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‘Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement’: Budget town hall meeting centers on public safety

San Diego police Community Relations Officer Jessica Thrift and Lt. Rick Aguilar speak at a La Jolla Town Council meeting.
San Diego police Community Relations Officer Jessica Thrift and Lt. Rick Aguilar speak at a La Jolla Town Council meeting March 10.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As part of the city of San Diego’s budget process for the coming fiscal year, City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, held a budget town hall meeting online May 2, the first of two scheduled for the district. The town halls are intended for residents to provide input on what the city should prioritize for funding.

Public safety took center stage.

Several speakers advocated for an increased budget for the San Diego Police Department, citing long wait times when calling dispatch and a lack of police presence in places like La Jolla.

Catharine Douglass, chairwoman of the La Jolla Town Council’s Public Safety Committee, said “public safety is No. 1” and that “it is imperative to award a healthy budget to SDPD and support a robust police force throughout our city going forward. Crime is rising at an alarming rate, and without increased funding they cannot keep us safe. SDPD is understaffed and too often unable to achieve what they refer to as minimum staffing. … This cannot continue.”

LaCava agreed and said he was working with the Police Department “to see what we can do to keep officers working for SDPD.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria highlighted public safety investments May 5 in his proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, including an increase of $13.8 million for the city’s Police Department.

In February, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said the number of officers had declined from 1,956 to 1,847 since August.

In September, Nisleit told the La Jolla Town Council that the first six months of last year saw an 18.8 percent increase in violent crimes, including at some area beaches.

Police Department Northern Division Capt. Scott Wahl said at that time that of the 11 beats in the Northern Division, which
contains 250,000 residents, La Jolla was second in call volume, behind Pacific Beach.

Diane Ahern of the University City Community Association said her biggest issues are “quality of life and safety” and include trash pickup, homeless services and increased budgets for emergency personnel such as firefighters and lifeguards.

Others said public safety priorities could include additional support for SDPD dispatch and repairing streetlights.

With the city of San Diego facing a lengthy backlog of darkened streetlights in several communities along with seven vacant engineer positions, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. is partnering with the city to try to expedite a fix.

A resident who did not identify herself questioned whether volunteers could help support the police force. She told LaCava, “I hope you are going to push for proper funding for our police.”

He replied that “we’re preserving our budget for police and fire and we’re proposing staff upgrades for lifeguards, and we’re ensuring enforcement of two new ordinances that we adopted: short-term rentals and sidewalk vending. If we don’t have that enforcement, those ordinances don’t do us much good in protecting our neighborhoods and quiet enjoyment of our shoreline parks and coastal resources.”

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson called for “enforcement, enforcement, enforcement” in the beach areas.

“We get almost 4 million people a year here,” she said. “That is a huge boon to the economy for everyone in San Diego, but we need to keep the area sanitary and safe. The beach teams from SDPD have been allocated as four [officers], which is the bare minimum. We need six to eight to cover the coastal area during the summer. We worry about burnout with too much overtime, so someone needs to think outside the box.”

The south restroom facility at La Jolla Shores' Kellogg Park drew complaints recently about unsanitary conditions.
(Courtesy of Mike McCormack)

Noting recent complaints about unsanitary public restrooms at La Jolla Shores’ Kellogg Park, Emerson added: “Cleaning the ‘comfort stations’ is critical; again we need to think outside the box. … [The city Department of] Parks & Rec is doing everything but not hiring enough people. If you are coming to the beach as a family, disgusting, unsanitary bathrooms are not the thing we want people taking away from San Diego.”

After several emails among La Jolla residents, community leaders and city officials about unsanitary conditions of trash receptacles and restrooms at Kellogg Park in The Shores, it appears San Diego city staff has cleaned up the mess, at least for now.

LaCava said he would fight for funding to provide care for shoreline parks “for the reasons you identified.”

Other topics at the meeting included road repair and increasing the overall city budget.

LaCava said efforts are underway to get more money but the city needs to “get creative … and competitive. We are looking at federal infrastructure dollars … because we want to get our fair share, if not more.”

“A lot of interesting ideas were put forth [at the meeting], and we will work with the various city departments so we can tackle these in innovative ways,” LaCava said.

In coming weeks, the city will hold forums focusing on different city departments and districts. Later this month, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria will issue what is known as the “May revise” to the budget based on memos issued by City Council members.

According to the office of the independent budget analyst, the City Council is scheduled to consider final adoption of the budget on Monday, June 13. At that time, the council can change line items or services and programs in the proposed budget, provided the budget remains balanced. The mayor has the authority to veto changes by the council.

The 2022-23 fiscal year begins July 1.

The next budget town hall for District 1 will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Nobel Athletic Fields and Recreation Center, 8810 Judicial Drive, University City. To register, go to bit.ly/D1FY23BTH. Learn more at sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cd1. ◆