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Last month, the San Diego City Council approved an uncommon lease extension for the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission Bay.
Among the interesting elements of the deal was the timing of the vote, during the last week of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ tenure, and the fact that it reached the docket at that time only by first skipping a hearing before the City Council’s committee on land use issues.
One thing that wasn’t unusual, though, was the fact that the City Council would be concerned with the status of Bill Evans, the recipient of the new lease. One of the city’s most prominent hoteliers, he’s also sat on major regional boards, is a prolific political contributor and was recently considered for a board appointment at the Unified Port of San Diego.
Evans Hotels, the company founded by his father more than a half-century ago, operates three of San Diego’s highest-profile establishments. In addition to the Bahia, it also owns the Catamaran Hotel & Spa on Mission Bay and the Lodge at Torrey Pines overlooking Torrey Pines golf course, as well as two party boats that ferry back and forth between the two Mission Bay hotels.
The Bahia became the family business’s first resort in 1953, when William Evans put forward the only bid to lease the city’s land, back when the area was still a mud flat.
William Evans died in 1984, but the business has continued to thrive under his wife, Anne Evans, who became chairwoman that year.
But the company also owes its success to their son, Bill Evans, executive VP and managing director since his father’s death, and his sister, Grace Evans Cherashore, president and CEO since 1992.
It was Bill Evans who stood before the City Council last month (along with CFO Robert Gleason, also a frequent political donor), making the case for the agreement he negotiated with the city’s real estate assets division, and pledged to make good on the redevelopment hopes he said drove both the company and the city into the deal.
A year ago, he made waves when he spoke out against the financing plan for a Convention Center expansion after he had initially been part of a Sanders-appointed task force to look into the project. He eventually supported the deal because he felt the expansion was vital to the city, but maintained his belief that the hotel taxing structure that paid for part of it was unfair to hotels that aren’t near the Convention Center.
Back in 2009, he was nominated to become one of San Diego’s three appointed port commissioners. He had the support of Councilwoman Marti Emerald, a Democrat, and Councilman Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, but the position eventually went to Lee Burdick.
He’s also a past president of a major regional hotel association and the San Diego Convention Center Corp., and a past board member of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Convention Center and Visitors Bureau (ConVis), which recently recaptured control of San Diego’s long-term marketing responsibilities from the Convention Center Corp. with Evans’ backing.
In the fall of 2005, he was one of 15 citizens — along with then-businessman Carl DeMaio — to receive a letter from City Attorney Mike Aguirre encouraging him to register as a lobbyist after a San Diego Union Tribune investigation identified him as one of the most frequent people on the appointment calendars of city council members and their chiefs of staff.
He’s also a prolific contributor to political campaigns.
In the last six years alone, members of the Evans family and employees of Evans Hotels have made campaign contributions of more than $27,000 to propositions and city officials, including the mayoral campaigns of Sanders and DeMaio.
Those donations have been spread among Democrats and Republicans, “pro business” and “union friendly” legislators, winners and losers alike.
While the family and company are regular donors to the city’s decision-makers, it’s worth putting the $27,000 over six years in context: Evans Hotels grosses more than $100 million in revenue annually, and has invested over $27 million in the Bahia property since 1985. Checks for $500 to political campaigns aren’t costly expenditures.
But its nonetheless unsurprising that the City Council would prioritize the concerns of a company whose executives sit on influential city boards, make regular campaign contributions and who’ve recently been considered for perhaps the region’s most significant appointed position.
At the City Council hearing during which the new lease agreement won unanimous approval, Faulconer personally thanked members of the Evans family for attending and praised the work Evans Hotels has done on its leaseholds throughout the city.
“You have treated this property I think extremely well. And any time that we’ve had any interactions or issues, which have been very minimal, you were always there,” he said. “That’s the type of relationship I think we wish we had with more of our tenants.”
Emerald, who along with Councilman David Alvarez questioned why the extension had been hurried to a vote before joining their colleagues in unanimously approving it, interrupted her remarks to assure she didn’t question Evans’ intentions.
“To set the record straight, I have absolute confidence in Mr. Evans and his organization, who do a first-class job with anything that they do there,” she said. “But I do respect the process for review, and I just don’t understand where’s the fire, where’s the urgency to get this done now when next week we have a new council coming in, a new mayor?”
I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at email@example.com or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter
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