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Crunching numbers 

Someone wise once said, “Spend your hard-earned cash on your heart’s desire.” I can’t credit the brilliant mind that gave birth to such wisdom, mostly because I read it in a fortune cookie. And besides that whole bit about my cash being hard-earned—I’ve got myself on a pretty strict schedule of daytime soaps and Coco Puffs, which leaves little time for actual “work”—it was pretty insightful.

How we allocate our money, especially during difficult economic times, says a lot about our priorities. Mine happen to be Flirtinis, heavy on the maraschino cherries, and those automatic machines where you put in a couple dollars’ worth of quarters and used underwear pops out. I just happen to like the idea of clothing that’s functional AND tells a story. Just to prove my point, the budget that bounced around at the SLO City Council spoke volumes.

Desperate to close the gap in the city’s $4.4 million annual budget deficit … yawn. Sorry, official moneyspeak somehow always puts me to sleep. I feel like I should be wearing a tie and paying some bedraggled orphan to shine my shoes. The joke’s on the orphan though, because I don’t wear any!

Anyway, dispensing with the suit-and-tie jargon, the city’s hard up for cash. So hard up, that its leaders are proposing to spend only $110,000 to repair the steps to city hall. Apparently, there’s some business about the steps leaking rain. At a whopping 18 or so steps, that breaks down to something like $6,111 per step. That’s right: Ol’ Shred busted out the trusty TI86. That’s what I named the orphan who shined my invisible shoes. He’s actually pretty good with numbers—those Third World countries are doing wonders with their education system. Or maybe that’s just compared to our own set-up.

I don’t know how many people use those steps. I was banned from City Hall after an unfortunate incident involving an errant disc from a raucous game of disc golf. I’m hazarding a guess that it’s fewer people than use the parking garage on Marsh Street.

Why? Two reasons really. The parking garage is in closer proximity to a Starbucks. But more importantly, you can drive into the parking garage. And who doesn’t like driving? To get to City Hall you have to walk up steps. And apparently they leak. Ergo (Latin for “waffle,” as in “Leggo my Ergo”), the City Council, in its infinite wisdom, has portioned $170,000 of its limited funds to paint the parking garage. According to some city staffperson—they all look alike, what with their suits and ties—the garage’s aesthetics are marred by “unsightly water stains.” Gasp!

Unsightly water stains, you say? Quick, someone pass me the OxiClean, before they sweep in and take away our “Happiest City” tiara!

Oh well, at least we’re still spending $640,000 to tart up two blocks of downtown, the financial equivalent of donning something slinky for the Downtown Association. Excuse me while I slip into something
more comfortable. How about these prettier trash cans? And mission-style sidewalks?  Va-va-va-voom!

Once upon a time I might have criticized such spending as wasteful. But after getting sucked into a weekend long Dress My Nest marathon, I now understand that your surroundings are a projection of your personality. I went out and bought $50 worth of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber posters on credit. The city’s spending a couple hundred thousand dollars on trash cans. Tomato. Tomato. That doesn’t work in print, does it? I just hope those trash cans are diamond-studded.

But what really blows my mind is the budget line allocating $105,000 to the city’s two homeless shelters. I suppose this has something to do with the county’s much (self) lauded 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. Now that it’s in its third year, I don’t think anyone has any illusions that the proposal will actually do anything to eradicate homelessness. But as long they have a plan, I can sleep better at night. So long as my Miley Cyrus nightlight is on.

No one knows exactly how many homeless people there are in the county, but it’s supposed to be somewhere around 4,000. This is where all that earlier talk about priorities comes back to bite us in the ass. If a budget is an expression of our priorities, have we just established that a shiny parking garage is more important than providing shelter for people without homes? Don’t answer that. I can’t hear you anyway.

Essentially, we’re spending more money on temporary housing for our cars than for people. I guess the city figured that as long as they’ve got cops patrolling downtown, preventing the unsightly homeless people from gathering in front of Victoria’s Secret or Abercrombie & Fitch, they didn’t need to make homelessness a priority.

Obviously, no one asked my opinion about the budget. If they had, I would have recommended killing two birds with one stone. Instead of having separate line items for beautifying downtown and supporting the homeless shelter, they could have invested a couple thousand dollars purchasing accessories for the homeless people. A couple twinkle lights, some shiny bows and the people who wander around downtown would have beautified the city all on their own. And the boost to their self-esteem from the twinkle lights would undoubtedly distract from the tiny detail of not having shelter from rain or cold. Who needs food when you’ve got a shiny downtown? 

The Shredder is covered with unsightly stains, so it must be time for a new paint job. Send color swatches to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

 

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