Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Peters Stock Update

Earlier this week, we revealed that Council President Scott Peters has owned more than $100,000 in stock in the parent company of the consulting firm that has charged the city $16.2 million for its oft-delayed investigation into City Hall.

Peters, whose list of investments is more than 30 pages long, said he was unaware of the connection until contacted by a voiceofsandiego.org reporter. Dating back to February 2005, he voted to authorize funds for the committee five times — votes that could invalidate the council actions.

Documents released today show that the last page of the engagement letter used to retain consultants Kroll Inc. did indeed spell out the relationship between parent company Marsh & McLennan Cos. and Kroll.

His spokeswoman said it wasn’t clear if the documents ever made it to his office, and Peters has said his wife handles the investments. Peters has a staff member and a private attorney who help him spot possible conflicts, but he said earlier this week this one slipped through the cracks. 

“My staff and I have worked very hard to create a detailed system to review all council votes to ensure there is no conflict of interest,” he said in a prepared statement released today. “… My staff and I are re-examining our procedures to find ways to improve them to make sure they meet all legal and ethical standards and guidelines.”

Peters said he will also ask the council Rules Committee to strengthen the system currently in place to help politicians avoid conflicts.

On another note, The San Diego Union-Tribune, a local newspaper, is now on the story. On KPBS radio this week, Peters gave host Tom Fudge an idea of how the U-T got word of the story:

“When the Voice reporter called me to tell me about this, I actually called the Union-Tribune,” he said.


Inventory Update

There were 85 homes added to the San Diego County Multiple Listing Service in one day from April 4 to April 5.

That puts the total number of homes for sale at 18,405, which is the highest that number has been for more than a decade.

I had forecasted that the county is going to reach its previous record of 19,000 homes for sale — which was set in July 1995 — in mid-May. I’m changing that prediction to late April.

Inventory levels are important because more homes for sale, in addition to giving buyers more choice also tends to drive home values down.


Hung Jury in Remer Case

The jury deliberating the U.S. attorney’s case against a local political consultant and a former community college president couldn’t reach a unanimous decision today. The hung jury voted 10-to-2 for conviction on charges that consultant Larry Remer and Serafin Zasueta illegally used public funds to advocate a community college bond initiative.

It is the second hung jury U.S. Attorney Carol Lam has seen this week, as the jury in a high-profile healthcare fraud case that she tried personally was unable to reach a verdict.

A spokeswoman for Lam said prosecutors will be retrying the case. A hearing is scheduled June 1.


Mayor’s Special Fund

The special fund set up by Mayor Jerry Sanders to cover costs for his inauguration and transition to mayor also turned out to be a decent windfall for his attorneys, fundraiser and consultants.

The fund is budgeted to pay $10,000 for refreshments and goodies from the mayor’s State of the City address in January and another $20,000 for transition costs. The rest of the nearly $75,000 fund, according to its expense report, went to setting it up, maintaining it, and then getting would-be contributors to actually fill it with cash.

Freelove Consulting Group, the outfit that did Sanders’ fundraising during the campaign and is soliciting the cash for the fund, has billed $17,990.60 for its work. Sutton Law Firm in San Francisco has billed $13,080.34 in legal fees. (Jim Sutton says the high costs are due to the mayor’s desire to get the Ethics Commission and Fair Political Practices Commission’s blessings.)

Tom Shepard Associates, Inc., the political consultants that guided Sanders to victory in November, collected $3,061.30. The fund was also used to pay for $519.89 in t-shirts. 

The fund has raised some eyebrows because it is loosely regulated. The Sanders camp has been gracious about providing documentation of the fund, though. Here’s a list of everybody who’s given to the fund (or if you don’t want to look at it, the quick analysis is that it the donors are a mix of Everyday Joes and Downtown Establishment Somebodies such as lobbyists, hoteliers and others.)


Firing Off Reasons

Fire Chief Jeff Bowman made his first local public appearance Thursday to discuss his resignation.

In addition to his frustration of managing a fire budget that is skimpier than other similarly sized cities, Bowman said he was recently experiencing headaches.

“My body was telling me something my brain should have told me before, ‘It’s about time to hang it up, stupid,’” Bowman said. He had not sought medical attention for the headaches, which go away on the weekends, he added.

He said he started mulling the idea of leaving the Fire-Rescue Department about three months ago, but notified Mayor Jerry Sanders he was resigning Monday.

Bowman, who during his four-year tenure has criticized city officials for underfunding the city’s fire service, said he harbored no ill feelings toward Sanders, the new mayor. He said he has not been apprised of what Sanders will propose in his budget, which will be released next week, but said Sanders pledged to be as honest about the Fire-Rescue Department’s budget as possible.

“What the mayor shared with me is that he is going to fund, as best he can, the real fire department budget, which isn’t what’s been happening,” Bowman said. “We have had categories in our budget since I’ve been here that we said we do but were not funded.”

The fire chief likened his efforts to garner more money for fire protection to an architect who designs a house only to see the homebuilder run out of money before it’s finished.

“It doesn’t mean the architecture plan isn’t good, it’s still in place,” Bowman said. “It’s no secret to anyone here today that we have a funding problem.”

