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Council President talks local politics: Lifeguard tower, mayor’s performance, parking issues addressed

Council President Scott Peters, who represents the First District including La Jolla, stands at a crossroads. Termed out of office in 2008, he must choose a new career path. What’s next for him?

“My most important constituent and I have talked about this, and she points out, in the next four years, that I have a son who will be going through high school, and a daughter finishing high school,” said Peters. “She doesn’t want me in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. So I’m not going to do anything like that. I wouldn’t miss that. But at some point, I may be convinced to do an elective office again. We’ll see.”

Light: What are your views on parking in La Jolla?

Peters: In the community plan, there are plans for a parking garage in three different spots. If we have funds, we can go ahead and do it. Everyone wants infrastructure. But to be realistic, you have to come up with a range of funding sources. Some have to be user-fee type. If you’re using parking, you pay.

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Light: Revenues would be generated from proposed paid on-street parking. How much of it would go to La Jolla?

Peters: How much we’re going to get, I can’t tell you today. I think there’s a lot of wiggle room.

Light: In their (La Jolla Community Parking District’s) pilot (program), they’re asking for 80 percent. Do you think something like that is realistic?

Peters: That’s in the range.

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Light: People are saying, if the money goes downtown, La Jolla will never have control of it again.

Peters: That’s what they said about the Bird Rock (traffic calming) plan. That’s not the way I work. If you give me reasonable community leadership, you deal with the issue in an honest way and you come up with a way to solve the problem, I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t support it. It’s a lot better when the community can step up and provide the brain power so you don’t leave it to downtown San Diego.

Light: Is the strong mayor form of government the right way to go? If so, can it be improved upon?

Peters: It’s the way to go, and there needs to be improvement. When I came into office, the city manager ran the city. We were required by charter to rely on the city manager. The council never had an independent budget analyst before.

What’s happening now is almost revolutionary, the quality of the discussion on both sides. When the mayor sends us a budget, we turn it over to the independent budget officer who works it over for a month. There’s no place to hide money. Everyone is on the same page about getting the city back on its fiscal feet. We’re coming out of that now. We’ll be back in the bond market.

Light: How else can the strong mayor form of government be improved upon?

Peters: We should amend the city charter so we can put some professionals on there to support audit management independent of the mayor. We need to change the eight council districts, go to either 9 or 11, and put that on the ballot.

Light: Why don’t you run against Mike Aguirre for city attorney?

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Peters: I just don’t think it’s the job I want. But I think it’s very important for the city to get a new city attorney. I haven’t made any secret about that. San Diegans want to see progress. They want to see people working together to make progress. It’s impossible to move the ball when the running back is tackling the quarterback. That is so counterproductive. It’s very important that he be replaced. I’m confident someone will step forward that can do that.

He hasn’t won a case. That’s the thing that amazes me. The only cases he’s won, he’s had high-priced, outside lawyers. This pension case has just been a disaster. And he wants to try it again. You talk to Mike, he’s never lost a case. What I can tell you is his record is pretty bad.

Light: What are your views on the lifeguard station remodel at Children’s Pool?

Peters: The issue’s been the size of it. The lifeguards are telling us they can’t live with the same amount of space they’ve had in the past. The facility is falling down, and they’re going to have to put trailers up pretty soon. They can’t keep people safely in that building.

Light: Would undergrounding much of the new design, as some have suggested, be the answer?

Peters: The undergrounding is a new thing. If it works, sure. I haven’t seen an analysis of the feasibility of undergrounding.

I can just tell you that the city is probably not going to break the bank spending $5 million or $6 million to go underground to save some square footage. I don’t think the mayor will support it.

Light: What was your take on the recently unsuccessful effort to decertify the La Jolla Community Planning Association, and its aftermath?

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Peters: We think we’ve gotten back to a decent working relationship. We’ve had discussions about the bylaws, and I’m basically in support of almost all the amendments they want. I think we can work that out.

Light: Do you have a position on Chabad’s proposal to locate a new, religious facility in La Jolla Shores?

Peters: We’re trying to say, right up front, it’s not appropriate. We already have enough religious uses in the Shores. I’m not going to be supporting that.

Light: What’s the status of the city’s finances these days?

Peters: There’s never enough money to do what you want to do. It’s pretty clear, since Proposition 13 came in, that the city’s been borrowing one way or another, not paying for the maintenance as it comes due, or delaying pension payments for a little while, or using phantom borrowing mechanisms (not unique to San Diego). We have tried to address that. We’ve raised revenues from water and sewer in ways that are really going to be significant. It’s already made a difference in water quality. There may be an opportunity for a park type of bond. People may be willing to step up and help with open space.

Light: You’ve worked under two different mayors, Richard Murphy and Jerry Sanders, what’s your evaluation of their performance?

Peters: Very different guys. What I liked about Dick was he had a list of stuff he wanted to do. It was very clear what he was interested in. What he didn’t do well was, he didn’t steer the boat very well. He thought of it as a railroad track. It was more of a train than a boat. He wasn’t really a course corrector.

Jerry is a great communicator, and he’s a tremendously likeable guy. I think he’s been very calming for the city. In terms of the financial stuff, we’re right on track. We got a great negotiation with the police officers. We gave them a 9 percent raise, which is substantial, but we got a lot of concessions in the health-care stuff. But I wish he had a to-do list. I wish I knew what we’re all working on together.