Coalition Offers 21 Steps to Revive the Economy in S.D.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A wide-ranging coalition of San Diego business, labor and civic leaders on Tuesday recommended that the city of San Diego help stem a downward economic spiral by streamlining its permitting processes and combining several economic development programs under one roof.

The recommendations were among 21 that were presented to the City Council by the diverse group, which has spent the past six months studying San Diego's economic future.

While the group acknowledged that the local slowdown is inexplicably linked to national and international economic trends, members argued that the plan would help revive San Diego's faltering economy.

Mayor Maureen O'Connor urged council members to take action on the plan during a special session Jan. 16. She said the plan is important because "everyone knows there's a recession" under way.

Michel Anderson, a local consultant who chaired the 34-member, city-appointed coalition, said he is optimistic that the council will adopt all 21 recommendations.

Among them:

* Turn existing economic development programs operated by the nonprofit Economic Development Corp., the city's Economic Development Division and the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce over to a proposed "public-private" entity.

* Streamline the city's complicated regulatory process and cut the time and expense it now takes to win building permits.

* Create incentives that would encourage local businesses in important basic industries to remain in town rather than relocate.

* Make technical assistance and financing available to San Diego's small and minority-owned businesses.

The report suggests that San Diego lay the regulatory groundwork needed to encourage coherent development of several industries--tourism, biotechnology and international trade--that are likely to grow in importance during coming decades. The report includes 85 specific suggestions that will be forwarded to the council for discussion during the Jan. 16 meeting.

During a Tuesday news conference, Anderson and other committee members painted a dire picture of San Diego's economic outlook.

Anderson, who noted that San Diego has lost more than 18,500 jobs since October, 1990, suggested that "time is slipping by . . . (and San Diego is) slipping more and more into decline."

The committee linked the decline to the city's growing reputation as one that is "not being business-friendly," Anderson said. "We have to change the way that San Diego is perceived."

Anderson and colleagues said being friendly to business doesn't mean abandoning regulation of developers and other industries.

"It would be a disservice to call this report pro-business," he said.

Committee members noted that, during the early 1980s, Rust Belt cities in the Midwest adopted similar economic development plans that now are bearing fruit.

"If Duluth, Pittsburgh and Cleveland can do it, so can we," Anderson said.

While council members Tuesday seemed receptive to the plan, Councilman George Stevens complained to Anderson that the six-month study seemed to have been prepared without input from Southeast San Diego. "My district is not aware of what you're doing," Stevens said.

City Manager Jack McGrory appointed the task force in July. It includes representatives of the biotech, development, tourism and manufacturing industries, as well as representatives from small businesses and environmental and labor groups.

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