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TMCNet:  Stimulus hits home [The San Diego Union-Tribune]

[July 27, 2009]

Stimulus hits home [The San Diego Union-Tribune]

(San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jul. 26--At least $1.77 billion in federal stimulus money is headed to projects and programs in San Diego County, from the trolley in San Ysidro to bus lanes in Oceanside to gang suppression in Lemon Grove.


Projects include small purchases, such as a $9,649 wood chipper for Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, and major undertakings, such as a $563 million hospital at Camp Pendleton.

The San Diego Union-Tribune built a database to track the spending, including project costs, construction schedules, contract awards and jobs created.

Although speedy spending was the goal of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the newspaper's analysis shows that contractors have been named for only 18 of the more than 200 projects identified.

About 60 projects have been assigned start dates, including 15 to start by August, 30 later in the year and a dozen next year.

Only a few planners have given estimates of the jobs created by their project, and those jobs total 9,215. Using a government formula, the money invested in San Diego County might be expected to create 19,200 jobs.

The $1.77 billion amounts to slightly more than 1 percent of the county's annual output of goods and services, estimated by the Regional Economic Development Corp.

Even so, University of San Diego economist Alan Gin said the money could provide a lift for the region, which lost 55,000 jobs between June 2008 and June 2009.

"Given how bad the situation is, anything positive would help," Gin said. "But it's probably not enough to turn around the economy by itself." For every dollar of stimulus money, Gin figures another is generated because it gets spent by the recipient. Therefore, the $1.77 billion could translate into a $3.54 billion impact.

"It would help spending on things like retailing and restaurants and other types of products," Gin said. "Those create jobs." The database contains projects identified so far, but jurisdictions and institutions are continuing to apply for funds. About 90 percent of the region's share of the funds is going into four sectors: The military, specifically the San Diego Naval Base, Point Loma Naval Base, Coronado Naval Base, Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on facility upgrades and new construction. Buildings will be retrofitted with an eye toward making them more energy-efficient. Photovoltaic systems are planned for many rooftops to capture solar energy.

The largest of the projects is the Camp Pendleton hospital, which will replace a 35-year-old medical center.

Transportation projects, including freeway expansions, bus and light-rail improvements and street resurfacing. Freeway construction is soaking up the bulk of the transportation dollars, including $74 million for state Route 905 to address Otay Mesa border traffic.

The San Diego Trolley system will also benefit from tens of millions in renovation work, and the North County Transit District is slated to spend millions for preventive maintenance on vehicles and construction of the San Luis Rey Transit Center in Oceanside, among other things.

About $28 million will go to cities for street repairs and sidewalks.

Education. School districts are getting slices of the stimulus pie to plug budget holes and improve the achievement of low-income and special-needs children -- plus $1.6 million to upgrade cafeteria kitchen equipment in 13 school districts.

Scientific research on diseases, ocean fish populations and other topics. Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, San Diego State University, the Veterans Medical Research Foundation in La Jolla, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research are among the beneficiaries.

Southwest Fisheries will get $102 million for a new laboratory and office complex, as well as $78 million for a high-tech research vessel.

The $4 million going to San Diego State University will fund research on myocardial ischemic injury, bacterial meningitis, neutron stars, "Attention Disengagement Training for Social Phobia" and other topics.

Thomas Scott, vice president for research and graduate dean at San Diego State, said the research grants will provide employment for faculty, undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. The economy will also benefit from money spent to build and equip laboratories, he said.

"Research is not seen as the most direct way of creating jobs, and yet we will create an awful lot of jobs with the money we bring in," he said.

The remaining 10 percent of the county's stimulus money will fund employment and training programs, health centers, energy efficiency at city buildings, environmental restoration work and other needs.

Hire-A-Youth, a summer employment program funded by the Recovery Act, is putting 3,200 youngsters to work countywide. The construction of state Route 905 is estimated to create 923 jobs.

Community clinics are using stimulus money to add staff and expand services.

Neighborhood Healthcare, which operates 11 sites throughout the county and in Temecula in Riverside County, has hired a nurse practitioner, two medical assistants and a receptionist, and plans to add a pharmacist and a psychiatrist, among others.

"The stimulus funding is critical as far as helping with some of the staffing costs for a while at least," said Tracy Ream, chief executive of Neighborhood Healthcare. "It doesn't offset totally what could be the state cuts that would come down the road." School districts are spending chunks of their stimulus money to make up for declines in state funding, which could have resulted in more layoffs.

Additional layoffs, had they occurred, would have worsened unemployment and added to the downward economic spiral, said Gin, the USD economist. Therefore, in his view, using stimulus money to backfill school budgets is serving the right purpose.

"If we didn't get the stimulus money, we would be dead. There would be no other way to put it," said Dianne Russo, chief financial officer for the Sweetwater Union High School District said.

Linda Visnick, executive director of district financial services at the San Diego County Office of Education, cautioned that the money provides temporary relief.

"We are still dealing with the state economy that is very challenging right now. One-time dollars will help you for an additional year. After that we will likely see that cuts will occur." So far the bulk of the stimulus money hasn't entered the economy, because the largest projects have yet to break ground. Construction schedules indicate that spending will greatly accelerate later this year.

Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest, which oversees all military construction in the region, has so far awarded contracts for 10 stimulus projects in the county.

It expects to have most of the projects awarded to contractors by the end of this year. The exception would be the hospital project at Camp Pendleton, scheduled to start in September 2010.

Capt. Steven Wirsching, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest, said he's under orders to get the stimulus projects rolling.

"It's certainly a hurry-up offense because it's so important that we get these projects awarded and get folks back to work," he said.

Wirsching expects the construction work at the military bases to provide a major boost to contractors.

"While we can't restrict competition strictly to San Diego contractors, I will tell you, many of our contractors are local construction firms," he said.

To see more of The San Diego Union-Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.uniontrib.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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