In Praise of San Diego

 

You have to hand it to the city of San Diego. In California, garden variety public sector incompetence or corruption is not going to get you headlines. We’re not easily impressed. You’ve got to shoot the moon. Unfortunately for their citizens, San Diego did just that in the middle of the last decade.

In 2005, then-mayor Dick Murphy resigned after it came to light that the city had been systematically underfunding its public pensions based on wildly unrealistic market predictions while simultaneously increasing benefits. There was a proliferation of criminal investigations afterward. Worst of all, San Diego was left with a $1.4 billion deficit in the wake of the scandal and dubbed “Enron by the Sea” (which really could be the new marketing strategy for the entire state — “Complete fiscal collapse has never looked this good!”)

What’s remarkable is how aggressively San Diego (which suffers from dramatically fewer of the liberal pathologies that beset cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles) is attempting to right the ship. The citizens of “America’s Finest City” (their choice of nickname, not mine — though I’d argue that they’re at least in the running) put together nearly 116,000 signatures to qualify an initiative for this June’s ballot that would shift San Diego’s public employees (with the exception of police) to 401(k)-style defined contribution pension plans for new hires. Polling has put support for the initiative amongst San Diegans at about 70 percent. Estimated savings? $1.2 billion.

Of course, public-sector unions are coming at this with everything they’ve got. They’re currently trying to bottle it up in court. If that fails, you can be sure that they’ll finance the mother of all opposition campaigns for the initiative; the state’s major public employee unions spent nearly $400 million attempting to influence the political process in the last decade — well beyond any other interest group.

But if the track record of current Mayor Jerry Sanders is any indication, the will of public-sector labor will not be the be all and end all of city policy. An article in Governing Magazine sheds some light on the city’s innovations:

“The city also has implemented an effort that creates “managed competition” in which some city departments must offer the lowest bid in order to continue their operations, lest they be replaced with a third-party contractor who can do the job cheaper.”

“So far, employees who sweep the streets, maintain the vehicle fleet and work in the city publishing shop have all won those bids by pitching proposals that reduced expenses for the city. The next competition will involve the city’s landfill operations. “Employees know where the fat is,” Sanders said.”

“Meanwhile, under Sanders’ leadership, the city has shed about 1,800 positions, made pay cuts and freezes, and pushed huge reforms to the retiree health care system expected to save the city at least $700 million over 25 years.”

Imagine that: public servants actually being asked to serve the public. Keep at it, San Diego. The rest of the Golden State needs your example.

There are 22 comments.

  1. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    I agree, although I’ll take what I can get. What a remarkable development it would be for the rest of the state if a city the size of San Diego could upend the conventional wisdom on managing local government by power of example.

    genferei
    Troy Senik, Ed. “The city also has implemented an effort that creates “managed competition” in which some city departments must offer the lowest bid in order to continue their operations, lest they be replaced with a third-party contractor who can do the job cheaper.”

    And the next step is to privatise the winners. I hope. · 2 minutes ago

    • #1
    • February 17, 2012, at 1:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. J.Voss Inactive

    This is far from over. Our city council has still yet to fix the problem. We are running several mayoral candidates who are promising to fix it. I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime I’ve lost my local library.

    • #2
    • February 17, 2012, at 1:38 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. K T Cat Inactive

    Thanks, Troy! If you want to follow some of the Tea Party bloggers in San Diego, many of whom have kept the pressure on local politicians, stop by the SLOBs page (San Diego Local Order of Bloggers).

    • #3
    • February 17, 2012, at 1:38 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    J. Voss and K T Cat ~

    Will we be fortunate enough to see either of you in Orange County next weekend for the So Cal Ricochet meetup?

    • #4
    • February 17, 2012, at 1:53 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. Mark Wilson Member
    Troy Senik, Ed.

    The citizens of “America’s Finest City” (their choice of nickname, not mine — though I’d argue that they’re at least in the running)

    I would just like to point out that the Onion’s slogan is “American’s Finest News Source.”

