Government: Challenges Remain for Agencies to Work Toward Regional Planning Process
During November’s election, a lack of public confidence in the elected officials at San Diego City Hall became a major issue for those seeking office.
There were constant nagging reminders: the city spending millions of taxpayer dollars to buy unsold Chargers’ football tickets; construction of the Downtown ballpark project being halted because of financial and legal roadblocks; and traffic congestion that wasn’t getting better.
Despite the outcry to clean out City Hall, according to the 11th Annual San Diego Business Journal/Deloitte & Touche Economic Outlook Survey, the majority of businesspeople surveyed said they were satisfied with the city’s political leadership.
According to Steve Erie, UCSD’s director of urban studies and planning, the perception from the business community often doesn’t reflect that of the general public.
“If anything, the business satisfaction and public dissatisfaction are related,” Erie said. “The public is dissatisfied because it appears this City Hall seems to be too business-friendly. The public, I think, wants more of an arm’s length relationship between businesses and City Hall.”
Of the 207 respondents, 124, or 60 percent, said they were satisfied with the current political leadership. A small margin of those (16 respondents, or 8 percent) said they were very satisfied, while 66 respondents, or 32 percent, said they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with current leadership.
That’s a drastic change from the survey outcome last year, in which 51 percent, or 100 respondents, said they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the current leadership.
One thing to note is San Diego’s elected officials didn’t change from the last survey to this year’s , with the exception of Councilwoman Barbara Warden, who resigned from her 5th District seat in the summer to pursue business interests. The issues didn’t change either.
“These are the gifts that keep on giving,” Erie said. “(The Chargers ticket guarantee) is a thorn in the side of the public and an absolute public-relations disaster for the Chargers. There’s the whole issue of restarting the ballpark project and who’s going to pay for it.”
Of those surveyed, 152, or 74 percent, said they supported building the new ballpark during the Proposition C campaign in 1998. The majority of those said they still support the project.
Dick Murphy was elected mayor in November, as were four new council members: Scott Peters, Toni Atkins, Brian Maienschein, and Jim Madaffer. They took office in December pledging to change the public outlook on City Hall.
According to Tom Shepard, a political consultant who has managed the campaigns of several local elected officials, the new administration will have a short period of time to do just that.
“I think they will have a brief honeymoon where people will give them the benefit of the doubt,” Shepard said. “Then voters are going to start looking at how effectively these new elected officials have dealt with the problems.”
Shepard said many concerns voiced by the public took a back seat to other issues , namely Downtown development projects.
“I think there was a sense that the city wasn’t using its limited resources as effectively as it should have in addressing neighborhood problems,” Shepard said. “You get a lot of people complaining that basic city facilities and services were suffering because of misplaced funds.”
‘Mandate For Change’
Shepard said the majority of those issues, including sewer maintenance, street repair, libraries and upkeep of lifeguard stations, worked themselves out during the last election.
“I think a change under the circumstances is good,” he said. “Most of the new council members were elected on a mandate for change.”
One of Murphy’s first actions as mayor was to form an ethics commission. In light of the federal investigation into the financial dealings between City Councilwoman Valerie Stallings and Padres owner John Moores, political observers said it was the best thing to do.
The city has been unable to issue bonds needed to pay for their share of the project because of the investigation.
“The Valerie Stallings affair has raised the whole issue of ethics to the forefront,” Erie said. “Just a movement toward creating an ethics commission will do a lot to restore public confidence. Whether it works or not we’ll have to wait and see.”
San Diego is not the only governmental body that has some housecleaning to do, according to analysts.
Shepard said the county must tackle the traffic problems along the Interstates 5 and 15 corridors.
It will be a challenge for all governing bodies countywide to work toward a regional planning process, he said, bringing to mind state Sen. Steve Peace’s plan to create a “super-agency” to oversee the region’s decision-making.
The proposal by Peace, D-El Cajon, the Regional Government Efficiency Commission (RGEC), would consist of an 11-member body that would replace the San Diego Association of Governments, San Diego Unified Port District, the Metropolitan Transit Development Board and the North County Transit District.
“I don’t know if that plan will work or not,” Shepard said. “The bottom line is, this current class of elected officials is going to be judged closely on how they respond to the growth and transportation infrastructure.
“There’s been concern for some time that transportation planning issues are in a logjam because of the lack of coordination between various agencies.”