Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The mayor’s “Legacy”

The doors are closed, the blinds turned down, music plays softly inside to muffle the sounds of deals being worked out behind those locked and secured doors. "Fiscal sustainability; water reliability; economic development; and community legacy projects" are but a few of topics being discussed outside of the eyes and ears of the taxpayer/voter. The list of "civic" leaders, movers and shakers and connected downtown money elite, grace the hidden "Action Teams" the mayor has secretly put together. To those of us who have lived through years of "decision by committee" where nothing ever got done when the mayor was pretending to be chief, it is now becoming obvious why the city is in such disarray.

The "Mayor's Civic Leadership 2009-2012" reads like the high society list of San Diego's rich and famous. The list is stacked with the well connected, downtown elite of who's who. Now I know I don't read every council agenda since leaving the SDPOA Board but I do stay up on the goings on and pay close enough attention I would have seen the approval of these individuals to the various committees enacted by the mayor. The question begs to be asked, "Was proper vetting done of the individuals and various committees put in place by the mayor?"

  1. "Fiscal Sustainability"
  2. "Water Reliability"
  3. "Economic Development"
  4. "Community Legacy Projects"
    1. Convention Center Expansion
    2. Civic Center Project
    3. Airport Expansion
    4. New Central Library
    5. Regional Charger Stadium
    6. Charter Reform

These are but a few of the topics being discussed and planned behind closed doors at the mayor's bequest. This "Kitchen Cabinet" as it has been referred, was first discovered back in August. John R. Lamb of The City Beat wrote an article, "A Sanders kitchen cabinet? An insider's dream team is forming to advise the mayor" back on August 25. In the article Bill Geppert, Cox cable honcho and Chairman of the Economic Development Corporation, said of the Civic Leadership Team; "I think the idea is to try to identify and organize people who are absolutely passionate about a particular project or area." "Then, in some cases, these people can bring their expertise and be credible supporters when they speak to the City Council or the community."

The mayor's Civic Leadership Team sprang into action when the City Council's "Land Use and Housing Committee" was taking up discussion related to a new policy to require the City Council to sign off on major downtown hotel projects. The members of the committee came to the mayor's aid after Geppert sent an e-mail out to members asking them to attend a meeting or get a message to the Committee members to help "rebuff an ill-advised ploy by organized labor." At the end of the article Geppert is boasting in the e-mail, "Our team had a great success last week with the Civic Center vote."

Is it a wonder why the priorities of the mayor are clearly focused on his legacy and helping out his financial supporters? The picture is becoming more and more clearer every day, as the film curls from around the edges of the glass and glimpses of the inner workings of a man possessed are exposed. The pattern of "Decision by Committee" is ever present and being kept from public view. The arena the mayor occupies does not allow for such back room discussion and deal making. The public's business is required to be conducted in public. The public's right to know is being trounced upon by the unscrupulous actions of a self centered egotist.

Where is the ethics commission and why is this being allowed in San Diego? Why have the actions of the mayor been ignored and others simply accepting of his politics? The city is headed to ruin and no one seems to care. Wake up San Diego and demand the priorities of the mayor reflect YOUR PRIORITIES.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Prediction; Jim Barrett Becomes Fall Guy

Who can tell me who Jim Barrett is? His name has been in the news of late and many of his comments have been at odds with the mayor. He has spoken before city council several times. He is a city employee. Have you come up with who he is yet? OK, here is some help; "Sanders: We're Studying Water Budgets."

Mr. Barrett is the Director of the City of San Diego's Water Department and for the past several months has been in the news as he attempts to carry out yet another of the mayor's failed and flawed polities. Back in March of this year as the city struggled to implement a plan for reducing water consumption, Barrett's assistant, Alex Ruiz made some incorrect statements about a plan being used in Irvine to penalize those who used excessive amounts of water. Ruiz said the Irvine program would be impractical to implement in San Diego and said Irvine took 8-12 years to refine their program for 90,000 customers and San Diego was facing 240,000 accounts and only four months to implement a program. In short order, the Voice of San Diego wrote a story disputing these comments, "A Water Plan That Worked—And The City Ignored."

The VOSD showed this assertion by the city's water department to not be accurate and painted a picture of a city department unwilling to take a firm stand for political reasons. The VOSD wrote, "Michael Shames, executive director of the Utility Consumers' Action Network, a utility watchdog, said San Diego's resistance to the Irvine Ranch approach is likely political. Mayor Sanders and Water Department officials likely fear that inefficient customers who fall into more expensive billing tiers "could be used to fan some political fires against the proposal," Shames said in an e-mail. "I believe it is more of a political calculation than a legal or ratemaking justification."

