San Diego council budget priorities include homelessness, climate plan, bicycle upgrades

Expanding programs for the homeless, upgrading parks and making streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians are among the San Diego City Council’s top spending priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

Other priorities the council is submitting to Mayor Kevin Faulconer include funding for the arts, planting trees to fight climate change, hiring more lifeguards and encouraging more granny flats to help solve the housing crisis.

Council members also said recently they plan to examine the mayor’s budget from the perspective of providing social equity across all council districts and communities, particularly low-income areas that lack infrastructure and amenities.

The goal is to help Faulconer craft a city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He is scheduled to unveil on April 12 a proposed budget that must receive final approval from a majority of the nine-member council.

The council is expected to play a larger budgeting role this spring since Democrats, who increased their majority from 5-4 to 6-3 in November, now have the numbers to override line-item vetoes by Faulconer, a Republican.

Faulconer, facing a deficit of nearly $46 million, has asked all city departments to propose 3 percent spending cuts that could be implemented immediately.

This is the third winter in a row Faulconer has requested proposed spending reductions, but the situation is more severe this time because the city faces a steeper deficit.

Though there will be cuts in some areas, council members also want some programs to be expanded.

On homelessness, council members are requesting money for outreach, bridge shelters, safe parking lots, permanent housing for homeless people and increased access to showers and restrooms.

They also want to revive a program that reduced unnecessary 911 calls by using a software filter to weed out the most frequent callers: the homeless, the mentally ill and drug addicts. The program saved the city money and drew national praise from 2010 through 2016, but city officials let it expire a year ago when the federal and state grants for it ran out.

On parks, council members are requesting various infrastructure improvements and upgrades to city parks, recreation centers and senior centers.

Requests related to pedestrian and bicycle safety include crosswalks, traffic calming measures, beacons, lane re-engineering, improved bicycle infrastructure, and stoplight improvements.

Those upgrades also aim to help the city meet the goals of its legally binding climate action plan, which requires more city residents to shift away from commuting by automobile. The council expressed support for spending more money to monitor how much progress the city is making toward the goal.

The council also wants a greater focus on something they call “climate resiliency,” including an increase in the city’s urban tree canopy. Council members are calling for more street trees, additional inspections of trees, analysis of the existing canopy and the hiring of an arborist.

On funding for the arts, which has been controversial during the last few budgets, council members expressed support for maintaining the $14.5 million budgeted in the ongoing fiscal year.

Faulconer has proposed funding cuts for the arts in recent years and a “financial outlook” from his staff this winter tentatively allocated $10.6 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

On lifeguards, council members are requesting additional staff for the boating safety unit, dive team and at key beach locations.

On granny flats, council members are suggesting expanded subsidies and targeting construction of the units, officially called accessory dwellings, for homeless people.

Other requests from the council include more sidewalks, more streetlights, more money for buying library books and other library materials, and expansion of the city’s “Get it Done” app for reporting potholes and other problems.

david.garrick@sduniontribune.com (619) 269-8906 Twitter:@UTDavidGarrick

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