Also an issue: Bowman said he was frustrated about not receiving a pension from the city of San Diego after five years of service. He said he was told by then-City Manager Michael Uberuaga that voters were going to change the 10-year service requirement to five in 2002. The proposition was rejected and Bowman would not have earned a pension in San Diego without working for a decade, which he said he never intended to do.

“Am I disappointed? You bet. Did that factor into the decision? You bet it did. But it’s not going to happen so I’m not going to whine about it,” said Bowman, who turns 54 this month.

Bowman said he did not have a job lined up and did not know what path he would pursue after June 30, which is when his resignation becomes effective. Sanders said he would consider San Diego fire officials for the chief’s job, but “owed it to the people of San Diego” to conduct an outside search as well.


Conferring on the Complex

The city of San Diego’s downtown planners will begin hosting tonight a series of public workshops on the Navy Broadway Complex redevelopment project, which was awarded last week to developer Doug Manchester.

The project, now known as Pacific Gateway, is slated to include office buildings for the Navy, parkland, luxury hotels, retail space and a military-themed museum. City leaders hail the project as becoming the centerpiece of the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, which will transform the west end of downtown’s harbor into an attraction for visitors.

Thursday’s meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at the Westgate Hotel, 1055 Second Avenue. Other workshop dates include April 22, April 27, May 13 and June 3. The Centre City Development Corp. and the City Council will also be able to review the 14.7-acre project.

For more information on the workshops and CCDC meetings, view this flyer.


More and More Condos

Downtown San Diego continues to add condos to the real estate market at a steady rate, according to figures from Lew Breeze, a downtown Realtor.

Every week, Breeze compiles a list of all the condos listed on the county’s Multiple Listing Service. As of yesterday, there were 481 condos for sale, up from 477 a week ago.

The median price of the condos for sale also dropped off considerably, down from $640,000 to $629,000.

The figures more or less mirror the trend for inventory fluctuations in the last few years. However, the number of houses on the market is much higher this year than ever before. For example, in this week in 2005, there were 265 condos for sale. In this week in 2004, there were only 64.

The high levels of downtown condo inventory also mirror the trend in San Diego County overall. There are currently far more homes listed for sale on the county MLS than there have been over the last few years.

There are some 11,000 condos slated for construction in downtown San Diego in the next few years.


LA’s NFL Update

With Anaheim and the Los Angeles Coliseum engrossed in discussions with the National Football League, Pasadena and its grand old football stadium the Rose Bowl have tried to insert themselves again in the perpetual effort to put a pro team back in the nation’s second-largest city.

The Los Angeles Times reported today that representatives from Anaheim and the L.A. Coliseum are slated to present stadium proposals to the NFL in coming weeks. Pasadena bowed out of the stadium race last year, but some local politicos want voters allow them back into the chase.

Why is all this important to San Diego? Well, if you don’t know, read the SLOP report .


Budget Sneak Peek

This year is a big budget year in the city of San Diego, as all eyes are focused on its troubled pension system and other budget issues. Mayor Jerry Sanders has promised that the unveiling of his budget next week will double as the introduction of his financial recovery plan.

The mayor and his CFO Jay Goldstone are set to give sneak preview of that budget plan today at a special meeting of the Catfish Club. The lunch begins at noon at KGTV Channel 10 studios, which are located at 4600 Air Way, between 47th Street and Federal Blvd.

The speech is titled “Assessing the City’s Fiscal Crisis:  The Process and Philosophy of how Mayor Sanders’ First Budget is being put together.”

Check back with voiceofsandiego.org for updates on the presentation.


Insert Golfing Pun Here

In his attempt to drive home a compromise in the wedge issue of access at the public Torrey Pines Golf Course, a chipper Mayor Jerry Sanders put out today a proposed five-year plan for managing the city’s three public golf courses.

Okay, we’ve exhausted the golf references. We will continue with the story. Under the Torrey Pines tee-time proposal, there are a number of losers: the Torrey Pines Golf Club Men’s Club and the Torrey Pines Golf Club Women’s Club (groups that are given two chunks of tee times weekly for members in order to hold tournaments); the Torrey Pines Club Corp., the group that operates the pro shop; the controversial brokers who buy and sell tee times to the public; and the Lodge and Hilton hotels nearby.

The Mayor’s Office said the proposal would open up about 17,000 tee times for local residents and another 20,000 for advance purchase for visitors.

It would also raise green fees at all courses from between $3 and $8 a round. (For example, weekday north course rates at Torrey Pines would increase from $29 to $32 a round; weekend rates on the south course would climb from $115 to $123.

The Mayor’s Office said a new club house would not be built before the U.S. Open is held at Torrey Pines in 2008.


Poll Workers Needed Tuesday

The county Registrar of Voters is scrambling to find poll workers to facilitate the special election to replace Rep. Duke Cunningham on Tuesday, April 11.

The election will be held in California’s 50th congressional district, which includes the North County cities of Escondido, Carlsbad and Encinitas as well as the San Diego neighborhoods of Clairemont Mesa, Rancho Penasquitos, Carmel Valley and Mount Soledad.

