Busy Bees

I just drove by the Sunroad complex by the 163 and was in awe of the American work ethic on display there. Stop-work orders or no, those busy little worker bees are swarming over that building like ants over a mound of honey. (Okay, enough bug methaphors.)

I’m off for a ten day jaunt. I’ll be interested to see, when I return, if anyone in City government has developed the huevos, in the interim, to give a public order and actually enforce it.

Have fun in my absence, sports fans. And Sunroad people — try and get the building done before I get back, shall we. City orders are like Dad’s orders to the kids in mom’s absence: you listen to ’em just long enough to ignore them.

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Suffer The Innocents

You know, it gets old after a while. A corporation like Enron is run by a bunch of crooks. Yet who pays the price when the whole thing goes kablooey? Corporate executives, their bailout parachutes gold plated for a soft landing (in the odd alchemy of corporate America, gold is actually lighter than air…) get to live happily ever after. And the big banks who financed corporate larceny with a wink and a nod get first crack at picking over the corporate carcass to reclaim their capital. Admittedly, they have to fight cheek and jowl with the other jackals of law but, ultimately, the money owed them gets paid out first. Meanwhile, workers by the thousands who faithfully did their part to serve the corporate interests (read stockholders, whom, despite claims of ours being an ownership society are overwhelmingly concentrated in the wealthiest five percent of said society) lose their paychecks, pensions and personal lives.

It happened to the workers at Enron. It’s happened to hundreds of thousands of workers in the airlines, auto industry and just about every other mismanaged industry across America. The guys at the top screw up, take their golden chutes and bail. Big finance takes its ton of flesh. And the people who actually put in the time and did all the hard work take it in the keester.

And it’s happening again, here in America’s finest city. Only this time the corporation is the Catholic Diocese of San Diego. It’s management played the old boys’ game, like many corporations do, trying to hide the hideous misdeeds of a handful of clerics who had no right to wear their clerical collars. And now the Diocese is on the hook for millions of dollars, blood money to right a wrong long in need of redress.

But here’s the rub. The Diocese of San Diego is not just another well-healed corporate entity with stockholders living the high life. It is not just a name on deeds. It’s not just one Bishop whose name graces said deeds and legal documents. The Diocese consists of almost a hundred parishes, dozens of parochial schools, hundreds of thousands of parishioners and thousands of students and their parents who have committed large portions of their lives (and, often, pocketbooks) to make and maintain the Catholic community that is the Diocese of San Diego.

I know. I’m one of them.

I have four daughters, all of whom are products of Catholic education. My wife and I chose parochial school for our children for two reasons. First, it provided our children with the moral foundation we sought. Second, it provided for a community that we as involved parents could participate in. Okay, overly involved parents: my wife and I served, at various times, as Parents’-Teachers’ Group presidents, coaches of teams and even K-1 PE teachers. We spent hundreds of hours fundraising for the school. I served on the building committee for our new (at least it was twelve years ago) K-1-Library building. My wife served as chair of the school’s main fundraiser auction for six grueling years. Now she’s the first grade teacher at the same school.

Don’t get me wrong here. I greatly appreciate public education. I’m a community college professor, for heaven’s sakes. And our kids each went on to public high school. But for 18 years we, like thousands of other parents, spent thousands of dollars and contributed thousands of hours (literally) to help build and support our chosen faith community. One of our little school’s community’s greatest accomplishments was to, by the hard work and dedication of our school’s families, build a substantial endowment to maintain programs and facilities into the future. Where, perhaps one day, our children’s children may attend.

But all that is now in jeopardy, for our school and the others just like it. As is all the hard work and dedication put in by thousands of people in the Diocese of San Diego who were simply trying to benefit their faith community. Because the Diocese is structured like a corporation, all of its—our—assets are considered to be in one big pot. And that pot is in real danger of being emptied by the class action lawsuit currently underway against the Diocese over pedophile priests.

Please make no mistake here. I have the greatest sympathy for the more than 150 victims of men who disgraced themselves, their Church and their faith community. My sympathy is only matched by the outrage I feel towards said men and those in positions of authority who violated their own fiduciary obligation to their community to deal with these outrages expeditiously and definitively.

But injustices done against one group can not be balanced out by committing an injustice against another. And taking, ultimately, the money–and, more importantly, the time– given in service to our faith community by tens of thousands of people over decades would be an injustice.

