Local leaders call on Congress to avoid federal government shutdown

Deadline Monday at 9PM Pacific

SAN DIEGO - A bipartisan group of San Diego City Council members and San Diego County supervisors called on Congress to avoid a shutdown of the federal government, which could begin at 9 p.m. Monday Pacific time.

Tuesday begins the new federal fiscal year, but the House and Senate still have to approve legislation to fund federal operations.

Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked over whether to pay for health care reform this year. The Senate has voted 54-46 – along party lines – to reject a House bill that funds the federal government without paying for President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Beginning Tuesday, the federal government won't be able to make some payments unless the two sides reach a compromise.

The last fiscal gridlock, which happened in the mid-1990s, lasted about three weeks.

"This city and its citizens already are suffering from the dire effects of sequestration," Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said at a news conference. "A government shutdown would be a double-whammy, with devastating effects on our businesses, residents and operation of local, county and state governments."

Sequestration is a term for automatic spending cuts that went into effect earlier this year when Congress and the Obama administration failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction.

Lightner said the potential direct impacts of a government shutdown on the city were unclear. Both city and county officials said the effect on their own operations would largely be indirect, such as lower sales and hotel room tax revenue in the future.

The impact on residents, particularly in defense-heavy San Diego, could be significant, however. Among others, 26,000 local civilian employees of the Defense Department could be sent home on furloughs Tuesday.

Services for veterans will continue, and officials at the national cemeteries at Fort Rosecrans and Miramar said they will continue their burial operations.

National parks, including the Cabrillo National Monument, would close Tuesday if Congress can't reach a deal. Airport operations and mail delivery are not expected to be impacted.

If the shutdown lasts awhile, local governments could have trouble getting capital projects underway if they need permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, since employees there might be furloughed, according to the mayor's office. Also, major building projects that are using federal funds could face delays.

The thought of a federal government shutdown is frightening for those in its path.

For Irone and Vicki Cambell, the future just got cloudier. She is a realtor with no steady paycheck. He is a Navy civilian employee, worrying about no paycheck.

Irone said, "No money, it's just like a furlough."

Vicki said, "We've been watching for this and planning so we've cut, cut, cut anyway and now will cut some more because we don't want to lose anything because the government decided to shut down."

People watch the verbal battle in Washington D.C. and wonder why. Tim Hellem expressed some frustration.

"It seems like it's grandstanding, almost, to a point," he said.

Bill Plunkett was escorting some friends from Denver to the Cabrillo National Monument. 

"Today, we came to the front gate and they were saying, 'You're lucky you're here today 'cause tomorrow we might be closed," said Plunkett.

Jason Richards is the chief of interpretation for the National Park Service at Cabrillo. 

"We are all up in the air," Richards said. "We do have a contingency plan in place." 

He said he would love to see a quick resolution. 

"We hope so," he said. "I lived through the 1995 government shutdown and we had three weeks back in those days … three weeks of uncertainty and I hope it's not like that this time."

Deb Finlon told 10News, "It's not a good situation. You'd expect the government to be able to take care of … to find proper compromise and not let it affect normal people."

Plunkett added, "It's pretty frustrating for us working stiffs down here trying to support the U.S. and do the right thing."

The city currently has a delegation in Washington, D.C., led by Interim Mayor Todd Gloria. The delegation also includes council members Mark Kersey and Lorie Zapf, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders, and numerous business leaders.

Lightner and the other council members at the news conference – David Alvarez, Myrtle Cole, Marti Emerald and Scott Sherman – called on the delegation to make it clear that they oppose a shutdown.

County supervisors Dianne Jacob and Ron Roberts said they fear the closure of the control tower at the Ramona Airport, a major base for firefighting aircraft.

"The chaos and petty squabbling over the federal budget has left us in the dark about the status of the Ramona air traffic control tower just when we need it the most," Jacob said. "With the most dangerous stretch of the wildfire season bearing down on us, it's simply unacceptable that Washington, D.C., would allow the closure of a facility that is central to our aerial firefighting efforts and public safety."

She said Cal Fire has logged 1,000 sorties against wildfires from Ramona in the last six months. Operations would continue if the tower is closed, but operations would be riskier, she said.

Roberts said the federal government's "dysfunction" includes "potentially dangerous amnesia" about why the Ramona Airport has a manned control tower.

"A 1995 aerial collision between a U.S. Forest Service spotter plane and tanker actively fighting a fire killed three people and spread havoc upon those below, including the destruction of two homes," Roberts said. "Ramona is the hub for fighting wildfires in our region, which includes plentiful federal lands, and the FAA needs to keep its control tower open and not jeopardize safety to make a political budgetary point."

The tower at Brown Field, near the U.S.-Mexican border, could also be closed in a government shutdown.

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