Poll workers must be 18 years of age and U.S. citizens. They will receive between $60 and $100 for their service, depending on what job they are assigned at the polling place, and bilingual workers receive an extra $5.

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. If interested, contact the Registrar’s Office at (858) 565-5800 or (858) 694-3480.


State of the Second

San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer will deliver a State of the District address for his District 2 constituents Wednesday evening. The speech will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Point Loma/Hervey branch library, 3701 Voltaire St.

District 2 stretches from downtown to southern La Jolla and includes the neighborhoods of Mission Hills, Point Loma and Pacific Beach.


Get Out the Vote Study

Each member of the San Diego City Council and Mayor Jerry Sanders chose a community member to serve on a task force that will recommend improvements for voting procedure in the city.

The Elections Task Force will study the possibilities of conducting elections by mail only, implementing instant runoff voting, publicly financing elections, and changing the ballot tabulation process.

The task force will also include representatives from the City Attorney’s Office, Office of the Independent Budget Analyst and City Clerk Liz Maland, who will chair the panel.

Among the appointments was Councilman Jim Madaffer’s nominee John Kern, the former chief of staff to resigned Mayor Dick Murphy. Murphy, as readers may recall, was engaged in a drawn-out legal battle with Councilwoman Donna Frye over the November 2004 mayoral election. Frye had 3,400 votes in her favor disqualified because the bubble was not correctly filled in next to the name voters wrote in. The gaffe tipped the election for Murphy.

Other appointees include lobbyist and public relations executive Craig Benedetto; lobbyist and consultant Adrian Kwiatkoski; civic watchdog Mel Shapiro; Democratic activist Kevin Davis; advertiser and community organizer Faith Bautista; election reform activist Charles Imes; former San Diego City Clerk Chuck Abdelnour; and Cassandra Clady, a deputy labor commissioner with the California Department of Industrial Relations.

The Elections Task Force will meet twice a month.


Developer Fee Up Again

City Attorney Mike Aguirre said he hopes that the council’s decision Monday to settle a lawsuit with the building industry — a move that cut developers a healthy break on an affordable housing fee — can still be undone.

In order to become final, the council’s action will have to formally come before the City Council for two more votes. These kinds of votes normally are simply a formality, but at times enough public outcry can sway the council to reconsider. Aguirre said in an interview that he’s hoping to convince council members to reverse their 5-to-3 decision.

The council accepted the settlement with the Building Industry Association, negotiated by Mayor Jerry Sanders, despite warnings from its independent budget analyst and opinions from the City Attorney’s Office that the city had a strong defense in court.

Aguirre, who has had a strong relationship with Sanders, said his exclusion from negotiations was “highly unusual.”

“If we’re going to change, then we have to change the behavior,” he said. “We’ve got to quit caving in to powerful interests.”


Home Count Rises

The county’s home inventory continues its meteoric rise toward record levels. As of yesterday, there were 18,304 homes listed for sale on the San Diego County Multiple Listing Service, according to data compiled by ZIP Realty, a real estate information service.

That’s an increase of 43 homes on the market from March 31.

The all-time record for inventory levels in the county is 19,000 homes for sale, which was reached in July 1995. Since March 2004, inventory has been steadily climbing, so that there are now 16,000 more homes on the market than there were two years ago.

Inventory levels are significant because a rising inventory shows there are more homes being put up for sale than people are buying.

According to classic economic theory, an increased ratio of supply vs. demand would result in a drop in prices.

In today’s housing market, things aren’t as simple as that, however, and house prices have remained steady despite the rising inventory levels.


Sewage Wrapup

Yesterday, water access in Imperial Beach reopened.


The beach was posted again today, before the rainfall. One surfer reported the distinct smell of sewage there early this morning — before the county Department of Environmental Health posted warning signs notifying of the closure.

In addition to San Diego’s sewer spill last night, San Marcos also had a spill today. About 4,500 gallons spilled after construction debris obstructed a sewer line, according to a news release from the Department of Environmental Health. The sewage entered a storm drain system and Agua Hedionda Creek. Warning signs about that spill will remain posted until Friday.


Tobacco on Hold

Mayor Jerry Sanders’ much-publicized plan to borrow $100 million and plug it into the pension system was delayed today because of lingering concerns that it doesn’t go far enough to comply with labor contracts.

The City Council was set to vote on the proposal, which is the mayor’s first significant pension-related initiative, until it was pulled of the docket today.

It’s a long story, so for the full detail read this article. But in short, the mayor wants to sell $10.1 million of the city’s annual tobacco settlement revenues to investors for decades to come in exchange for $100 million upfront to inject into the city’s struggling pension fund.

The city’s essentially up against the wall. It promised the labor unions that it would use $17.3 million in savings freed up in labor talks last year to take out big loans and put the proceeds into the pension system. There’s been one big problem: the city still doesn’t have its credit rating back and can’t get to Wall Street to borrow any money.

So Sanders and Co. had to come up with a creative method that uses the tobacco revenues to borrow the money (Wall Street essentially has a lot of confidence in the tobacco revenues and therefore isn’t too worried about the city’s overall creditworthiness).

That creativity doesn’t go far enough, labor leaders said last week. Although it does use $10.1 million of the $17.3 in savings, the contracts require that all of the $17.3 million be used to borrow, they said.

