Waterboarded

What’s with the San Diego City Council lately? First Council President Scott Peters shows leadership in saying San Diegans may have to pony up more revenues if they’d prefer not to have their houses burn up in the next fire. Then the Council votes to flush Jerry Sander’s veto of the water reclamation proposal down the political toilet?

I don’t know what they’ve started putting in the water at 202 C Street (maybe some of that reclamated stuff—and I know “reclamated” isn’t really a word but doesn’t sound like it should be? ) but keep spiking their aqua with it, by all means.

Apparently Sanders skipped his waterboarding by the Council by “going to the movies” according to his spokesman. I do hope he was watching a retrospective of Lawrence of Arabia or Dune. Maybe that would have helped remind him that San Diego is an arid, semi-desert environment in which water isn’t all that copious a commodity.

The Mayor says there are other, more cost effective ways to satisfy San Diego’s thirst. Like what–shipping water here from Fiji in little bottles made of oil from Saudi Arabia so we can biologically transship said water into the sewer system and flush it back out to sea? Where it will eventually evaporate into the atmosphere, come down as rain in Fiji, refill the aquifers there to be rebottled and reshipped in our circle of life? Or depending upon waters from Nor Cal and Colorado when more and more people are sticking bigger and bigger straws into it?

It’s time to start thinking outside of the imported water bottle, your Honorness, and face facts. New technologies such as reclamation need be tried and embraced before water bills in San Diego, already soaring to record highs, start to surpass the gasoline and electric prices San Diegans are already being gouged by. It’s time for you to now faithfully follow the Council’s mandate and not bureaucratically bury this initiative out of misplaced obstinance.

And for all you who “dis” reclamation with the pejorative “Toilet to Tap” label, as I wrote back in September, shaddup already. You obviously don’t have a clue where that “fresh” water from your tap has already been before it ever reached your gullet.

I said after the great fires that Sanders came through it all smelling like a political rose. In retrospect, me thinks me was too hasty. Given the Feinstein roadshow’s scathing critique of San Diego’s failure to fully prepare for the next big fire last week, the post-backslapping on a job well done by Jerry and his boyz now seems premature. Kind of Jerry’s “Doin’ a heck of a job, Brownie” moment.”

The bottom line: Jerry has not delivered on pretty much any of his big campaign pledges. He didn’t raise taxes but he certainly raised water rates. He hasn’t outsourced nor downsized any of municipal government of note – perhaps because most of it, by nature of what it does, cannot be profitably outsourced nor meaningfully downsized. Not, at least, if you want to deliver first world, finest city sorts of services to city’s residents. The San Diego’s fiscal house is still not in order and the bonds markets continue to turn their financial noses up and preclude the city from reentering the bonds markets. Sanders’ much hyped dream team as decamped for greener pastures. Meanwhile the state-wide budget crisis, precipitated by the housing bubble bursting and the resulting credit crunch and about to be made worse by possible recession (Gee, haven’t the Bush years been a gas?!!!) don’t foretell an easy ride for the next four years. That Jerry, who couldn’t make things work in two years of relatively good times, can do the job in the coming years of fiscal famine, is far from certain.

So, Jerry. That reelection thing next year? Just a heads up. I don’t think it’s in Santa’s bag for you just yet, afterall.

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Fire Alarm

I’m glad it was a personally busy week because it kept me from posting a blog on Tuesday flaming Council Prez. Scott Peters before he had a chance to redeem himself yesterday. The triggering of my pyromaniac punditry was a report on KPBS Tuesday morning about how Senator Dianne Feinstein came to town Monday to flame the City and County governments for not adequately addressing the region’s fire fighting needs, especially in the wake of still smoldering memory of the Cedar Fire.

As Feinstein pointed out, San Diego is about 22 fire stations and 800 firemen short of a full, fire fighting deck. She also pointed out that we are the largest county in the state that doesn’t have an integrated County fire department. But, then, Senator Feinstein comes from Northern California and doesn’t fully appreciate the political culture of San Diego. You know, the one where any attempt to integrate local government services is seen by our resident right wing wackos (yes, listeners of Rick “Rabble Rouser” Roberts, that would be you) as the first step to forming a North American Union in which we lose our sovereignty to the black helicopters of the globalist conspiracy. And where any suggestion that, if you want adequate fire protection and the resources—read tax dollars—to provide it you’re labeled a socialist.

