BY SHELLI DEROBERTIS
Retiring San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders was the guest speaker at a brown bag luncheon Sept. 5 at the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute where he shared details about the city’s “health” with about 100 people in the Fishman Auditorium.
A group of women who call themselves “Group of 12 & Friends,” co-founded by Sanford Burnham pioneer Lillian Fishman, meet at the institute for monthly luncheons with a featured speaker.
“They thought it was a good time to bring (Sanders) in,” said institute spokeswoman Kristina Meek, alluding to his final three months on the job.
Sanders began making history at age 44 when he became one of the youngest police chiefs of San Diego.
During a special election, seven years ago when the city was in financial crisis, he became mayor. He’s set to leave office in December.
Sanders had the crowd laughing when he said working a week in the life of a police chief is like working one day as mayor.
“But it was actually enjoyable being police chief,” he chuckled. “Though it’s been an honor to be the Mayor of San Diego, it’s frustrating, gratifying and hard work.”
His last summer in office began with Sanders proclaiming June “Craft Beer Month,” to promote the local beer industry and entice other brewers to relocate to the city.
He said one enjoyable aspect of his job was getting to sample lots of beer from White Labs, which produced a beer called “Ale to the Chief.”
But there was nothing to toast when his first term began.
“December 2005 was a dark time in San Diego and we were very close to bankruptcy. We faced the worst economic recession in 75 years,” Sanders said.
The city is healthy now and this year has seen a balanced budget and a monetary reserve amount of 14 percent, he said.
“When I started, we had a 2-percent reserve. Wall Street wouldn’t lend us money because they wanted an 8-percent reserve,” he said. “We now have a solid credit ratio and are starting to be viewed as a role model.”
Sanders said previous cuts to city services were restored this year returning 13 more hours a week to libraries and recreation centers.
Employment growth was also experienced in two fire academies that each accepted 50 people after years of a new-hire freeze. “We haven’t had that since 2009,” Sanders said.
But the balanced budget meant cutting costs and aligning government with the size of its revenue. This resulted in a 15-percent reduction to city employee pensions, and a pension downsize and overhaul for new hires beginning in 2009.
Sanders said another savings in the works will come from using managed competition to lower the cost of city employees performing jobs that private companies can do for less. One such job is residential trash services. San Diego city employees are paid to collect trash. Most other California cities contract with a private company and residents pay for their own trash services.
“We don’t have to have government employees mow the laws in our parks. We don’t have to have government employees pick up trash,” Sanders said.
Besides a healthy budget, some expansions that will be left in his wake include a $185-million library that is 60-percent completed. lt will feature 400 computers and a Trolley line to nearby schools. The San Diego Convention Center will also be expanded, complete with a 5-acre park on its rooftop.
Sanders said the city is being sued by a union over a self-imposed room tax added to local hotels to fund the center expansion, which also needs approval from the California Coastal Commission.
What lies ahead for Sanders in retirement? He said he plans to continue walking 70 miles each week and also to spend several months in Italy with his wife.