    • #5
    • February 17, 2012, at 1:58 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. J.Voss Inactive
    Troy Senik, Ed.: J. Voss and K T Cat ~

    Will we be fortunate enough to see either of you in Orange County next weekend for the So Cal Ricochet meetup? · 6 minutes ago

    I sure am trying to get away from work long enough to drive up. I sure would love to!

    • #6
    • February 17, 2012, at 2:00 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Steven Potter Thatcher
    Doug Kimball: As an AZ denizen, I used to take my family to San Diego every year for a week to ten days of relief from the AZ summer. A couple of years ago, I decided to end the practice. What had once been a friendly, second city home had become an infestation of preter-OWS trash can drummers, pot-hazed indigents and agressive pan-handlers. I could not imagine why the city would tolerate this. I chose not to.

    Maui may be more expensive and the locals may have ambivalent feelings about our presence, but the bums have not invaded. · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    You just need to stay out of OB (Ocean Beach) is all. It was pretty bad when I left San Diego back in September, but then again CA is a mess in general. 

    San Diego may not be as liberal as an LA or San Francisco but it’s not exactly the land of conservatives either. More so, to the East and North parts of San Diego County, but definitely not the city itself. Hopefully, they get their act together. I do miss it.

    • #7
    • February 17, 2012, at 2:10 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Duane Oyen Member

    Mr. Potter, just go camp out in Escondido!

    This sounds a lot like Stephen Goldsmith’s work in Indianapolis. The key is that the comparison is set up properly. The employees try to jigger a marginal out-of-pocket cost standard, like the DoD does under the Arsenal Statute make-or-buy exercise, and industry wants full cost-accounting, burden absorption, etc. The fair answer in the middle (pure privatization is too hard to do at the start, you push that way over time, the way the FAA spun off operations to Lockheed Martin) is to derive a special burden rate that accounts for the marginal burden costs, absorption factors, etc., and apply that. Then go wiht the real winner, no politically-driven multiple bites at the apple if the in-house crowd loses.

    • #8
    • February 17, 2012, at 2:45 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Brian Clendinen Member
    Doug Kimball: Now if Sanders can do his best Rudy Guiliani impression and rid the streets and parks of vagrants and panhandlers. 

    That is not going to happen, San Diego relatively speaking actually likes and are nice to their homeless. My brother lives a block away from their main camp. He does not have any issues with them and says they are pretty polite/respectful.

    I mean how many homeless people do you see with new camping gear and good jackets in the city. Why? someone is always giving it to them. I live in Orlando area and there is just as many homeless but there is a world of difference. One there is more woods from them to live and stay out of sight, two you don’t see them with brand new equipment like half the homeless had in San Diego, three I have noticed Orlando homeless tend to have deplorable manners were San Diego’s are not to bad. I am way more annoyed by the panhandlers in D.C. 

    • #9
    • February 17, 2012, at 3:04 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Gus Marvinson Inactive

    If San Diego residents get tired of frugal city government and yearn for some good-old-boy boondoggles and municipal excess they can drive right up the 15 and enjoy Riverside.

    • #10
    • February 17, 2012, at 4:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. Diego Sun Devil Inactive
    San Diego was named “America’s Finest City” in a magazine survey in the early 70s. I looked, but I can’t find a link. It served as a marketing slogan in an attempt to land the Republican National Convention of 1972. Miami won out in the end.As for our politics, we’re Conservative by California standards thanks (I believe) mainly to the large defense footprint. Camp Pendleton is on the northern edge of San Diego county and we have the Marines at Miramar (formerly home of the Navy and the famous Top Gun academy), and 32nd St. and North Island Naval bases.I still think the people around here are essentially crazy, but I’ve lived here for 17 years now and I think the whole country has become the same way to a degree, so it’s hard to tell.As for the topic at hand, I see no way pension reform does not pass here. I’ll be shocked if it fails to be honest with you. This isn’t much of a union town to the best of my knowledge. If this kind of thing can happen in Wisconsin, it can surely happen here.
    • #11
    • February 17, 2012, at 4:19 AM PDT
    • Like
  12. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    Alas, so true. Don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this on the site, Gus, but Riverside is my home town. Come to think of it, the trends you cite might be the reason I’ve never mentioned it.

