A (Red) Rose By Any Other Name

OK San Diego taxpayers, if you’re like me you’ve got your tuxes pressed and shoes shined, ready to attend THE social event of the San Diego  season. Set your watches for tonight at 7PM.

That , of course, is when I’ll be entertaining one and all by watching this Tuesday’s Lost on DVR !  I’ve got the widescreen and Bose sound system.  You bring the popcorn.  A good time will be had by all.

Unless, of course, you’re otherwise engaged.  Like in attending the San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s  15TH ANNUAL GOLDEN WATCHDOG & GOLDEN FLEECE AWARDS DINNER TONIGHT: Highlighting the Good, Bad and Ugly of Local Government soiree tonight at the Town and Country.

Me?  I’ve got too many bluebooks to grade and too many other things to do with the $200 or $250 ticket price (I forget the actual tab as I seem to have disposed of my invitation. )  And I really , really want to see how they resolve all those plot twists with Jack, Kate, Sawyer and the crew. (Twenty dollar bet it all ends with Jack waking up and saying, “Whoa dude, what a dream.”)

Look, I think the SDCTA is a fine group dedicated to its cause and doing no small public good in stimulating a community dialog on government accountability and oversight.   They are a civic minded crew, no bones.  My continual beef, petty though it is, remains that the SDCTA persists in claiming to be something it is not: a  nonpartisan group that represents San Diego County taxpayers. .

I’ve already bellyached about the representing county taxpayers bit.  There are plenty of county taxpayers (and, if you’ve bought a soda in the last year you, my friend, are a taxpayer) who do not see eye to eye (or adjoining universe to adjoining universe) with the SDCTA.

But I can forgive them that minor transgression.  A number of brands tend to overstate themselves.  Like the League of Women Voters which tend to come across of the League of Progressive Women’s Voters.  And the SDCTA’s name is accurate to an extent: it  is in San Diego County and does represent taxpayers.  At least some of them.

My bigger beef is that the SDCTA claims to be a nonpartisan organization.  It says so right in their Mission Statement, right between the claims to be a non-profit organization (true dat) and to be dedicated to promoting accountable government (true dat, too.) But then the mission statement goes on to say the SDCTA is dedicated to also  promoting “cost-effective and efficient government and opposing unnecessary taxes and fees.”

And therein lies my problem.

Ain’t no way, in this partisan age of ours that you can put the words “non-partisan” and “promoting cost-effective and effective government and opposing unnecessary taxes and fees”  into the same sentence without running into a massive contradiction.   It is precisely determining what exactly constitutes effective and efficient  government and unnecessary taxes and fees that forms the fundamental fault line between the two political major parties.

And the SDCTA consistently comes down on one side of that division.

The current June propositions are a case in point.  The SDCTA website lists its June ballot recommendations (here) . So do the websites for the  San Diego County Republicans (here) and the San Diego County Democrats (here).  I’ve summarized their positions  in the table below:

Of the six local propositions the County Republicans, Democrats and the SDCTA all took positions on  the “non-partisan” SDCTA lines up 100% with the GOP.   (In fairness, the SDCTA breaks 50/50 with the two parties on the statewide propositions.  This time around.)  I haven’t taken the time to track, election by election, SDCTA ballot recommendations and compare them to the two parties.  Maybe this summer.  My hunch, though, is that, over the long haul,  such research will  find a strong correlation between the SDCTA and the GOP.  I don’t think an organization that predominantly and consistently endorses the positions of one of the two parties has a lock on the claim to be “non-partisan.”

Indeed, the SDCTA’s claim to be non-partisan strikes me as something of a cop out.  If the organization truly has faith in its convictions shouldn’t it acknowledge  whom it aligns with and supports?  Claiming to be non-partisan is an attempt by the SDCTA to give itself an imprimatur of superiority over all those other crassly partisan groups wrestling down in the political mud and muck while the SDCTA stands proudly on its noble non-partisan pedestal above the fray.  It’s a brilliant marketing ploy, to be sure.  But most group today that  like to claim to be nonpartisan are like products that  claim to be “new and improved” or “low fat.”  The question is: Compared to what?

So I’ll spend tonight in watching the alternative realities that unfold on Lost.  Meanwhile the SDCTA can continue living in its own alternative reality where it is truly non-partisan.

Friday Fish

I moderated the first of six election programs at the Catfish Club today.  This event was on the pros/cons with the strong mayor system.  Darling Donna Frye squared off against  political consultant and Strong-Mayor guru Adrian Kwiatkowski. I’d call it a split decision but that’s because I’m increasingly ambivalent/agnostic on the issue.  The audience, for the most part, seemed to go with Frye and the return to the old Mayor-Council-Manager status quo.

For me, I’m not convinced going back to the old model would do any good.  Indeed, I’m historical a supporter of the Strong Mayor system–except for the fact that the current system is only a kinda-not-weak Mayor system, what with the simple majority veto override power.  Strong Mayor 2.0 promises to right this mistake and increase the council from the oddly even current eight members to the rightly odd nine members with a two-thirds veto power.  That’s all well and good.

