Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Thursday, May 4, 2006 — 8:21 p.m.

The City Council must revote on the $16.2 million it’s authorized over the last year for the private consultants probing City Hall because Council President Scott Peters owned as much as $100,000 in stock in the consultant’s parent company when the contracts, the city attorney ruled today.

Peters, who has said he was unaware of the holding amongst his vast portfolio until notified by a voiceofsandiego.org reporter, agreed to docket the item next week before the City Council. Although it is likely the council will continue with the work of the controversial consultants and approve the contracts again, a revote means the council will be forced to reaffirm their support for a group of consultants that have repeatedly broken deadlines and budget estimates.

The consultants, usually referred to as the audit committee, come from two firms, the consulting firm Kroll Inc. and law firm Wilkie, Farr & Gallagher. Last month, a voiceofsandiego.org article revealed that Peters owned stock in Marsh & McLennan Cos., the parent company of Kroll. The council president, whose wife’s stock ownership is vast, said he didn’t know of the stock issue but promised to sit out further audit committee votes or sell the stock, as he has done in similar situations in the past.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre, in an opinion released Thursday, said that it was unknown if Peters violated state conflict-of-interest laws because the council president hadn’t turned over details regarding the purchase of the stock.

However, because his votes have “the appearance of impropriety” the council should vote again on the issue and Peters should abstain from participating or sell his stock, according to the ruling.

Peters, however, was unsure Thursday whether he would recuse himself from another round of votes on the Kroll’s contract.

The audit committee is scheduled to receive another $4.1 million boost to its contract at the City Council hearing, as the audit committee’s latest deadline was again pushed back to June. The payment would bring its total bill up to $20.3 million. It was estimated at the time of hire the work could be done for as little as $300,000.

ANDREW DONOHUE

Police Puzzle

At this morning’s city budget hearing, several City Council members hinted that they would not support the mayor’s budget unless more money was spent next year to replenish the police force.

The Police Department is currently losing 16 officers per month, and council members have said they are becoming increasingly worried about the departure of officers, many who are retiring or moving to better paying law enforcement agencies.

The city’s conflict with cops has extended onto the bargaining table and local television screens and into the courtroom over the past year.

“I can’t see me voting for this budget as long as we continue this charade,” Councilman Jim Madaffer said.

One solution that Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin suggested was to hire 30 civilians to perform desk jobs that are currently being carried out by sworn officers so that those badge-and-gun cops could return as patrol officers.

Adding more employees would undoubtedly cost the city more, but using civilians for those 30 positions instead of sworn officers would save the city about $40,000 per worker, police officials said.

Today’s hearing is the second of three meetings. Also on today’s docket are fire, water, wastewater, trash collection and hotel tax.

Yesterday’s hearing was about the spending plans for parks and libraries.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

A New MLS?

An article on Inman News, an independent real estate news service says a real estate industry think tank has been debating the future of the Multiple Listings Service, the service which currently has a near-monopoly over real estate listings.

According to the article, a paper prepared by Anne Hale Bailey, president of Pranix consulting company, suggests that “MLS organizations must incorporate the brokerage firms as key decision makers for MLS policies, strategies, products and services.” The paper also dismisses several new models for MLS systems, according to the article.

As the article points out, the paper is timely given the current debate over the use of the internet as a marketing and informational tool for buyers and sellers of property.

Here at the voiceofsandiego.org, we have been keeping track of many of the new technologies out there that allow buyers and sellers of property to contact each other and to establish relationships online before ever meeting in person.

Zillow.com, redfin.com and Trulia.com are all examples of Web sites that have sprung up in the last year to cater to buyers and sellers of real estate.

The article describes how the research paper came about:

“Several MLSs created a ‘think tank’ to address industry issues, and this group met in February to discuss the future of the MLS, according to the paper. Participants included 37 broker-owners, branch managers and senior officers; 35 MLS and Realtor association staff; 15 lawyers; and 17 MLS leaders who are re-evaluating the role and core purpose of the MLS. The discussion paper ‘is not meant to be an all-inclusive view of the future of the MLS, but simply to identify some of the issues and potential solutions,’ according to the report’s executive summary.”

You can read the whole article.

WILL CARLESS

Go East, Young Man

A coalition of Nevada development groups is pushing the Nevada-is-better-than-California line with a new campaign called “Missing.”

As in the Hollywood sign is missing and is probably going to turn up in Nevada, along with some businesses that chose Nevada over California.