The Mayor’s Office plans to put the leftover $7.2 million that’s not leveraged directly into the pension system and take a crack at using it to leverage more money in fiscal year 2007, when the city hopefully gets it credit rating back.

The council is now slated to take up the issue on April 24.

“We basically wanted to explore the issue further and be able to meet with the council members before hand,” said Lakshmi Kommi, deputy director of financing services.

Two other questions surround the proposal: whether the $100 million infusion will really have any significant impact on pension deficit and whether the city’s share of tobacco revenues will be as strong in the future as it has been in the past.


Bowman Bolts

San Diego Fire Chief Jeff Bowman will resign from the city’s Fire-Rescue Department, effective June 30.

The Mayor’s Office made the announcement at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, but the reason for Bowman’s departure was not immediately provided.


Mouse House

An article posted by the Columbia News Service which I came across thanks to the New York Times real estate blog The Walk Through, details the growing phenomenon of small houses (No pun intended).

The piece offers, as an example, the home of Gregory Johnson, a technology consultant in Iowa City. Johnson lives in a 70-square-foot wooden house on wheels that’s parked in his parent’s backyard.

That’s right, 70 square feet.

“On vacation most people would love to go and live in some little cottage somewhere, a one-room sparsely furnished facility,” the article quotes Johnson as saying. “Nobody ever thinks to live like that on a day-to-day basis. But what I do is, I try to live every day as though it’s a vacation.”

He’s not alone.

Johnson has founded the Small House Society, an organization dedicated to “the promotion of tiny houses and small housing solutions that are affordable and ecologically responsible.”

Tiny houses are better for the environment, are more sustainable in the light of a growing population, and are just downright cozier, the organization says.

Wonder how much a 70-foot home would cost in San Diego? Probably a lot more than in Iowa.


Doggone Closure

A water main broke overnight in the San Diego neighborhood of Grantville, forcing the precautionary closure of Dog Beach in Ocean Beach, leaving 150 residents without water and sending children from a nearby preschool home after sewage-tainted runoff flooded four classrooms.

The 10:30 p.m. break beneath Twain and Estrella avenues spilled 3 million gallons of drinking water. About 20,000 gallons forced their way into a nearby manhole, overwhelmed the sewer system and popped two nearby manhole covers, said Charles Yackly, acting director of the city Water Department.

About 2,000 gallons of raw sewage mixed with the water, which flowed through the neighborhood, into a nearby canyon and then the San Diego River. But the volume overwhelmed the storm-water collection system in the area, and some water flooded the sanctuary at Mission Valley Church of the Nazarene, said Tedi Jackson, a Water Department spokeswoman. Four classrooms in the church’s preschool were also flooded, sending 60 preschoolers home.

Mayor Jerry Sanders toured the area earlier today, then spoke at a hastily called press conference where he said the break wasn’t a result of the city’s ongoing financial problems. The cement pipe that burst was installed in 1952 and should’ve lasted 70 years, Sanders said. While the city has 300 miles of aging cast-iron pipes it is slowly replacing, that wasn’t the issue here, the mayor said. Sanders emphasized: The city’s financial woes weren’t the cause.

“I think it’s important to put into context,” Sanders said. “I believe this was a routine thing.”


Council Gifts Part II

In the running theme detailing the gifts that San Diego elected officials reported receiving in 2005, we now turn our attention to a few of the other council members.

Councilwoman Toni Atkins received two tickets to the San Diego Economic Development Corp.’s annual dinner valued at $116; one theater ticket worth $75 from Wells Fargo’s Dean Thorp; two tickets to Hotel Solamar’s grand opening worth $200; an $85 ticket to the Tom Homann Law Association’s annual dinner; $100 in flowers from Greg Lambron of the Helix Land Co.; $75 from Jim Whalen, who is referred to as both a development and conservation consultant in news articles; $175 in flowers from two individuals active in the gay and lesbian community; $75 in flowers from the Imperial Court de San Diego; $107 in flowers from the San Diego Democratic Club; and a $55 concert ticket from country musician Dwight Yoakam.

Councilman Brian Maienschein, who like Atkins reported no investments, recorded receiving five lunch or dinners throughout 2005, including: a $50 dinner from consultant Bernie Rhinerson; a $125 lunch at the USCD CONNECT Hall of Fame luncheon from Duane Roth; a $146 dinner from Tony Renda (please write me if you know who this is); a $250 Lincoln Club dinner from defense and technology contractor SAIC; and a $175 holiday dinner from the Old Pros, a community group in Scripps Ranch.

Councilwoman Donna Frye reported accepting flowers from former judge and politician Larry Stirling; a $150 award and invitation from San Diego Magazine; a $50 Woman of the Year gift bag from Cloey V. Hewlet of the San Francisco law firm of Prestine, Gates & Ellis; a $300 framed poster from professional photographer Bob Covarrubias; an $80 necklace and earring ensemble from April Star Davis, a local jeweler; a $50 bracelet from the Bayside Community Center; and a $150 plaque of Franklin Delano Roosevlet from Irene H. Rose. 

