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New San Diego budget focuses on homelessness, equity, arts, neighborhood projects

San Diego will spend significantly more on arts, homelessness prevention, anti-graffiti efforts and boosting low-income neighborhoods during the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

The City Council unanimously approved a $1.9 billion new budget Monday after several hours of debate over last-minute proposals to boost bicycle safety, add new neighborhood parks and increase spending in other targeted areas.

The council eventually approved a final package of $25 million in budget additions for the city’s film office, street racing enforcement, low-income rental assistance, efforts to boost racial equity and free feminine hygiene products at city facilities.

Mayor Todd Gloria and the council managed to increase spending essentially across the board because of reviving tax revenues — especially sales tax — and $180 million in federal pandemic aid left over from the $300 million San Diego got last spring.

The fiscal 2023 budget also delays $28.5 million in scheduled contributions to city reserves. But the city is projected to have $52 million in federal pandemic aid left over next summer that could help fund programs in the fiscal 2024 budget.

City officials also cautiously chose not to spend $40 million in excess cash based on fears that the unwinding of the city’s legally nullified 2012 Proposition B pension reforms could cost more than previously anticipated.

The spending plan is a roughly 8 percent increase over the city’s previous annual budget of $1.74 billion.

Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, who represents downtown areas hit the hardest by homelessness, praised the new budget for addressing the city’s No. 1 challenge.

“This budget does take a significant step toward ending widespread homelessness in San Diego,” he said. “It funds prevention, outreach, shelter services and enforcement.”

Whitburn said the budget, which increased homelessness spending by more than $28 million, will help in multiple ways both short-term and long-term.

“It prevents homelessness by letting low-income residents pay their rents so they can stay in their homes,” he said. “For people already experiencing homelessness, it provides additional help that we want them to accept. And for those who refuse all offers of help and choose instead to live in tents, it provides additional resources to free our sidewalks of encampments.”

Councilmember Vivian Moreno, who represents the mostly low-income South Bay, praised the budget for investing in underserved communities throughout the city.

In particular, she praised her colleagues for approving $2 million to ensure construction of Beyer Park in San Ysidro, which supporters called a crucial oasis away from pollution for residents near the border.

“Beyer Park would be like ‘new lungs’ for our community that suffers disproportionately from all the air pollution generated by cars that accumulate daily at the border, both in the mornings and afternoons,” said San Ysidro resident Juan Ochoa.

The budget also increases arts spending to pre-pandemic levels. It includes more than $14 million for grants to artists and more than 150 local arts organizations, up from $9.6 million last year.

“We are pleased to have full restoration of our funding,” said Christine Martinez of the Arts and Culture San Diego advocacy group. “We look forward continuing to offer valuable, life-changing programs to more than 900 hubs throughout all the city districts.”

Meanwhile, several advocates for street vendors unsuccessfully lobbied the council to shrink the number of employees hired to enforce a new vendor ordinance from 44 to 11.

The budget includes many targeted items that affect only a small area, such as money to rebuild Redlands Drive in El Cerrito and to add guardrails along Torrey Pines Road. But the spending plan also includes initiatives with much wider impact, such as creating a citywide master plan for broadband services.

Mayor Gloria also wants to boost quality of life with more services delivered more quickly. The budget funds aggressive enforcement of scooters and adds new parking enforcement teams to help free up spots in key areas.

On traffic, the budget creates a new management center where city officials will be able to observe intersections and immediately change stoplights to alleviate congestion. There will also be a new team of workers to replace outdated signal loops — patches of pavement near stoplights that trigger lights to change when a car activates them.

Gloria said he delayed scheduled reserve contributions partly because that could jeopardize federal pandemic aid — if a city can afford to increase its reserves, then it is hard to justify needing federal pandemic aid.



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