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Tuesday, June 07, 2005 | First three city council members were accused of taking bribes from a strip club owner lobbying to repeal a “no touch” ordinance. The law forbids oversexed customers from pawing bottomless dancers. One councilman died and the remaining two are on trial for corruption. They claim innocence.
If the sex trial isn’t exciting enough, San Diego is caught up in a pension fund scandal. The pension fund is now about $1.5 billion in the red. The city can’t borrow money until it gets properly audited. The deficit is a bottomless pit.
The city attorney alleges the council made a secret deal with the municipal pension board to raise pension benefits while simultaneously shortchanging the fund – and hiding it from regulators. The mayor has resigned. Six former members of the pension board have been indicted for criminal conflict of interest. All claim innocence.
Snow white is the color de rigueur at City Hall.
Is there a hidden link between the “no touch” ordinance and the pension imbroglio? The clue is the word “bottomless.”
A witness has come forward with videotapes. Her stage name is Sandie Go Go, and she dances at the notorious Liars & Cheaters strip club at 202 C St. This secret after-hours club is located in the City Council chambers. After council sessions end, lights dim, drums pound and a silver pole descends from the ceiling.
Politicos, pension board members, bureaucrats, lobbyists, developers and leaders of firefighters and other unions sip libations and fix their beady eyes on the stage.
The first incident involves developers lobbying to build monster homes in environmentally sensitive open spaces. In public, the council won’t bend over for developers. But after the meeting, council members and developers who contributed to their campaigns retire to Liars & Cheaters strip club.
Sandie slides down the pole. To the dismay of her audience, she is wearing a map of the city’s protected open spaces.
“Take it off!” cry developers.
She strips off the environmental protections, until she’s down to fishnet stockings.
Leering, a big developer sticks a $100 bill into Sandie’s garters. Then another and another.
“Hey, don’t touch!” Sandie pleads, fearing arrest. “Take your money back.”
“We’re not asking for favors – quid pro quo,” protests the lobbyist. “We’re exercising our free speech rights!”
A month later, the council mysteriously approves the development, unleashing a herd of bulldozers.
The second incident occurs in 2002. The City hasn’t paid its full contribution to the pension fund. The last mayor bet the stock market would make up the difference, but the market tanks. The pension fund is dangerously low.
If the public finds out … the City will be caught with its pants down.
“Oh my gosh!” cries the mayor, covering his rear.
The firefighter takes off his helmet and politely covers the City’s private parts.
“We won’t ask the City for full funding, if you give us extra benefits,” says Quid.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” says Pro, with a wink.
“What happens here, stays here!” say the Quo, just back from a strip club tour in Vegas.
The council approves the deal, with only one dissenting vote: a grumpy surf shop owner. All’s quiet … until a pension trustee who’s disgusted by the burlesque blows the whistle.
The firefighter scoots up the pole, the mayor hides beneath the seat and bureaucrats resign.
San Diegans are shocked, scandalized and (frankly) secretly delighted by the em-bare-assment of officials. But plain folks don’t yet feel the effects on their lives.
The third incident occurs when the city manager proposes a new city budget. He parades Sandie before the audience at Liars & Cheaters.
“We’re gonna have to strip some programs,” says the manager.
“What programs?” Sandie asks.
“Kids’ after-school programs,” he says.
“But kids need those programs to learn stuff and stay out of trouble.”
“You heard me. Take it off!”
“What else?” she pleads.
“Parks, recreation centers, programs for elderly and the new Central Library.”
Sandie is trembling. She’s got a head on her shoulders, and she’s done some research. In New York, the Republican mayor, facing similar catastrophic cuts to city services, courageously levied corporate taxes – and the Big Apple is thriving. But politicians dare not touch this subject in San Diego, where there appears to be a law against intimate contact with fiscal reality.
“There’s one thing we could do, instead,” Sandie says. “It will take political courage, but it will show the world we’re serious about saving our city.”
“What’s that?” nervous council members ask
Sandie bares her bottom.
Tattooed on her cheeks are two little words:
Jonathan Freedman, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is currently corresponding with the IRS on back taxes he claims to have paid while working undercover at Liars & Cheaters.