San Diego economics commission holds public meeting at UTC

By Karen Billing

Staff Writer

Nine people attended San Diego’s Citizens Revenue Review and Economic Competitiveness Commission meeting at Westfield UTC’s Forum Hall on Aug. 26.

The commission’s visit to what Chair Bob Nelson called the “fabulous first” district was just one stop on a tour of all San Diego districts. The goal is to gather input on how to best tackle the city’s deficit issues and boost revenue.

“It’s an opportunity to come and listen and discuss ideas we’ve heard and hopefully be able to help the city of San Diego,” said Gangaram Singh, commission member and associate dean in San Diego State University’s College of Business.

The commission’s next community stop will be in district seven at Lewis Middle School in Allied Gardens on Sept. 23. Members are expected to present their recommendations to City Council on Nov 18.

To increase revenue for the city, the commission is considering options such as charging for parking at beach lots and Mission Bay Park, charging a fee for trash collection and raising the business tax from $79 annually to $150 annually, plus a percentage of gross receipts based on business type.

Nelson said San Diego is the only city in California that does not charge for trash collection for single-family homes - most others do through a fee or an addendum to property taxes. The trash collection fee would vary based on container size and could generate an estimated $34 million.

San Diego also lags behind other California cities in revenue from business taxes. San Diego businesses pay an average of $79 annually compared to $233 in San Jose and $769 in Oakland. Increasing the business tax would generate $36.2 million in additional revenue and would require five affirmative votes from City Council and 50 percent voter approval in a regular municipal election.

“Any increase is going to be a hard sell,” said one La Jolla businessperson, noting the tax increase was a Catch 22 - it could help lower the city’s deficit but could hurt individual businesses.

La Jollan Joe LaCava said it was hard to see how increasing the business tax would benefit businesses. LaCava said the city needs to examine how it spends tax dollars.

The commission presented a survey that revealed 70 percent of San Diego residents don’t want to see their services cut.

Economic competitiveness proposals the commission is looking into include:

  • Create a more capable workforce through strategies to improve student achievement in schools
  • Maintain services that attract high workforce value and tourism spending such as public safety, streets and recreation
  • Protect beach and bay water quality through storm water treatment improvements, thus attracting a stronger workforce and encouraging more tourism
  • Expand the Convention Center to attract more spending, jobs and revenue
  • Move projects to the front of the line for processing if they include affordable housing, are on high frequency transit routes and are “green’ developments
  • Maintain current fees charged to developers to pay for affordable housing (linkage fees)
  • Reduce the number and time consumed by multiple environmental and construction reviews for proposed development.

Janay Kruger, who lives in the Golden Triangle, said she would like to see the city complete more infrastructure projects instead of allowing them to be bogged down by process.
She said district one needs infrastructure improvements, particularly at the Interstate 5-Genesee interchange.