Short Cuts: Where the Candidates Landed on Cutting – and Restoring – City Services - Voice of San Diego

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Short Cuts: Where the Candidates Landed on Cutting – and Restoring – City Services

In a new ad, mayoral candidate David Alvarez says he restored funding for certain city services. So did Kevin Faulconer.

David Alvarez really wants you to know he’s the mayoral candidate who will fight for neighborhoods over business and downtown interests.

Alvarez emphasizes that message in his latest TV ad: “On the City Council, I restored funding for police, fire, parks and libraries.”

That’s true – but so did Alvarez’s opponent, Councilman Kevin Faulconer. (Faulconer, as a member of the Council from 2008 to 2010, also voted for some of the budget cuts that created the need to restore money in the first place.)

Faulconer was elected in January 2006, just as the city’s worst budget woes began to emerge. Alvarez, who took office in December 2010, arrived as the city started rebuilding.

An Alvarez campaign spokesman noted that the city’s police, Fire-Rescue, park and library budgets have increased in each budget the three-year councilman has approved.

But increases in a given department budget don’t necessarily translate into restored services.

Both Alvarez and Faulconer supported the fiscal year 2012 and 2013 budgets that restored some services and department budgets that had been previously trimmed. Alvarez also supported the budget for the fiscal year that began in July 2013, which aimed to restore past budget rollbacks. Faulconer opposed it.

The city’s ongoing rebuilding effort follows years of deep cuts. In the 2009-2010 budget year alone, Faulconer and fellow City Council members had to shave more than $185 million from the city’s books.

That meant significant cutbacks. For a time, city leaders opted to brown out up to eight fire engines a day. They also dialed back library and recreation center hours and eliminated hundreds of city positions.

Here’s an overview of restorations Alvarez and Faulconer pushed in recent years, as well as what ended up in the city’s budget.

Fiscal year 2012

City budget deficits weren’t as dire by the time Alvarez took office in late 2010 but he weighed in on the best way to deal with them early on in his tenure. In March 2011, he wrote a six-page memo suggesting ways the city could save nearly $47 million without service cuts.

At the time, then-Mayor Jerry Sanders had proposed halving library and recreation center hours, among other cuts.

Alvarez, Faulconer and other City Council members opposed that call.

That spring, Alvarez said the city should maintain hours at library branches, recreation programs and city pools that Sanders recommended slashing. Faulconer also called for the full funding of libraries and after-school programs in his own May 2011 budget memo and offered up ways to pay related expenses.

Ultimately, both City Council members voted to approve a budget that maintained the status quo for libraries, recreation centers and municipal pools.

The budget included only one major restoration: the elimination of the fire engine brownouts.

Fiscal year 2013

The next year brought more opportunity for rebuilding.

During the budget process, Alvarez wanted to revive lost lifeguard and police civilian posts, fund two fire academies and boost upkeep at city parks that get the most use.

Faulconer pushed for increased library and recreation center hour plus more spending on road repairs. (A later review showed the city spent less on infrastructure in the 2013 fiscal year than it did in the previous one.)

The final fiscal year 2013 budget included some cash for lifeguard and police civilian positions lost in past years, increased the number of police recruits eligible to attend the academy and added a second fire academy.

The spending plan – approved by both Alvarez and Faulconer – also expanded hours at recreation centers and both the Central and branch libraries.

Those increases didn’t mean that the city was back to past service levels in all areas.

An analysis by former Voice of San Diego reporter Keegan Kyle found the average city library was open 53 hours a week in 2002. The budget restorations the City Council approved in 2012 upped branch library hours to 44 a week, and the Central Library to 49 hours per week.

They remain at that level today, despite efforts this past year to add more hours in the latest budget cycle.

Fiscal year 2014

Before hard budget numbers were released this past spring, Alvarez said the city should prioritize access to libraries and parks in high-crime areas and favored restoring civilian police positions that had been eliminated. He also suggested work on numerous infrastructure projects in his district.

Faulconer wanted the city to invest in sending more recruits to the police academy and he too wanted to sink significant cash into tackling the city’s massive infrastructure repair backlog.

He wasn’t satisfied with former Mayor Bob Filner’s budget by the time it reached the City Council in June.

The final version presented to the City Council added six police recruits to each of the city’s four academy classes, four police civilian positions lost in past years and an uptick in library hours that would’ve placed city libraries closer to their 2002 levels.

Alvarez supported the budget but Faulconer voted against it, saying it fell short when it came to rebuilding the city.

Faulconer said he was disappointed by the absence of an uptick in hours at city recreation centers and insufficient funding for street repairs. He was especially critical of the mayor’s decision to postpone a bond that sets the city’s five-year current plan to tackle infrastructure repairs back a year budget-wise.

“The mayor’s budget is a missed opportunity that will have a real and negative effect on San Diegans,” Faulconer said at the time.

Faulconer argued the Democratic mayor should have invested in those improvements and tried potential money-saving measures like managed competition before hiking city spending on new programs.

Some of the Filner budget’s steps to restore services crumbled a few weeks after the City Council voted 7-2 to approve the plan.

A surprise pension board vote expected to help the city save millions this year left officials scrambling to make budget changes.

Planned increases to library hours were among the last-minute cuts.

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