February 8, 2008

Steve Padilla

UNDER THE BIG TOP

The beat goes on in Chula Vista. Instead of making the tough decisions, there are always those local politicians looking to score a cheap political advantage. Perhaps it is just politics after all, a sick tradition in our system we have come to expect and accept, and also part of our human nature. These days, the annoying grandstanding continues while serious problems need attention and solutions are needed instead of slogans. Some council-members make it an art form; first blaming others for decisions they were part of, then claiming ignorance, incompetence or stupidity for their deed and their own ineptitude. Worst of all, they often, go on to make bad decisions in order to achieve some imagined political gain. Some good examples of this include first making inaccurate claims, like saying the city of Chula Vista has a structural deficit, in order to create or elevate a crisis and then slashing budgets without regard to priorities in order to look “tough” and to lay claim to being “responsible” and fiscally conservative.

There is nothing responsible about lying about a problem, then voting for an over-kill solution in order to appear to be doing good while really doing harm. While dealing with budget issues last year, some of these characters claimed that the current budget woes are due to over-spending (which they authorized), a structural deficit due to the high cost of borrowing for projects like the Civic Center and new police facility (which they authorized) and that no efforts were made in recent years to protect or create jobs, or to bring new sources of revenue from commercial and industrial business. They ignore the record of the last ten years. They know they aren’t telling the truth, and they really don’t care.

During the last decade substantial progress was made in planning for and gaining expansion of the Auto Park and converting unused idle land to commercial use. Multiple new commercial centers were finalized and began breaking ground. Many came into operation. City leaders collaborated with our largest private employer (Goodrich Aerostructures) helping to stave off massive cutbacks and layoffs, and supporting the successful bid for large new contracts for Goodrich with both Boeing and Airbus, worth over 6 Billion dollars at the time. It has only been in recent weeks that large cutbacks have been announced.

A concerted effort to advance the bay front and downtown redevelopment sought to reap commercial and industrial benefits from their eventual success. Don’t forget progress made on a university to help train the workforce of tomorrow. All of those critical efforts meant jobs and new revenue to city coffers when completed.

In addition to this dishonesty, these same grandstanders seek to deal with the budget shortfalls by slashing all city departments equally across the board, instead of making deeper cuts in departments that were dependent upon the building industry to function. In recent budgets, Building and Housing department staffing remained largely in tact despite the slumping housing market, while public safety departments were asked to cut their budgets by the same percentage as less critical departments. Only recently has the new City Manager re-examined this issue, and the City Council should heed any recommendations.

All of their antics are nothing more than showboating and accomplish little in the way of real solutions.

The reality is that the budget woes at hand are not unique to Chula Vista, San Diego County, or too much of the country for that matter. Due to the slumping economy, the crash in new housing growth, and the crisis in the mortgage industry, cities are being hit hard. Sales tax revenues have declined across the board. Lower consumer confidence and spending has forced the closure of a large auto dealership in Lemon Grove recently. The city of El Cajon is looking at a deficit equal to at least 10% of their annual budget. In Escondido sales tax revenue is down 7% and by 4% in Lemon Grove. San Diego had to revise their tax revenues downward significantly, although being a much larger city they could better absorb it.

But in Chula Vista the antics have come with an even greater cost. The crucial momentum on major projects that could make the budget less dependent on housing growth has all but evaporated. The bay front plan is stalled and there are those seeking to unravel it all together. There is open warfare, lawsuits and ballot measures in west Chula Vista instead of downtown redevelopment, new commercial business or new jobs. Aside from land negotiations, not a peep is heard any more about what once was the University Park & Research Center.

It is time for the circus to leave town, and the silly showboating to stop. Our community leaders need to be unafraid to make the right investments in our future, protect public safety not gut it, stop the grandstanding, and unite the community not divide it.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at: spadilla@aquariusgroup.org.

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