A release put out by the group — led by the Nevada Economic Development Partnership — says more California businesses and residents are bolting the Golden State and moving to the Silver State. Check out the Website.

“We chose Reno over San Diego and other bio-tech cities because we feel like we are wanted in Nevada and that they need our business. We never felt that in California,” Steven Sanders, chairman/CEO of Biotique Systems said in the news release. The company moved its headquarters to Nevada from Emeryville. “California has one of the top economies in the world and they can’t balance their budget. By taxing companies, they are going to leave. That’s not going to cut it.”

ROB DAVIS

Chula Vista Charging

The Chula Vista City Council is slated to vote next week on the formation of a committee to handle the city’s possible push to negotiate with the Chargers over a new stadium, a councilman said in an interview today.

The council met last night but couldn’t vote on the item because it didn’t have enough time to publicly notice the measure before the meeting. So, the body will take up the issue Tuesday.

John McCann, the councilman who has been spearheading the attempt to talk with the professional football squad, said he envisions a committee comprised of two council members and other community members. 

“This is the first step, definitely,” he said. Parties from Oceanside and National City have also expressed interest as well.

McCann said he will also be scheduling a meeting with a consultant from HomeFed Corp., a local residential developer that owns 3,000 acres of land in Chula Vista’s Otay Ranch and has also shown interest in teaming with the Chargers.

Get the full skinny on the team’s stall with the city of San Diego and HomeFed’s potential proposal here.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Not Quite Impasse

The City Council has scheduled impasse hearings for its Monday meeting should the Mayor’s Office and two employee unions fail to come to an agreement in the coming days.

Unions representing firefighters and deputy city attorneys are currently engaged in negotiations on salary and benefit contracts, but have been unable to ink a deal to date. Meetings have been scheduled for the coming days on the hopes of striking an agreement before Monday.

“We are going to the last minute trying to reach agreement,” said Katie Keach, a spokeswoman for the firefighters union.

If a contract cannot be inked and an impasse is declared, the city can impose a one-year contract upon the union. The City Council imposed a one-year contract on the Police Officers Association on Monday.

Firefighters and the deputy city attorneys signed one-year contracts last year. City Hall’s other two unions, which represent white- and blue-collar workers, are operating on three-year contracts that expire in 2008.

Keach said the firefighters union has asked for less than what the police union requested.

ANDREW DONOHUE

Who Authorized What?

The simmering imbroglio continued today over whether or not the City Council authorized City Attorney Mike Aguirre to bring his big pension lawsuit on behalf of the city of San Diego, as the city attorney and Council President Scott Peters reiterated their claims that the other is misrepresenting what was authorized in a closed hearing last August.  

Aguirre called a press conference this afternoon to emphasize his contention that the City Council authorized his legal challenge to a decades’ worth of employee pension benefit enhancements in a closed hearing in August. (According to California law, the council may discuss specific legal matters behind closed doors.)

The judge presiding over the high-profile legal challenge has demanded that Aguirre provide transcripts backing up his claim that he was authorized to bring the suit in the city’s name.

Aguirre also said that the council violated the state’s public meeting yesterday by voting in closed session to release a transcript of its August closed session hearing because the issue was not properly noticed to the public.

In a press release, Peters maintained that the vote was proper. However, he asked the City Clerk’s Office to docket it again Monday for another vote with specific language notifying the public that the transcript’s attorney-client privilege could be waived.

“There is clearly confusion in the pension litigation about what the City Council authorized last summer,” Peters said in his press release.

Read more about the issue here.

ANDREW DONOHUE

Judge: Cross Must Go

A federal judge ordered today that the Mount Soledad Cross must be removed within 90 days or the city of San Diego will be fined $5,000 every day the monument remains standing.

U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson ruled in 1991 that the cross was unconstitutional because it stands on city land and is an overt display of religious affiliation. Last summer, James McElroy, an attorney for plaintiff and atheist Philip Paulson, who has been calling for the removal of the cross for more than two decades, filed a motion to enforce Thompson’s ruling.

Thompson ruled on that motion yesterday when he said that the time had come for the Soledad cross to be removed from Mount Soledad once and for all.

“I think it’s finally over,” said McElroy. “I think the fact that they’re going to have to pay $5,000 a day is not something they’re going to want to put on the taxpayers’ backs.”

Please check tomorrow’s edition for complete coverage.

— WILL CARLESS 

Downtown Sells Condos

After six straight weeks of inventory rises, downtown San Diego unloaded some condos last week, according to figures compiled by downtown Realtor Lew Breeze.

