Cuts to San Diego's public safety budgets have raised major alarms in an election cycle involving Prop. D, a politically polarizing sales tax measure.
But what's been flying under radar is that cuts in other city departments will result in the outright closure of branch libraries and recreation centers.
While Mayor Jerry Sanders is seeking 7 percent reductions in police and fire spending, he wants 24 percent cuts in library and park and recreation programs.
On Wednesday, his chief operating officer, Jay Goldstone, told City Council members that he's studying what to do with buildings that inevitably will have to be shut down.
"We've been cutting hours -- or cutting some programs -- but keeping facilities open," Goldstone said at a hearing of the council's budget committee. "Given current economic conditions, we would close these with the expectation that they would be permanently closed."
Goldstone said he and other top city officials are exploring how to proceed with shutting the facilities down: "How do you either mothball them but still preserve the physical nature of the asset? Or do you sell it or lease it out?"
Out in the community, this news was met with a sense of dread -- if not despair.
"These people, they would be at home withering, you know? Nobody would even know if they died," said Marily Joyce, gesturing to a group of elderly men and women eating a luncheon spread that Joyce caters at the Ocean Beach Recreation Center. "But they come here, they have a community, they have friends, they have social events. They have things that keep their minds going."
Joyce, a volunteer, runs the senior meals program with modest community grants and food donations from Souplantation. The last round of budget cuts reduced the OB program from five days a week to three.
Now, with an $11 million Park & Rec budget hit on the table, such programs might be discontinued or consolidated elsewhere, because a yet-to-be determined number of rec centers face permanent closure.
"It would be a big difference," said OB resident Bill Boyko, 90, a member of Joyce's lunch bunch. "It would be like somebody cut off my arm. It's really bad; I would have to cook for myself every day."
Down the hall in the rec center, Tony Dean, a retired social worker, said closing the facility seems a penny-wise, pound-foolish move.
"The kids who come here and shoot around, and hang out, are going to be hanging out somewhere else," Dean said during a break from a basketball-court workout with his brother Winston. "God knows what might happen, what they get into. Here, at least, they're doing healthy stuff…. The more police you have chasing teenagers -- that gets expensive -- and then you've got to put them in Juvenile Hall."
Down the street, patrons of the Ocean Beach Library branch unhappily pondered the prospect that it might be closed permanently.
"It would be different if it was not being used and they had employees working here and wasting money," said Shelter Island resident Mike Sullivan, nodding at a crowded reading room. "But this library and Point Loma are full from the time they open till the time they close. And they've already cut hours back here as it is."
"We don't all have laptops," noted OB resident Barry Webb. "And if they cut this [branch], I can't get to my research people, I can't go on Craigslist or look for a job. How about cutting 5-10 percent from Jerry Sanders? Jan Goldsmith? All the City Council? We need the library. Sorry!"
Meanwhile, City officials, said that if they can't lease out or sell the library branches and rec centers that are closed, at least there will be cost savings in terms of staffing, utilities and interior maintenance.