Friday, January 13, 2006 | Downtown Community Plan Approved

The San Diego Planning Commission has provisionally approved the Centre City Development Corp.’s San Diego Downtown Community Plan Update by a vote of 4-1.

The plan will now be sent to the City Council for a vote on Jan. 31. The Planning Commission approved it with a number of recommendations and caveats, a spokesman for the CCDC said.

The Community Plan Update will take over from the previous plan, which was completed in 1992. It deals with a number of aspects of life in central San Diego, including parking, transportation, density, housing and zoning.

The updated plan takes into account a number of fundamental changes that have taken place in downtown San Diego, including the new ballpark. It also takes into consideration a far greater future population density based on current predictions.

The plan can be viewed at www.ccdc.com/planupdate. The CCDC encourages interested residents to attend the Jan. 31 meeting of the City Council.

– WILL CARLESS

Pension Case to Trial

Friday, Jan. 13, 2006 – 12:12 p.m.

A Superior Court judge decided Friday morning that there was sufficient reason to send the district attorney’s corruption case against six former retirement trustees to a full jury trial.

After nearly four weeks of pre-trial hearings, presiding Judge Frederic Link said there was probable cause to believe that the six defendants named in the prosecution could have had a criminal conflict of interest when they voted for a controversial pension funding arrangement.

The arrangement, known as Manager’s Proposal 2, granted increased pension benefits to employees while also allowing the city to forgo significant contributions to the pension system. The agreement, and one like it in 1996, is largely blamed for a pension deficit at the heart of the city’s fiscal crisis.

The six defendants are: Ron Saathoff, firefighter union president; John Torres, white-collar union vice president; Cathy Lexin, former city human resources manager; Terri Webster, former assistant auditor; Mary Vattimo, former treasurer; and Sharon Wilkinson, a city management analyst.

– EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Left Out from Story

Friday, Jan. 13, 2006 – 9:38 a.m.

In composing the story about Mayor Jerry Sanders’ State of the City speech late last night, Voice staff didn’t include a quote from City Attorney Mike Aguirre. However, the quote is worthy of airing:

“The mayor is definitely committed to reform,” Aguirre said. “What has been an albatross around the neck of lesser leaders has been a stimulant that has galvanized the mayor to be a bolder leader.”

– ANDREW DONOHUE

The Mayor’s Speech

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 – 6:00 p.m.

It’s not your typical San Diego State of the City address. From a copy of the mayor’s speech:

“As a place to live, to raise a family, to do business and to recreate, San Diego is truly America’s finest city.

“But the state of San Diego’s city government – our government – is something else altogether. It today faces the most serious financial, organizational and ethical crisis in its history.”

Among his announcements:

– “I have asked the current appointed board members of the city’s retirement system to resign.”

– “I am also of the personal belief that the city attorney should be reinstated as the retirement system’s chief legal advisor. I will ask the new pension board and the city council to reinstate him, with all the proper ethical protections.”

– “I am announcing tonight that I will recommend to the City Council that we explore private financing for the most important and immediate of these improvements. This will allow us to provide our citizens with a clean and safe water supply and to improve our sewer infrastructure.”

– VOICE STAFF

Lo Go’s Race Is Over

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 – 5:04 p.m.

Lorena Gonzalez is expected to concede the District 2 council race to Kevin Faulconer, who leads the race by 544 votes with less than 1700 votes left to be counted.

An updated tally by the county regristrar is expected this evening.

Gonzalez, an environmental attorney, said she will decide in February whether she will run again for the City Council. A primary election for the council’s even-numbered seats will take place in June, followed by a November runoff if needed.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Downtown Condo Prices Slip

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 – 4:48 p.m.

The average price of a condo in downtown San Diego fell to its lowest level in six months in the second week of January, according to data compiled by a Little Italy Realtor.

The average price of a condo situated within the 92101 ZIP code was $787,588 as of Jan. 11, 2006, according to the data compiled on www.sandiegodowntown.com, a Web site maintained by Little Italy Realtor Lew Breeze. The last time average prices were below $790,000 was in late July 2005, according to the figures.

Breeze compiles his data directly from the Multiple Listing Service, which lists all homes for sale in the San Diego area. He has tallied the number of properties listed in the downtown ZIP code, as well as their average and median prices, since 2003.

The number of downtown condos on the market also jumped from 441 in the first week of 2006 to 486 on Jan. 11.

– WILL CARLESS

The Carlsbad Chargers?

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 – 1:40 p.m.

City Councilman Jim Madaffer wants the council to consider allowing the Chargers to speak with other cities within San Diego County. Such a move would require a modification of the existing agreement between the team and the city, but it would allow other local cities to get a jump on negotiations before next year, when the contract allows the team to negotiate with anybody about a new stadium.