As of today, 491 condos were for sale in the 92101 ZIP code, down from 504 last week. Median price stayed the same over the period.

There was no sign of a let up in county-wide inventory rises, however. ZipRealty, a local real estate broker is currently reporting 19,461 homes listed for sale in the county — that’s a new record.

— WILL CARLESS

Redevelopment Renewed

Mayor Jerry Sanders will be the executive director of the city’s Redevelopment Agency for at least another year, the council decided today.

Because the mayor was removed from the council under the strong-mayor form of government, he was effectively booted from the legislative body that also oversees the Redevelopment Agency as well. The council voted last year to temporarily allow Sanders to be the top administrator for the agency until the end of June, and Tuesday’s vote extended that privilege for an additional year.

The strong-mayor form of government will expire in 2010 unless voters choose to extend it.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Charging Ahead

A Chula Vista city councilman said in an interview this afternoon that he will ask his council colleagues tonight to begin considering the Chargers stadium issue. He hopes to form a council subcommittee and begin talks with the team.

“From my vantage point, we’d be interested in looking at talking to the Chargers and seeing what they have to offer,” said Councilman John McCann.

HomeFed Corp., a residential development company based in Carlsbad, has expressed interest in talking with the Chargers and owns about 3,000 acres of land in Chula Vista’s Otay Ranch, as we reported today.

Any new stadium site would likely need to be accompanied by some form of residential development, and the team would need a development partner. The proceeds from home or condo sales would wholly or partially finance the construction of a new stadium.

“It makes a lot of sense,” McCann said of Otay Ranch as a possible stadium site.

He cited the nearby Olympic Training Center, the planned construction of a four-year university, and the building of the South Bay Expressway — State Route 125 — as evidence that the Otay Ranch area is a viable location for a professional football stadium.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Foreclosures Rising

There were more foreclosures in California the first quarter of 2006 than in any other quarter over the last two years, a local real estate information service reported today.

DataQuick Information Systems reported that lending institutions sent out 18,668 default notices to California homeowners between January and March. DataQuick said that’s up 23.4 percent from the prior quarter, and up 28.7 percent from the first quarter of 2005.

“A number of factors are driving defaults higher,” DataQuick President Marshall Prentice was quoted in a press release as saying. “The main one right now is that home values are rising more slowly than they have been the past couple of years, which makes it more difficult for homeowners to sell their homes and pay off the lender. Other factors that influence default activity include the amount of equity people have in their property, the type of mortgage they used and how long they’ve had that mortgage.”

Price appreciation was at 12.4 percent in California in the first quarter of 2006, according to DataQuick. That figure was notably lower in San Diego, where home values climbed 4.8 percent. In the same period, default activity was up 59.7 percent, DataQuick reported.

— WILL CARLESS

NFL Times Two

Tuesday, May 2, 2006 — 12:36 p.m.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said Los Angeles needs a football team. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks it needs two.

“There is enough room and enough audience to have two teams,” Schwarzenegger said, according to the Associated Press. “We just have to all work together and make it happen.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle joined Schwarzenegger at a Dallas press conference to tout the city’s capacity for two football teams, the AP reported. Eleven NFL owners were meeting in Dallas to talk about the league’s plan to bring football back to Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest television market.

The city hasn’t had a professional team since the Raiders bolted for Oakland and Rams left for St. Louis in 1994. (We don’t count the short-lived XFL team, the Los Angeles Xtreme.)

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Monday to allow the Chargers — who are looking for a new stadium deal — to talk with other local cities and the county before cities such as Los Angeles or Anaheim can swoop in.

— ROB DAVIS

No Police Contract

The City Council voted today to impose a one-year contract on the Police Officers Association, as the union was unable to forge a contract with city leadership for the second straight year.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Chargers Free

The City Council voted unanimously this afternoon to amend the city’s lease with the Chargers, giving the team the opportunity to negotiate with other cities within San Diego County.

Beginning Jan. 1, the team is free to talk about building a possible new stadium with any city. Officials hope today’s amendment will give local cities or the county a chance to talk with the team before officials from places such as San Antonio, Los Angeles or Las Vegas — thereby increasing the likelihood the team will stay in the San Diego region.

Mayor Jerry Sanders recommended the lease amendment last month, saying the city’s financial woes precluded any serious negotiations toward a new stadium.

Please check back later for full coverage.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Airport D-Day

June 5 is D-Day. At least for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. That’s the day they’ll make their culminating decision in the airport site-selection process.