The victims of abuse at the hands of members of my faith community must be compensated. Indeed, any financial settlement will be poor rectification for the horrific violation of body and soul they experienced from those they trusted. But it is my hope that, in achieving said justice, the rights and interests of the hundreds of thousands of people who make up this Diocese will also be taken into consideration. Lest, in the name of justice, we add to the suffering of the innocents.

Hunting Duncan

Be sure to tune in to KGTV 10News and ABC World News tonight. Besides the incomparable pleasure of seeing yours truly do yet another soundbite (that would be for the local guys) there’s going to be an interesting piece on our only local presidential candidate, Duncan “Bomb ’em back to the stone age” Hunter. (Hence yours truly’s soundbite.)

Seems Duncan “Give the troops everything they need” Hunter has been earmarking millions of dollars in government contracts (that’s millions of dollars that didn’t go to body armor and armored humvees) to a major campaign contributor who is trying to push an expensive new helicopter on the military that the military doesn’t want and none of the major defense contractors want to touch.

Why to shine, Dunco.

The first and time I met Duncan Hunter was back in 1980 when he was running against Lionel Van Deerlin for Congress and I was the president of USD’s political science club. Okay, I know. Geeky. But we did have a great election night party at a suite we rented at the Holiday Inn on the Bay. That night was the second time I met Hunter. I was in the stairwell going down a floor to get ice. Hunter was on the stairwell leading a Dixieland band and a ton of hangers-on celebrating his victory up the steps to who knows where. Everyone but Duncan, including the band, was thoroughly snoggered. Hunter, however, was stone cold with eyes the size of the cat that ate the canary. He knew he’d just been handed the keys to his own political kingdom. First time I saw him was as our guest to speak to the ol’ poli-sci club as part of our election activities. He informed us that we had to be careful how we dealt with the emerging crisis in Poland—you know, the one that led to the rise of Solidarity, Lech Walesa and the downfall of communism—because the Russians might send their troops into Poland. And some of them, he told us youngins, were Mongolians!

That’s how I first met Duncan “Yellow Horde” Hunter. So last week’s remarks about nuking Iran were just par for the course.

But Duncan has been on Capitol Hill for almost 30 years. His best pal Randy the Dukeman just got sent up the river. And they were close. Just how close? Best case scenario for Hunter: this whole thing gets explained away as business as usual in the fetid swamp of D.C. And then people vote against him because they’re sick of business as usual. (Which is why members of Congress haven’t made it into the White house for almost 50 years.)

Worst case: this turns out to be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A kind of yellow-snow iceberg, to be sure.

Anyway, it should be great sport. Pop some popcorn. Duncan Hunting season seems to be on.

A Picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it thousands of dollars in campaign contributions?

Loyal reader Sunburned linked the following site showing pictures of
“Pre-His Mayorness Jerry Sanders hobnobbing with the rich and famous.” Kinda explains which side of the trough Jerry is on, and it’s not the side of the little piglets who make up most of this berg. He’s in it with the hogs.

Sunburned’s entire post to my April 24 entry, “Jerry Sanders Shows” reads:

sunburned Says:
June 8th, 2007 at 6:39 pm
Just catching up on older posts, so I wanted to chime in here: something Gerry Braun wrote recently inspired a comment concerning Frye’s campaign, i.e., that during the campaign Frye didn’t develop the assertions she made about Sanders being the same old boys’ club candidate.

It was true what she said, but she never showed how it would work to our disadvantage. That’s important, because on the surface, there is nothing wrong with being connected. We’d all like it, if it didn’t co-opt us or CORRUPT us. We want to believe that there is an advantage to being connected, and that it will be to our advantage to have leaders who are connected.

So Carl, since you already have a website and have clearly stated what is all too true about Sanders’ pathetic inability to lead, why not post this picture at the top of every colomn you write from now on:

http://www.directorsforum.com/events/event_10_30_03_photos.htm

And, below the picture, Senor Luna, why not use your expertise on these things and show how the background from which Sanders came, with his made-up CEO-ness and the grooming he got from the boys who put him up as mayoral candidate, would inevitably NOT lead to his being capable of really leading or being a creative thinker or self-starter? There’s a good bit of data available on Sanders’ phony roles at VCC and Willow Creek Partners (he’s still listed on the Board on WC’s website), and Sanders can make absolutely no claim of accomplishments (that I know of) at those companies. But the men involved with those businesses do actually educational/business backgrounds and expertise: Tom Stickel, Les Barkley, David Porreca, and Mark Wolfenberger, among others. Some of these guys put up Sanders as their candidate, but he doesn’t have their savvy. When they can get him to act dangerously and corruptly to further their interests, he just isn’t sharp enough to pull it off, or better yet, best them, and eventually they’ll throw him aside for the next flunky if he can’t cut it.