(See below for information on Councilmen Scott Peters and Jim Madaffer and Mayor Jerry Sanders. And please write to andrew.donohue@voiceofsandiego.org with any examples of how the listed donors do business with the city.)


Council Gifts

Monday, April 3, 2006 — 10:43 p.m.

The city released today the statements of economic interest for its elected officials and the winner appears to be Council President Scott Peters, whose investment report covered an impressive 32 pages and included holdings in everything from Argentinean petroleum companies to blue-chip U.S. firms.

As far as gifts go, in 2005 Peters accepted a $150 dinner from the San Diego County Water Authority, a $63 basket of cookies from the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation, a $195 dinner from the Building Industry Association and an $80 tote bag of accessories from Southern California Edison.

Councilman Jim Madaffer owns the Mission Times Courier newspaper and an assortment of stock. He also received commission between $10,001 and $100,000 from USANA Health Sciences in Salt Lake City, a health company that sells its “network marketing” sales structure as much as its products. 

Madaffer reported the following gifts for 2005: $105 in plants from former politician and judge Larry Stirling, more than $57 in food from our friends at The San Diego Union-Tribune; a $150 ticket to San Diego Magazine’s 50 People to Watch party; a $58 dinner from Cox Communications; a $79 concert ticket to the House of Blues; a $275 and a $25 dinner from homebuilder Sherm Harmer; a $50 dinner from Poseidon Resources, the firm that wants to build a desalination plant in Carlsbad; a $122.83 reception and dinner from Waste Management; a $59 ticket to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” from the Old Globe Theater; a $200 ticket from the Lodging Industry Association for the Nice Guy of the Year Annual Gala; $100 seat at former CCDC President Peter Hall’s retirement dinner from consultant Bernie Rhinerson; a $56 dinner from William D. Lynch to the Lincoln Club’s annual dinner; a holiday cookie basket worth $63 from the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation; and a $197.49 dinner from Southern California Edison.

Please check back with voiceofsandiego.org periodically Tuesday for more information on the economic interests of the city’s other elected officials. (A detail of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ report can be found below.)


Mayor’s Net Worth

Your city of San Diego officials had to file statements today telling you what kind of money they’ve got, where it’s invested and what other kinds of cool, free goodies they get from their pals.

New Mayor Jerry Sanders reported two investments each totaling somewhere between $10,001 and $100,000. One is with a hedge fund through Maxxum Equity Fund and the other in risk capital with Coronado First Bank.

He also is a partner in two businesses. The former police chief lists his investment as a partner in the firm Willow Creek Partners LLC, which markets homeland security databases, at more than $1,000,000. Sanders records an investment of between $10,001 and $100,000 in Virtual Capital of California, a technology start up of which he is a partner. Sanders listed his gross income from each endeavor to be between zero dollars and $499.

Sanders recorded income of between $10,001 and $100,000 from the San Diego State University Research Foundation for consultant services through Willow Creek. He also recorded income of between $10,001 and $100,000 from his position as partner with NXT Group LLC of San Diego, which, according to Sanders’ forms, licenses technology for homeland defense.

The mayor also accepted framed artwork valuing $170 from National University Chancellor Jerry Lee, $68 in See’s Candy from KUSI-TV owner Mike McKinnon and a DNA test kit and video worth $99.95 from Avalon Capital Group, a private investment group that’s said to have holdings in real estate, healthcare, technology and finance.

Please check back with voiceofsandiego.org periodically as we review the finances of all of San Diego’s elected officials.


Salary Freeze

The City Council accepted the Salary Setting Commission’s suggestion today that council members freeze their own salaries for the coming fiscal year.

The commission recommended that council members not receive a pay raise in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. However, the panel suggested that the council consider in a year from now a 25-percent salary boost in order to keep the council member position attractive to prospective candidates.

Mayor Jerry Sanders now makes $100,464 and each City Council member makes $75,386, annually.


Boarded Up

Kennedy, a former administrator at the University of California, San Diego, said he worked as a manager for the university’s systemwide pension system for seven years. The council unanimously approved his appointment to the board.

Kennedy and retired banker Peter Q. Davis, who was appointed last week, bring the 13-seat San Diego City Employee’s Retirement System board closer to full strength after several trustees have left the board in the wake of criminal investigations, threatened lawsuits and calls for their resignation. The council confirmed Davis, a former mayoral candidate, last week.

The board now only lacks a representative from the Mayor’s Office.


IB Water Safe

The water at Imperial Beach is ready for your surfboard. Just in time for some more rain.

The county’s Department of Environmental Health deemed IB’s water “clean” yesterday. It had been closed since March 29.

The water remains off-limits at Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. The Tijuana River’s sewage-polluted storm runoff has kept that area closed since Feb. 21.


Curfew Costs Climb

Monday, April 3, 2006 — 2:29 p.m.

Breaking curfew at Lindbergh Field just got more expensive.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority doubled the fines its levies against airlines that break the noise curfew, which is enforced against departures between 11:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.

A first offense in a quarter doubles to $2,000; second offenses to $6,000; third offenses to $10,000. The new fines take effect July 1.

Airlines violated the curfew 41 times last year, a jump from 23 in 2004. Fines had not been increased since they were introduced in 1989.


