Inspired by a Monday-night demonstration demanding more money for AIDS victims, three San Diego city councilmen called on the city Wednesday to spend $750,000 to help AIDS human service agencies--$250,000 of it immediately.
Councilmen Ed Struiksma, Wes Pratt and Bob Filner, agreeing with 500 demonstrators who set up a loud protest outside the site of Mayor Maureen O'Connor's State of the City address, said that the $160,000 the city has contributed to the AIDS assistance agencies to date is inadequate.
They also challenged the county government to add $750,000 of its own, creating a pool of $1.5 million that might attract matching donations from the state and federal governments.
The proposal immediately became embroiled in election-year politicking, drawing O'Connor's opposition and an accusation from mayoral spokesman Paul Downey that Struiksma is attempting to attract attention in the aftermath of the mayor's address. Struiksma has said he is pondering a challenge to O'Connor in this year's mayoral election.
"I think that Councilman Struiksma is probably playing it for the attention he thinks he can get on it," Downey said. "Hopefully, the other two are new to the process and may not understand how the process works, being freshmen. They just may not realize that we don't have that kind of money floating around in mid-year."
County to Take Lead Role
Downey said that O'Connor is working to set up a joint meeting on AIDS of the City Council and the County Board of Supervisors in March. After a meeting with Board of Supervisors Chairman George Bailey last week, O'Connor agreed to allow the county to take the lead role on AIDS initiatives because it has authority over health issues.
She repeated that position when questioned Monday night after protesters carrying numbered cardboard tombstones, signifying the county's AIDS deaths, shouted "shame" and "AIDS funding now" as O'Connor and her audience left the Old Globe Theatre after the State of the City address.
But Struiksma said Wednesday that "you just can't shuffle the issue over to the County Board of Supervisors and expect them to deal with it in total. I have an opportunity to participate for the citizens of San Diego on this issue and I'm going to do it. If, for whatever reason, (O'Connor) doesn't want to, that's her business."
In interviews, council members Ron Roberts and Gloria McColl, and an aide to council member Abbe Wolfsheimer, were hesitant to endorse the AIDS spending proposal, signaling a possibly difficult road for it when it comes before the council. All three said they were unsure if the city has the money for a quick $250,000 expenditure and were interested to see how deliberations between the city and the county will proceed.
David Janssen, the county's assistant chief administrative officer, also said Wednesday that the county does not have the funds available for a $750,000 expenditure and noted that the county is already spending between $1.7 million and $2 million for AIDS services. City budget officials could not be reached for comment.
Finding Funds in City Budget
In a memo circulated to the mayor, council members and City Manager John Lockwood, the three councilmen asked Lockwood to find $250,000 in the city budget that could be spent in the next few weeks. The memo contained no suggestions, but in interviews the councilmen mentioned the possibility of tapping a federal revenue-sharing contingency fund that they believe contains $250,000.
Under their proposal, the city would commit to spending an additional $500,000 by July as part of its annual budget deliberations.
While the memo mentioned no specific agencies, Struiksma suggested donating the money to the San Diego AIDS Project, the AIDS Assistance Fund and the Center for Social Services Inc. The three agencies were recipients of $160,000 in federal money earlier this year.
The agencies assist AIDS victims by providing transportation, counseling, food, housing and legal services. With the city's total number of diagnosed AIDS cases expected to double in 1988, the money will be badly needed, leaders of two of the agencies said.
"We would use it to upgrade our small housing project," said Terry Cunningham, executive director of the AIDS Assistance Fund, which has an annual budget of $300,000, about half the budget of the San Diego AIDS Project. The group spends $10,000 a month--all of it donated funds--on food for AIDS victims.
Any AIDS Money 'Wonderful'
"I think any money that comes for AIDS is wonderful, the result of a demonstration or not," said Linell Fromm, executive director of the San Diego AIDS Project. "I'm sorry it takes a demonstration to release the money."
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, known as AIDS, is invariably fatal. It destroys its victims' natural immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to opportunistic infections and rare cancers.
Between 1981 and 1987, 727 AIDS cases were diagnosed in San Diego County; 379 of those people have died, said Dr. Donald Ramras, the county's health officer. Officials have said that the county's rate of increase in the disease is the second-fastest in the country.
Calling for more public education along with patient services, Struiksma, Filner and Pratt said that they are particularly alarmed by the growing threat of AIDS to minorities and children.