A New Year’s message from the Interim Mayor
As we begin 2014 with resolutions, renewal, and hope for great things in the months ahead, I am happy to report the City’s forecast looks bright.
Late last year, I released the City’s Five-Year Financial Outlook. The financial forecast for fiscal years 2015 through 2019 includes critical information as the City Council and members of the public begin to formulate priorities for the FY 2015 budget, which will be considered in spring 2014.
The “Outlook” projects a one-year baseline budget deficit of approximately $19 million for FY 15, followed by surpluses through FY 19. I fully expect we will be able to overcome the projected FY 2015 deficit without sacrificing needed services, thanks in part to higher than anticipated property tax revenues. With smart decision making, the City of San Diego will have a balanced budget for fiscal year 2015. This is good news.
That being said, as Interim Mayor and Council President, my primary focus in 2014 will be on our City’s infrastructure. The City currently has a backlog of deferred capital projects with a price tag of at least $898 million. These capital projects include sidewalks, streets, streetlights, fire stations, storm drains, parks, and libraries. This month, my council colleagues and I will be voting on a $120 million infrastructure bond that includes over $43 million earmarked for street resurfacing. The passage of this proposed bond at council would be a step in the right direction. However, to be America’s Finest City and remain economically competitive, we must continue to work together to develop solutions on how we will pay for the remaining infrastructure upgrades.
Councilmember Mark Kersey, chair of the City Council’s Infrastructure Committee, has done an excellent job leading this charge. Last year, he kicked off a series of community workshops to solicit input from residents on what kinds of improvements they would like to see in their neighborhoods. I look forward to continuing to work with and support Councilmember Kersey in this role. If you tweet, you can follow the City’s infrastructure conversation on Twitter – #RebuildSD.
While we start 2014 with good news about the City’s financial outlook, I am up to the challenge of addressing our infrastructure needs, and welcome your input on what infrastructure improvements make sense for San Diego. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I invite you to join me at the State of the City Address on January 15 at 6 p.m. at the Balboa Theatre Downtown. Come and learn about the progress we’ve made so far and what we can accomplish together in this new year.
I hope your 2014 is filled with great health and good fortune. As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Supporting our homeless Veteran population
By Alfonso Esquer
Graduate Student, University of Southern California
Our United States veterans are those men and women who have served in our Nations Armed Forces, volunteering their service and sacrificing priceless moments spent with their families, to take upon themselves the responsibilities of guarding the country’s freedoms. For the last decade and beyond, the military has been fighting battles on multiple fronts, and upon returning from overseas posts our military service members and veterans face their greatest battle in America; the battle against homelessness and disparity.
Only this fight is being fought on U.S. soil and lawmakers are capable of setting the conditions of this war by choosing to support veterans at risk of becoming homeless — or those already homeless — and acquire the appropriate resources needed to overcome homelessness.
Service members and veterans nationwide are at a higher risk than average for becoming homeless than any other American and our region is experiencing a significantly larger population in comparison to other areas around the country.
According to the California Veterans Administration (CalVets), San Diego has the third-highest homeless population among major American cities, but it ranks 18th when it comes to being a key source of federal funding to combat homelessness.
Nearly one quarter of the homeless population in San Diego County are veterans, in comparison to one in ten in similar cities. In 2010, an estimated 2,200 veterans were homeless in San Diego County, an increase of nearly 400 veterans just two years prior. The Veterans Administration projects that those numbers will continue to increase, as will those for homelessness around the country.
One of the main issues contributing to the high rate of veteran homelessness can be attributed to transitioning service members that do not having the job skills to transfer their experience in the military to civilian occupations, causing them difficulties finding employment.
San Diego County unemployment rate recently (Oct. 2013) decreased from 7.5 percent to 7 percent according to the California State Employment Development Department, although the increasing number of returning veterans from overseas posts looking for employment and lacking the sufficient training to succeed in the job hunt significantly adds to the risk of homelessness, and will increase the unemployment rate.
With the U.S. military entangled in a decade of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, returning veterans are also left to deal with many other issues upon discharge from the service, such as untreated mental health conditions that can have many negative effects, such as an inability to maintain employment or overall stability in their lives. Some of the more common illnesses experienced by veterans are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). According to research by the Veterans Administration PTSD was found in about 11-20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom), meaning 11-20 veterans out of 100 suffer from these afflictions.
Many veterans also live with untreated mental health conditions and as a result turn to substance abuse to help cope with their inner turmoil.
The Veterans Economic Opportunity Act (VEOA) of 2013 (H.R. 2481) was originally introduced to the House of Representatives on June 24, 2013, by Texas Congressmember Bill Flores, as the Veterans G.I. Bill Enrollment Clarification Act of 2013. Subsequently, a revised, bipartisan bill that addresses many concerns of the country regarding veterans was re-introduced as H.R. 2481.
The bill provides programs of economic opportunity assistance to veterans, their dependents and survivors; vocational rehabilitation and employment programs; educational assistance programs; veterans’ housing loans and veterans’ small business programs.
It also extends the VA’s homeless veterans’ reintegration programs — job training, counseling and placement services to expedite the reintegration of homeless veterans into the labor force — through fiscal year 2018.
The reintegration program (H.R. 2150) was originally introduced in January of 2013 by Congressmember Paul Cook, receiving bipartisan support from 16 members of the House; eight republicans and eight democrats. Among those supporters was Rep. Duncan Hunter, of California’s 50th District in San Diego’s East County. H.R. 2150 was subsequently merged into H.R. 2481.
VEOA would allow veterans that may already be homeless, or are at risk of becoming homeless due to mental health problems or substance abuse, to obtain the treatment needed to stabilize their lives and reintegrate into society. The necessity of VEOA is crucial for veterans.
Many returning service members will need mental health treatment, job training, and transitional training from military to civilian occupational skills. Thousands of San Diego veterans could be profoundly affected by H.R. 2481 legislation. They are dependent upon these programs and the bill would make a major difference in the lives of the veterans, their families, and San Diego County as a whole.
On Oct. 28, 2013, the House passed the bill to the Senate where it will soon be reviewed and voted on.
As a community let’s come together and support H.R. 2481, The Veterans Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 by contacting U.S. Senators’ Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to support this bill. You can track information on this bill at opencongress.org