Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | A Call to Stop

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association called for a stop to what it dubbed the “publicly funded advocacy efforts for a new airport” in an opinion piece that ran in The San Diego Union-Tribune today.

Its author, Lani Lutar, president and CEO of the association, has been critical of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s $3.8 million public outreach campaign, which is designed to educate the public about the need for a new airport and the process to find it.

Lutar called a Monday story in voiceofsandiego.org that detailed the behind-the-scenes work the “latest blow to taxpayers,” citing the $3,140 the authority paid GCS Public Relations to help craft an opinion piece written by Midge Costanza, founder of the Midge Costanza Institute, which ran in the Union-Tribune Dec. 23.

Costanza’s article struck a dire tone about what would happen if San Diego failed to build a new airport.

“Ordinary citizens understand that if we fail to address the airport issue this time,” she wrote, “we are playing Russian roulette with our future, as well as our children’s and our grandchildren’s.”

In an interview, Costanza said she solicited GCS’s help in writing the opinion piece — not the other way around — and was doing nothing unusual or seemly by having someone “help me form not the opinion but the words.”


Treasury Rates Up

The New York Times today declared that “the era of cheap money may finally be nearing its end” upon the news that the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose above five percent for the first time since 2002.

That means borrowing just got more expensive. Why does this matter to those familiar with voiceofsandiego.org content? Well among our specific focuses are government and housing. And the news yesterday, The Times said, means that borrowers will be paying more on mortgages and home equity loans. It also will likely have an effect on the rates given to governments borrowing money. Mayor Jerry Sanders released a proposal just this week to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars of pension obligation bonds, a financing plan that is founded on the idea that the pension system can reap higher earnings on borrowed money than the city pays in interest to borrow it. 


The Mayor and the Attorney

City Attorney Mike Aguirre today released the latest in his series of reports on city finances and related endeavors, concluding in Interim Report No. 8 that the high-priced consultants investigating city finances have breached their duty to the city of San Diego. The attorney recommended they be fired and sued.

Aguirre opined that consultants and attorneys from Kroll Inc. and Willkie, Farr & Gallagher LLP breached their duties to the city of San Diego by:

— Failing to follow the guidelines for audit committees as recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association, such as the recommendation that an audit committee release an annual report on its activities.

— Improperly interacting with city officials, the editorial board of a local newspaper and the firm conducting the city’s 2003 audit, KPMG. The city attorney alleges that the consultants, led by former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, compromised their independence by working too closely with city officials under investigation and by working outside of their authorized scope of work in meeting with the editorial board of a local newspaper and publicly supporting KPMG after it settled a massive fraud case of its own with the Justice Department.

— Breached the city’s internal controls by not submitting detailed billing. “The lack of accurate billing has rendered the City unable to properly monitor the engagements,” the report states.

“This financial crisis took a decade to create and it’s going to take a decade to get out of, and we need to start moving in the right direction and we’re not doing that going further down into the dark abyss with Kroll,” Aguirre said.

As of posting time, the audit committee had not returned a phone call seeking comment.

Also today, the mayor highlighted the neglected roofing, street and other infrastructure needs he would fund with the $20 million he plans to dedicate to the city’s estimated $372.5 million tally of deferred maintenance.

He also offered a long list of needs that will go unmet his budget, such as infrastructure to accommodate San Diego’s growth, emergency reserves and the Fire Department as a whole.

Please see voiceofsandiego.org‘s Friday edition for a complete version of this story, which will name the local newspaper with whom Kroll allegedly had improper interactions.


Imperial Beach, Open

The county’s Department of Environmental Health sounded the all-clear today on surfing and other water access at Imperial Beach. The water has been tested and the post-rain bacteria levels are back to normal.

The water had been closed Tuesday after a trace rainfall Monday night. Access remains closed at Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, a popular surf break. That closure has been in effect since Feb. 21.

Check back Monday with voiceofsandiego.org for a story that examines just what’s in the water that causes these repeated closures.


SOFAR: Transit Plan Stinks

A local group sued the city of San Diego on Thursday, as well as its City Council, redevelopment agency and downtown planning arm, claiming that the recently approved blueprint outlining downtown San Diego’s growth over the next 25 years was inadequate under the state’s environmental laws.

Save Our Forest and Ranchlands, or SOFAR, is asking a Superior Court judge to require the City Council to reweigh the downtown plan update against an alternative version that would change the way transportation is managed within the 1,450-acre urban core.

In February, the City Council, which also sits as the Redevelopment Agency, approved a plan that would compensate nearly 90,000 residents in downtown by 2030, compared to the previous plan’s estimate that about 50,000 people would live downtown then.

