San Diego City Council OKs tentative budget cuts


City News Service

The City Council on Wednesday tentatively approved mid-year spending cuts proposed by Mayor Jerry Sanders to close San Diego’s $179 million budget deficit that will result in about 200 city workers losing their jobs.

The City Council voted 7-1 to adopt Sanders’ 18-month budget, which will take effect on Jan. 1. Councilman Carl DeMaio cast the lone dissenting vote.

A second reading is required before the final adoption of the mayor’s spending plan. That vote is scheduled for Monday.

“By making these decisions now, and putting this plan into effect Jan. 1, we begin to address the structural budget problems six months early,” Sanders testified. “By making these decisions now, you won’t have to cut an additional $24 million from city services in June.”

The next fiscal year doesn’t begin until July 1.

The plan to close the budget gap calls for the elimination of about 500 positions, about 200 of which are now filled.

Eighty-one of those cuts will come from the civilian ranks within the San Diego Police Department, including investigative aides, police service officers and code compliance officers.

Firefighters and police officers won’t be laid off, but about 130 sworn-officer positions will be left vacant.

Police equestrian patrols will be suspended in Balboa Park, the number of canine teams reduced and a Harbor Patrol unit in Mission Bay will be shut down.

Within the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, the number of engine companies on duty would be reduced through “rolling brownouts,” wintertime lifeguards would be eliminated at Torrey Pines Beach and about 50 vacant positions won’t be filled.

In total, $44.6 million will be trimmed from the police and fire budgets, according to the mayor’s office.

The plan to close the budget gap will also mean the reduction of library hours, the removal of fire pits from beaches, less maintenance at sports fields and beaches, fewer vehicle replacements and changes in the days and times of garbage collection.

It also relies on $96.8 million in one-time savings and budget adjustments.

The City Council made only minor revisions to Sanders’ budget, sparing an horticulturist position and an administrative assistant in the City Clerk’s Office.

While the bulk of the budget amendments adopted by the City Council will take effect at the start of next year, a number of the cuts are subject to the “meet and confer” process with the affected labor unions.

DeMaio said he doesn’t support the spending plan because it fails to address projected future budget deficits and relies too heavily on one-time fixes.

“I just don’t think the budget goes far enough to make progress on structural reform,” DeMaio said.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald said “these are the tough decisions we do have to make right now.”

“Nobody here is happy about this,” Emerald said.

Dozens of people testified during the four-hour hearing on the mid-year budget adjustments, the bulk of whom protested the cuts to the Police Department.

Mike Fowler, a police canine handler, said eliminating 12 canine teams will put the department at pre-1991 levels.

“Levels with a much reduced ability to quickly respond to many of these critical incidents where a canine would play a crucial role,” Fowler told the City Council.

Others said reducing civilian support positions within the Police Department will take sworn officers off the street.

“We do time-consuming work that allows sworn officers to concentrate on patrol duties and enables detectives to focus their time and talent on investigations that cannot be handled by a civilian,” Susan Lindgren, a police investigative aide, told the City Council.

Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said she was concerned about the impact the cuts would have on public safety, but said the City Council had no choice given San Diego’s dire financial situation.

“I do not like the effect these cuts will have on public safety and neighborhood services,” Lightner said. “But, I realize how important it is to do it now.”

Police Chief William Lansdowne told the City Council trimming civilian staff was the wisest decision’’ if cuts have to be made. He also cautioned that San Diego is short about 230 police officers.

“We’re as low as we can possibly go with the number of police officers,” he said.

It is the fourth time in 19 months the city has had to adjust its budget down. San Diego’s financial woes have been blamed on declining tax revenue and investment losses amid the recession.

After the meeting, Sanders issued a statement lauding the City Council for adopting his plan to address the budget shortfall.

“I’m certain that none of the council members relished going through this process early, but they recognized it could lessen the impact of the recession on our citizens, and they chose not to delay the inevitable,” he said.