It appears three weeks ago, Jim Barrett again told the City Council that the city was not evaluating a water rate structure like the one used in the Irvine Ranch Water District. Lani Lutar stepped forward and said the city's Water Department wasn't being straightforward about its intentions to consider a water-rate structure designed to reward conservation and penalize excessive use. In another article in the VOSD on October 5, 2009, Rob Davis wrote, "Lutar said Alex Ruiz, the Water Department's deputy director, and Rod Greek, another water official, led business leaders, large water users and lobbyists to believe that the city was seriously pursuing the Irvine Ranch model. Lutar said at meetings in August and September, the water officials indicated they were open to the idea and having a consultant study it." Lutar was clearly upset and frustrated with the mayor when she said she felt "insulted that Sanders' office had asked for input it didn't seem to want."

If history repeats itself and the mayor acts as he always has in the past, Jim Barrett will be looking for a job before Thanksgiving. Politics being what they are in this city, the mayor will need a fall guy to provide cover for yet another failed policy and glaring indication of the right hand not being attached to the body and thus not knowing what the rest of the body is doing. Alex Roth, another of the many spinmeister's in the mayor's office, wrote a memo in an attempt to explain the mayor's position. I personally think the memo failed in that attempt.

While all of this is going on there was a very important discussion on Municipal Bankruptcy taking place last Thursday morning at a breakfast conference of sorts. The topic being discussed was an attempt to help people understand what a municipal bankruptcy proceeding would entail. The panelists were: Retired Judge John Ryan, who oversaw Orange County's 1994 bankruptcy case; Margaret Mann, an attorney at Sheppard Mullin; and Ali Mohdehi, a lawyer from Baker McKinzie. The program was moderated by April Boling and hosted by the San Diego Taxpayers Association.

Noticeably absent from the breakfast was the mayor and his staff. I get he does not want to be seen in public at a function discussing municipal bankruptcy, but to not at least have someone from his office in attendance to hear the discussion is mystifying. Is the mayor's head buried so deep in the sand he can't break the suction and free himself to at least make a decision to have a staffer attend? Discussions of this magnitude demand city leaders understand all the nuances of such a decision and to gage public opinion and concern. I am not an advocate for bankruptcy and believe the problems staring the city down at the moment are fixable. They are not though going to go away without decisive action on many fronts. The mayors simple action plan of cut, cut, cut, and cut some more, is not the answer and is simply exasperating the problems.

Jim Barrett may be the lucky one in all of this. He will be made the scapegoat and forced to find another job.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

San Diego; America’s Most Dangerous Destination

A recent memorandum from Nader Tirandazi, Financial Management Director, dated October 19, 2009, talked about current vacancies within the City of San Diego. Tirandazi was responding to a City Council request to provide a list of current vacancies in the City by department. The memorandum detailed 832 vacancies city wide with 320 of these vacancies in the Police Department and 106 in the Fire Department. The memorandum does not tell the whole story.

The ability of officers to protect citizens has been impacted by the policies of the city council, mayor and last year's imposed contract. The exodus of officers, almost all of them with over 25 years of experience and the inability of the department to retain younger officers, has created one of this nation's most dangerous destinations. The mayor and others will paint a picture of all's well and tell people a larger number of officers does not equate to safer streets. They will boast of lower crime statistics and a safe city while explaining the exodus of almost 300 officers in one year. There is much they are not telling citizens.

The actual numbers of officers available to protect citizens have shrunk every year since the 1990's. There are currently 1,862 sworn police officers, which includes all ranks, to police the City of San Diego. This is 262.75 short of budgeted strength (Someone help me understand the .75 officer). Of these 1,862 sworn officers, 61 of them are recruits, who may be enthusiastic, but are of no help when it comes to providing police protection to our citizens. An additional 64 of these sworn members of the department are managers (Lieutenants, Captains, and Chiefs) who do not participate in the protection of citizens and do not answer radio calls or respond to emergencies. There is an additional 126 sworn officers who are unavailable for service for a variety of reasons (Industrial Leave, Workers Comp, Military Leave, Long Term Disability, Light Duty to name a few). This leaves 1,611 sworn officers from a budgeted strength of 2,124.75, available to provide for the public's safety. A far cry from the numbers provided to taxpayers by the mayor and others.

