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Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007 | In 2002, Ron Roberts stood behind a lectern in the San Diego Hall of Champions and spoke of what he called a visionary plan.
During the chairman’s state of the county address — an annual tradition now dating back 59 years — Roberts promised that the county would build “a magnificent water front park that was first envisioned in 1908. … It will be a legacy for this entire community.”
That promise hasn’t yet come true.
Tuesday night, Roberts again stood behind a lectern, this time at the University of San Diego, and again promised a “grander vision.”
Roberts, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, repeated his desire to remake the city’s bay-front property near the downtown county offices. He pointed to two 20th century projects — Balboa Park and Mission Bay — as evidence that such a goal could be accomplished.
“This is the time to do something spectacular on our waterfront,” he told the audience of more than 600. “We have an opportunity to create one of the most beautiful waterfronts.”
Roberts repeated the proposal he and Steve Peace, a former state senator who works for Padres owner John Moores, first unveiled last week — a set of broad goals that would change the face of the waterfront, establishing green areas along the North Embarcadero, consolidating the Port District’s cargo operations and moving the cruise ship terminal.
During a 45-minute speech Tuesday, Roberts set out other goals for 2007 — improving health care, building a memorial to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty and strengthening the region’s relationship with China.
Roberts did not deeply address the county’s role in the push to build a new Chargers stadium. He called the Chargers “a special part of San Diego’s history,” and said he and Supervisor Dianne Jacob would continue working to make sure the team stays in San Diego. But he was not more specific. The county has to date spent $89,000 on two Chargers-related consultants, though it is unclear exactly what those consultants have done.
He defended his most recent trade mission to China, which was paid for by a nonprofit trade organization to which Roberts has given at least $729,000 in discretionary grants since 2001. Building a relationship with Chinese businesses holds “enormous potential for San Diego,” he said. “We can seize the opportunity this presents.”
Roberts covered much of the same ground he did in 2002, even hitting one of the same jokes — County Clerk Greg Smith’s voluminous Valentine’s Day wedding duties. One difference: Five years ago, the San Pasqual Academy, a residential school for foster teens, had been open just a few months. Roberts, who has been a vocal advocate for the project, said the county would soon break ground on the school’s first major expansion, to provide room for 50 more teens.
The supervisor’s speech continued themes first laid out five years ago, repeating his desire to fight childhood obesity. While he said “a lot of work has been done,” Roberts acknowledged it was only a start and did not provide any evidence that five years of efforts have had an impact on San Diego County children’s waistlines.
As supervisors frequently do during the annual speeches, Roberts laid out some goals over which he has no authority or responsibility. He called on his fellow board members to push Congress and the federal government to ban the use of food stamps to buy candy. While the county administers welfare programs, it does not have the authority to employ such a ban on its own.
He similarly targeted federal reimbursements for Medi-Cal and Medicare, which he said have shortchanged San Diego residents, because the county is classified as being rural. He promised to forge partnerships with state and federal legislators to address the reimbursement. “Together, we are going to get our fair share,” he said.
He showed what he admitted was a disjointed two-and-a-half minute clip from a recent documentary film called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Roberts, who serves on the California Air Resources Board, briefly appeared in the film. He and the audience watched as a hirsute Mel Gibson boasted of the car’s speed and former Baywatch actress Alexandra Paul attacked the board for the electric car’s demise.
Roberts used the clip to criticize the documentary, which earned a scant $1.3 million at the box office, as “a Michael Moore-type movie.”
The electric car, Roberts said, is alive and well — though it’s unclear whether Roberts or San Diego County government has had any role in its revival. Roberts showed a slide of a hybrid electric car manufactured by General Motors. It “will help reduce pollution and our reliance on foreign oil,” he said. “These are the cars of the future.”