With San Diego City Hall Lowest Since 1993
With the local economy surging, unemployment at historic lows and stocks at some companies soaring beyond even the wildest optimist’s dreams, those sitting in elected offices must be thrilled.
But this is San Diego, where political winds can shift quickly, as evidenced by the responses to a question in the 10th Annual Deloitte & Touche/San Diego Business Journal Economic Outlook Survey, in which a surprising 100 respondents, or 51 percent, said they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the current leadership.
Of the remaining 93 responding to the question, 88 were satisfied, and only five said they were very satisfied.
These were the lowest confidence ratings given local politicians by the survey’s repondents since 1993.
But given recent news accounts of cost overruns on the Padres ballpark, escalating traffic congestion, and the ever-growing amount of money the city has to shell out for Chargers football tickets, these results aren’t too bad, say some longtime watchers of City Hall.
“The seat guarantee, and particularly the cost overruns and shaky financing of the ballpark district are the two big drivers of the discontent,” said Steve Eire, a UCSD political scientist specializing in urban politics.
The city’s 1995 contract with the Chargers, which guaranteed a minimum of 60,000 average tickets for each home game for 10 years, has turned into a political nightmare for the nine-member City Council.
As the Chargers stumble through another mediocre season, fans have stayed away from the Q in droves, and the city has been forced to buy up the unsold tickets to meet the guarantee.
As of the Dec. 27 game, that expense has exceeded $6 million, draining the reserve set up for the ticket purchases, and requiring the city to tap into the stadium operations budget.
Making matters worse are reports that thousands of tickets purchased by the city and intended for achieving local students were falling into the hands of adults. The city began purchasing the tickets because it gets to keep at least 10 percent of the ticket price.
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Eire said of the ticket guarantee. “It’s like a wound that is constantly getting re-opened.”
Then there is the Padres ballpark, which the current council backed unanimously and hailed as the catalyst to redevelop a blighted area of Downtown called the East Village.
Today the $411 million ballpark faces a dubious future, challenged by two lawsuits and an initiative campaign that seeks to overturn the results of Proposition C, the ballpark measure approved by 60 percent of the voters in 1998.
Moreover, the project’s costs are escalating to a point that city staffers have had to readjust their former estimates, fueling doubts the project’s public dollar commitment is really capped as promised in the Proposition C campaign.
In December, the council authorized issuing up to $299 million in bonds, or $74 million above the $225 million for bonds detailed in the agreement between the city and Padres.
Adding to the ballpark’s problems is a growing outcry by many residents about the region’s worsening traffic problems, and the perception that those in office are more concerned with their next career move than watching out for the public’s best interests.
Because of term limits, Mayor Susan Golding and four other members of the council will be forced from their jobs at the end of this year, meaning that most of the current members are lame ducks.
“People feel they have to blame public officials for increased congestion and the lack of regional planning on transportation,” said Scott Barnett, executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.
To be fair, Barnett says, this council has accomplished a great deal, including expanding the Convention Center, upgrading the city’s aging sewer and water lines, adopting a regional plan for the preservation of open space, and an after-school program.
“But on the other hand they are presiding over a financial house of cards in many areas, especially in its overall budget,” Barnett said.
Bob Lichter, a board member of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., said while many local leaders are good people, they haven’t measured up in terms of what real leadership constitutes.
“Where our political leaders have failed is that too many of them have not been willing to step out beyond their own jurisdictions to work out regional solutions,” Lichter said. “Real leadership means taking substantial political risks to acknowledge that the regional solutions that are needed and may not sell with their own electorate.”
Like him or not, state Sen. Steve Peace deserves some credit for proposing a solution in the form of a super infrastructure agency that would eliminate several government agencies and make it easier to construct large regional projects like highways or an airport, Lichter said.
As for the race to replace Golding, the quality of candidates hasn’t been that impressive, say some observers.
“It’s pretty much the same old, same old,” Eire said of the dozen candidates running for Golding’s job, which includes three current council members and two of that body’s former members.
As of late last year, one recent poll put former banker Peter Davis as the front-runner, the result of a slickly produced television ad campaign.
The other top contenders are Judge Dick Murphy, Supervisor Ron Roberts, Councilman George Stevens, Councilwoman Barbara Warden and Councilman Byron Wear.
Despite the lengthy political track records of some candidates, the names don’t resonate with voters in the same way as 1992 when Golding squared off against Peter Navarro.
But Barnett is optimistic that may be a plus once the field is narrowed to two in March. “We may finally get to focus on a real discussion of the issues as opposed to personalities, because there aren’t any personalities among this bunch.”