Three things have made my support for waiver, however.  First are the slew of stories (such as Don Bauder’s Reader exposes) on just how cozy things have gotten behind the closed Eleventh Floor doors of the Mayoral fiefdom and downtown interests, some of less than savory repute.  Second has been accusations by Councilmembers like Donna Frye that, now that the Chief Operating Officer formerly known as the City Manager is no longer directly accountable to the Council, the typical response of city staff to council inquires is a polite, bureaucratic “drop dead.”  And third, being a stalwart believer in Cicero’s admonition “show me he who benefits and I’ll show you the guilty party,” I’ve got to wonder why all the champions of Strong Mayor 2.0 (as well as the original Prop F) seem to reside in the moneyed towers of our municipality.  If just a few bona fide citizen activist groups—particularly a few representing  some of the city’s less advantaged denizens—where systematically stepping on in favor of this, I’d have less of the “oh my, there goes the power elite again” heebie-jeebies.

But I’ve still got an open mind on all this and wait to be wowed by the Strong Mayor 2.0 pro and/or cons artistes out there.

For now I’m just content knowing that Friday after next I get to return to the Catfish club for a nice piece of fish and a good side of debate.  And it will be my birthday!  I do hope they have cake….

In Lieu of Flowers

From Today’s Hard Copy of City Beat

A Eulogy For Mike Aguirre

True to my prediction of four years ago, Mike Aguirre has become San Diego’s version of the mad Florentine monk Savaranola: having incited the locals to burn down the downtown power establishment he finds himself instead burned at the political stake.  His legion of detractors, however, from the editorial and blogger  pages of the UT to the front office of the Chargers to the halls of City Hall right to Jerry Sanders himself might well find they will  ultimately rue the day of Mad Mike’s fall.  For now whom will they blame their many failings on?

No longer having Aguirre to kick around, Gentlemen Jerry and the City Council may also find that the only thing that’s kept the political peace in San Diego for the last four years was their  shared fear and loathing of Mike.  Sanders first tried to triangulate with Aguirre against the council, then teamed up with the council against Aguirre. With Mike gone and all the financial problems hanging over the city, watch the mayor and council turn on each other like rabid and ravenous professional politicians.

Let us not underestimate or minimize the degree to which Mike mauled himself. By most accounts Mike’s management of City Attorney’s office was closer to Humprhey Bogart’s helmanship in the Caine Mutiny than E.G. Marshall’s stewardship in The Defenders His inability to focus on any one project long enough to see it to completion, whether it be run-of-the-mill civil litigation or major investigations left him long on rhetoric but short on accomplishment.

Meanwhile the promised centerpiece of his litigation empire—the lawsuit to roll back pension benefits– only served to alienate Aguirre from what could have been a political alliance with the municipal unions and gave the UT with millions of dollars in ‘wasted money” to shoot at him with.  That Jerry Sander’s said the lawsuits  needed to proceed and be resolved  before he could take any actions to solve the pension problem somehow has gotten deleted from the pension narrative.  With Jan  Goldsmith ready to drop the litigation, the UT’s question should be:  So what’s the new pension plan, your Mayorship? Instead, no doubt, the paper of record will congratulate Goldsmith for saving millions of dollars by dropping litigation aimed at saving hundreds of millions.   Se la vie.

And then there was Mike himself.  Or, specifically, Mike’s mouth.

Mike seemed to have reinterpreted Thumper’s Mother’s advice to be “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, go out of your way to kick them as many times as you can.” Mike was San Diego’s little boy who cried corruption so often that, even when corruption seemed to be evident (can you say Pensiongate?  Sunroadgate?) the press and much of the public rolled their collective eyes and said, “There he goes again.”   What Mike forgot was the Occam’s razor of municipal government: never claim corruption and conspiracy when simple incompetence will suffice.

Aguirre actually had a higher view of the city’s leaders than most common folk did.  Presented with the incredible screwups on every thing from sewer systems to development deals, most San Diegans simply threw up their hands and said, “What d’ya expect from those clowns.”  Aguirre was actually charitable enough to assume that city officials—both elected and appointed—where smart enough to know what they were doing and that screwups where actually intentional subversions of the public good.  His constant maligning of multiple malificient muncipal malefactors, however, eventually fell flat in the face of the depressingly low level of competence San Diegan’s have come to expect from their municipality.

Yet the real irony in the case of Mike Aguirre was that, no matter how flawed the messenger may have been, his fundamental message—that the city was heading towards, be it by incompetence, corruption or cowardice, a fiscal Armageddon and no one on the council (with the exception of Darling Donna Frye)  or the Mayor’s office was willing to even so much as admit how bad things were let alone take proactive steps to head off disaster–was  quite correct. Indeed, Mike is even more correct about the state of the city leaving office in defeat than when he entered it in victory.

Between 2000 and 2004 the city became the municipal version of the Titanic, slamming full speed into the pension fund debacle.  Over the last four years, under the stalwart stewardsip of two mayors, two acting mayor and scads of City Managers and CFOs,  the city backed up and then slammed full speed ahead into that iceberg again. And again. This time the ship might finally sink.

