City officials say they are struggling financially

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

SAN DIEGO - The family of an arson victim addressed the San Diego City Council Wednesday, seeking answers and a solution to crime in the city.

Heberto Gonzalez, whose house was destroyed in a fire after it was burglarized earlier this month, and his daughters asked the council to take action to limit crime in the city.

"I'm not the only one this has happened to," Gonzalez said. "Try to eliminate or lower the amount of crime in this city."

Betty Trigo, Gonzalez's daughter, said her father's home had been burglarized three times before it was set on fire, and she offered her services as a grant writer to the city free of charge.

"I'm talking to the people in this community and everybody seems to have been burglarized," Trigo said. "These senior citizens are living in fear."

Sgt. Alan Gonzalez, with the San Diego Police, said the department has several suspects in the arson case.

"We're going to get them, I guarantee it," Gonzalez said. "We're out there, we're fighting this. We need more officers; we need more help from the public."

San Diego Chief of Police Joe Olveira also said the public's help was needed to reduce crime in the city.

"I wish more of the public was here, we need help from the public," Olveira said. "If you see a crime being committed, bring it to our attention."

City council members said they would make an effort to revive the city's Neighborhood Watch program, which they said has been inactive for more than a year. Council members also reminded the public to contact Crime Stoppers at 664-STOP to report information on a crime anonymously.

In other business, the council voted Wednesday to adopt a $1.49 million budget for the city for the 2008 calendar year.

The budget, which totals $1,496,462.10, has no major capital improvement projects and no salary adjustments for staff, officials said.

The council also received an update Wednesday on billing for the city's emergency services.

The council received information that the San Diego EMS collected $699,266 in revenue in 2006, but in 2007 only collected $442,587 through December. Also, a surplus of $217,886 in revenue that remained at the end of 2006 has been spent, along with an additional $21,000 that is now a deficit in the account.

Those losses, officials said, came because of a reduction in the number of dialysis patients the ambulance service transports. Interim-City Manager Ernesto Sanchez said several patients were lost earlier this year during a period of time when staffing levels were not stable.

Citing the need to cut expenditures in the budget, the council voted to eliminate the position of code enforcement officer held by Andrea Salinas and a parks and maintenance position held by Corando Solis Jr.

Following the meeting, Mayor Alonzo Lopez Jr. said he regretted that the layoffs were necessary.

"We didn't want to have a layoff right now, with Christmas coming, but our revenue is real low," Lopez said. "We're barely making it right now."

When asked about the council's decision following the meeting, Salinas said the council had eliminated her job "for personal reasons," but declined to speak any further about the issue.

The council also voted to hire Oscar Delgado Jr. as a new police officer for the city.

The council also authorized the city attorney to pursue legal action arising from a train derailment that occurred in the city earlier this year.