(Yes, we know June 6 is actually D-Day, the 62nd anniversary of the Normandy invasion.)

Earlier today, the authority’s members extensively discussed when they should make their decision, how they’ll govern public comment at the meeting and what they’ll do if any board members have to leave — because they want all nine members there to vote.

In order to streamline the process, board member William D. Lynch suggested the board could limit public comment — perhaps to three or four hours of input. While members of the public currently are allotted three minutes to address the board, that could be trimmed on June 5. Chairman Joe Craver will have the discretion to tighten the limits.

Lynch suggested holding a separate meeting June 7 if the June 5 meeting runs long. But some board members bristled at the suggestion.

“We need to do our job on [June 5] like we’ve been telling people for three or four years,” board member Xema Jacobson said.

For more on today’s board meeting, check out voiceofsandiego.org tomorrow.

— ROB DAVIS

Diminishing Returns?

City Attorney Michael Aguirre said today that the city could not possibly valuate returns on pension obligation bonds because it does not have the proper financial statements to do so.

This weekend, The San Diego Union-Tribune, a local newspaper, wrote an article detailing Mayor Jerry Sanders’ plan to borrow $574 million for the pension system and cited figured from the retirement system indicating officials could expect to reap returns of 10.4 percent on its money.

In order to have success issuing pension obligation bonds, government leaders hope to earn more in investment returns on the borrowed money than they pay in interest on the loan. The Mayor’s Office hopes to issue bonds at about a 6 percent interest rate, while the pension system has reported investment gains of 10.42 percent

Aguirre questioned the investment returns reported by the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System.

“If someone year in and year out is saying you can count on 10.42 percent, on its face, that is not a proposition that has a lot of viability with me having spent 30 years in the investment field,” Aguirre said.

— SAM HODGSON

30 New Jobs

Mayor Jerry Sanders announced today that if his budget proposal is certified by the City Council, it will include $2.8 million in funding for the hiring of an additional 30 public service officers.

The allocation would double the number of public services officers, replacing the positions that were cut from last year’s budget. Formerly called community service officers, the public services officers aren’t sworn officers but are able to perform routine law enforcement and work as community liaisons, oftentimes in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where language and cultural barriers can be an impediment to policing. 

The plan is a part of Sanders’ proposed $38 million increase to this year’s public safety budget, including $24.2 million in additional funds to the San Diego Police Department.

The city’s Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said earlier this week that the purported $24.2 million increase may in fact be closer to $9 million because about 17 percent of the jobs in the budget will remain vacant.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the police officers’ salary and benefit contract today at 2 p.m. The two sides are expected to announce an impasse, in which case Sanders can impose a one-year contract on the Police Officers Association.

— SAM HODGSON

Naysayers in Town

After last week’s puff presentation by California Association of Realtors Deputy Chief Economist Robert Kleinhenz to the San Diego Association of Realtors regarding the lack of any real estate bubble, the other side of this debate is coming to town to offer some balance.

The University of California, Los Angeles Anderson Forecast team is heading south to San Diego on Wednesday to offer its opinions of what tragedies and triumphs are likely to come to America’s Finest City’s real estate market.

A full description of the event can be found on Anderson’s Web site.

These are the guys who have been crying “bubble bubble housing trouble” for the last four years, and have taken an earful from the rest of the economic community — not least the CAR people — for being such pessimists.

“Real estate values are rising, but it’s hard to tell what will happen in the coming year. Trade deficits, increasing energy costs and higher interest rates will tug the markets either way. Everyone who owns a home, rents a home, or is considering buying a home will be affected,” reads the overview of Wednesday’s symposium on Anderson’s Web site.

The event’s worth attending for anyone who’s interested in getting an insider’s view about the state of the city’s real estate.

It’s worth going if only to see them squirm when someone asks them where the bubble has been recently.

— WILL CARLESS

Inventory Hovers High

Last week, I wrote a story about San Diego County’s record-high home inventory. I looked at the issue from all sides of the spectrum and offered analysts a chance to predict what the numbers mean for San Diego’s home values.

In summary, what people said was that either the high inventories will result in lower prices, or the high number of homes on the market will eventually lead people to take their properties off the market, because they can’t get the price they want.

Right now, the county’s inventory seems to be dancing along this line, unsure where to go. Over the weekend, the inventory peaked again, at 19,450-plus homes for sale — the record, broken the weekend before last, was 19,250 homes for sale.

This morning, however, things have calmed down a bit. ZipRealty, a discount real estate brokerage, is reporting 19,282 homes for sale as of 15 minutes ago.