SOFAR contends that the California Environmental Quality Act requires the city to evaluate alternatives for dealing with transportation issues than what was laid out in the document, which was prepared by the Centre City Development Corp. The council failed to consider transportation alternatives, SOFAR claims.

Lo and behold, SOFAR offered its own transportation alternative about a week before the council hearing.

In the SOFAR alternative, the city would study how to cut down the vehicle traffic within downtown and commit to it, increase public transit in and out and within the urban core, impose an alternative transportation impact fee, expand the Little Italy Presto! Shuttle, charge market price for parking, sell parking space separate from residential units, implement parking maximums, and improve downtown’s pedestrian and bicycles pathways.


Aguirre No. 8 Coming

City Attorney Mike Aguirre is scheduled to release the latest installment in his “Interim Report” series today at 12:30 p.m. The report, “Interim Report No. 8,” will allege that Kroll Inc., the consultants conducting a private investigation into City Hall, has breached its duties to the city of San Diego.

Also, at 11 a.m. Mayor Jerry Sanders is slated to declare what city functions he deems important won’t be getting funded in the fiscal year 2007 budget. He’s released the tidbits of the budget this week and is scheduled to release the full budget tomorrow.

Please check back with voiceofsandiego.org for updates.


The Education of San Diego

The Wall Street Journal today on its front page tells the story of San Diego schools’ battle to accommodate immigrant and low-income students within its science curriculum while at the same time satisfying high-performing schools in areas such as La Jolla.

The paper requires a subscription to access its Web site, so you can click here to read it if you are a paying member.

If not, here’s the way the story was told. In 2001, the school district sought to overhaul its science curriculum to assist its immigrant, low-income and minority students. Parents and teachers across town in places such as La Jolla High School rejected such a plan, claiming that the new science being taught was watered-down and didn’t meet the standards of schools that normally win science prizes.

 “The skirmishes in the nation’s eighth-largest urban school district reflect a wider battle over how to make science classes accessible to a broader array of students while maintaining their rigor,” the article states.

The article follows the issue through its impacts in the 2004 school board elections and onto how teachers are dealing with it in the present day.


Park, Library Cuts Shelved

Mayor Jerry Sanders said Wednesday that he will keep the budgets for libraries, arts, park and recreation, and neighborhood services the same as last year after those departments have been cut for the past several years.

“This is not about restoring services, it’s about stabilizing these services that are important to the quality of life,” Sanders said.

The services that have been cut in recent years are library and recreation center hours, the library’s book-buying budget, tree-trimming, graffiti removal and park maintenance.

Sanders is expected to talk Thursday about the bad news: services that will not get funded next year. His complete budget proposal will be due out Friday.


Trash Fees Elsewhere

In Los Angeles, the mayor wants to raise the trash fee in order to pay for more police officers.

The L.A. Times article notes that the current charge of $11 month is among the lowest in Los Angeles County. It should be noted that L.A. County also includes posh Palos Verdes Peninsula, where residents pay $69 a month to have their garbage picked up twice a week from a designated spot on their property, so as to avoid any curbside eyesores.

The People’s Ordinance of 1919 and a 1986 ballot proposition prohibit the city from collecting a trash fee from residents of single-family homes city of San Diego, making it an oddity among the state’s largest cities. Only voters could ever reverse this city law, it is widely believed.

According to a study released by the Center on Policy Initiatives, the city could raise nearly $55 million annually by charging $9.85 a month for trash pick-up — the average rate among California’s 10 largest cities.


Cancel That Suit

Plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Conger, who has two pending lawsuits against the city of San Diego that would force it to put hundreds of millions of dollars into its pension system, said this afternoon that Mayor Jerry Sanders’ plan to borrow $674 million for the struggling system would satisfy his lawsuits.

Conger has sued the city on behalf of retirees and a former city worker in attempts to force the city to make up for its historical tendency to underfund its pension system, a practice that has left the system with a deficit that’s estimated to be at least $1.4 billion.

The suits are two in a long list of pension-related lawsuits involving the city that are currently before the courts and a third-party mediator.

Conger said no formal agreement has been made with the mayor, but the attorney indicated that he would drop his suits if the mayor is able to enact his borrowing plan (and the plan does have a number of hurdles to clear).


Now What in the 50th?

Things have been weird in the 50th congressional district. They could plausibly get weirder.

Democrat Francine Busby earned a spot in the June 6 runoff by garnering 44 percent of the vote Tuesday, and Republican Brian Bilbray appears to have edged fellow GOP contender Eric Roach to nab the second spot with 15 percent of the vote.

Bilbray leads Roach by 880 votes with approximately 10,000 absentee ballot left to be counted. The unofficial results of the 18-candidate House race are found on the county registrar’s Web site.

