Students at Fulton K-8 cut the ribbon on a $760,000 synthetic turf field paid for with Prop. Z funds. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

Construction companies that made major donations to pro-bond San Diego Unified School District campaign groups won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, a new Voice of San Diego investigation has found.

The relationship between construction companies and school districts is reciprocal, those familiar with the process acknowledge. School districts need big money to get their message out and sell voters on new construction bonds. So they often actively seek donations from construction companies. Construction companies hope to win the hundreds of millions in dollars in public works contracts that will become available if a school bond passes.

Voice of San Diego’s Will Huntsberry reports, “80 percent of the construction companies that donated $5,000 or more to pro-bond campaign groups in the last seven years received contracts with the San Diego Unified School District.” Donors won more than $320 million in contracts, all told.

San Diego Unified is pushing another multimillion-dollar school bond on the November ballot, Measure YY, and the Union-Tribune has reported that construction companies that would get work from the bond are once again among the biggest donors to the campaign.

But San Diego Unified officials argue that donations do not influence their decisions on who gets contracts in any way whatsoever. They described a system of checks and balances, where contracts are reviewed by multiple staff members, many of whom have no idea who has donated to previous or current bond campaigns.

Some school districts have previously placed limits on how much any single entity can donate to a school bond campaign to avoid even the appearance that those who give big money might also receive contracts. Of the 11 San Diego County school bonds on this year’s ballots, none is subject to donation limits.

Housing Fights on the Ballot — and in Real Life

The controversial measure to bring back rent control isn’t the only statewide ballot measure intended to alleviate the housing crisis.

In a new op-ed, YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County founder Maya Rosas and Imperial Beach City Councilman Mark West argue that Props. 1 and 2 should be part of the solution.

Both will fund and preserve affordable housing, they argue.

The sole listed opponent of Prop. 2, a mental health group in Costa Contra County, has argued that the measure doesn’t have any mechanisms to stop NIMBYs from opposing individual projects, which tend to spark fierce neighborhood opposition.

Speaking of neighborhood opposition to housing projects … Point Loma residents are trying to block an affordable housing project in Famosa Canyon, 10News reports.

Another Top City Bureaucrat Heads North

A third top city official is headed to Carlsbad.

David Graham, now a deputy chief operating officer who oversees everything from housing issues to the implementation of the city’s Climate Action Plan, will become the North County city’s first chief innovation officer next month.

Graham follows former Chief Operating Officer Scott Chadwick and Paz Gomez, the former deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure and public works, who both took new jobs in Carlsbad earlier this year.

This past weekend, Graham’s efforts to help the city step up its use of smart technology were profiled in a segment on “CBS This Morning”. Graham said he looks forward to focusing on mobility issues, sustainability and civic engagement in his new role and plans to stay engaged in regional conversations about all of the above.

In Other News

Spooky San Diego: Welcome to Ghost Town USA

The Hotel Del Coronado in 1892, the year that guest “Kate Morgan” died of a gunshot wound and sparked a ghostly legend. / Photo courtesy of Hotel Del Coronado.

It’s October, and the Hotel del Coronado is getting into the spirit, literally.

The famously haunted landmark has been holding ghost tours — the last one is on Halloween — and room 3327 is booked on Oct. 31 as usual. That’s where a young woman who called herself Kate Morgan checked in shortly before Thanksgiving 1892 but never checked out.

There’s still plenty of mystery about Morgan’s life and her death by gunshot on a hotel staircase leading to the beach. Two things are clear: The case still fascinates the public, and the hotel is happy to embrace its resident ghoul — although it’s not quite as welcoming to ghost hunters as it used to be.

I took a closer look at the legend of the “Beautiful Stranger” in 2011: “She might have been a grifter known for conning men with her husband in railway cars. Maybe she was pregnant and fell into despair after giving herself an abortion. Perhaps she did herself in; she’d bought a handgun across the bay just the other day. The authorities thought it was suicide. But they came to a decision quickly, and future generations of authors and crime buffs wondered if they missed a murder.”

Charles Spratley, author of “Piercing the Veil: Examining San Diego’s Haunted History,” doesn’t believe anyone killed Morgan. “I think she was desperate. She was at the end of her rope, she felt abandoned, and she didn’t see a way out,” said Spratley, who guides tours at the Villa Montezuma.

A hotel historian reportedly keeps track of all paranormal sights, sounds and, yes, smells detected by guests. Ghost hunters are popular visitors to room 3327, although the hotel policy regarding spectral investigations has gotten stricter. Supernatural detectives now need make a reservation instead of just an appointment.

As for other local ghosts, Spratley said there are plenty of legends, including Roger the gambler, who supposedly haunted the Gaslamp District’s distinctive Horton Grand Hotel in both its old location and in the current location where it was reassembled after a move across downtown in the 1980s.

Another ghost supposedly haunts the 1898 Berkeley steam ferryboat, which is docked on the San Diego waterfront next to the Star of India. The ferry famously transported survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to Oakland. On a cross-bay trip in 1911, the engineer was “blown to atoms” in a ferry men’s room by the nitroglycerine he was carrying.

Randy Dotinga

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