San Diego City Hall: 2011 in review
By James R. Riffel
SAN DIEGO (CNS) – No one can argue that San Diego’s fiscal woes have been solved, but 2011 could become known as the year that city officials finally got their arms around the decade-old problem.
A shortfall projected for the current fiscal year’s budget was closed without slicing into the hours of libraries or recreation centers — as was originally feared — and fire engines that had been taken out of service on a rotating basis were restored in full.
Adding to the good news was a five-year budget outlook released by Mayor Jerry Sanders in the fall, anticipating a surplus by the end of that time period.
The year came to an end, however, on a bit of a sour note at City Hall, with the California Supreme Court upholding a state law that dissolves community redevelopment agencies. City officials decried the ruling and called on the state to take more action on the issue. They credit the redevelopment process with revitalizing the downtown area.
Another major issue that faced local government in 2011 was redistricting. Redistricting is required every 10 years, based on the latest census data. The city of San Diego left the design of its new council districts in the hands of a commission consisting of residents picked by two judges. After months of meetings, the panel adopted radically different boundaries, in large part because a new ninth district was created.
San Diego County’s commission was advisory only — with the ultimate power being left with the Board of Supervisors. Prompting by the American Civil Liberties Union led the board to approve a new map with a district that could be controlled by minority voters.
The so-called “Occupy” movement that began on Wall Street and spread to cities nationwide also had a presence in San Diego during the past year.
Occupy San Diego protesters set up shop in October in Civic Center Plaza. The protesters pleaded with City Council members to pass a proclamation in support of their cause. But neither Sanders nor the City Council ever stepped up to back the group.
In other City Hall news this year:
– The mayor continued work on a financing plan for a new downtown stadium to keep the Chargers from leaving town, with an eye toward a ballot measure for city residents in November. While he favors a plan that includes the facility as part of a wider entertainment district, details have not yet been revealed.
– Sanders also pushed a financing plan for a new expansion of the Convention Center, which would be heavily funded by a surcharge on hotel room rates.
– The City Council passed restrictions on more than 160 medical marijuana dispensaries, but when faced with a possible ballot initiative that sought to repeal their ordinances, they rescinded them themselves — leaving the collectives illegal and subject to closure.
The upcoming year will be dominated by elections. Sanders will leave office after two terms, and Councilman Carl DeMaio will depart after one in a bid to become mayor.
Council members Sherri Lightner and Todd Gloria are seeking re-election, while Marti Emerald will try to return to office by running in the new ninth district.
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