That’s the real story. But it needs telling.

Sunroad = Sunburned

In response to the latest comments posted to yesterday’s blog, “Follow the Money”:

Dude! Please don’t get me wrong here. I completely agree with everything you’re saying. I’m just giving a cold analysis to how this works. Why the players thought they could get (and so far have gotten) away with Sunroad.

Now if you’re asking me what should be done, that’s a different pot of mackerel.

The City Attorney has tried on this and has been shot down in the courts and undercut by his own chief of police and mayor. Meanwhile the nattering nabobs of the ethereal establishment UT keep up their constant smear campaign against him. (Not a little bit of which seems to be seeping into “The Voice of San Diego” these days.)

Donna Frye, meanwhile, is the only voice on the council even talking about this. But her complaints so far seem to be dismissed by the rest of the council and that voice of reason (meaning it’s unreasonable to rock the San Diego money boat) the UT as mere district parochialism and nimbyism.

And the Mayor? He basically says the City is to blame for allowing Centrum to be built, thereby taking the legal liability off Sunroad, then starts trying to figure out how to make Centrum work by trying to move flight paths around Montgomery. If the cave in was any more complete you would have to call in a mine rescue team from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

And why? Because the people who are benefiting from Centrum and all the projects like it are making a lot more noise and getting a lot more in the face of Sanders, the Council, e. al than are the people outraged over what’s happening. They –Sunroad et al. – simply care more—a hundred million dollars worth of care—then the protesters.

Want that to change? You’ve got to make a whole lot more noise. You have to show the City that you care too.

You want to get the council to pay attention to this? Here’s what you do: start writing letters. Start sending emails. Start making fall calls. And get everyone you know to do the same. Send copies of each letter and email to the letters to the editor for the UT, Voice of San Diego, The Reader and City Beat.

Then you and you’re like-minded crusaders have to organize. Have everybody over for coffee and cake, make up some signs and go down to Centrum and protest. Get a few hundred people outside of the project, contact the news stations and let the rest of the public see how much you do care. You get the AM talkshow guys to have you on to spread your message. Get Roger Hedgecock (yeah, yeah, I know – but the guy is effective, darn it!) to do a live broadcast from one of your protests.

Start a website – StopSunroad.org or some such—get people to sign your on—line petition. Publish how much money Sunroad, B of A, Burnham and the like give to our politicians.

And network with the other groups who are already against Sunroad:

Donna Frye
Mike Aguirre
Community Airfields Association off San Diego (CCCSD, which has joined the City in its lawsuit against Sunroad because of the safety risks to pilots and the community.)

In short, you’ve got to make as miserable for the politicians as Sunroad’s support makes them happy. You make Sunroad the road to political perdition for any politician who supports it—or doesn’t actively oppose it.

You make Sunroad the high watermark – the Waterloo—of forty years of San Diego development gone wild. You make it the symbol of all the corruption and arrogance that has marked this city. A giant pension deficit is an abstraction. You can’t hide a 12 story building. You want it so that everyone driving on the 163 sees that building and gets so angry they get on the phone and flame City government.

Then see what happens.

Meanwhile, we can get as righteous and angry in the blogosphere as we want. But virtual protest never beats the real thing.

Follow the Money

Follow the Money

The whole sorry Sunroad saga, like most things, is ultimately about money. So if you want to figure out how this fiasco flared into being, like the saying goes, follow the money.

Begin with Sunroad Enterprises. Sunroad’s real estate empire started in the 1980s when founder and CEO Aaron Feldman began to buy up car dealerships around Kearny Mesa.

Sunroad than began moving into commercial real estate, developing over 2 million square feet of such property over the last quarter century. Sunroad’s largest project to date has been its 420,000-square-foot Sunroad Corporate Centre in University City. But Sunroad is on the high road these days, with construction projects in the works that total as much square footage as everything they’ve done to date.

That includes the 1 million-square-foot Centrum project, of which 300,000 square feet has already been built. (That would be that little slightly-too-tall, 12-story building that’s causing such a hullabaloo.) Sunroad’s proposed Harbor Island hotel high-rise project comes in almost as large.

