David Dodd 1:48 a.m., May 18
DeMaio Blind to One Thing: Greed
Councilmember Carl DeMaio came out today (Nov. 12) with his plan to solve the City of San Diego's backbreaking financial problem. I read his plan. It made me think about that great, sneering, cynical line in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot": the ardent belief in "the beauty of the way and the goodness of the wayfarers." DeMaio seems to believe that if the City just sits down with its public employee unions, they will agree to cuts. And he believes that if the city goes heavily into managed competition -- the private sector bidding on jobs now done by the public sector -- there will be immediate huge savings. Says Vlad Kogan, PhD candidate in political science at the University of California San Diego, "The jury is still out whether managed competition saves you money or not. You find cases where it works and cases where it doesn't work. You need very good oversight and very good contracts, and the City does not have a good history of providing good oversight or good contracts." (In my view, the City has a sorry, smelly history of doling contracts to big political donors.)
DeMaio does not address a key problem: the hogging of redevelopment funds downtown, engineered by Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC), which is merely an extension of the real estate development industry. If the City extends the cap on CCDC's financial muscle, "you make the problem worse by keeping money downtown instead of it going to the neighborhoods" where it could be spent on the City's rotting infrastructure, says Kogan. DeMaio correctly wants to shelve the building of a new city hall complex, but he says nothing about the ridiculous idea of giving a $600 million subsidy for a Chargers stadium, or expanding the convention center. In my opinion, what's needed is a pledge that not a cent will go to these projects, because citizens will never believe they have to give up safety services, infrastructure, and maintenance so, in the case of the stadium, billionaires can get massive subsidies.
DeMaio would look into expanding public-private partnerships for parks and recreation programs. This could put Balboa Park in the hands of a for-profit company that to make money would have to turn it into a Disneyland. (Balboa Park is already going too far in that direction, say some.)
"For Carl's plan to work, unions would have to agree to cutbacks. It isn't going to happen," says Mike Aguirre, former city attorney. "The problem with the plan is that there are so many moving parts, the necessity for agreement from so many parties, the likelihood of it working is doubtful." DeMaio says he would use techniques that are similar to those used in bankruptcy, but he is against a filing because of the stigma. But effectively, Mayor Sanders "has already said the City is broke," says Aguirre, who prefers a bankruptcy filing. "The moment you file reorganization [bankruptcy], the City is relieved of the obligation to make full pension payments," says Aguirre. Importantly, in bankruptcy, the City "wouldn't have to sell assets," says Aguirre. By contrast, DeMaio wants to sell the Miramar Landfill, "which is a valuable asset."