Saying San Diego has “paid a high price for the hubris of our predecessors,” Mayor Bob Filner delivered his first State of the City address Tuesday with a warning that the city still faces significant financial challenges.
Filner succeeded Jerry Sanders as mayor Dec. 3 after 20 years representing the South Bay in Congress. He won November’s election over then-Councilman Carl DeMaio.
Filner is faced with several challenges in his first year at the city’s helm. The city needs to address a higher crime rate, upgrade its communications equipment, find a way to boost staffing in the police and fire departments and make its required pension contribution for employees.
After noting the hubris of earlier city leaders, Filner told a packed audience at the Balboa Theatre in Horton Plaza: “We’ve also learned valuable lessons about setting clear, achievable priorities, about telling our constituents the truth about our finances—even when it was painful—about enlisting them in the search for solutions.”
He said despite the many service cuts, the city still faces financial challenges.
“There are state funding issues still to be resolved and court cases adjudicated,” Filner said.
He noted a budget surplus of as much as $40 million from last year and $34 million in one-time revenues from both SDG&E and the county of San Diego.
“This revenue will cushion some of the blow from new expenses, but it would be imprudent to spend these one-time revenues on recurring costs,” he said, adding that a portion should be earmarked to upgrade the city’s public safety communications system.
Filner said another piece of the city’s “financial puzzle” is to continue negotiations with all city employee bargaining units on what he hopes will be a 5-year freeze on pensionable pay.
He pledged to be available to residents at City Hall on the first Saturday of every month from 9:30 a.m. to noon, starting Feb. 2.
“The process of building trust in city government depends on ensuring that all interests have a seat at the table,” he said.
Mayor Filner also touched on economic growth, job growth, green initiatives, infrastructure, improved transportation systems, better urban planning, environmental issues and water availability.
“My focus this year will not just be about bricks and mortar, asphalt and turf, water and sewers. It will also be about neighborhood empowerment,” Filner said.
The mayor highlighted each council member, including District 1’s Sherri Lightner, which includes La Jolla, Torrey Pines and Carmel Valley, and District 5’s Mark Kersey, who represents Scripps Ranch, Rancho Peñasquitos and Rancho Bernardo.
Filner congratulated Councilwoman Lightner on her appointment as council president pro tem. He said he looked forwarded to working with her on a number of issues, including long-term water needs.
He said he looked forward to working with Kersey on the real nuts and bolts of city infrastructure.
He added that he shared Kersey’s interest in building a stronger relationship with Mexico.
Filner was met with cheers as he announced that the San Diego Chargers informed him they would not terminate their lease at the stadium this year and woud not take part in the required NFL process to relocate.
Filner also honored numerous San Diego residents who have made a difference in San Diego and beyond. Recipients included La Jollans Ernest and Evelyn Rady, Alicia and Tony Gwynn, former state Sen. Lucy Killea and Eileen Haag, who formed the Rancho Bernardo United Coalition to help that community recover from the fires.
In a Facebook posting, Council President Todd Gloria congratulated Filner on a solid address.
“He gave an honest assessment of the city’s finances while laying out a progressive vision for San Diego that I think the Council can support,” Gloria wrote. “While there was a lot included in the speech that I liked, I deeply appreciated his words on homelessness and our shared belief that this must be a priority for our city.”