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I’ve been waiting quite a while for the great war to break out between the mayor and City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

I don’t have to wait anymore.

Aguirre just told me, on the record, that the mayor’s land-use chief, Jim Waring, was corrupt.

Sounds like a shot over the bow to me.

It was, of course, such a reckless and baseless descriptor with which to label someone who hasn’t been tried, convicted or even investigated that I made him repeat it. I wanted to make sure he said it on the record and in exactly the way I thought he had.

He said Waring and the developer of a tall building near the Montgomery Field airport were corrupt.

“I’m accusing them of corruption, absolutely,” he said.

If you read this statement from Aguirre closely Tuesday, along with the U-T article that his comments begat Wednesday, you would have seen that he said it more or less in that piece too.

After seeing his statement come in Tuesday night, and then the article the next morning, I thought about posting just a paragraph about how it was reckless for him to expressly accuse people of committing crimes like that.

But then I actually talked to him.

There is little doubt that there’s a substantial problem with the building Sunroad is constructing near Montgomery Field. The Federal Aviation Administration, CalTrans and several other organizations have expressed their dismay at the hazard the building’s height creates. The company was warned not to build it higher than 160 feet, yet Sunroad bizarrely continued to build.

Obviously there are some serious disagreements about what’s going on and what rules apply.

The city, led by Waring, decided to let Sunroad continue to do specific work on the project.

Waring told me he wanted to allow the company to protect its property — to weatherize it — while the dispute was handled. He said the city ensured that, by letting the company proceed, it wasn’t giving away any legal rights to eventually force the company to make changes to the structure.

“If Sunroad had not agreed that they would not claim any form of legal reliance or claims predicated on the additional work they did, we would not have allowed them to do any more work,” Waring said.

That may not have been the right decision. It seems like a legitimate complaint that Waring and the city should have locked down the property and forced Sunroad to cease its activities when all this came to light after Aguirre got a letter about it from the state in October.

It is also legitimate to note, however, that Aguirre’s office had all this information in June 2006 and didn’t act on it either. I asked Aguirre about that too. If his office was aware of the issue, why didn’t he do anything about it before the structure was built to the height that now is so objectionable?

“An office can’t have awareness,” he said. “When I personally became aware of it, I directed that certain actions be taken immediately.”

Got that? His delay on the issue was just an innocent product of the bureaucracy. Others, though, are held to a higher standard.

Here was Aguirre’s statement Tuesday:

City Attorney Michael Aguirre is requesting the U.S. Attorney to open a criminal investigation of individuals connected with the construction of a tall building near Montgomery Field that both federal and state authorities have said pose a safety hazard to pilots and the public.

This, of course, means nothing logistically. If all Aguirre wanted to do was get the U.S. attorney’s attention on a particular issue, he could have called her and left it at that. This statement was his way of calling people criminals publicly.

“There has been a willful disregard for federal and state laws and for the safety of people,” Aguirre said at a press conference, according to the U-T.

And here’s Aguirre’s statement again:

Despite all of the actions taken, Sunroad continued to complete the building at the prohibited height of 180 feet — under the guise of “weatherizing” the building which the City’s Development Services Department approved by letter on December 21, 2006.

He told me to read “Jim Waring” in place of Development Services Department.

You don’t have to be a genius to understand exactly what he’s trying to imply. He’s saying Waring and the city officials who didn’t stop Sunroad’s construction were colluding with the company to commit an illegal act.

It’s as severe a charge one can make about a city official.

When I asked him about this, he said I was putting words in his mouth.

I said that he called them “corrupt.” How was I supposed to take it?

“It is part of the culture of corruption in the city of San Diego that people think that complying with the law is some kind of optional policy choice to make. That’s why we have so many problems,” Aguirre said.

I said that a public law enforcement official like him can’t call someone corrupt without it having more significant legal implications than that.

You just can’t say that. Unsubstantiated accusations of corruption from a person in a position like Aguirre’s — however nuanced — have the potential to ruin lives. They enact punishments before the accused has had a chance to even absorb the charge.

“Every day, hundreds of people come to work at the city of San Diego trying to solve these problems. It’s outrageous and unconscionable to allege crimes by anyone simply because we don’t bow down to his world view,” Waring told me.

And what about the mayor?

Spokesman Fred Sainz said Aguirre had crossed a line when he called Waring corrupt.

“It’s indefensible that he should toss around such offensive words about an individual who is dedicated to the public good especially when he has no proof to offer,” Sainz said. “The only thing we can trust is that Aguirre uses those words so much and against so many people that they lose their meanings.”

SCOTT LEWIS

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