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Chula Vista’s financial department is trying to get the city’s finances in shape.

A $3.5 million budget deficit for this year and a $20 million budget shortfall for the following three to four years have left the city’s finances in poor health, forcing the city to streamline services.

Since 2007, the city has cut 160 positions and flatlined spending for new vehicles, building maintenance, and road repairs; $30 million has been severed from the city’s budget.

Chula Vista has $5.8 million in reserves; nearly $20 million short of where they’d like to be.

For additional streamlining, the city is slashing 111 positions from the payroll -- a 33 percent overall reduction -- with casualties coming from all city departments.

At an April 2 city council budget workshop meeting, city manager Jim Sandoval detailed the “Fiscal Health Plan” to resuscitate the city’s financial standing.

Among the strategies, the city is looking toward future development in eastern Chula Vista to help solve the problem.

According to Sandoval, recovery can be realized through four potential projects: the revitalization of western Chula Vista, projects on the Bayfront, the realization of a long-awaited research-and-development park called University Villages, and bringing more development to the “Eastern Urban Center.”

It’s the last proposal -- more development in eastern Chula Vista -- that has residents' hearts skipping beats.

According to city staff’s presentation on economic development, a draft environmental report from McMillin Development’s proposal to build 3000 new homes and 3.5 million square feet of commercial property on 215 acres is expected next month. The city figures the project will create 9200 jobs and generate $5 million annually for the city.

Yet, many residents blame the rapid development over the past decade as a major cause of the city’s poor financial condition.

At the budget workshop meeting, city council member Steve Castaneda addressed that issue.

“How do we know that the new development we are going after in eastern Chula Vista will create the kind of economic benefits and not just continue to put more strain on our ability to provide services in those new communities? What we’re seeing, we’re struggling to operate the very services and facilities we built to support those communities.”

“That question does come up a lot,” answered city manager Sandoval, who was the city’s planning director during the time many of the communities in eastern Chula Vista were proposed. “When I look at eastern Chula Vista, it’s almost like an unfinished work. Things don’t balance out financially until you actually have the whole puzzle completed.”

Sandoval said that if not for the national economy tanking, eastern Chula Vista and the city as a whole would be “doing pretty well right now.”

Sandoval did not return calls for comment.

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