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‘A complete resource issue’: San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria addresses how budget woes may affect La Jolla

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria addresses the La Jolla Town Council online Feb. 11.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria addresses the La Jolla Town Council online Feb. 11.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“COVID-19 is our top focus,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said during the Feb. 11 online meeting of the La Jolla Town Council.

He provided updates on ways the pandemic has affected City Hall, from assistance to the homeless to budget shortfalls, and how that may impact La Jolla.

The pandemic is “where I spend most of my time,” he said. “Vaccination is the name of the game. We have vaccinated 100,000 people at Tailgate Park in the East Village; we crossed the half-million mark in the county this week in terms of people who have been vaccinated.”

“We are doing well compared with the rest of the state, but I think until everyone can get it, I’m certainly not happy,” he added.

Gloria said he is working on having the city, rather than the county, be the recipient of doses of the vaccines. “The city having direct access to them is particularly important for our safety professionals who we need to get vaccinated. My goal is to run the best vaccination program in the city, in the state.”

Gloria said COVID-19 also has caused the city to change several things. “The Convention Center has not hosted any meetings since last spring; it has been turned into an interim homeless shelter,” with about 900 people sleeping there each night, he said.

The Convention Center has served more than 3,000 homeless San Diegans, and 1,200 of them are now in permanent housing, Gloria said.

“While there’s nothing positive to say about the pandemic, to the extent this is giving us a template for how the city and county and the nonprofit sector can work together to get a substantial number of people off the streets, I think that is something to keep sight of,” he said.

Though Gloria has extended operation of the Convention Center as a shelter through March, he said there won’t be further extensions, “as we need to be able to operate and welcome people to San Diego and collect their revenues so we can spend it on your parks and your libraries and your road repair.”

“My commitment is that everyone who is currently residing there will not be sent back to the streets. We will be able to find housing for them in a variety of locations. ... We are on track to do that,” he said.

Reclaiming tourism money is part of Gloria’s plan to address the financial impacts of the pandemic, which he said has created a city budget deficit of $84 million for this fiscal year, with a projected deficit next year of about $150 million.

The deficit, Gloria said, “is not about overspending. We are within $300,000 of our $1.5 billion expected spend for the year.” The shortfall is the result of missing revenue from empty hotel rooms and uncollected tourism-related taxes as the pandemic affected travel, he said.

“That means I need to find $84 million to balance our budget for the current fiscal year, as well as get $150 million for next year,” Gloria said. “We will do it, but it’s not going to be pretty.”

He likened the current financial picture to the Great Recession of 2008, noting the shortfalls are similar. “The difference this time is that the city now has robust reserves,” he said. “We can use a lot of it to mute this deficit. That’s a reason to have some hope.”

“I don’t like hope as a strategy,” he added, “but my hope is that the federal government will pass additional economic relief. If that is passed, I believe we will be able to responsibly balance the budget in a way that minimizes impacts to neighborhoods like La Jolla.

“Without it, there will absolutely be impacts to your community. My commitment to you is we will prioritize public health and safety; we will minimize as much as possible impacts to neighborhood services, things like libraries, lifeguards, road repair, etc.”

When asked if anything can be done locally to address overflowing trash bins in La Jolla’s parks and along its coast, Gloria said it’s a citywide problem due to “a complete resource issue.”

“One of the challenges I’ve experienced in the 63 days that I’ve been mayor is that ... there was a budget deficit last year, even before coronavirus, and there’s a larger budget deficit in the middle of this current budget year as well as a bigger one projected next year … the city has been hollowed out in a lot of ways,” with less staffing to tackle services like trash pickup.

With the current budget projections, Gloria said that “when choosing between cops, firefighters, lifeguards or people who pick up garbage, I think you know where the priority will fall.”

“A concept I could see getting traction in the budget process … is understanding that the high use of the parks in your neighborhood might necessitate a reduction in trash service in an area that’s less frequented and focusing that on those higher-use areas,” he said.

Gloria was asked if he is willing to accept more input from local advisory boards regarding the parks master plan component of the city’s Complete Communities initiative. The parks plan was the only portion of the initiative the City Council returned for revision in November, and since then, representatives of several communities have written the city to ask that their feedback be considered in the revision.

“The short answer is yes,” Gloria said. “I’ve met with the planning staff as well as park and recreation staff. I’m trying to modify the previous proposal which did not receive council support and take in the concerns of the community. We’re going to keep working on this and try to bring something back to the council and the community for consideration that will sort of work to how can we address a lack of quality parks in the community as well as the differences between parks and various neighborhoods.”

Gloria said he intends to take future drafts through the community planning process. “That’s the most direct way I can assure you the public would have input.”

Gloria said residents can ask further questions during a City Council District 1 “Meet Your Mayor” virtual town hall event at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, co-hosted by District 1 Councilman Joe LaCava of La Jolla. To sign up, go to sandiego.gov/mayorcd1townhall.