Either 200-plus homes sold in the last 48 hours, or a bunch of people decided it’s not worth keeping their homes out there and took them off the market.

Keep checking back for more inventory geeking out.

— WILL CARLESS

Keepin’ the Faith

It could be said that when the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 on Saturday night that it was the same old song for the Friars.

But fans exited the stadium to a different tune. Instead of walking out to the team theme song, which includes the line “Believe in the Padres and keep the faith,” the crowd was escorted by Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

The Padres have struggled to maintain high attendance numbers at Petco Park this season, although the abundance of Dodgers fans that filled the stadium this weekend helped pull the team’s numbers up.

Saturday’s game drew the largest crowd of the season with 44,337 fans attending. A total of 118,888 fans went through Petco Park this weekend. The Padres lost Friday and Saturday, but beat the Dodgers 6-5 in front of 38,116 on Sunday. The team’s record is now 9-15 and they remain in last place in the NL West.

— SAM HODGSON

Mad at Mexico

Local officials spoke out this afternoon against a bill passed in the Mexican Congress today that makes it legal to carry small amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin and marijuana just the other side of the border.

“It’s just plain dumb,” said Mayor Jerry Sanders, who noted that he called the White House and would contact Mexican President Vicente Fox about his opposition to the new law.

Fox is expected to sign the bill into law, news reports said. The reported intent of the bill is to provide Mexican law enforcement more resources to pursue drug lords by freeing up money that was being used to deter lesser offenders.

San Diego officials took turns sharing their disgust with Mexico’s decriminalization efforts, saying it would “stiffen” the immigration debate and jeopardize the public health and safety of Mexico and the San Diego region.

“One has to ask, ‘are the drug lords running the show?’ ” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis asked.

James Dunford, medical director for the city’s Emergency Medical Services, estimated that the amount of narcotics that an individual can carry in Mexico is about enough for 5 to 10 personal uses.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Another Stab at It

City Attorney Mike Aguirre asked a Superior Court judge today to reconsider his March decision that the pension system can choose its own legal counsel, arguing in court that his office should be representing the plan because it is a department of the city.

Judge Jeffrey Barton said last month that the City Attorney’s Office could not represent the pension plan in this conflict with the city last month after attorneys for the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System argued that the office would be conflicted.

Barton tentatively agreed to reconsider the decision based on a law that says a court can reweigh a dispute if new or different law, facts or circumstances become applicable.

Aguirre presented an argument that his office was not conflicted in representing both the city and the retirement system any more than the plan’s current set of attorneys, who are now defending pension-benefit deals they once opined to be corrupt. He also said that the interests of the SDCERS board of trustees do not mean they are the interests of retirement plan itself, referring to a state bar rule of professional conduct.

Michael Leone, the retirement system’s attorney, said the ruling should not be reconsidered because Aguirre was not bringing new facts, laws or circumstances to the table, but only new information that supported his defeated argument.

Barton said he would decide whether to reconsider the dispute in the next two weeks.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Market Creek Details

I’ve been getting a few e-mails asking me to provide more details about Market Creek Plaza.

More information can be found at www.marketcreekplaza.com.

Or, you can go to the Web site for the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation.

Empire Blogs Back

There’s no shortage of Web sites and blogs calling for doom, gloom and the sky falling in on the real estate market.

Indeed, “bubble bloggers” as they have become known, have cropped up all over the web. The Blogosphere has lived up to its liberal reputation by backing the concept of a real estate bubble, about to pop at any moment.

But the National Association of Realtors isn’t taking all of this lying down.

Indeed, the association started its own 

The blog has won my heart so far, if only for its really rather nice description of what real estate journalists are all about:

“Myth: If it’s in the newspaper, it must be true.

That’s from the blog entry for April 21. Now that’s a good start, but it gets even better:

“Journalists strive for getting the complete story, but considering the conditions under which they work, they know that’s usually impossible. Rather, they work hard to see that stories are balanced. If they cite a spokesperson for one side of an issue, they will go out of their way to find someone on the other side. Both sides might be dead wrong, but the theory is that the truth lies somewhere between two poles of opinion.”

Considering the barrage of emails I get daily from Realtors and other players in the real estate industry accusing me and Rich Toscano of trying to pull down the real estate industry, this sort of stuff’s a welcome change.

Well done, NAR. Way to fight back.

— WILL CARLESS

Cool Beach Tool

Want to know why Imperial Beach’s water was found to be too dirty to swim in today?

