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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What's Missing from City Report

From San Diego's North County Times

No Child Left Behind and the rise of charter schools have been the primary drivers of school reform in the past decade. But while NCLB promise…

Sinclair Lewis would have smiled at the unbridled boosterism of Carlsbad city officials featured in this year's State of the City video. He'd be reminded of the self-satisfied city fathers of Zenith, Babbit's fictional Midwestern hometown. But Carlsbad residents were shortchanged if they expected to get more than a virtual pep rally from their city's annual report.

Most of the video consists of city council members taking turns singing the praises of high profile companies that have made their homes in Carlsbad, stressing the importance of investing in business-friendliness to keep them here and attract others.

After congratulating themselves for keeping the budget balanced during the recession, city officials say they now must find more ways to cut city services expenses, pointing to the loss of state redevelopment funds and uncertainties about the state budget. A soothing voiceover explains, "The city is working to transform itself to a new model of government."

There's no explanation of what that means. But judging from the city council's decision to seek contractors to bid on outsourcing parks maintenance, the "new model" is apparently code for privatizing.

The problem with all this talk about business friendliness and city belt-tightening is the absence of measurable objectives. How many new businesses have opened in Carlsbad since last year? How many new jobs and how much additional tax revenue have they brought with them? What are the costs of investing in business-friendliness? Where's the cost-benefit analysis for outsourcing city services? To quote the 1980s hamburger commercial: "Where's the beef?"

Instead of hard data, we get generalities and dubious claims. Carlsbad is "one of the top 50 exporting cities in the U.S., yet we're not in the top 200 in population," says the city's economic development manager, Kathy Dodson. She doesn't cite her source.

Dodson continues, "Companies are bringing their manufacturing back from Asia and producing here in Carlsbad." We're left to guess the number and names of those companies.

When I asked her about those claims, Dodson corrected herself on the city's exporting rank. It's the San Diego metropolitan area, not Carlsbad, that ranks in the top 50. She promised to "get that updated." And she could name only one company, San Clemente's Lightsaver Technologies Inc., that has shifted its production from China to Carlsbad.

Here's a small sample of what else was missing from this year's video: 1. The city's cultural and ethnic diversity. 2. The arts. 3. Any concern about the two-year, $7 million budget cut to schools. 4. Updates on the financial viability of the golf course, open space acquisition, desalination, and the city's opposition to a second ocean-view power plant.

Carlsbad has a lot to brag about, but not this glossy 10-minute infomercial posing as the city's