requirements of section 77.1 of the City Charter for one fiscal year to mitigate the revenue shortfall and allow for the use for other general fund purposes,” the budget reads.

Proposition H’s author, former Councilman Mark Kersey, isn’t stoked.

“Last year, the Council temporarily suspended Prop. H due to the fiscal crisis from the pandemic,” Kersey told us. “This year the city has gotten bailed out by the feds so another suspension is unnecessary. Politicians talking about the need for neighborhood infrastructure investment — especially in historically underserved communities—while simultaneously cutting infrastructure funding is exactly why voters overwhelmingly passed Prop. H in the first place.”

Talk About the Budget

This news makes our upcoming event on the budget even more interesting.

Here are those details:

When: April 21, 2021 at 5:30 p.m.

Who: VOSD members (not a member yet? Join today for $35/year or $3/month!)

Moderator: Lisa Halverstadt, VOSD City Hall/local governments reporter (@LisaHalverstadt)

Featuring guest panelists:

  • Mike Zucchet, general manager, Municipal Employees Association
  • Kyra Greene, executive director, Center on Policy Initiatives
  • Chris Cate, District 6 City Council member
  • Sean Elo-Rivera, District 9 City Council member

Sign up here.

Welp.

San Diego City Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera speaks at a press conference for a pop-up vaccine site in City Heights. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Not that it matters: Elo-Rivera revealed recently during an online City Council meeting that he was a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are playing in San Diego this weekend, against the San Diego Padres.

He said his staff has a rapid media plan for dealing with questions about this. Apparently the first item on it is: Post a gif of The Rock with a menacing “come-and-get-it” gesture.

That’s how this is going to be, we suppose.

And Speaking of the Padres: Why Tailgate Park Isn’t in the Sports Arena’s Boat

Last year, the city of San Diego pursued two high-profile redevelopment projects on city-owned property in the waning months of former Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s tenure.

One of those – a revamp of the Sports Arena property, made possible by the passage of Measure E, which lifted the 30-foot coastal height limit in Midway – is now in limbo. A change to state law that MTS prepared for and the city didn’t has cast in doubt the city’s arrangement with Brookfield Properties, the development team the city selected to lead the renewal effort.

The other big city project of 2020 was at Tailgate Park, the surface parking lot next to Petco Park, where the city and the Padres have agreed to pursue a plan to build a new biotech campus and 600 apartments.

Why, many people have asked us in the last two weeks, is the Sports Arena project in trouble, and the Tailgate Park project isn’t?

There’s a boring answer: The law that’s created this entire discussion – AB 1486 – included an explicit exemption for properties that used to be owned by the city’s former redevelopment agency. That includes Tailgate Park.

It was a close call, though. To qualify for the exemption, the city needed to strike an exclusive negotiating agreement with its development partner prior to Dec. 31, 2020.

It did so in early November instead, as the Union-Tribune’s Jennifer Van Grove reported at the time.

Couple of Things

Sympathy for the Developer: Former San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez tried to make it easier to build accessory dwelling units or granny flats or casitas or whatever you want to call them. The Council passed several fee changes and other permitting hassles. But now he’s trying to build two of them and he’s really struggling. “So how wrong were my projections? According to my plan, I should be getting ready to look for tenants right now. Instead, I am likely one month away from a groundbreaking,” he wrote in a commentary for us.

Jacobs on refugees: NBC had an update from the White House Friday: “After enduring fierce Democratic criticism for announcing it would preserve a Trump-era limit on refugees allowed to enter the U.S., the White House on Friday afternoon abruptly claimed there was ‘confusion’ regarding the earlier statement and promised an increased cap by May 15.” San Diego Rep. Sara Jacobs was one of the critics. “I am extremely disappointed that the White House has chosen to keep the Trump administration’s unthinkably low cap on refugee admission,” she said. “The country should allow more than 62,000 refugees into the country not the 15,000 Biden had indicated the country would take.”

Do you have anything to say to us? Then, fine. Or you can email at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.

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