The population of the city of San Diego is 1.3 million people; with 470,000 households; living in a land area of 324 square miles. Between 2000 and 2008 the population of San Diego grew 9% from 1,223,000 people to 1,337,000 while at the same time our police department shrunk in size. In 2006, the mayor commissioned a pay and benefit comparison report where he declared he wanted to "Stem the loss of officers" who were leaving in droves for other agencies offering better pay and benefits. In the report the mayor boasts of the city being the "4th safest city in America" citing a drop in overall crime of 2.3% for the first ten months of the year. The report, conducted by Buck Consultants, and presented December 19, 2006, showed the police department had 1,895 active sworn personnel (Today 1,862). Of those, 153 are on some kind of leave for a total of available sworn personnel of 1,742 (Today 1,611). The Department was budgeted for 2,089 officers in 2006 (Today 2,125.75). 683 officers have left the department since 2003 and only 390 have been hired.

In July of 2006, the mayor and police chief announced the "City's Comprehensive Police Recruitment and Retention Plan" in which the mayor called the loss of experienced police officers "a crisis for our community." On page 4 of this document, an e-mail the mayor sent police officers was re-produced. The diatribe has proven to be simply words, to buy him time to continue his failed policies. The entire "Plan" as you will, was and continues to be nothing more than empty words on a piece of paper. The pay and benefit study, as well as the recruitment and retention plan, were used as pacifiers to appease officers contemplating leaving.

In 2008, the RAND Corporation conducted a study of the San Diego Police Department's hiring and retention of officers. The study focused on recruiting and offered suggestions for reaching the budgeted staffing level of 2,125.75 sworn officers. After only hiring a record three (3) officers in 2003 and 2004; a lofty goal of hiring fifty (50) recruits for each academy class was proposed in hopes of reaching budgeted levels. It became clear, with the recent exodus of officers in 2009; this goal was not going to be realized any time soon. The ability to safely police a city the size of San Diego with roughly 1,000 patrol officers, is akin to asking our SRT Unit to travel to Tijuana and handle police duties there while their officers come to San Diego for the training the mayor has so generously offered. It may work for a short period of time but eventually someone is going to die.

The mayor is now demanding a reduction of $74 million dollars from the police department's budget for next year. If you eliminate the positions currently vacant (262.75) the result will be a $32 million dollar savings. The mayor is only willing to recognize a $24 million dollar savings because he does not view benefits as being part of the equation. This is another example of number and cost manipulation by the city's administration. So where do you cut $50 million dollars from a department budget that is already operating with insufficient resources? The elimination of personnel is the fasted way to coming up with this money. There is always the elimination of overtime; elimination of holidays; reduction of benefits; wage reductions; elimination or reduction of medical insurance; or the demotion of supervisors at all ranks that will still leave the need to eliminate positions.

How many people would need to be eliminated to make up the $50 million dollars? My calculations indicate somewhere between 320 and 360 employees (Sworn and non-sworn). So those individuals in the academy; field training; POI's and even a few POII's will be staring down the possibility of losing their jobs. Realistic? Possible.

Today the San Diego Police Department has fewer resources on which to draw to recruit and retain officers and to protect our citizens. Yet our responsibilities are expanding to include homeland security, immigration, cybercrime, and human trafficking, and there is even an increase of traditional duties in all areas of our communities that have rising levels of crime and violence. All of this is being made even more difficult because of the policies of the mayor and city council. The taxpayers have clearly placed public safety as their number one priority, yet the mayor and council have not. They have used smoke and mirrors to cover their actions by putting out twisted and in some cases false statistics related to crime. Their glowing words have painted a picture full of lies and deception.

It is time the mayor and city council stop playing politics and start making public safety their number one priority. This will require the chief to stand up and provide realistic and honest crime statistics and the current status of the police department's ability to provide adequate police services to this community. The current level of staffing has created an environment in San Diego that is dangerous for citizens and police officers alike. The lack of sufficient officers; coupled with the lack of experience; has already resulted in an increase of 113% in preventable traffic accidents by police officers. I could go on about the issues facing the police department as a result of the exodus of officers and the lack of experience in the ranks. One of the most telling numbers not talked about is that of the Police Officer One. Currently there are 252 POI's or one third of our uniformed officers providing police services. This is clearly an un-acceptable number and a recipe for disaster.

If you think it acceptable for a city the size of San Diego to have fewer than 120 uniformed police officers available from midnight to seven in the morning; 150 uniformed police officers available between five pm and midnight, patrolling your communities providing for your safety, you are living in the right city.