Nada Bank

The continuing debate about the future of the North American Development Bank got a national audience today, as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page criticized the bank, a rare source of funding for cross-border health issues in Mexico and the United States

The WSJ took a dig (subscription required) at what’s commonly called the NAD Bank, instead dubbing it the “Nada Bank.”

The bank, an offshoot of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has been criticized for ineffectively managing loans for projects such as street paving and wastewater treatment plants. While the bank has distributed $600 million in grants, it has simply been administering them for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which provides the funding. Since its founding in 1995, the bank has loaned $104 million and has another $100 million in loans pending — while spending $60 million on administrative costs.

We wrote about it two weeks ago, when border-area legislators were concerned that it might close. The U.S. Treasury Department later backed off that threat.

“But if economic development is the goal, there are better ways to allocate NAD bank capital than spending it in the NAD bank bureaucracy,” the editorial says. “As the bank itself says, if it were closed down, ‘Mexican capital would likely be transferred to a domestic development bank.’ Sounds good to us.”


Keeping Their Appointments

The idea of a five-member elected San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board of directors isn’t very appealing to the current nine-member appointed board.

But at their meeting this morning, board members said their opposition to a proposed Assembly bill that would restructure the authority wasn’t an attempt at self-preservation, instead citing concerns about special-interest groups usurping the authority’s reigns.

Assemblyman Jay La Suer, R-La Mesa, is drafting legislation that would restructure the authority board. Under his proposal, its members would be elected, have terms limits and be paid a salary tied to those of Assembly members — currently $110,000.

La Suer has asked for input from the board, which was clearly skeptical today during their first public comments on the bill. Board member Paul A. Peterson said switching to an elected board creates the possibility that professional politicians and special interest groups would be the only ones willing to run for office. With districts full of hundreds of thousands of people, Peterson estimated running a successful election campaign would require $500,000 to $1 million. With the airport site selection issue theoretically dealt with by November, Peterson was clearly curious: Who would spend that?

“I assure you that my comments have nothing to do with protecting my job,” Peterson said. “I’m trying to think of good government.”

Other board members had other concerns. Paul G. Nieto opposed paying salaries to board members. (He and a majority of other board members serve for free. Only two, executive committee members Xema Jacobson and Joe Craver are paid. They receive $149,160 annually and fellow executive committee member William Lynch eschews his salary.)

Mary Teresa Sessom, who also serves as Lemon Grove’s mayor, said she worried this was just the Legislature’s opening salvo against the authority’s management structure, which was established three years ago.

Craver, the board chairman, said a review of other airport authorities in the United States found none that is elected.

The board did not make a formal decision to oppose the legislation, which has not yet been introduced, but asked for a detailed analysis of it. That’s due in two weeks.


The redevelopment project at the Navy Broadway Complex was unveiled at a Monday morning press conference, giving the public its first glimpse at the facelift developer Doug Manchester plans to give the aging naval facility.

The project, now known as Pacific Gateway, will require Manchester to replace the drab gray office buildings with new state-of-the-art facilities for the Navy but will allow him to sublease remaining parts of the property for hotels, museums and retail space. Exact terms of the lease between the Navy and Manchester are expected to be finalized by September.

The land, located on the west side of downtown near the bay, stretches from Seaport Village to Lane Field.

The Navy awarded exclusive negotiating rights to Manchester on Friday after a bidding process that drew criticism from community members because of the secret nature that federal procurement rules require. Mayor Jerry Sanders and Centre City Development Corp. President Nancy Graham announced that the planning process going forward will include 10 public workshops and meetings, and that the project will be subject to CCDC and the City Council review.

The first workshop will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Westgate Hotel, 1055 Second Ave. The other meetings will be posted on the CCDC site later Monday, along with electronic files that detail the project’s tentative plans, a CCDC spokeswoman said.

The Navy property was spared by the recent round of base closures made by Congress and the Pentagon after the city and Navy decided to redevelop the parcel, which includes drab office and warehouse buildings and sprawling parking lots. Under the conditions of the agreement, Navy Region Southwest must keep the current administrative functions on the property and retain ownership of the property.


Broadway Broadcasted

The Navy confirmed Friday that the Manchester Financial Group has been selected to redevelop the Navy Broadway Complex, awarding the local developer the right to build on and lease the nearly 15-acre waterfront property.

The announcement comes after a controversial selection process that was kept secret from the public. Navy officials said federal procurement rules prevented the bids from becoming public.

Manchester Financial Group is headed by Doug Manchester, a politically active developer who owns hotels such as the Manchester Grand Hyatt and the San Diego Marriot Hotel & Marina near the Navy property.

The Navy property was spared by the recent round of base closures made by Congress and the Pentagon after the city and Navy decided to redevelop the parcel, which includes drab office and warehouse buildings and sprawling parking lots. Under the conditions of the agreement, Navy Region Southwest must keep the current administrative functions on the property and retain ownership of the property.

City leaders hailed the arrangement as a way to provide input on the property as the North Embarcadero is planned to undergo a facelift to provide the city with a “front porch” for San Diego. The city of San Diego, port district, county, Navy and the Centre City Development Corp. are all working to implement the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, which plans for a promenade along the harbor for jogging and walking, the development of hotels on Lane Field and a “grand entrance” that stretches from the Santa Fe train depot to San Diego Bay.

