San Diego Business Journal

Those of us who have the privilege of doing business in San Diego know that we have a unique business community that looks beyond each member’s own narrow interests to ensure a positive climate for all business.

We regularly devote time to supporting other industries, knowing that growth in the clean-tech sector and the good-paying jobs it generates, for instance, will ultimately benefit our entire community.

We also frequently engage on local civic matters that might not seem directly related to business, such as the City of San Diego’s annual budget, knowing that the quality of life in San Diego and the effectiveness of our local government has a very real impact on all of our success.

That’s why I’m supporting Proposition D, which represents the first time most all of the natural adversaries at City Hall have come together to put forward a constructive solution to the city’s seemingly endless cycle of deficits and service cuts. With Proposition D, many have stepped away from their ideological stances to meet in the middle for a practical, permanent solution to the city’s structural deficit.

Certainly, it was not easy for a Republican mayor, who has consistently opposed any new tax by working every angle of reform and strategic cuts (totaling more than $300 million so far), to concede that the recession’s toll on city revenues was simply outpacing his solutions. And I know it wasn’t easy for organized labor to soften its staunch resistance to managed competition and other initiatives it has fought on behalf of its members. And it sure is unusual to see Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilmember Donna Frye form a Dynamic Duo.

But this type of cooperation among adversaries is what’s needed in crisis situations. And make no mistake: We are in a crisis.

Unsafe Conditions

When you are idling eight fire engines a day and leaving communities without adequate fire and paramedic coverage in order to balance your budget, it’s a crisis. When you’re planning to lay off police officers who are now keeping our streets safe, it’s a crisis. When you’re considering shutting down libraries and recreation centers because you simply don’t have the funds to operate them, it’s a crisis.

In my view, the severe reduction of services we face is a crisis not just for residents, but also for our businesses, which rely heavily upon San Diego’s safety and unparalleled quality of life for success.

Imagine the impact to tourism and our thriving downtown entertainment district if the Gaslamp Quarter police bike unit is dismantled or the Homeless Outreach Team reduced — both very real possibilities. Restaurants, nightclubs and hotels downtown rely on a solid police presence to keep order and create a sense of safety.

Beyond tourism, our high-tech, biotech and other high-paying sectors are in constant competition against the Bay Area; Austin, Texas; and Chicago for successful companies. Our advantage in keeping our homegrown entrepreneurial success stories and attracting others to San Diego is our quality of life.

While budget cuts can’t affect our sunny climate, they certainly can hamper our enjoyment of it when our beaches aren’t groomed, our parks aren’t maintained and our crime rate rises.

Looking at the Future

Having years in children’s lives when their local library and recreation center are shuttered can have an enormous impact on their success in school, their long-term health — and our future work force.

Why would we risk these impacts to our city?

If the temporary half-cent sales tax were onerous to business or San Diego families, I could understand strong resistance — and I would probably join it. But, the fact is other local municipalities as well as the State of Arizona have found that slight increases in their sales tax had no impact spending.

The impact to families is estimated to be on the order of 30 cents per day for a median-income household’s taxable purchases — hardly worth allowing our essential city services to be decimated.

I know many of my colleagues in business are concerned that this temporary budget relief will sap the will of the San Diego City Council to continue reforms, but I believe the proposition’s requirements of reform steps — along with the mayor’s continued determination to permanently solve the structural budget deficit — will keep reform progress marching forward.

As a longtime San Diego businessperson who has been a strong advocate for good government, I urge the voters to support Proposition D, and keep our quality of life the envy of the nation and contribute to a healthy, growing economy.

Mel Katz is executive officer at Manpower and former chairman of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.