Couple of points to start the week:

  • My column last week generated a lot of personal e-mail to me and a couple of letters. Thanks to readers for their feedback. But I wanted to clarify something.

I was focused mostly on the fact that for the region’s most ambitious development projects on the table right now — a new City Hall, a new Chargers Stadium, a gorgeous waterfront park — the new trend appeared to be to get them done by giving away development rights or other property assets to private developers in exchange for their agreement to construct the desired facility.

Several people grabbed on to my point that the region’s governments have given away land before — that this was nothing new:

Murtaza Baxamusa, a very smart guy who has hosted the Café before, wrote this the other day:

This is not a new concept. Giving away public land has occurred in the NTC and other redevelopment deals. The problem with this concept and most similar deals is poor negotiation by the government.

Of course government giving land away is nothing new. After all, that’s the concept behind many redevelopment agreements. But that’s not what I was focusing on. I was trying to zoom in on the fact that this has become the preferred way for the governments to envision drawing up their most ambitious plans for public or government facilities.

Unlike redevelopment agreements, these aren’t necessarily ways to revitalize a neighborhood or, like NTC, redo a decrepit military base into something urban.

No, these projects, these swapsidies as I tried to coin them, seem to be the preferred way to build big government buildings.

Now, look, San Francisco leaders are thinking the same way.

So, yes, the government has been giving away land for a long time. And while historically we’ve seen these swapsidies in the past, the gift of public land or property rights to developers in order to attract them to construct major government facilities in exchange is now becoming the way to get big things done. That’s all I was trying to point out.

Like I thought he might, Aguirre called into the show, but, unfortunately, they didn’t get into it like they can.

Here’s a transcript of what Aguirre said if you’re interested.

As for the issue at hand, here are a few thoughts.

  • There are a few key legal questions that immediately came up after the U-T revealed the bizarre behind-the-scenes blowout that occurred between Police Chief William Lansdowne and Aguirre. The city attorney, who has the power to prosecute misdemeanor violations in the city, had taken what most people are saying is the unprecedented step of securing a search warrant to pursue evidence of an alleged felony: conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor.

But then, the police chief took the equally surprising step of refusing to execute the warrant.

Now, obviously, we could talk about this for hours, but there’s one key question that keeps coming up.

Aguirre got the search warrant to investigate Tom Story, an executive with Sunroad Enterprises. But Aguirre has also sued Sunroad on behalf of the city of San Diego. In the legal world, prosecutors are supposed to draw big bright lines between their civil efforts and their criminal prosecution actions.

The news staff touched on this Friday with an interesting interview with an expert from the state bar association.

Aguirre agrees that he’s not supposed to threaten an opponent in a civil matter with criminal prosecution if the opponent doesn’t settle the lawsuit. But he says that’s not what he’s doing.

He said that he’s suing to get Sunroad to take down the height of its controversial building near the Montgomery Field airport. If that building were to come down tomorrow, he said, he would still pursue the criminal matter.

“The civil case is against the corporation. This is a completely separate thing against an individual,” he said.

OK, I said, but the reason he got the search warrant is because he alleged a conspiracy. And because of that potential conspiracy he claimed he needed to search the Sunroad corporate offices.

To me, it sounds like he’s investigating the corporation in that case, right?

He said no. He thinks the conspiracy is between Story and the city’s employees.

Remember, the big crime alleged here is that Story lobbied city officials too soon after resigning his own post as a city official.

So I pressed Aguirre: What kind of conspiracy were city officials involved in on this matter? Are they supposed to be proactive when someone like Story contacts them? Are they supposed to know he’s allegedly not supposed to contact them on these matters and that they’re not supposed to listen to him or else they are guilty of a conspiracy to help him break the rules?

“They’re supposed to say ‘Don’t talk to me,’” Aguirre said.

Not very sexy as far as conspiracies go.

He sensed I wasn’t so titillated.

“You’ll see once the case comes together, we’ve got a lot more here,” he said. “You know, there has been talk that this is all part of a plan, with the Chamber of Commerce, to get rid of Montgomery Field altogether. We’re not to that point, yet.”

  • I also talked to Rupert Linley Friday. Linley was one of Aguirre’s first and proudest hires at the City Attorney’s Office. After a 33-year career at the District Attorney’s Office, Linley was brought on to head Aguirre’s criminal division. Six months later, he had an epic falling out with Aguirre.

They are not friends at all so take this however you want. I thought his time prosecuting felonies for the DA’s office gave him some perspective.

He said if Aguirre really had evidence of crimes in Sunroad, he should have handed the case off to either the DA or the state attorney general.

“That’s a basic ethical requirement. The basic rule is that you don’t use the criminal process to gain a civil advantage and the rule’s extremely important because the district attorney and city attorney do have civil powers and they are suing people all the time. It would be easy to settle a lawsuit if you say to your opposing counsel: ‘Settle this or I’ll put you in jail.’”


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