Manchester has the ability to lease the property for 75 years or more, but will be required to build the Navy’s facilities and adhere to federal building rules and the city’s planning laws. Any development on the Navy Broadway Complex is subject to review by CCDC and the San Diego City Council.

A formal announcement of the agreement will be made Monday.


Mayor: Will Work for Money

Mayor Jerry Sanders said he has been assured by the Department of Homeland Security that the agency will reevaluate the decision to take San Diego off the list of areas that are “high risk” terrorist targets.

“I am pleased that the Department of Homeland Security was wiling to listen to our concerns and take another look at border proximity and the presence of military bases as risk factors,” Sanders said in a press statement Thursday.

Sanders has been in Washington, D.C., since Wednesday to lobby for more anti-terrorism dollars. The city of San Diego’s risk stats was downgraded earlier this year and may be ineligible for the Homeland Security Department grants if it remains on the list through next year.


Pension PR Bills

The San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System spent $61,092.47 on public relations and strategic communications from mid-2003 until early 2005, according to SDCERS records.


Take Two

After being a no-show to Tuesday’s City Council hearing, Wayne Kennedy will get another shot at being appointed to the retirement board next week.

The council confirmed Mayor Jerry Sanders’ nomination of retired banker and former Port District Chairman Peter Q. Davis to the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System board, but postponed Sanders nominee Kennedy because he was absent from the hearing.

Kennedy, a former administrator at the University of California, San Diego, will get another shot at cracking the SDCERS squad at Monday’s council meeting. Pending confirmation, Kennedy would replace former trustee James Hearty, who resigned in January.


Surfing for Legal Turf

The battle has been resparked between San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre and several council members over the ability to authorize lawsuits on behalf of the city.

Councilman Jim Madaffer asked in a memo this week that the council be given a chance, either open or closed session, to weigh in on the conflict-of-interest lawsuit 

Aguirre claims Chapin used her position as a then-deputy city attorney to secure herself a job as the in-house lawyer for the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System in 1998.

Madaffer said he was “particularly concerned over the possibility of a malicious prosecution lawsuit,” claiming that the city was vulnerable to pay damages and attorney fees that would result from such a complaint. Aguirre should have to explain the lawsuit, Madaffer said.

“I believe that the City should not be responsible for such damages and fees as this case was not authorized by the Council,” Madaffer told Mayor Jerry Sanders and Council President Scott Peters. “Therefore, these issues need to be addressed by the City Attorney to the entire Council so that the Council can make an informed decision as to the necessity of continuing such a course of action.”

Aguirre contends that he can rightfully file lawsuits on behalf of the city without the council’s approval because he is the independently elected head of the city’s legal department.


Totally Un-Kaloogian

Local congressional candidate Howard Kaloogian has fired up quite the Internet frenzy in recent days.

The former assemblyman, who is vying to replace former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham in the 50th district, recently posted a picture on his campaign Web site that was supposedly of downtown Baghdad.

He used the picture and commentary to demonstrate how Baghdad was more peaceful than was being portrayed by the U.S. media’s coverage of the war.

Except, it turns out the tranquil-looking place in the photo wasn’t really Baghdad at all. It was Istanbul. Which is in Turkey.

After bloggers had a field day with the mistake, the candidate posted a new picture on his Web site, accompanied once again with the same criticism of the media’s coverage of the war.

Check out some of the uproar on political blog Talking Points Memo and on Editor and Publisher.


Inventory Up

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 — 1:39 p.m.

The number of downtown condos for sale edged up again after a one-week respite from almost week-on-week increases since the beginning of the year.

According to figures compiled by Lew Breeze, a Little Italy Realtor who has been keeping inventory statistics since 2003, there were 477 condos listed for sale in the 92101 ZIP code. Breeze compiles his data from the Multiple Listings Service.

The median price for downtown condos jumped up from last week, however, coming in at $640,000 compared to $636,250 in the third week of March.

Countywide, however, there was no break in the continual march upwards in inventory numbers.

The latest figures from ZIP Realty, a real estate market information service, show that there were 18,203 homes listed on the MLS as of Tuesday. That’s a big jump from 18,060 on March 23. The record inventory level for San Diego County is 19,000 homes and was reached in July 1995.

At this rate, we should see record levels of inventory by the middle of April.


Once Again

Another rainfall. Another beach closure.

Sewage-tainted runoff from last night’s rainfall closed beaches as far north as Coronado. Northward currents pushed the foul stuff north from the Tijuana River.

It’s the latest closure for the beaches in southern San Diego. Water access at Tijuana Slough Wildlife Refuge has been closed since Feb. 21 after a quarter-inch of rain fell.


Dancing Partners

Another one of those blogs dedicated to squeezing every last drop of data out of the real estate market, the San Diego Real Estate Report gives about as comprehensive an analysis of the market as any site I’ve seen.