Madaffer issued a memo to Council President Scott Peters yesterday requesting the matter be heard before the City Council. The team announced Monday that it would be unable to put a new stadium proposal on the ballot in November as originally planned. The proposal would have been city voters’ chance to decide on a stadium deal before the team was allowed to speak with other cities.

– ANDREW DONOHUE

Not So Fast

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 – 1:27 p.m.

Bill Sheffler, who was one of the pension trustees Mayor Jerry Sanders asked to resign Wednesday, issued a statement Thursday saying he was reconsidering his intention to comply.

With many city insiders speculating that the move could pave the way to allow City Attorney Mike Aguirre to take over the position of legal counsel of the pension system, Sheffler balked.

“The prospect of Mr. Aguirre assuming the post of [legal counsel for the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System] without resolution of his legal authority to do so in court is enormously troubling to me,” Sheffler said.

Aguirre had been fighting to become the attorney for the pension system for several months. While a decision on the issue was expected to be made Friday, Judge Jeffrey Barton honored Aguirre’s request to delay the decision.

Sheffler said he was “in awe” of the mayor’s willingness to make changes for the fiscal benefit of the city.

“However, the independence of the SDCERS board from city, and union influence is crucial to the future security of the system. In fact, the collusion of city and union officials to the detriment of SDCERS in the past is more than anything else the root cause of the city’s current financial crisis,” Sheffler said.

He added: “On that basis alone, I am reconsidering my tentative consent to resign from the SDCERS board.”

– SCOTT LEWIS

Delayed Decision

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 – 9:44 a.m.

A Superior Court judge postponed his decision on whether City Attorney Mike Aguirre can be the chief legal advisor for the city’s maligned retirement system.

Judge Jeffrey Barton honored Aguirre’s request to delay the decision a day before he was slated to rule on who could represent the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System.

Barton will hear the issue on Feb. 15, but a number of issues related to the case are scheduled to be considered Friday.

Since the late 1990s, the retirement system has had its own in-house attorney, separate from the City Attorney’s Office. Aguirre has fought for nearly an entire year for the right to be the system’s legal counsel.

Barton’s decision comes on the heels of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ request for the seven mayor-appointed members of the SDCERS board to resign. A majority of the board could hypothetically decide to name Aguirre the lawyer for the system out of court, dodging a significant part of the legal battle that has been brewing between the city and the retirement system for nearly a year.

“The mayor is making the right decision that we have to start over,” Executive Assistant City Attorney Don McGrath said.

McGrath said that more developments on this issue will become clear after Sanders delivers his State of the City address tonight.

“Stay tuned,” McGrath said.

– EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Play Ball (Perhaps)!

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006 – 2:10 p.m.

In a little more than two months, the World Baseball Classic comes to San Diego to showcase the first global competition of professional baseball players. But the San Diego Police Department is unsure how much hosting the event will cost, said Bill Edwards, a police captain.

The semifinals and finals of the prestigious international tournament are set to take place at Petco Park on March 18 and 20 and the department will be relied on to provide traffic control and policing for the two semifinal games and the championship game. A number of special side events are planned as well.

With slightly more than two months before players hit the field, the San Diego Padres are unclear how they will recoup game day operating costs from Major League Baseball, the city of San Diego is unsure if it will recoup costs for policing from the Padres and SDPD is not sure how much its work will cost the city.

The icing on the cake: The tournament could be cancelled altogether if the U.S. Treasury Department does not allow Cuba to participate.

A City Manager’s report issued in 2004 stated that a core unresolved issue with respect to SDPD is cost recovery for time expended at special events, including events at Qualcomm Stadium, the San Diego Sports Arena and Petco Park.

“The cost recovery for special events is less that a quarter for every dollar spent,” the document states.

– SAM HODGSON

DA’s Corruption Plans

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006 – 12:00 p.m.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis might be taking a larger interest in political corruption – a gig that has become quite popular in this fine city as of late.

The DA announced today a partnership with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s governmental watchdog. Prosecutor Leon Schorr of the DA’s office will be temporarily assigned to FPPC’s office in Sacramento to assist with pending cases.

Schorr will be charged with investigating alleged violations to the Political Reform Act, and will assist in prompting administrative hearings and bringing civil charges to alleged corrupt politicians.

The DA is not the only government entity in San Diego to hone its sights on political corruption. When indictments came down this past week in San Diego’s pension scandal, local Justice Department officials asserted that weeding out political corruption was a top priority in San Diego. The DA is currently prosecuting six individuals for alleged wrongdoing tied to the city’s deepening pension deficit.

– SAM HODGSON

The Resignation Question – Answered

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006 – 11:46 a.m.

