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‘Placeholder’ budget would fund parks, healthcare, public safety projects in San Diego

The California legislature’s new $264 billion “placeholder” budget sets out funds for such San Diego projects as the UC San Diego Hillcrest medical center, as well as local libraries, parks and public safety, local assembly members said.

The bill would provide $30 million for construction of a new hospital for the medical center, which must be replaced because of seismic safety issues. It also would add $2.4 million to improve the Logan Heights Library and $3.6 million for upkeep at Old Town State Historic Park.

Funding directed at San Diego includes $1 million for the San Diego City Attorney’s gun violence restraining order trainings statewide. San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott has led efforts to enable law enforcement — or a family member — to petition courts for a restraining order when they believe a person poses a risk of using firearms for violence. The grant would help the office share that expertise with other agencies in California.

The draft budget also sets aside $650,000 for the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office, which is launching a resentencing pilot program to review and potentially modify excessive criminal sentences.

Another $2.5 million is slated for UC San Diego to support cliff erosion research. Earlier this year Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, (D-Encinitas,) passed a bill to fund research that could establish an early warning system for California’s coastal bluff collapses. The bluff failures occur several times a year, and in 2019 a collapse killed three women at Grandview Beach in Encinitas.

The state legislature passed the budget bill Monday to meet state deadlines. The legislative plan is referred to as a placeholder budget because it allows legislators to continue to be paid while they negotiate with Gov. Gavin Newsom over the differences between their draft and his spending plan.

“It’s important to note that what we passed is not a complete budget; it is a legislative budget,” Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said.

“Even things we passed could fall out of the budget. Likewise, there are things that may be put in the budget, some very local things we’re working on. We have fingers crossed for an item we’re trying to get into the budget for Chicano Park, for mural restoration and a museum in the park.”

The state must pass the final budget before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) added that lawmakers based their plan on the governor’s May budget revision, so he doesn’t expect major changes.

After a lean year spent coping with pandemic expenses, California is flush with an estimated $75 billion surplus. Lawmakers are looking at adding $25 billion to its reserves and investing in programs that had received little new funding in recent years.

“We’re providing for direct relief for families and small businesses,” Ward said, “and making investments in areas we know have been underfunded, like public education, expansion of healthcare, childcare, transportation investments, climate resilience, wildlife and drought protection.”

Statewide the bill would fund universal transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, add money for childcare, boost education spending for K-12 schools and universities, and expand healthcare access.

In a year marked by record admission to the state’s public universities, the budget would make more seats available to California students, allocating $67 million to add 6,200 enrollment slots across the UC System, and $81 million to add 9,400 slots at Cal State campuses, Ward said.

It also would expand medical coverage to older adults, including undocumented residents, a plan that would provide financial relief for patients and the hospital and clinics that serve them, Gonzalez said.

“We’ve expanded medical coverage for undocumented seniors and for all folks 50 years and above who can’t afford insurance,” Gonzalez said. “That’s huge. We’re really hopeful that the governor leaves that in.”

It also allocates money to study the long-term impacts of health care disparities in California, Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego) said in a statement.
Disproportionate rates of chronic health problems such as hypertension and diabetes in low-income and minority communities have come into the spotlight, as those conditions contributed to greater rates of severe illness and death from COVID-19.

“I’m especially pleased to see the inclusion of proposed funding to initiate the Annual Health Disparities Report, which will include an analysis of data related to the social determinants of health,” Weber stated.

Gonzalez said she’s happy to see money slated for assistance for necessities like diapers and feminine hygiene products — starting with a pilot program in San Diego. The spending bill proposes $30 million for diaper assistance through eight food and diaper banks statewide and $2 million for a menstrual product distribution program at the Los Angeles Food Bank and the San Diego Food Bank.

The spending bill also proposes $50 million for grants to small performing arts venues which struggled during pandemic closures, Gonzalez said. Under that provision, performing arts organizations with annual revenue under $2 million could apply for grants of up to $75,000. The eligibility requirements were crafted to ensure that venues such as Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista and other small San Diego theaters would qualify, she said.

San Diego lawmakers also pointed to a proposed $7 billion for broadband expansion, saying that rural communities in unincorporated county areas and tribal lands would benefit from that investment along with urban areas with faulty or incomplete internet access.

“`We know that not all communities have had high speed and high quality broadband, and $7 billion statewide would go a long way toward expansion of that,” Ward said.