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Friday, March 31, 2006

Concrete Jungle

I just returned from a vacation in San Diego. To be fair, I lived in San Diego for 18 months from early 1989 until mid-1990. I became extremely familiar with the politics and local issues that were "hot" back then. Imagine my surprise when I returned for a week almost 17 years later and found that the "hot" issues now were exactly the same as they were when I left. The San Diego City Council is still a stinkpot of corruption and panderer to special interests (for Portland residents, this may sound achingly familiar). Despite this, the City Council did manage to figure out a way to corrupt the public employee's pension system (of which the Council is a part). Now, faced with a voter revolt, the newly elected Mayor managed to finesse through two ballot measures for November 2006 that will try to undo some of the pension mess. Although the Mayor and Council negotiated with the labor unions to get them to "buy in" to the ballot measures, the unions refused and expected "labor friendly" city councilmen to support them. Alas, the mayor sandbagged the unions as he already had the votes to put this on the ballot. The measures were referred out by a vote of 6 - 1. Moreover, to rub salt in the unions' faces, neither the Mayor nor the City Council offered any explanation of how these measures would be implemented if they passed. One measure requires that the Council look towards outsourcing *many* of the City jobs (again, not a clue which ones). The second measure would require that voters in the City of San Diego approve ANY changes to the current public employee pension system. This means that added benefits (unlikely) or decreased benefits (highly likely) would be decided by a vote of the people. The council did make one small concession to the unions and active employees. Employees with at least 15 years of public service in the system, or those who are already vested and within 15 years of normal retirement age (60), would be exempt from voter-approved changes. All this would be "news" if the same kind of stuff weren't under discussion in 1989. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Other non-news. San Diego is still searching for a place to site a new airport. This discussion has been going on since about 1984. They've narrowed the search down to 9 possible locations, at least 4 of which are so preposterous as to not deserve comment. When the Pentagon announced the latest round of Base Closures, the Port Commission in San Diego prayed that either the Mirimar base, or the San Diego Marine Corps recruiting depot would close. Alas, neither did. As it happens, those two sites are the most logical place to relocate or expand the existing airport. The Marine Corps Depot sits immediately adjacent to and North of the current airport. Its size would allow the current airport to remain and build at least two new runways. San Diego is the largest big city airport to have only 1 active runway - and their passenger volume is about 3 million more than PDX.

More non-news. San Diego continues to fill its coffers from overtime parking fines. I'm convinced that overtime parking is the biggest revenue source outside property tax. In 1989, parking past the meter time was a death-penalty offense; now they've dropped the death penalty in favor of a fine that will cost anyone $60 minimum for the first offense, and $120 and "booting" for the second offense. They use collection agencies to recover unpaid parking fines and they don't give a damn whether you're visiting or permanent.

The one astounding fact is that San Diego has grown more than Portland since 1989. In itself, this is no surprise. The surprise is that San Diego's traffic situation has not changed since then. We were able to drive at all times of the day, over dozens of freeways and in all directions and never once encountered a traffic jam that would rival a normal mid-day on any of Portland's freeways. I can't figure out how they've managed that feat of incredible traffic engineering. I do know that CalTrans - the agency responsible for building and maintaining freeways - can lay 5 miles of driveable concrete freeway in a day, once all the preparations are done. In Oregon, we have Highway 26 (the Sunset Highway), which has been under construction since about 1974 and shows no sign of completion. Were it in California, the Sunset would have been widened, repaved, widened again, and repaved multiple times and would be 8 lines by now.

Oh well, in the absense of any significant PERS news this week, I thought I'd share these thoughts on how things are elsewhere in the concrete jungle of California. The PERS Board meets today, but I'm not in any condition to go -- too much unpacking and bill paying to escape. Hopefully, one of my friends will send me a shout out about what happened so I can post it here over the weekend.

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