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City Attorney’s Budget Slashed by Council : Money Will Be Diverted to Police Department to Hire New Officers

Times Staff Writers

The San Diego City Council unanimously voted Thursday to cut the city attorney’s budget by $375,000, a move that City Atty. John Witt said will “practically eliminate” the city’s code enforcement and consumer fraud units.

The council last week had asked Witt to report back on the effects of the reduction, which was less than the $532,000 City Manager John Lockwood had first proposed as a way to find money to pay for the City Council’s original plan of hiring 140 extra police officers.

Witt told the council Thursday that the cutback will immediately curtail many services the two units provide. The programs themselves will likely stop operating by the middle of the 1990 fiscal year, Witt said.

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“It is likely that we will stop prosecuting any violation of a non-public safety nature in which there is an available civil remedy the victim can pursue on his or her own,” Witt said.

Cut in Fine Collection

Lockwood warned the reduction will lead to reduced collection of parking fines, lowered receipts from civil fines and greater exposure to civil liability. In addition, shoplifting and noise abatement cases will likely not be pursued.

“It is apparent that the effect of budget frugality on the city attorney’s function doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Witt said.

Witt alluded to Wednesday’s announcement of a $90,000 settlement of a consumer protection suit--filed by the consumer fraud unit--against Clorox Co. In that case, Clorox, without admitting any wrongdoing, agreed to stop stating a liquid volume on packages when, in truth, less than the stated volume is contained in the packages.

Almost all of the budget for the consumer fraud unit could be generated on its own through revenues from such fines, Witt said. While Lockwood has listed the unit’s staff at 11, two attorneys in the unit have been transferred elsewhere in the current fiscal year.

Witt said the cuts will force him to reduce the high-profile consumer unit from nine positions to four. The unit will now consist of two deputy attorneys, one investigator and one senior legal secretary. The unit will stop monitoring false advertising cases, Witt said.

Reduction in Staff

The code enforcement unit, currently staffed with 11.5 positions, will be reduced to 7. It will now consist of three deputy attorneys, an investigator, a legal assistant and two legal secretaries.

Mayor Maureen O’Connor said Witt had “been very strong” in his financial wants but that “we gotta take cuts someplace, in line with my priorities” for additional police officers. The council last week gave tentative approval for a budget next year that provides for 120 new police officers.

Witt’s overall budget is now $11.3 million, a reduction of about $478,000 from his $11.78-million 1988-89 budget.

In the area of the cultural arts, the council restored a $37,525 grant to Installation, an avant garde art gallery that has been the center of a controversy over a billboard it commissioned in April.

Last month, the council’s Public Services and Safety Committee, in a unanimous vote, deleted all of the $42,000 proposed for Installation by the Commission for Arts and Culture. Council members cited Installation’s poor financial situation--it had a $12,000 debt on a budget of $140,000--and the billboard, which was an anti-racist slap at San Diego’s unwillingness to name the new convention center for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Censorship Allegations

Thursday’s 5-4 vote on a motion by Councilman Bob Filner helped put to bed impressions in the arts community that the City Council was bent on censoring Installation for the billboard.

The council also voted unanimously to shift $100,000 from underwriting City Gates, a public arts project, to subsidize the Lyceum Theatre. According to Deputy City Manager Jack McGrory, the approved arts budget stands at $5.7 million.

In other action, council members voted to allocate $20,000 to extend library hours and restore the $98,000 needed for the city bookmobile program.

Funding for the portable pools program was saved through a combination of using money for a 30-day phase out of the program and adjustments of staff duties. The summer program ends in the third week of August.

The funding for the bookmobile programs and extended library hours was obtained by cutting about $120,000 in the social services budget for a pre-school English as a Second Language program. The ESL program is expected to make up the funding cut from monies by the state.

Thursday was the City Council’s last budget workshop. Public hearings on the budget will be held July 17 and 18.


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