Neighborhood libraries would be open fewer hours, beaches would be messier and about 200 city workers would get pink slips under budget cuts San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders proposes to close the city's $179 million deficit.
Under Sanders' plan, the city wouldn't target police officers or firefighters for dismissal but their departments would see deep program cuts, such as the elimination of equestrian patrols in Balboa Park and a rotating schedule under which certain fire stations would have one fire engine instead of two.
In all, Sanders plans to slash $62.5 million directly from city departments, including $26 million combined from police and fire. The total proposed cuts amount to nearly 5.5 percent of the city's general fund.
The City Council will review the proposals in the coming weeks and can add or subtract programs and jobs before deciding whether to approve the package. A special council meeting is scheduled Dec. 14 and a decision is expected then.
The most visible cuts would be in the library system. None of the 35 branches would close but nearly every one would be open fewer days and fewer hours. Sanders wants to combine the staff at nearby libraries and then open them on alternating days. These are the combinations:
"We could have gone deeper, probably, but I think it would have been irresponsible in terms of preserving city services," Sanders said. "We're trying to do things that, while it certainly will be noticed, won't be as noticed."
Sanders said some of the programs and positions being cut, such as the horses used by certain patrol officers, are luxuries the city can no longer afford as tax revenues have plummeted during the recession. "We're trying to keep the core services we absolutely have to have," he said.
The proposed cuts were selected by Sanders from hundreds offered by department heads in recent weeks after the mayor asked each to identify a reduction of 27 percent in their discretionary budgets. Some of the suggestions were more drastic, such as shuttering 11 libraries, 10 recreation centers, 20 fire stations and the Carmel Valley police station. The Police Department offered to eliminate nearly 500 jobs and all of its 36 canine units.
In the end, Sanders said he felt some of the proposals went too far, and he scaled back many of the aggressive measures.
For example, the mayor is proposing to eliminate only one-third of the canine units. Other Police Department cuts include the elimination of code compliance officers, civilian support positions, the harbor patrol and a safety-patrol camp for children. Under the plan, the department would lose 86 filled positions, but no sworn personnel.
In the Fire-Rescue Department, Sanders has proposed reducing inspections of nightclub overcrowding and eliminating lifeguard service at Torrey Pines Beach during the winter.
Other proposed cuts include:
Sanders' plan also relies on several assumptions that require City Council action. For example, Sanders expects to increase parking revenue by $2.6 million if the council adopts a plan to operate meters for longer hours and on Sundays. The mayor also needs the council's approval to bid out some information technology services that could save an additional $3 million.
The city would also delay certain obligations, such as the $5.5 million it was going to spend on installing fire sprinklers at City Hall and foregoing the $27.5 million that would have gone to reserves next year.
In a radio interview on KPBS, Council President Ben Hueso indicated he may not support some of Sanders' proposed cuts if he believes they affect city services. He said his goal remains the same as a year ago, when the city had to solve a $43 million budget deficit.
"Our entire strategy was, in keeping our libraries open, our parks open, all the services that we provide: police, fire, trash collection, street maintenance, our goal was not to affect those last year," he said. "And I think that's going to be our goal this year, and I feel very confident we're going to meet our goal."
The record $179 million deficit is projected for the fiscal year that starts July 1, but Jay Goldstone, the city's chief operating officer, said it is imperative to make the cuts now. Savings from the current fiscal year can be carried over to lessen the cuts next year.
"This has been not easy, but I think we've come up with a balanced approach," Goldstone said. "Maybe the economy will start turning around, but if not, we will definitely do this in a two-step process … We're not ruling out the need to come back for more."