Check out this experimental Tijuana River plume tracker kept by the folks at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Watch the sewage-polluted plume — represented in blue — trickle south first, then whip north toward the southern San Diego beach. Once you get to the link, click on “Start Animation.”

It’s a fascinating glimpse of why IB’s water access frequently gets closed after a rainfall. The rain captures sewage and other polluted runoff from Tijuana’s streets and neighborhoods where many lack indoor plumbing, and sends it into the Tijuana River. Its outfall? The Pacific Ocean. When the plume pushes north, beaches as far north as Coronado get closed.

— ROB DAVIS

Who’s Your Attorney?

Thought the legal battle over who should be the attorney to the city’s troubled pension system was over? You’re wrong, buddy. A Superior Court judge issued a tentative judgment today accepting arguments on City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s motion to reconsider.

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey B. Barton last month sided with the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System in their efforts to rebuff Aguirre’s push to bring the pension system’s legal affairs back under the City Attorney’s Office.

A hearing is set for Friday at 9 a.m.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Listen Up

One of the groups pushing to build a new airport in San Diego will hold public forums to emphasize its contentions.

The Alliance in Support of Airport Progress in the 21st Century — that’s ASAP-21 for short — is holding what it calls a “public outreach program” that will include five forums independent of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

The point, said Erik Bruvold, vice president of public policy at the San Diego County Regional Economic Development Corp., is to give the public information they may not get from the authority and to make a stronger case for building a new airport — emphasizing the economic harm that would come to the region without one.

ASAP-21 is comprised of a large group of business interests, such as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the EDC.

The forums, dubbed “San Diego Speaks. We Listen,” are scheduled to start May 23. No location or time has yet been announced. Check for info at www.asap21.net.

— ROB DAVIS

Pension Convention

Dozens of attorneys gathered in Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn’s courtroom this morning, hoping to better sort out the slew of pension-related civil cases that involve the city of San Diego, its retirement system, retirees, city employees, labor unions, elected officials and various consultants.

Quinn told the cadre of lawyers that it would behoove the court to examine whether some of the cases could be consolidated or at least brought before the same judge. The judge said she was concerned that too many judges were spending time on issues that were very similar. Also, she said, different judges could potentially release different rulings — an inconsistency that would muddy up the legal drama.

When asked for suggestions of how or why the cases should be bundled together, City Attorney Mike Aguirre suggested three categories for the different lawsuits.

Aguirre said one group should include cases that deal with pension benefits and funding deals that were struck between the city and the retirement system; another should handle whether the city should pickup the legal tabs of city and pension officials who have been sued and indemnified; and the final category would include malpractice lawsuits that were filed against the retirement system’s outside consultants, such as the actuary, investment manager and auditor.

Some groups raised objections. Michael Conger, an attorney representing a former city employee who is suing the city for its past practices of underfunding, did not want his case to be thrown in with lawsuits that deal with benefit increases. Reg Vitek, the retirement system’s attorney, also said he wanted the benefit cases separate from the funding cases.

Conger, who also represents a client who is suing the retirement system’s actuary, said that the cash-strapped city wants the cases to be reorganized, just so it could put off an upcoming ruling. The city will have to make a budget-busting payment into the retirement plan if the Judge Richard Strauss rules in ex-employee William McGuigan’s favor on May 26.

“I know exactly, what’s going on. It’s a ploy to delay payment,” Conger said.

Quinn said she would entertain ideas, but did not say if or when the court would shift any of the cases.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Tax Talk

At a meeting the City Council held in North Park last night to discuss the mayor’s budget proposal, the subject of taxes came up after a representative of the Center on Policy Initiatives presented a comparison of San Diego to other large cities in California.

The gist: San Diegans get what they pay for, which is less than the others.

When it came time for the council members to comment on the budget, Councilman Ben Hueso led off by championing the idea of raising the city’s hotel room tax — a proposal voters have panned twice in the past two years.

“We need to bring more money to our city,” he said.

Hueso said raising the hotel tax rate would be a boon for the cash-strapped city at the expense of out-of-towners and not residents, and that part of the increase could fund promotional campaigns for the city.

“The money we derive could be used to attract more visitors and thereby compound more benefit to the city,” Hueso said. “The city is a little behind in that sense.”

When it came time for Councilman Kevin Faulconer to speak, he quickly reiterated his support for Mayor Jerry Sanders’ no-tax platform. The council’s independent budget analyst has also opined that a tax hike should not be considered this year, but stated that CPI’s report should be mulled in the future.