It also offers up some gems from time to time, and I especially like the analogy it has up currently for the county’s real estate market:

“Do you remember your first high school dance? The girls stood on one side of the gym and the boys stood on the other. The teachers were cajoling the boys to go over and ask a girl to dance. A few boys made the move and soon there were a few boys and girls dancing in the middle of the basketball court. That’s what the real estate market is like in San Diego County right now. The only difference is you have to pay for this dance.”

“Sellers are on one side with their houses all prettied up waiting for buyers to come and make an offer. Buyers are on the other side, looking, looking, looking. Every now and then a real estate agent will get the two together to dance.”

Of course, the only problem is that this is a very expensive dance. Not all the kids can afford the cover charge, that’s why many are waiting at the door, waiting for the price to come down.

The girls are going to have to work out whether it’s worth lowering their standards to dance, or whether they are going to go home feeling disappointed.


Emergency Fund Tapped

The City Council tapped into its emergency reserve fund today to pay for legal bills connected to the ongoing investigations into City Hall finances, explicitly opening the reserve fund for the first time in its fiscal crisis.

The Mayor’s Office said it had no choice but to open up the reserves to cover the $1.87 million expense, and the move exposed a number of past budgeting practices that new CFO Jay Goldstone described as “unusual” and “unsound.”

“This did not come lightly,” he said. “Typically, once you establish a reserve fund it should only be used in emergency.”

In a memo to the council explaining the use of reserves, Goldstone said his staff has identified $45 million in salaries and $35 million in revenues that were not recorded in the city’s fiscal year 2006 budget, but that will have to be recorded at year’s end.

“It is very, very unusual,” Goldstone said. “That is not the way you budget.”

He said that he was told such budgeting was a directive from the City Manager’s Office and had been going on for at least five or six years.

Goldstone said a number of atypical budget practices have left the city with a dishonest budget that does not accurately reflect its costs and revenues and has left its reserve fund vulnerable. He said the money for the legal bills likely would have eventually come from the reserve fund under previous budgeting principles, and that explicitly noting where the money was coming from was a more honest way of budgeting.

Previously, when the council has been asked to pay legal and consultant services related to the financial investigations and fiscal crisis, staff has recommended tapping into specific revenue sources that are projected to raise more money than previously budgeted. For example, if property tax revenues are expected to raise $10 more than previously thought, those funds were used to cover the unforeseen legal expenses.

However, that type of budgeting does not take into account that other revenue sources could finish the year below what was projected. That appears to have been the case in fiscal year 2005, when the reserve fund appears to have been tapped to cover a budget shortfall at the end of the year, Goldstone said.

The new administration, he said, has chosen to take the money from the reserve upfront and promised to replenish it either with fiscal year 2006 surplus money or funds from the upcoming 2007 budget cycle as they go about rearranging the city’s funds.

The city’s reserves are approximately $32 million, or 3.7 percent of its general fund budget. The city’s Blue Ribbon Committee on City Finances recommended in 2002 that the city’s reserve levels be at 7 percent to 10 percent. At the time, they were at about 4 percent.

A reserve fund is important to a municipality’s ability to withstand fiscal crisis, sudden downturns in the economy or emergency.

Please see Monday’s This Just In entry below for exact details on the legal bills approved today.


SDCERS: Undo Deals

The retirement board has asked a court to force the city to make up for its past practice of underfunding its pension plan, asking in a court filing last week that a judge nullify the two controversial pension funding deals that allowed the city to skirt its annual bill.

The lawsuit alleges, in part, that some current and former City Council members had a conflict of interest in approving two pension agreements.

While the retirement board did not list a dollar figure that the city owed to the pension fund, a separate but similar lawsuit is seeking a pension payment of between $174 million and $180 million to make up for underfunding practices that date back to 1996.

The court filing is the most recent episode in a series of legal battles between the city and San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System. Both sides are aiming to whittle down the city’s behemoth $1.39 billion pension deficit from different angles: The city is challenging the legality of enhanced pension benefits that are doled out by SDCERS, while the retirement system’s latest complaint shows that it is seeking from the city a larger payment into the pension plan.

Check tomorrow’s edition for complete coverage.


Update on Date

The date on yesterday’s This Just In posting informing readers to City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s forum for future leaders contained an error.

We originally wrote that the forum would be held on Wednesday — as in tomorrow. However, it will in fact take place on Wednesday, April 5.

We apologize for the error and have made the change. The forum, designed to teach tomorrow’s leaders of the future impacts of the pension problem, will be held in council chambers on the 12th floor of the City Administration Building at 202 C St.


PSA for a Day

Almost 19 years have passed since Pacific Southwest Airlines called San Diego home. But US Airways, which purchased the company in 1987, is reviving the old airline’s look, dedicating a PSA-era throwback airplane Thursday.

Check out pictures of the plane, which is styled after the old aircraft and features the smiling cockpit that evokes memories of Snoopy.

US Airways is inviting retired PSA employees to come celebrate with company CEO Doug Parker.


New Name, Same Voice

We are excited to announce that we have legally changed our name to voiceofsandiego.org. Adding the “.org” to our official name in a variety of settings will help new readers find our site easier. We ask that readers, supporters and our media friends use the new name in reference to our daily, nonprofit, local news publication.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

voiceofsandiego.org Staff

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