Remember Mayor Jerry Sanders was going to ask for a letter of resignation from about 300 high-level city employees? In a grandiose promise during his campaign, Sanders said he planned to review all the letters and decide which ones to accept. A while ago we wondered what all these hundreds of resignation letters would actually look like.

Well, now we have an answer.

Sanders sent out a memorandum to all unclassified mayoral city employees – those who aren’t protected by civil service employment laws – asking them to sign this form.

“To: Mayor Sanders. As requested, I respectfully offer you my resignation. I understand you can accept this resignation at any time.”

Spaces follow for the employee’s name, classification, department, signature and date.

– SCOTT LEWIS

Peters Speaks

Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006 – 10:25 p.m.

In a lengthy interview with local editors this morning, Council President Scott Peters laid out his vision for 2006 and took questions on the past, present and future of a city government wracked by scandal and fiscal woes.

Peters’ vision for 2006 includes: protecting families and children; improving parks, trails, beaches and bays; enhancing neighborhoods; funding streets, sidewalks and streets lights; and serving older neighborhoods.

But it wasn’t all hotdogs and high-fives.

“This car is broken,” Peters said of city finances. However, he said the city’s pension deficit, expected to be as much as $2 billion when new figures are released in the coming months, can be managed with bonds, land sales and budget cuts.

Peters also said:

– The city could consider selling public plots such as the Sports Arena and Qualcomm Stadium site to help fill in the pension deficit.

– The City Council will likely approve the estimated $9 million to $11 million sought by the audit committee to conclude its delayed and now-controversial investigation into allegations of wrongdoing at City Hall.

– The audit committee, a group of outside consultants, should be done with their delayed report by April or May, paving the way for the long-awaited release of the city’s fiscal year 2003 financial statements.

– The U.S. attorney has told council members that they are not targets of the Justice Department’s investigation.

– That he and new Mayor Jerry Sanders, an early ally of Peters’ foe City Attorney Mike Aguirre, are “building a relationship and I have a good feeling about it.”

– Voters could be asked in 2008 or so to approve a bond/tax proposal allowing the city to catch up on $1 billion in maintenance needed for neglected streets, buildings and so forth.

– The city has been more victimized by the determination to apply the standards of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to the city than by Kroll Inc, the consultants who have been working on the pricey investigations that have been underway since February 2004.

– He has referred Councilwoman Donna Frye’s request to docket a measure that would repeal the City Council’s pension benefits back to pre-2000 levels to the city’s Salary Setting Committee for consideration.

He also referred to a fire station in Rancho Santa Fe as “ghetto.”

ANDREW DONOHUE

Gap Closes

Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006 – 10:07 p.m.

The vote total for District 2 council candidate Lorena Gonzalez is now approaching the votes for her rival Kevin Faulconer.

She is now 469 votes behind Faulconer according to the latest count. With nearly 70 percent of the votes counted, Gonzalez has captured 48.98 percent of them compared to Faulconer’s 51.02 percent.

SCOTT LEWIS

Absentees Speak

Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006 – 9:30 p.m.

With only the absentee ballots reporting, Ben Hueso and Kevin Faulconer took early leads in their separate bids to fill vacant seats on the San Diego City Council.

Faulconer, a public relations executive, had 56.63 percent of the absentee ballots counted compared to 43.37 percent garnered by his opponent for the District 2 seat, environmental attorney Lorena Gonzalez.

In District 8, Hueso, an organizational consultant, had 64.43 percent of the absentee ballots counted compared to the 35.57 percent for school board President Luis Acle.

In the initial absentee count, there were 13,110 votes in District 2 and 3,292 in District 8.

SCOTT LEWIS

Guru Sees Housing Slowdown

Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006 – 2:05 p.m.

Scott Simon, a “mortgage guru” at PIMCO Bonds, a $500 billion global income management company thinks the country’s real estate market has “turned.”

PIMCO’s managing director, Paul McCulley, described the findings of Simon and his real estate research team in an interview posted on the company’s Web site:

“Their key conclusion is that the leading indicators of a slowdown in housing have clearly turned. Going back to September, the group identified the leading indicators but those indicators had not yet turned at that point. The leading indicators for the housing market have now turned and we anticipate that the market itself will be turning in the months immediately ahead.”

McCulley continued:

“One key indicator is that the inventory of unsold homes is rising, as former buyers are becoming sellers, trying to monetize their speculative gains. Price discounting in selective markets is a second leading indicator. And probably the most important indicator that we are seeing is a severe slowdown in the affordability associated with exotic mortgages. In fact, we’re now seeing layoffs by mortgage brokers who specialized in exotic mortgage creation.”

The inventory of unsold housing is certainly rising in San Diego.

– WILL CARLESS

Go Vote

Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2005 – 9:10 a.m.