Because no candidate won 50 percent Tuesday, the top candidates from each party will advance to a June 6 runoff. The runoff will determine who will hold the House seat formerly occupied by imprisoned Rep. Duke Cunningham — Busby, Libertarian Paul King, independent candidate William Griffith and either Bilbray or Roach.

But the winner only gets the office for six months.

That same day, as voters choose who will serve out the rest of Duke’s term, they will also be asked to select their favorites from within their individual political parties in that district’s regularly scheduled primary election. The party winners in that primary will then go on to face each other in the regular November general election. The winner of the November contest will begin a full term in January.

That creates a scenario whereby a Republican such as Bilbray could win the special election in June but also lose the party-only vote in the primary. In that case, he would serve out the six-month term but not have the chance to compete as the Republican choice in the November regular election.


Imperial Beach, Closed

Last night’s trace rainfall wasn’t enough to warrant warning signs along San Diego’s beaches.

Except in Imperial Beach.

Sewage-tainted runoff from Mexico forced the closure of water access in IB earlier today, even though the general advisories typically posted after rainfalls weren’t needed, according to a release from the county’s Department of Environmental Health.

Imperial Beach’s waters have been open off-and-on throughout the winter. Further south, at Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge, water access has been off-limits since Feb. 21.


Trivia Time

There’s something curious about today’s congressional election in North County.

If you lived on the southern slope of Mount Soledad or in northern Pacific Beach, chances are that by June 2006 you will have cast ballots in more elections in one yearlong period than any other pool of voters anywhere in the country.

A voiceofsandiego.org t-shirt goes out to the first reader who can factually dispute that assertion. (High school class elections or similar contests don’t count). Please e-mail your response and the supporting information to evan.mclaughlin@voiceofsandiego.org and include your shirt size.

If you live in the Mount Soledad-area slice of California’s 50th Congressional District that includes the city of San Diego’s District 2, you will have been asked to vote 5 times from July 2005 to July 2006. These episodes include the special elections in July (mayoral primary and Mount Soledad Cross), November (mayoral runoff, council primary and governor’s ballot initiatives), January (council runoff), April (congressional primary) and regularly schedule June primary.

Normally, that 12-month span would include just the upcoming June primary.

Polls for Tuesday’s election close at 8 p.m. See two entries below to see how this election fits into the process of replacing imprisoned Rep. Duke Cunningham.


Get Involved: Budget

Budget talk is in the air. Smells good, doesn’t it? Want to get a whiff up close?

Mayor Jerry Sanders is slated to unleash his first-ever budget on Friday, and the public will get its first crack at it on Wednesday, April 19 at a hearing in council chambers from 9 a.m. to noon.

The public will also get a number of other chances to air their views; click here for the complete budget schedule. And then click here for independent budget analyst’s report on the budget process.

This marks the first year in modern San Diego history that the mayor, not the city manager, will construct the budget and the first time the council will have an independent analysis of said budget. It’s also set to be a tight, intense budget season.


Vote Today

Polls will be open for Tuesday’s special election to replace resigned Rep. Duke Cunningham until 8 p.m.

Several northern neighborhoods in the city of San Diego as well as Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Cardiff, Escondido and San Marcos are included in the congressional district, California’s 50th.

Tuesday is the first leg of the first of two elections that will be held over the next year to fill the vacant House seat. If one of the 18 candidates running receives more than 50 percent of the vote today, he or she will be serve out the rest of the current term, which expires in January. If no candidate receives more than half, the top vote-getter from each party plus the independent candidate will advance to a June runoff to determine who carries out the remaining few months of the two-year term.

Meanwhile, the June election will also serve as a primary contest for the term that begins in 2007. The top vote-getters from each political party in June will advance to a runoff in November, and the winner of that election will be sworn in next January.


Cop Commercials

The San Diego Police Officers Association announced Monday that it has produced a commercial that will air more than 60 times during the next two weeks to highlight what the union perceives to be a staff shortfall at the San Diego Police Department.

“It focuses and emphasizes the critical staffing levels facing police in the city and how the situation with the city is affecting officer, who are leaving the city for other departments that are paying better wages and benefits,” union president Bill Nemec said.

Nemec said it was unsafe for there to be 67 patrol officers on duty throughout the city between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.

The union’s advertisement urges viewers, in both English and Spanish versions, to call Mayor Jerry Sanders to tell him to pay police officers more in order to keep experienced officers who might otherwise take a better-paying job elsewhere in the region.

In a press statement released by the Mayor’s Office said the union’s message was “unnecessarily misleading.”

“It’s a shame that the union has decided to mislead citizens by confusing pay issues with public safety issues,” the statement read.

The mayor’s statement said crime rates in San Diego are half as high today as they were in 1992, that city salary levels are comparable to other the law enforcement agencies in the region, and added that 130 officers patrol the streets nightly.