So Sunroad has a lot of capital dangling out there right now. Kiss off the Centrum project and the Harbor Hotels likely go kablooey, too. Indeed, given the scope of Sunroad’s current commitments, one can only speculate on how leveraged the firm must already be. The prospect of seeing the Centrum project stalled for months—or even years—can not be a prospect promising many nights of peaceful sleep for Aaron Feldman. Or for the people he borrowed all the money from to build the project. Perhaps that is why Sunroad has seemed so hell bent on completing Centrum I, come FAA or city lawsuit.

And Centrum I is not the height of the matter. A quick trip to the Centrum website (maintained by Burnham Realty, which is handling the leasing) shows a site promising three towers to be built on the site. Two of these will be taller (14 and 16 stories versus 12 stories) than the current building at the center of the controversy.

If Sunroad loses on Centrum I, then phases II and III go up in legal smoke. And that could send the sun setting on Sunroad Enterprises. But if Sunroad goes down, it doesn’t go down alone. Like good businessfolk everywhere, the Sunroad people are getting ahead using other people’s money—in this case, the good people at Bank of America. But, according to The San Diego Daily Transcript, B of A has taken on a might more risk than usual in providing construction funding for Centrum. As the article reports:

“This building differs from most office projects in that it has gotten under way without having a sizable amount of pre-leasing. For example, lenders required the Broadway 655 project in downtown San Diego be about 50 percent pre-leased before construction could start. The Diamond View Terrace project in the Ballpark District was more than 30 percent pre-leased before it got under way last year.”

Sunroad, however, was greenlighted by B of A with very little pre-leasing. One might wonder why?

According to Rick Vann, Sunroad executive vice president, B of A was convinced to give the greenlight because of the success Sunroad has had with other projects in Mission Valley and University City. This, even though those projects were significantly smaller than Centrum. Vann even put a good spin on the fact that Sunroad is stalled constructing a building for which there are no major tenants, stating in the Transcript article that “Doing it our way, the tenants don’t have to wait for other tenants to come on board before they see the building.” One has to wonder how many potential tenants are beating a path to Burnham’s door for the chance to hang their shingle on a building certified a hazard by the FAA. Or how much good it does a corporate image associated with a notorious piece of real estate.

Maybe Bank of America also saw a chance, with Centrum, to establish a good partnership with an up-and-coming real-estate mogul who seemed to have the insider track in moving projects forward with the city? The future Harbor project and, even better, potential Kearny Mesa developments—especially should Centrum help to shoehorn Montgomery Field out—hold out the promises of gigantic development profits for years to come.

If only Sunroad can complete Centrum. And if it can’t? Then B of A is on the hook for a big hunk of dough and kisses off all the additional gold that might have flowed down the Sunroad express from future projects.

And that is a prospect that can’t delight Sunroad’s other big-league partner in Centrum, the aforementioned Burnham Real Estate. One of biggest real-estate concerns in California, Burnham stands to profit handsomely from the leasing of Centrum, but only if the project is ever completed.

So, let’s connect a few dots here. Sunroad Enterprises is trying to build a controversial project in Kearny Mesa, one that, with just a little foresight and imagination, Sunroad executives must have known would be controversial. Prior to this, Sunroad hires a former city insider with no real private-sector experience to help spearhead development. And Sunroad gives the obligatory big donations to the campaign of the man who would become mayor.

Sunroad’s banking partner in this happens to be Bank of America, which, coincidentally, is the financial sugar daddy the city of San Diego has been dependent on ever since Dick Murphy helped drive the city out of the bond markets (and whose former chief of staff now works for Sunroad.) Bank of America holds San Diego’s credit lifeline in its hands at least until the city completes its final audits and San Diego can return to the bond markets. Say, in about a year.

And Sunroad’s realty partner is Burnham, whose founder and CEO, Malin Burnham, is one of the elitist of San Diego’s power elite with connections to City Hall going back decades.

So, how does the city of San Diego allow a hazardous building to be almost completed? Could it be because the companies involved have a history of substantial influence and leverage over city politicians and bureaucrats?

And what do you think the odds are that the city will be willing stand up to its chief creditor, a leading mogul and a company that’s got the city in its sights for tens of millions in potential legal liability?

Follow the money. It leads to the pot of gold at the end of the Sunroad.

Real Chutzpah

You’ve got to hand it to those bad boys at Sunroad (a handle which, though “Hearts black as the deepest, darkest, midnight Road” might be more apropos to their modus operandi, at least puts a smiley-face over their profit-at-all-costs skull and cross bone visage).
Indeed, I’ve got to admit, I’m becoming a fan.

