The issue before us is not about right or left; it’s simply about right or wrong. On behalf of my fellow San Diegans and Balboa Park aficionados, I present four areas of questions regarding our troubled 2015 centennial celebration and the hotelier cabal that hijacked it. With nearly $900,000 of direct taxpayer money (plus, an additional $300,000 of Tourism Marketing District taxpayer money) involved, it’s critical that the centennial leadership of Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. respond and help San Diegans understand what transpired. Where appropriate, we request input from San Diego’s elected leaders and other knowledgeable individuals that are in a position to shed light.

1. When hotelier lobbyist Mike McDowell was hired as centennial chief, his boss, hotelier Terry Brown (chairman of the TMD), signed on to pay half of McDowell’s $200,000 salary and benefits package. The leaders of the for-profit hoteliers were in control of a major taxpayer-funded San Diego civic event with significant financial upside to the hoteliers themselves. Who were the centennial board members at the time of this hiring? Why didn’t anyone on the centennial board speak up? With more than $450,000 of direct taxpayer funding to this point, where was the city oversight?

2. With respect to the centennial board (Balboa Park Celebration, Inc.), please disclose any business and/or personal relationships each board member and executive (all from to 2010 to the present) may have with San Diego’s hoteliers, the Tourism Marketing District, the Tourism Authority (formerly ConVis) and the Convention Center — past and present, direct and indirect.

3. In February, just after a few days after McDowell’s resignation as centennial CEO, U-T San Diego reported “LA firm hired for Balboa Park blowout.” Reporter James Chute wrote that production company Autonomy had been hired, and that it “was brought in to produce the massive 2010 Mexico Bicentennial Celebration in Mexico City.”

How did the centennial board learn of Autonomy, and for what reasons was Autonomy hired? Please disclose any business and/or personal relationships that Autonomy’s principals and executives may have with San Diego’s hoteliers, centennial board, the TMD, the Tourism Authority and the Convention Center, past and present, direct and indirect.

4. The hoteliers put on a full-court press to push at least three hotelier-benefiting measures through the City Council before then-Mayor-elect Bob Filner’s inauguration on Dec. 3. First, a “$445,916 increase in funding for the hotelier’s centennial (approved by council on Nov. 13); second, a TMD extension of 40 years whereby the hoteliers would have control over a 2-percent tax levied on visitors to most San Diego hotels (approved by council on Nov. 26); and third, a Bahia Resort Hotel 40-year lease extension on prime city-owned land along Mission Bay (approved by council on Nov. 26). The common thread in each case was a rapid transfer of significantly more taxpayer and city treasure to the hotelier’s control. Alarm bells, anyone? If these hotelier measures were truly in the best interests of San Diego, why the mad rush? Or was this the hoteliers self-dealing again, desperately trying to set themselves up for another “40 years” before their grip on the mayor’s seat and power went kaput?

We hope there are logical explanations for each; if so, we can quickly put an end to the doubts herein. Please direct your answers to Scott Lewis at the Voice of San Diego within five business days. If the centennial leadership of Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. chooses not to address these taxpayer concerns with transparency, Filner will need to weigh the viability of the centennial itself.

Due to numerous management and board missteps, our 2015 centennial celebration is in real jeopardy, and time may be too short to save it. Mistakes, missteps and setbacks in a “best of intentions” effort is one thing; it’s an entirely different thing when those mistakes, missteps and setbacks are the byproduct of a hidden agenda to serve the special interests of a powerful hotelier cabal.

Let the light of truth shine bright, San Diego.

George Mullen is spearheading the civic effort to bring a world-class image to San Diego as the City of Life (Ciudad de Vida). He is an artist, writer and occasional economist with in downtown San Diego. He is a native and welcomes feedback at

Want to spark discussion? Start a conversation by submitting a commentary at Fix San Diego.

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.