Are the town hall forums on San Diego's deficit-plagued municipal budget a smokescreen for the Yes on D campaign?
Opponents of the sales tax measure say Mayor Jerry Sanders is using scare tactics to get the ballot measure passed. Election Day is two weeks away, and on Tuesday evening, the mayor will host the second of eight budget-related town halls in a citywide tour that ends on Oct. 30.
The first one, held Monday night at University City High School, touched off a few sparks among the gathering of about 100.
"Why don't you let people ask questions?" one agitated attendee shouted at the mayor. "You just want to scare us into submission."
Retorted Sanders, warning that he had no intention of letting the audience take over: "Why don't you go back and talk to those folks in the back? ... You're welcome to leave if you like."
The mayor took more heat as he outlined his proposed budget cuts that would close a $73 million deficit.
Questions were to be submitted in written form, but certain audience members wanted to vent about public safety services being targeted for cuts, such as more engine company brownouts, and laying off firefighters and police officers.
At one point Fire Chief Javier Mainar said that is was a matter of when, not if, someone dies for lack of public safety.
Following municipal protocols, no mention was made about Prop. D, a sales tax hike worth upward of $100 million a year once 10 fiscal reforms are completed. But anti-Prop D activists saw the town hall tour as a charade to create urgency for the measure.
The voters, said No on D campaign chairman T.J. Zane, "are being presented with false choices between public safety and tax increases, and it's just a sham they can go around, under the pretense of a budget town hall forum, to review the budget crisis."
"It's a hurried-up process, where only certain people are allowed to speak and only certain questions are read," said Katie Holmes, who heads the San Diego chapter of the California Restaurant Association. "And there's really no transparency or opportunity for reform in that."
Said solar home developer Mike Turk: "I think there are certain people who are scared, but that's part of an election process. You try to win hearts and minds, or you scare people."
Sanders insisted that the forums are a straightforward proposition for citizens to learn about the budget process.
"It's not a scare tactic," the mayor said in an interview Tuesday. "It wasn't a scare tactic when we [proposed] the brownouts last year, and now we have rolling brownouts.... And it's no different than any other city in the United States. We're seeing cities all over the country cutting fire, police, library, pools. So I think the public has a right to know these things."
Tuesday's town hall forum at Clairemont High School starts at 6 p.m.
Sanders said he and his staffers got some good public input after Monday's event, when several people came up to them and offered ideas and suggestions.