November 16, 2007

Steve Padilla


So, another rant from a member of the San Diego political establishment’s good ‘ol boys network, who conveniently (and inaccurately) wrote about Chula Vista’s looming financial woes in the last election, is back to crow and heap praise on the current saviors from same. (Voice of San Diego, 11/1/07). Chula Vista’s budget woes are not due to the meltdown in the housing market and a slowing economy, no, it’s all due to the prior Mayor and City Council’s recklessness don’t ya’ know.

But, “Have no fear…” You know the rest.

One more of those and I’m afraid I’ll – excuse me, puke. Ah, the freedom that comes with no longer caring what so-in-so from what’s its stake thinks or stares down their nose.

To listen to this dribble, one would believe Chula Vista bankrupt. Oh, did I mention, Chula Vista has been rescued from financial ruin! A new set of officials, elected and appointed, and some old one’s who have reinvented themselves, are dedicated to tough love and budget cutting. They are saving the day and correcting course. Right.

It would be, except that so much is missing, like an accurate accounting, truth, accountability, and the facts.

True, Chula Vista faces hard choices. It has faced them before, when previous housing markets crashed and revenues slowed, and the state diverted funds from local cities. Even the most conservative expert revenue estimates never anticipated the pace of this market crash. What’s more, this exercise is not unique to Chula Vista. Many cities previously spurred by new housing, are making the same moves. The same belt tightening would be made, no matter who was in office, no matter what names were lit up on the public dais, no matter if the manager’s name were Garcia or Rowlands or Goss, or the Mayor’s Mickey Mouse.

Sure, different councils and managers might make different specific choices when it comes to budget cuts, each may rank their priorities a little differently. People will disagree about what level of reserve should be maintained, what to borrow, how much and for how long. Fair enough. But let’s cut the bologna. (I would use a different term here, but I’m afraid it isn’t allowed).

Chula Vista is not bankrupt. It does not have a “structural deficit” as has been put forth by some. Chula Vista’s budget can be balanced with discretionary action – that is, painful belt-tightening. Its financial obligations are not permanently higher than all its revenue and potential revenue, which is the case with a structural deficit. Prior councils, and not just in recent years, made informed decisions to invest in infrastructure, move our bay front forward, repair streets and to use those funds when times were good for the benefit of our citizens. Decisions were made to use one-time funds on many occasions, reducing the amount of reserve. But the columnist who would crow about new saviors and those familiar councilmembers who would re-make themselves, forget: Those decisions were made collectively in the light of day, during public hearings, with public input, and with data, analysis and expert advice from many of the same officials advising them and the current new cast of characters.

The idea and the insinuation by some, that prior budget and spending decisions in the last four years is the reason for a 17 or 19 million dollar shortfall, is ludicrous and laughable.

Badly needed public facilities were financed, options for lower energy costs were explored, agreements (like the one now under threat) to underground bay front power lines worth over $100 million to Chula Vista were achieved, city morale improved and solid and fair labor contracts were negotiated and agreed to. Many respected professional and city leaders were part of those decisions, including current city budget staff, the City Attorney and former City Manager, and former members of the City Council, some now in higher office.

Frankly, I am tired of watching some of my former colleagues, conveniently re-write history. They spent months, even years, debating important decisions, collecting information, listening to pubic input and voting to take an action, only later to try to pretend they were not there. They have frantically reversed themselves again and again, on everything from Espanada, to the Urban Core Specific Plan, to staffing, security and the CVRC, to the budget and now the bay front. I’ve watched them say they were mislead, they didn’t know, nobody told them. Now they speech-make about bad prior budgets, as if they were not present and voting. Wow.

I guess it were ghosts we kept company with. They dodge and continue to dodge responsibility for just about everything and point fingers for political expedience. They lack the courage to speak up for any of the good decisions they did make in the past few years, and the character to take responsibility for the bad.

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:

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