The recommendation by the San Diego's city manager's staff to eliminate CalPIRG's budget, which will be considered by the City Council's Committee on Public Services and Safety on May 21, will mean higher prices and no consumer services for San Diego residents.
The city has contracted with CalPIRG for 10 years to provide consumer services to its residents. Through our $40,000 annual grant, our consumer assistance hot line handles approximately 1,800 calls per year, and CalPIRG Reports is issued nine times per year, covering various subjects and often containing price surveys on goods and services in San Diego.
Two full-time staff members work under this grant. With additional costs such as rent, utilities, supplies and printing costs, you can see that we take that small grant a long way.
The following are some of the reasons why we believe the council should continue funding CalPIRG:
CalPIRG is the only assistance available to consumers in San Diego County.
The recommendation by the city manager's staff was not based on any assessment of community needs. Because the population has increased substantially over the last 10 years, while our budget has remained constant, and because of the increasing complexity of the decisions that consumers must make, consumer problems and questions are on the rise.
CalPIRG's price surveys on grocery stores, long distance phone companies, banking services, pharmacies and other subjects work to intensify price competition and result in lower prices for all San Diegans. Our annual food price survey has been credited with keeping San Diego's food prices among the lowest in the nation.
San Diego's commitment to consumer assistance is minimal when compared to the demand for consumer help and when compared to the services provided by other local governments. For example, Los Angeles County has four times the population as San Diego County but budgets its Department of Consumer Affairs at 20 times the size of CalPIRG's budget. Their department assists 73,000 consumers over the phone annually. CalPIRG is unable to meet the demand for consumer help that exists in San Diego.
At a cost of only 62 cents per person assisted and 4 cents per San Diego resident, CalPIRG is a bargain.
The City of San Diego is not a poor city. Although it has received cuts from the federal level of approximately $600,000, it could easily make up the difference from its own sources. (For example, the council is debating how to spend $9 million from the SDG&E contingency fund.)
Additionally, when one looks at some of the budget items under the transient occupancy tax, it becomes obvious that there is some discretionary money. For instance, an advertisement in Forbes magazine promoting the City of San Diego in 1985 cost $25,000--the equivalent of two-thirds of CalPIRG's annual budget. The current fiscal year's budget includes $190,000 that goes to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce's Motion Picture and Television Bureau to attract film productions to San Diego.
CalPIRG assists consumers with real and often serious problems ranging from renters unable to reclaim their security deposits to new car buyers faced with autos that don't work. Our services result in lower prices, less fraud and fewer deceptive business practices.
CalPIRG Consumer Program director