Any tax increase would have to be voted on in a citywide election.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

In his speech to the San Diego Association of Realtors this afternoon, Mayor Jerry Sanders gave a hint to what might yet be to come in the ongoing investigation into City Hall.

He acknowledged that the investigations are not over yet, and said there would be more grand jury investigations to come.

— WILL CARLESS

Alderson Answers

Sandy Alderson, the Padres CEO, took questions from fans last week on www.padres.com. A few of them got interesting, including this following up on promises made to voters when they approved Petco Park:

Base_Ball_3: Sandy, as a Padres fan, I’ve been patiently awaiting the upper-level free agent acquisitions that have been promised now that the revenue stream of PETCO has been approved and created. When can we expect such acquisitions?

Alderson: In order to pursue free agents, you need two things: quality players to pursue and the cash to pay them. Next year we will have the payroll flexibility to add some players, but the free agent class for next year does not look strong if you consider ability and age. The most important thing that we can do to improve the team is to improve our farm system. Devoting some of the money that is typically thrown at free agents by clubs would be better spent on building the player development system.”

Read the whole conversation.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

To Add or Not to Add?

Within the same breath, Mayor Jerry Sanders told the San Diego Association of Realtors today that “there was nothing added” in his proposed budget from last year, but that “we added in some things.”

Confused?

Well, the voiceofsandiego.org staff will be tracking down more about the city’s spending plan for fiscal year 2007 as budget season continues.

In the meantime, you can voice your concerns to the City Council members, who will have the final say, as immediately as tonight. The council will hold a special budget meeting at 6 p.m. at the Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., San Diego.

You can view the Sanders’ budget proposal here.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Fewer Happy Fliers

Fewer passengers flying out of Lindbergh Field were satisfied with their experiences in 2005, according to a survey being presented Monday to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s board.

One in four passengers weren’t satisfied last year, an 11 percent drop from 2004 in overall satisfaction, says the survey of 800 outgoing passengers, citing increased traffic as a cause. Passengers flying from the commuter terminal were the most pleased (80 percent,) while people leaving from Terminal One were the least (73 percent.)

Terminal One lagged in cleanliness. Two of every three fliers thought the bathrooms were unclean; one in three thought the terminal itself was dirty.

Fliers also weren’t happy with prices of meals and concessions. Just 15 percent said they were satisfied.

The survey shows that improving ticket counter operations should be a priority. Passengers’ satisfaction at check-in dropped from 95 percent to 82 percent.

The survey is available here.

ROB DAVIS

City Planner Named

Bill Anderson, a former chairman of the San Diego Planning Commission, will be introduced by Mayor Jerry Sanders as the city’s new planning director at today’s annual conference of the San Diego Association of Realtors.

Anderson, a vice president at Economic Research Associates, will assume the newly created position of director of city planning and community investment. The newly created position will oversee the city departments of planning, redevelopment and economic development.

The city’s most recent planning director, Gail Goldberg, is now the planning director for the city of Los Angeles.

— EVAN McLAUGHLIN

Airport Agenda

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has a full plate when it meets Monday.

The authority is taking up the North County supplemental airport idea again, at the request of three board members. Mary Teresa Sessom, a board member and Lemon Grove’s mayor, asked for detailed information about the costs of building an airport near Escondido to supplement the existing airport at Lindbergh Field.

The authority is also considering whether to extend the contract of GCS Public Relations, the firm that’s conducting outreach and public education during the site-selection process. GCS, which has a $3.8 million contract, could continue doing work through the November ballot initiative if the board approves it.

The authority is also reviewing the scope of GCS’s work, which came under scrutiny following a voiceofsandiego.org article dealing its efforts. Scroll down to page six for a presentation with details about the legal background for the educational effort and the plans for continuing outreach.

— ROB DAVIS

New Boss at Convis

The San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau appointed David Peckinpaugh today to be the successor to the organization’s chief executive officer, Reint Reinders.

Peckinpaugh — who has served in the hospitality industry since 1984 — is now charged with leading San Diego’s tourism-promotion campaign.

As CEO, he will oversee Convis’ estimated $12.5 million budget, which is slated to include about $8.8 million in the city’s hotel-room tax if Mayor Jerry Sanders’ proposed budget passes the City Council.

Before joining Convis, Peckinpaugh served as chief marketing officer for Conferon Global Service — a company that helps organize conferences and meetings. Reinders retires next month after 15 years as Convis’ CEO.