Nemec said that there are 130 officers until 2 a.m., but that the number drops to 67 after that.

The city and the police union are currently in labor negotiations.


Taxes Kill Computer

Monday, April 10, 2006 — 6:40 p.m.

San Diego County Treasurer and Tax Collector Dan McAllister said that an unidentified technical problem made his Web site inaccessible to residents looking to make last-minute payments on their property taxes. The last installments of this year’s tax bills are due tonight.

“The law doesn’t allow me to extend the deadline without some kind of natural disaster or problem of similar magnitude,” McAllister said.

He said his office was advising property owners to stay off the computer and put their checks in the mail or drop by one of the branch offices where they can make the payment. All McAllister’s offices will be open until 9 p.m.

“We appreciate people’s patience,” McAllister said.


Kroll and Job Cuts

It appears the audit committee consultants will be on the city rolls for a little longer, while some city workers may be leaving City Hall sooner than later.

In addition to announcing his planned pension strategy, Mayor Jerry Sanders also stated that he thought the completion of the investigation by the Kroll audit committee would be delayed until June and that he anticipated that more than 500 vacant or filled positions would be dropped from the city’s payroll in the coming year.

Kroll and its attorneys at Willkie Farr Gallagher have been conducting an investigation into the city’s financial practices to satisfy the concerns of audit firms that have been withholding their certification of the city’s annual financial statements dating back to 2003. The audit committee said it will need $3 million more for their work, which was extended until mid-June because they said they need to review new e-mails that were found in the retirement system’s Navigant report, Sanders said.

The reduction of 500 jobs, some of which exist on paper but are not filled, will likely occur over the next year as the Mayor’s Office hopes to audit the efficiency of city departments, which Sanders calls “business process reengineering.” The mayor said he hopes to subject one-third of the city’s departments to business process reengineering within the first year of his term.


Ghostwriters in the Sky

San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board member Mary Teresa Sessom called for an executive-level discussion about the authority’s future public outreach run by GCS Public Relations.

The authority’s executive committee should talk about GCS’s plan, Sessom said. The company signed a lucrative $3.8 million contract in Nov. 2004 to lead the authority’s public outreach.

Sessom requested invoices for GCS’s work to date in 2006 — and asked for future invoices to be delivered as part of authority board members’ informational packets.

Authority spokeswoman Diana Lucero said today’s story about the inner workings of the PR firm’s push inaccurately reported the source of funding for the outreach campaign. We said it came from federal funding. Lucero said the following: Airlines collect a $4.50 fee — called a passenger facility charge — from passengers. The money goes to the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA then gives it to airports to build infrastructure. Lucero said the fee isn’t a tax, as Lani Lutar, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association asserted.

Lutar disagrees.

“The airport authority’s argument is that these are not taxpayer funds because they’re receiving the funds from the FAA trust fund,” Lutar said. “However, from our point of view, that trust fund and the FAA itself are supported by taxpayer funds.”


Aguirre: Probe the Probe

San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre has asked the county grand jury to investigate how water, sewer and golf enterprise funds are partially paying for the outside audit committee’s investigation into the city’s financial practices.

About 30 percent of the audit committee’s tab has been paid for by enterprise funds, Aguirre said.

Aguirre said the investigation focuses on the actions of employees who are paid by the city’s day-to-day budget, so that fund should be charged the costs of the investigation, not the enterprise funds.

“That would be like charging the victim of a crime with the costs of investigating the criminal who committed the crime,” Aguirre said. “That is not appropriate.”

The audit committee’s probe is designed to satisfy the concerns of auditors who are withholding their certification of the city’s books.

Aguirre also handed out the bills submitted by Kroll and Willkie Farr, the consultants and attorneys who make up the audit committee. The city attorney said the bills lacked the details necessary to determine whether there was a reason to bill the enterprise funds for the investigation.


Aguirre Follow Up

City Attorney Mike Aguirre called back today to clarify the earlier statement found in the This Just In below.

He said, contrary to the suggestion that his office had blessed the mayor’s new bond proposal, he has not approved it as a policy or from a legal standpoint.

“We have not finished our review, we have not reached a conclusion if it’s legal, we have not reached a conclusion if it is fiscally sound,” Aguirre said.


‘That’s Inaccurate’

This morning City Attorney Mike Aguirre rebuffed an assertion made in today’s story that his office has “blessed” a complex bond package to be proposed today by Mayor Jerry Sanders.

The Mayor’s Office told us that the City Attorney’s Office and bound counsel had said the deal was “legally sound.” We explained to readers that the office had then, indeed, “blessed” the proposal.

“That’s inaccurate,” Aguirre said.

That’s all he’d say. There is a difference, we suppose, between finding something legally sound and supporting it politically. Stay tuned as we iron out this wrinkle.


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.


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