San Diego council wants budget funds for AirBnB crackdown, arts
San Diego City Council members want more money for rental subsidies, tree planting, arts programs and library books in the new budget Mayor Todd Gloria will soon begin creating for fiscal year 2024.
Council members are also requesting more money for lifeguards, climate equity, creation of the city’s first bicycle master plan in a decade and enforcement of the city’s recent crackdown on short-term vacation rentals.
To amplify the council’s impact on the proposed budget Gloria is scheduled to unveil in April, council members submitted budget priority memos in October, instead of the typical following February.
One drawback to that approach is greater uncertainty about city finances at this early a date. This budget cycle, the memos come before the annual November release of the mayor’s financial outlook estimating surpluses or deficits during the next five years.
The city’s independent budget analyst, which compiled the council budget memos and released them Thursday, said there are several additional concerns entering the new budget cycle.
San Diego will have just $52 million left of the $300 million it received in federal pandemic stimulus in 2020, which has played a key role in helping the city balance the last two budgets — $100 million in fiscal 2022 and $148 million in fiscal 2023.
The city may also be forced to pay as much as $100 million to unwind the legally nullified Proposition B pension cuts. The IBA said more information about how much the city owes is expected in February.
The city could dip into reserves, but the IBA noted those reserves are well below target levels because contributions have been suspended in recent years. The city has about $200 million in reserves, roughly 10 percent of its annual $1.9 billion budget.
Another potential concern is the city’s annual pension payment, which is likely to rise sharply. The payment shrank by $31 million this fiscal year because of stock market gains, and it’s likely to spike in the new fiscal year because of stock losses.
Investment losses increase the city’s pension debt and annual payment because a crucial part of the city’s long-term payoff plan is significant growth in the value of investments made by the city’s pension system.
Despite the uncertainty, council members are proposing many spending increases. In general, they want the mayor to continue focusing on programs addressing homelessness and fighting climate change.
Regarding specific programs, a majority of the nine-member council wants an expansion of a rental-assistance program created last summer with $3.6 million. Requests for more funding were as high as $15 million for the program, which gives $500 a month to low-income people with unstable housing conditions.
Council members also want more money for tree planting, stressing that the city’s revised climate action plan calls for a 35 percent tree canopy by 2035.
On a related note, council members want more money for the city‘s new climate equity fund, which helps low-income areas vulnerable to climate change. Three council members want the program to triple in size from $5 million to $15 million.
For lifeguards, council members want more staffing, more equipment and more training, including money for an advanced lifeguard academy.
On libraries, council members wants $250,000 for more library books and other materials, $500,000 more for library maintenance and an increase in city matching funds for donations, from $1.2 million to $1.4 million.
Council members also want to hire seven more full-time librarians focused on youth, family and teen services so that all 36 city branches will have such a librarian.
Another priority listed in the memos is updating the city’s bicycle master plan for the first time since 2013. Safer bike routes are key to getting people to commute in more climate-friendly ways, city officials say.
Council members also want more money for code enforcement, particularly for short-term vacation rentals and underserved communities.
The council’s budget committee is scheduled to discuss the priorities Wednesday, with the full council slated to finalize them Oct. 31.