It used to be you had to go Washington to find people with the really big brass ones. Like Nixon saying he’s not a crook. Or Clinton saying he didn’t do the nasty with that intern. Or Cheney saying we’d be greeted as liberators (or that mushroom clouds were imminently in our future; or that we’d be out of Iraq in months; or that Iraq’s oil would pay for the cost of the war; or just about anything the bald Buddha of American balderdash says…).

You used to at least have to go as far as Sacramento to hear real, big league cajones clanking. Like Gray Davis’ and the State Legislature’s back before the 2002 election, when the one thing Republicans and Democrats could agree on was that no-one was going to let the biggie billion dollar deficit cat out of their pre-election black bag of deceit.

Or his Gubenatorship calling for bipartisanship during his recall race and then whacking the Democrats (and a bunch of mislead moderates who voted for Arnold the Centrist) with his especially galling special election chock-a-block with enough right-wing initiatives to make even a member in good standing of the John Birch society blush. Or the Terminator-in-Chief’s subsequent about-face back to the center after his election gambit fizzled, leaving his fellow state Republicans out in the electoral cold last fall.

Schwarzenegger doesn’t have brass ones. His are positively cyborg—enhanced titanium. Back here in San Diego, though, our local players for the most part pack pairs made of balsawood.

Like our dynamic dual of city council corruption who sold out to a strip club owner for chump change and the appearance of playing like the really big bad boys play. Or former mayor Dick Denial Murphy who couldn’t even bring himself to at least take credit for helping to pull one of the greatest hoaxes on the voters of San Diego (Who can forget his 2004 reelection slogan: “Pension crisis? We don’t have no stinkin’ pension crisis”) in our muddled municipal history. Or Gentleman Jerry “I said I wouldn’t raise no taxes. I didn’t say nuthin’ ‘bout no fees!” Sanders who, every time he tries to put on his Strong-Mayor suit ends up finding it to be several sizes too big for him.

When this crews’ bangles bang together, the loudest sound they make is “tink.” Until now the only local player who could generate a decent clank down south has been Roger “Voice of virtue, history of shame” Hedgecock, who set the local Chutzpah bar with his daily holier-than-thou-who-haven’t-been-thrown-out-of-office-for-corruption-like-me spiel.

But not anymore. The Sunroad gang has a set that clang louder than the bells of Notre Dame. At last: locals with real Chutzpah!

Sure, they established themselves as has having big ones with their “Damn the FAA and pilot safety, full speed ahead” approach to bulldozing their way to the building height heavens. If God had meant for man to fly he wouldn’t have let Sunroad cap off their Sunroad Ceentrum project at 180 feet right in the bad-weather approach to Montgomery Field now, would He? Take that you all you weekend Lindberghers, thinking your safety (and that of all you peasants huddled in the shadows of Sunroad Centrum) should get in the way of Sunroad’s manifest destiny to build as high as they like wherever they like.

Clang! Clang!

But last week’s announcement of Sunroads intent to build two high rise towers on Harbor Island right across from Lindbergh field shows they’ve got pairs made of better stuff than brass. Better than titanium, even. These guys must be packing pairs made of whatever the stuff Darth Vader built his Death Star out of. We’re talking extraterrestrial, here. I can’t wait until they announce their plan to build a hundred-story condo project in the middle of Lindbergh’s runway number one!

Clang! Clang! Clang!

His Gentlemaness the Mayor demonstrated his own set of balsawoods when he tepidly repudiated the Sunroad Kearny Mesa project a few weeks back and refused to make heads roll at the City for allowing this poisoned plan to come into fruition in the first place. But his more Robo-Cop like response to Sunroad’s Harbor Island fiasco shows His Highness may actually be starting to swing metal after all.

Sanders saying that “The fact that Sunroad continues to propose projects that the FAA believes will endanger public safety is irresponsible and an affront to our community,” and “There is now a pattern that is developing that shows that Sunroad is willing to thumb their nose when it comes time to obeying the law,” is a sign that he finally gets how out there Sunroad is when it comes to the public good. His next move is to take the $3,600 he got in campaign money from them and fling it back in their good corporate citizen mask.

What Sanders still has to understand, though, is that Sunroad isn’t just thumbing their nose at San Diego. Their extending an entirely different digit on their corporate hand.

And clanking their extraterrestrial set as loud as they can get away with.

And it’s well past time for the Mayor, the Council and the City Attorney to cut ‘em off.

Now that would be Chutzpah!