Among local politicians, the half-billion-dollar expansion of the San Diego Convention Center is about as popular as July 4 beach barbecues and winning Chargers seasons. Everybody, it seems, loves the idea of expanding the convention center so more conferences — and more tourism money — come our way.
Well, not everybody. Mike Aguirre, the ex-city attorney and failed candidate for mayor, was skeptical about the expansion during the recent campaign. Like other critics who have raised concerns about a glut of convention center space nationally, Aguirre questioned whether there’s a market for all that extra space.
“They doubled the size of the convention center in Las Vegas … and they’re doing the same exact business as they were before they doubled it,” he told CityBeat last month.
We decided to run his claim through San Diego Fact Check since the convention center’s expansion is such a big (and expensive) deal. It turns out that his claim is Mostly True.
There’s an important nuance to consider before assuming that the Las Vegas convention center expansion was a bad bet.
California’s Egg Law Takes Center Stage in D.C. Drama
The federal Farm Bill is imperiled in Congress, and the battle over its fate has ensnarled people who get food stamps. Now, a congressman “is determined to slip language into the Farm Bill that would prevent California from implementing its own egg law. Should the amendment go through, it could have painful ramifications for San Diego County farmers,” VOSD food politics blogger Clare Leschin-Hoar reports.
What’s an egg law? It’s a law that requires farmers to protect chickens from abusive farming practices — and keeps eggs out of the state that come from farms that don’t comply.
• Holy … well, you know. “A drug cartel known as the Knights Templar has brought kidnappings, murders, money laundering and fear to Mexico’s prized avocado business,” a news site called Vocativ reports.
City Hall’s Ups and Downs
• Earlier this year, we told you about the city attorney’s “big gamble” in a case revolving around the pensions it pays to its retired employees. “The case has already cost the city $2.5 million. It’s Goldsmith’s most creative theory and his biggest risk,” VOSD’s Scott Lewis wrote. “He hopes that a decisive win will force major concessions from city workers and their unions. But a loss would add to a growing list of struggles within the city’s legal department.”
So what happened? Now we know: It appears that the city attorney lost.
We explain what’s going on — and not going on: “When it comes to city employee pensions, nothing changes. The city will continue to be responsible for all financial shortfalls, meaning city employees won’t be at the mercy of the stock market on top of regular contributions to their pension funds.”
• The U-T checks in with efforts to revitalize the city’s planning department and “shift from creating master-planned communities in farflung greenfields in the suburbs to freshening up and densifying urban neighborhoods to handle expected growth in the decades ahead.”
Probe Targeted Local Housing Nonprofit
• Federal housing regulators have been investigating the San Diego-based Heartland Coalition nonprofit after it “bought hundreds of foreclosed homes through a federally backed program intended to help local communities hurt by the housing bust,” Reuters reports.
It’s not clear if the investigation is continuing, and Reuters cautions that “there is no indication that Heartland violated any laws or regulations.” But “according to the documents and a review of local property records in Las Vegas, the charity flipped a significant number of the homes to investors, generating millions of dollars in profits for those financing Heartland’s activities with relatively short-term loans,” Reuters writes.
The founder of the organization says he knows nothing about a probe and says Heartland shouldn’t have been suspended by a federal program.
Quick News Hits
• What do Americans want in their communities? This and that and just about everything in between, a new survey by the National Association of Realtors suggests. The Atlantic Cities blog has a summary and offers this perspective: “Looking for evidence to support reported trends toward smart growth living in walkable, mixed use neighborhoods? You’ll find it in the poll. But, if you’re a smart growth skeptic who believes Americans still prefer conventional suburban development with large lots, you’ll find plenty of evidence for that, too.”
• Governing magazine profiles Chicago’s hopes for an “infrastructure bank,” which has been hailed as a new way to use private money for public purposes, like fixing broken highways. There’s been talk about a similar project here. But the Second City’s encountering some bumps on the road to better roads.
• An NBC San Diego investigation of aircraft collisions with birds — which can be extremely dangerous — finds that “bird strikes” are fairly rare near Lindbergh Field compared with much busier airports. Still, dozens are reported each year, and the airport takes steps to keep birds away.
The airport traps them (although they’re later released in East County), uses spikes to prevent them from perching on things, and uses “scary eye balloons” as a deterrent, according to NBC. The balloons apparently look something like this — featuring big scary-looking bird-type eyes.
That is frightening. If they want to keep me away, though, they should just set up some large TV screens and start playing political ads.
Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and vice president of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.