Last week, San Diego News Network carried this article, which I missed. Brian Peterson, the author and President of the Grantville Action Group, was a pretty big Emerald supporter during the election if my friends in D7 speak the truth…
EMERALD’S BUDGET MEETING OFFERS NO CHOICES FOR CITIZENS
Last week’s meeting of the Grantville Action Group was billed as “Councilmember [Marti] Emerald to seek budget ideas at GAG meeting.” Some where along the way, though, the event morphed into a parallel universe version of the “District 7 Advisory Council.” At least now, I think I know how it must feel to be a D-7 Advisory Council member.
Brian Peterson is the president of the Grantville Action Group.
Three days before last Thursday’s GAG meeting, Emerald’s office contacted me to see if she could have 30 minutes at the beginning of our meeting to solicit ideas from the community about the upcoming cuts to the City’s budget. According to the D-7 office, the “City Council must make $60 million in cuts to the FY09 budget by December 15, 2009. In addition, the City Council will be required to make another $120 million in cuts to the FY2010 budget by July 1, 2010.”
Earlier this year, we in Allied Gardens and Grantville went through this before, leading up to the FY09 budget vote. The City Council’s budget committee held a meeting in Allied Gardens to solicit community input on where to potentially cut neighborhood services and where to potentially gain revenue. At this meeting, the citizens did all the talking (in three-minute increments), and the councilmembers did all the listening. But this is not how things went for us Thursday night.
When I arrived at the Grantville VFW for the meeting, I was informed by the District 7 Grantville rep, Chris Pearson, that Emerald probably wouldn’t make it to the meeting to hear our ideas. There was a family medical situation, and she was taking care of that. (In recent contact with Emerald, I heard everything is OK.) Pearson took Emerald’s place in conducting this part of our meeting. But, we soon realized Emerald’s absence wasn’t the only curve-ball.
Mistakenly, I was under the impression that this was to be a free flow of ideas from the citizens to the Emerald, with maybe even some discussion. Instead, this is what they gave us: On one wall of the VFW were two sheets of poster paper with multiple lines of potential service cuts, such as “Arts and culture support,” “Libraries,” “Parks – Rec centers,” and “Police.” A third sheet of poster paper offered potential revenue ideas, including “Library card fee,” Sales Tax Increase,” and “Trash Collection Fee.” We were all given 9 dot-shaped stickers to stick on the posters next to the items. In this way, we were to rate our preferences.
They gave us our choices; no substitutions. Anyone who had ideas, beyond those the council office gave us, were instructed to write them down and hand them to Pearson.
I was not invited to the October meeting of the District 7 Advisory Council, but I can imagine how it went. Emerald and Mayor Jerry Sanders’ advisor, Phil Rath, plied the participants with promotional information, touting the benefits of building a new city hall and new central library. There was no one present to argue for the downside of building two downtown mega-projects, while the City is on the verge of bankruptcy. They were inundated with information, not of their choosing, and then they were asked to vote on it. In defining the parameters of discussion, the outcome was predetermined. We must assume this is how it will work with our dots next to their selections.
For the record, I am not one of those opposed to the District 7 Advisory Council, based on its mere existence. In concept, it is good for Emerald to receive information on happenings in the neighborhoods that may be under the traditional radar. For efficiency’s sake, it may even be best to bring these residents together in quarterly meetings. In practice, however, it’s wrong to gather neighborhood folks together to ultimately use them to rubberstamp a pre-ordained proposition. It is also important for such a committee to be entirely transparent, or else it will seem to be some sort of secret organization with special pull with Emerald.
Also for the record, I wrote in my votes for budget cuts: no new central library, no new City Hall, and no convention center expansion. I also wrote in my suggestion for revenue-make the Redevelopment Agency pay back its $260 million debt to the City’s general fund. It would have been nice, if these ideas could have been added to the poster-sized lists. I wonder how many dots they would have received.
In the end, I don’t know what will happen with the write in votes. All I know is that the smaller pieces of pieces of paper will fit in the trash can better than the bigger ones.