Ian Pike noon, Dec. 8
San Diegans' Self-Preservation by Keeping an Eye on Council Members
The main way that the people of San Diego will be able to climb out of this economic recession-like trough between the Crash of 2008 and whatever is coming in the weeks and months after the 2010 elections is for all of us to get a lot closer to our elected city council members. They may not have a clue as to how prosperity returns to San Diego, but let us be honest about this: they all know where it is that the developers and the local chambers of commerce want to spend other people's money, and that is where the action is or will be if it isn't there now.
So for us, it's a good idea to keep our friends close, our enemies closer, and our council members closest of all.
City council members in San Diego know a lot of things that they generally don't let the rest of us in on. They know all about where developers want to build and how to get them to that happy place, because they do enjoy hearing about redevelopment proposals and the many lucrative side transactions they can stir up. They should know other things like why city bureaucrats are holding onto the profits realized from city-held bond sales at maturity while those maturity dates never quite seem to make it into city budget reports that the public or at least an auditor can read, and those are often million-dollar things to know. Unfortunately, those smaller things kind of get ignored when council members earlier this year were in a rush, trying to sneak past the agenda watchers among the taxpayers a $244 million loan forgiveness package to the Redevelopment Agency of San Diego, the Redevelopment Agency which happens to be the very same bunch of city council members while they wear their Redevelopment Agency hats.
You would think that, if the city council members were that much on the ball with those mega-millions waiting to be forgiven to themselves, then maybe we could get some straight answers before we vote on a sales tax increase about promised independent water department audits that didn't happen and electricity franchise fees that haven't been adjusted to account for the recent kind of utility business-as-usual attitude about operating a countywide wildfire hazard from overhead power transmission and distribution lines. After all, about the only thing in this county that can get us all evacuating at the same time is a repeat of the 2007 wildfire season, something that even all of SDG&E's billion-plus 2007 insurance coverage never hoped to cover without SDG&E putting more rate hike proposals for us in the CPUC pipeline for approval. It is not like the city council had nothing to do with the creation of the 1970 electricity franchise ordinance in the first place. Before we vote on a sales tax for what our mayor refers to as police, fire, and other public safety reasons, we would like to see some action on the greatest recurring threat to public safety from the one company that must adhere to the terms of that franchise agreement, interpreted as specified in the franchise terms for the benefit of San Diego and not in favor of the franchisee at all times. If the franchise terms are violated by the unsafe operation of the utility to the public's detriment, then that gas and electric company and its sole owner Sempra Energy stand the chance of having the utility's property condemned and confiscated for the benefit of the people of San Diego under the terms of that city franchise ordinance as previously bargained and made “in good faith.”
Most likely, we would have lost those franchise powers of condemnation over SDG&E if PG&E's constitutional amendment Proposition 16 had passed in this year's earlier primary election.
In any case, we know that developers talk to redevelopment agencies, public construction projects are up in this economy while private construction projects just are not happening, and our city council members are all wearing their Redevelopment Agency hats. Anyone looking to see some economic action in this town is either making strategic campaign contributions or waiting for second coming of Alonzo Horton on gold being discovered at the new main library site.
I haven't been keeping up with the news on the council members' approval of raising the redevelopment tax increment cap from $2.9 billion to $9 billion, or if it has already been approved. That tax increment increase is technically a cumulative gift to the redevelopment agencies where they get to keep the enhanced local tax revenues that are above and beyond the old tax revenues prior to redevelopment.
Combined with the $244 million in stalled loan forgiveness to the Redevelopment Agency that is supposed to coordinate the rest of San Diego's redevelopment agencies, this comes to a total of roughly $6.25 billion in write-downs and losses to taxpayers that have been contemplated by San Diego council members after being written up by city staffers this year alone, in the two above items now open to public comment and review. Compared to $6.25 billion in proposed or actual giveaways of tax receipts and unspent HUD community development block grants, the council members and mayor's arguments in support of the half-cent sales tax initiative Proposition D seem downright insignificant and silly in an unsophisticated sort of way. On that basis, Proposition D is merely a smokescreen on the much larger amounts that the neither council members nor the no-limits-deposition mayor want discussed in public, not before this November's election is over, certified, and merely a matter of public record as a done deal.