    Gus Marvinson: If San Diego residents get tired of frugal city government and yearn for some good-old-boy boondoggles and municipal excess they can drive right up the 15 and enjoy Riverside. · 54 minutes ago
    • #12
    • February 17, 2012, at 4:57 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. Diego Sun Devil Inactive

    We are not completely immune to liberal pathologies as it were. PETA sued Sea World here claiming the killer whales were “slaves” under the 13th amendment. Thankfully, it was thrown out, but it’s a sign of things to come. Animal rights is going to be a big issue as we become weaker and weaker as a society and people let their feelings govern.

    • #13
    • February 17, 2012, at 5:50 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. FeliciaB Inactive
    Troy Senik, Ed.: J. Voss and K T Cat ~

    Will we be fortunate enough to see either of you in Orange County next weekend for the So Cal Ricochet meetup? · 4 hours ago

    Yeah, what he said.

    • #14
    • February 17, 2012, at 5:56 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Gus Marvinson Inactive
    Troy Senik, Ed.: Alas, so true. Don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this on the site, Gus, but Riverside is my home town. Come to think of it, the trends you cite might be the reason I’ve never mentioned it. · 56 minutes ago
    Gus Marvinson: If San Diego residents get tired of frugal city government and yearn for some good-old-boy boondoggles and municipal excess they can drive right up the 15 and enjoy Riverside. · 54 minutes ago

    Another reason to look forward to the get-together on the 25th!

    • #15
    • February 17, 2012, at 5:56 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. flownover Inactive

    How does one coin a new term for this kind of behaviour within large organizations that resembles sociopathy ?Where is Cannetti when we need him to describe this systemic dysfunction ?

    • #16
    • February 17, 2012, at 6:01 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. K T Cat Inactive
    Troy Senik, Ed.: J. Voss and K T Cat ~

    Will we be fortunate enough to see either of you in Orange County next weekend for the So Cal Ricochet meetup? · 10 hours ago

    I’d like to, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it.

    • #17
    • February 17, 2012, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. The Great Adventure! Member

    You stay classy San Diego

    • #18
    • February 17, 2012, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Doug Kimball Member

    Now if Sanders can do his best Rudy Guiliani impression and rid the streets and parks of vagrants and panhandlers. He might also take on the nasty permanent population of broken down RV’s and trailers housing SD’s new class of travel-resistent nomads.

    As an AZ denizen, I used to take my family to San Diego every year for a week to ten days of relief from the AZ summer. A couple of years ago, I decided to end the practice. What had once been a friendly, second city home had become an infestation of preter-OWS trash can drummers, pot-hazed indigents and agressive pan-handlers. I could not imagine why the city would tolerate this. I chose not to.

    Maui may be more expensive and the locals may have ambivalent feelings about our presence, but the bums have not invaded. 

    • #19
    • February 17, 2012, at 12:55 PM PDT
    • Like
  20. Caryn Member

    Glad to hear it. San Diego is about my favorite city to visit. Whenever there is a conference held there, my likelihood of attending at least doubles. The conference center is fine, but the best is staying at a B&B up the hill (off Laurel), a short walk from Balboa Park, and walking down the hill to the meeting every day. What a beautiful vista from up there. Of course, I have to stick to meetings, since I couldn’t in my wildest dreams start to afford to live there. 

    • #20
    • February 17, 2012, at 12:55 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. DocJay Inactive

    This makes me very happy. I was born there and went to college at UCSD. I worked at Sea World and later the Naval Ocean Systems Center. I consider it the nicest city in the world and have always feared liberals would destroy it.

    • #21
    • February 17, 2012, at 12:57 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. genferei Member
    Troy Senik, Ed. “The city also has implemented an effort that creates “managed competition” in which some city departments must offer the lowest bid in order to continue their operations, lest they be replaced with a third-party contractor who can do the job cheaper.”

    And the next step is to privatise the winners. I hope.

    • #22
    • February 17, 2012, at 12:57 PM PDT
    • Like