— SAM HODGSON

NFL to LA Update

The next two weeks will be pivotal in deciding whether the National Football League returns to Los Angeles, commissioner Paul Tagliabue was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times today.

It’s unclear whether the league will pursue expansion or push to relocate an existing franchise. Or do both: It was reported last week that the league would like two teams in Los Angeles within the next decade, as the Los Angeles Coliseum and Anaheim have drawn the most attention as possible homes.

Additionally, the newspaper reported an additional revelation in the new saga related to football star Reggie Bush and his family’s rental of a Spring Valley home.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Improperly Funded

Critics of city finances have long bemoaned an alleged switcheroo pulled at City Hall that allows fees paid by users of the water and wastewater system to prop up the general fund, which is supposed to be largely supported by such things as property and sales taxes. City administrators have said that everything’s cool.

A county grand jury largely agreed with the critics in an investigative report released today, finding that contracts known as service level agreements have allowed the city to inappropriately divert funds from its water and wastewater budgets in order to fund its day-to-day operations, such as police, fire and parks.

The grand jury, a body of citizens annually convened to monitor government’s behavior, studied eight relationships between water or wastewater and the city’s general fund.

Among the findings:

— The Water Department in fiscal year 2005 paid $600,000 to the Park and Recreation Department to store water in Chollas Reservoir, even though the reservoir was being used for recreation and as a pond for waterfowl. According to the report, the water department had ceded control of the reservoir in 1966 and water officials couldn’t justify the need for future water storage at Chollas.

“That there was no basis for the $600,000 valuation may suggest that this figure was arbitrary and capricious,” the report states.

— A five-year agreement between the Water Department and the Park and Recreation Department to fund concession stands that sell bait, beverages, snacks and rents boats, costs more than in creates in revenues, causing the Water Department to subsidize losses of $899,914 in 2004; $1 million in 2005; and a projected loss of $1.4 million for 2006.

“Rate payers are subsidizing P & R functions which provide little or no benefit to the water system or water ratepayers,” the report states.

— The departments disproportionately funded positions without proof that the departments benefited sufficiently from the work performed.

The mayor, City Council and the city attorney are required by the California Penal Code to respond to a Superior Court judge regarding the report’s findings within 90 days.

— ANDREW DONOHUE

On This Day

On this day in San Diego history, 2005: Mayor Dick Murphy announced his resignation.

It was one in a long line of political, legal and electoral dramas that has played out on San Diego’s stage in recent years, capping the end of what became a tragic tenure. This year seems pretty quiet in retrospect, doesn’t it?

— ANDREW DONOHUE

Profs: No Bubble

Nine out of 10 urban markets in the United States are not suffering from a so-called housing bubble, according to a new study released by two Pomona College professors.

The professors claim to have figured out a new way to gauge whether there’s a housing bubble in a specific market. They compared the cash flow generated by owning a home to the cost of renting a comparable house (though, it should be noted, they didn’t study San Diego).

According to a press release that someone forwarded me, presumably in response to the inventory story that we ran today, the two professors, a husband and wife team, evaluated housing as a long-term investment.

According to the press release:

“They projected homeowners’ net savings on rent over time, discounted by a required after-tax rate of return of 6 percent, because the money sunk into the home purchase could presumable be invested elsewhere, for example, in stocks and bonds. Their analysis factored in expenses such as one-time closing costs, taxes, maintenance and insurance. On the other side of the ledger, they also factored in tax benefits from ownership and the fact that rents will rise over time, while payments on a fixed-rate mortgage will not.”

Aha! There’s the rub.

The professors assumed (and it’s a heck of an assumption) a 20-percent down payment, with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at a 5.7 percent interest rate.

Only thing is, the majority of home buyers in San Diego a) didn’t put 20 percent down on their home purchase and b) took out an interest-only or other non-traditional mortgage. That means rates on their mortgages aren’t fixed.

Indeed, according to Loan Performance LLC, a San Francisco-based mortgage analytics firm, 47.6 percent of buyers here used an interest-only mortgage for their home purchase in 2004. That’s more than any other city in the United States, the company said.

Therefore, some analysts might find the Pomona report a little simplistic.

It’s nice and positive though. As the report points out:

“The Pomona College professors question the implicit assumption that market prices previously matched fundamental values but now have exceeded them. ‘Perhaps housing prices were too low in the past and recent prices have brought market prices more in line with fundamentals,’ they write.”

Perhaps, but there are also plenty of people who say homes are simply overvalued.

— WILL CARLESS

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