San Diegans residing in Districts 2 and 8 will vote today for their representatives on the City Council. The polls will be open until 8 p.m.

Kevin Faulconer and Lorena Gonzalez are vying to represent District 2, which stretches along the coast from southern La Jolla to downtown and includes Pacific Beach, Point Loma and Mission Hills.

Ben Hueso and Luis Acle are competing for the council post overseeing District 8, which includes the neighborhoods south and east of downtown such as Golden Hill, Barrio Logan and Sherman Heights as well as the border communities of San Ysidro, Otay Mesa and Palm City.

The new council members will have a number of issues to tackle when taking office this month, such as how to handle the city’s financial and legal problems. Also, the council will make several decisions regarding development and land use issues.

Gonzalez and Hueso are Democrats, and Faulconer and Acle are Republicans.

Tuesday’s contest is the runoff election for the two council posts that were vacated last summer when two councilmen resigned after being convicted of corruption. Former Councilman Michael Zucchet of District 2 was later relieved of most of his conviction and will stand retrial on the remaining charges. Ralph Inzunza, the former District 8 council member, is appealing his guilty verdict.

Strategists expect a low turnout, because the council question is the only ballot item and campaigns had to compete with the holiday season, but it doesn’t have to be that way – go vote.

– EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Ewell Be Seeing Him in Court

Monday, Jan. 9, 2005 – 8:02 p.m.

Former City Manager Lamont Ewell will take the witness stand Tuesday in the district attorney’s case against six former pension trustees.

Ewell will be called by the defense, which is trying to stymie prosecutors’ attempts to prove that the defendants had a conflict of interest when approving an underfunding deal that effectively raised their retirement pay.

After leaving San Diego City Hall in November, Ewell took a job this month in Santa Monica. He will testify at 9:15 a.m. in Superior Court Judge Frederic Link’s courtroom.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Stadium Hopes Sacked for Now

Monday, Jan. 9, 2006 – 5:24 p.m.

The San Diego Chargers announced Monday that they will not meet the deadline to qualify a new stadium proposal for the November 2006 election.

Read team special counsel Mark Fabiani’s speech announcing the decision.

VOICE STAFF

Deputy Fired

Monday, Jan. 9, 2006 – 4:03 p.m.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre fired one of his deputies, Deborah Hollingsworth, Friday.

Hollingsworth represented the City Attorney’s Office on the City Manager’s Committee to Review the Disability Retirement System.

Voice of San Diego was the first to make public the findings of the committee, whose existence was little known outside City Hall. The committee published its final report in April without circulating it publicly. It found that more than 22 percent of city workers retire with a disability and that the city did not investigate potential fraud.

SCOTT LEWIS

New Chargers’ Proposal Info

Monday, Jan. 9, 2006 – 2:48 p.m.

Chargers officials will announce a “significant” development in their push to build a new stadium today at 5 p.m.

The team has been seeking a development partner to help shoulder the costs and risks of a $450 million stadium and surrounding development. Team officials have said a development agreement would have to be reached sometime in the next week in order to meet deadlines to get the proposal on the November ballot.

In the proposal, the Chargers are expected to ask for 60 acres of the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley. On the land, the team would build condos, a hotel and other mixed-use development. The team also promises to build a “Super Bowl-caliber” stadium, about $175 million in infrastructure improvements.

Without a partnership with a major development partner, team officials have said the proposal wouldn’t make the November ballot. The team is free to move out of San Diego at the end of the 2008 season.

Please check back with “This Just In” later this evening for an update and tomorrow’s edition of Voice for full coverage.

– ANDREW DONOHUE

Stay Flabby, San Diego

Monday, Jan. 9, 2006 – 11:35 a.m.

San Diego is growing, and according to an annual study in Men’s Fitness, its residents are following suit.

San Diego took an epic tumble in the magazine’s most recent issue, falling from a coveted spot as the ninth fittest city in the United States to the 21st fattest city.

The survey takes into account such factors as how many gyms a city has per 100,000 residents, the ability of city officials to promote fitness, a city’s propinquity to forests, lakes and rivers, and whether a city participates in state-and federal-based nutrition programs.

The magazine added three new survey methods this year, which resulted in a substantial shift in many of the city’s rankings.

Among the new qualifications were the ability of city officials to promote fitness and the obstacles individuals have to overcome to exercise (San Diego’s sunshine makes it easy to go on an early morning jog, try that in New York City at the peak of the snow-season).

Baltimore took the cake (fat-free undoubtedly) as the fittest city in the United States, moving up on the charts from 25th fattest. Last year’s fittest city, Seattle, dropped to eighth fittest, and Louisville, Kent., made its first appearance on the list, taking ninth fittest, the spot held previously by America’s finest (but not fittest) city.

– SAM HODGSON

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