By the bye, has the San Diego Taxpayers’ Association ever met a tax it liked? Oh, and by the way, I’m a San Diego taxpayer and I don’t belong to that group so, on my behalf and that of all the other San Diego taxpayers who neither belong to your group nor agree with your too often myopic world view that all tax cuts are good and all taxes are bad, might you consider changing your name to the Association of Those San Diego Taxpayers Who Agree With Us or some such? Don’t get me wrong – I think the SDTA raises good points about waste in government, etc., but it would be nice if they advocated just as strongly for tax fairness, as in having everyone pay their fair share of the social burden they place on our government of the people. Such as, I dunno, developers, maybe, who extract great profit from doing business in San Diego by continually pushing development out into the back country fire zone while municipal and county government fails to demand they pay the true cost of that development. That would be fees to cover those 22 fire stations and 800 firemen, not to mention the cost of the police, schools, water, roads, parks and other miscellaneous municipal incidentals whose true costs developers are allowed to push off on the rest of the residents of San Diego. The motto of San Diego’s anti-tax libertarians is Live Free—and make someone else pay for it!”

But I digress. How unusual of me.

At the end of the KPBS piece, Uber-Councilman Peters was quoted as saying that, the voters have twice rejected ballot measures to raise taxes—even Transit Occupancy Taxes that out of towners would pay—to fund needed fire protection expansion. That’s when I started seeing fire-red.

What a cop-out, I thought. Oh, the poor City Council. You tried to raise taxes to provide what was necessary for the public good but the dumb ‘ol public said “No!” (Actually, the hotel and tourist industry and the anti-tax zealots of AM talk and the SDTPA said no and put up the money where their mouth was to shoot you down. And, a few years later, San Diego burned while you all fiddled.) Oh, how can the poor City Council raise revenues to keep San Diegans’ from losing their homes—and lives—in the next great fire when no-one wants to raise taxes?

Ah, guys and gals? That would be called “Leadership.” You know, the thing where you explain to the people that, in life, hard choices have to be made and that, in order to save lives and protect property (which, as I recall, are a couple of the biggies government is supposed to do) you are either going to have to raise new revenues to fund public safety or cut other services and programs and shift the money. Neither are attractive options for anyone but, then, that’s adult life. And it’s time for San Diegans to put on their big boy and girl pants and man up. Oh, and those anti-tax advocates who keep ponying up money to convince San Diego’s that any tax is the first step towards Bolshevikism? How about pointing out that they are basically saying “I’m willing to let the rest of you burn and die so I can pocket a few extra coins and pad my corporate bottom line.”

Then you take the inevitable political heat and backlash from these municipal misanthropic miscreants at the election and stand tall and proud saying “I’m doing what I’m doing for the public good.” And, if the people of San Diego are, in fact, rational, you win. What you don’t do is stick your collective heads in the sand for four years until the next big fire to figure out how to do what you have been told repeatedly by the experts must be done. Which is what the Council did do after the fires of 2003.

Yeah, I was gonna flame Peters on this one. But procrastination is the mother of new discovery.

Yesterday, Peters showed some true leadership style, saying that the city might (Scott, just say it: Will) have to go back to the voters to raise the money by bond — of course we’re not in the bond market, yet–or sales tax. That is a great first step.

The next step is to not then shoot yourself in the foot by saying such an attempt may be “futile.” You don’t go into the big game saying “Hey, we’re probably going to lose,” big guy. You go in guns blazing. Your correct retort to San Diegans’ historic rejection of taxes should be: “After two massively devastating fires that cost the San Diego billions of dollars and over a dozen lives, only a misanthropic miscreant could oppose raising the revenues necessary to protect the people of this great city.” (Okay, substitute something softer for “misanthropic miscreants”— I just kinda like the phrase.)

Bravo for daring to raise the “T” word. Now prepare to get slammed by said miscreants. You’re in your last term on the council, Scotty. Time to put on your big boy pants and fight the good fight for what you know is the right thing to do.

Ignore the Cover, Read the Book

If you can get over the fact that the article appears on Socialist Worker OnLine an interview posted there today with local San Diego author Mike Davis is worth the read.

Davis’ central take on the fires: they are the product of rampant backcountry growth driven by developers looking for profits, governments looking for revenues and home buyers looking for the good life that is no longer affordable on the coast. But if you factored in the true cost of these houses — lay a fire surcharge on them equal to the cost of saving properties on land that otherwise would have been left to naturally burn every decade or ten–much of this development would not be cost-efficient. What we have here is the classic free-rider problem: those who want to build and live out in fire country want everyone else to pony up the true cost of protecting their homes.

Ultimately the only solution to San Diego’s sky-rocketing housing costs and unchecked rural expansion is to increase density in the city core. And that doesn’t mean building million dollar condos down town. It means building East Coast and Bay Area style highrises everywhere, from Clairemont to Normal Heights to Del Mar to University City and beyond. Such densities would also make expansion of mass transit for more efficacious, thereby killing two troublesome birds with one stone. Of course this is an utter heresy in San Diego, where everyman should be king of his 4.5b/3ba mini-estates replete with water wasting landscaping which extends right to the property’s edge. Where the wild brush begins.

Posted in Fires. 4 Comments »