As Aguirre recently claimed (and Dan Bauder reiterated in last week’s Reader)  the pension fund deficit, around a billion  and a half dollars when Mad Mike came into office, is probably closer to THREE billion today.  Back in 2004 the City was in the middle of good times with the markets and tax revenues on the rise.  Today the City, like the rest of the country—and the world—is in a recession heading towards depression. Which means any hope of riding this out without making major—and painful—cuts are simply delusions or deceits.

The city council might want to hold off voting to ban plastic shopping bags. What will hundreds of city employees put the contents of their desks into when they are, let us say, sent on extended permanent furlough (what shall they call “firing you”? Let them count the ways…) once the full financial plight of the City is realized? Keep a few branch libraries from closing?  By this time next year the Council may be selling the library’s books on E-bay for spare cash and wondering how to keep at least a few police stations open. Citizen Aguirre thus leaves office as he came in,  with the name of his cherished boyhood sled “Bankruptcy” on his lips.

That Mike Aguirre leaves shallow footprints on city politics is in part due to his own personal failings but more because so many of the city’s movers and shakers worked so hard to brush him away.   His attempt to turn the City Attorney’s office into something of a Tribune of the People is now being rolled back, much to the relief of the city establishment. Safely ensconced at last in his new City Attorney digs, Landslide” Jan Goldsmith is ready, true to his word, to take the office back to the halcyon days of  Casey “Pension underfunding? Sure we can do pension underfunding”  Gwinn.

Just how will Ferret Man Jan deal with the next Sunroad? Or the next (as in current) pension under funding scheme?  Will Goldsmith continue any of Aguirre’s Quixotic adventures, like efforts to force Kinder Morgan, the corporation that owns the tank farms by the stadium, to finally make good on its legal responsibility to clean up the Mission Valley aquifer  contaminated in a fuel spill twenty years ago? Given that Goldsmith campaigned on the platform of turn the City Attorney’s office back into the legal mouthpiece of the mayor and council, one can only imagine the answer.

Meanwhile the changing of the guard at 202 C Street is now complete.  In addition to Aguirre’s agonosites,  the last four members of the City Council’s gang of seven (the gang that voted the city into its current fiscal failures starting in 2000) have been turned out as well, though, in these cases, by term limits and not voter vindictiveness.

And thus it’s a final irony that, with the exception of Dick Murphy (who cheated a public recall hanging by his own political suicide) Mike Aguirre is the only elected San Diego official since to pay any price for a lack of success in public office is recent memory. (And how many people DID get fired over that little Sunroad flap?  Ah ha.  Thought so.)  Scott Peters is off to his cozy sinecure on the Port Commission, a going away present from his former council buddies. The troika of Atkins,  Maienschein and Madaffer may be, as yet, unspecific about life post-council but we should all sleep well at night knowing that there’s probably a nice public sinecure or private partnership awaiting them somewhere.  Jerry Sanders,  meanwhile, having coasted to easy reelection can now hear, wafting whispers of his name on the lips of Republicans desperate to find some one to run for governor in 2010.

Only Mike Aguirre comes out of this miserably mauled.  But take heart Mikey. Your principal public antagonist, the UT, is on the sales block.  And your political antagonists like Peters and Sanders may well see their political shelf-lives shrink to that of overripe mangoes given the financial fury facing the city.  Indeed, it is unfortunately possible—and not for your lack of warnings–that your dourest predictions of municipal collapse might yet come true.  Like the mad monk Savaronola ranting against the corruption of the  De Medici’s, you may end up vindicated in the end.

And the citizen’s of San Diego may find themselves saying a few years—or months—if only we’d listened to that obnoxious Mike Aguirre.

Charter Reform This

Egad how complicated can you make charter reform. What to put on the ballot? When to put it on? Come on, guys, it’s not that complicated. Here is the four-step plan to simple San Diego charter changes:

1. Mayoral Veto: The UT had to have published one of the most inane editorials it ever has (and believe me, the competition for the title in the annals of UT lore is intense) last Sunday when it lambasted the City Council for refusing to accede to the Mayor’s ultimate dream scenario of requiring a super-majority to veto Mayoral actions.

“The flimsy pretext for this unwarranted delay was that a six-vote requirement to override the mayor’s veto would constitute more than two-thirds of the eight-member council.”

So sayeth the oracles of the UT.

Exsqueeze me? Not wanting to adopt a 75% override super-majority is a “flimsy” excuse? So what now? The UT’s Bowtie Bob Kittle disinters Jimmy Madison from his crypt over in Montpelier and slaps the corpse around for having the temerity for putting a two-thirds veto Congressional majority into the Constitution as opposed to the three-quarters required for ultimate weighty issues like, say, amending the Constitution? How dare Mr. Madison, et. al, constrain the power of the energetic and noble executive.

A Super-Mayor (as opposed to just a run-of-the-mill Strong Mayor) would provide one-stop convenience shopping for the powerful economic interests that dominate the downtown scene. So, of course, the UT would love to see a Mayor with a super-majority veto shackling the City council. At least, that is, a Mayor who conforms to the UT’s editorial board positions which, often as not, align all so nicely with those of the downtown money crowd (which, given the paper’s dwindling readership, seems to be their principle subscribers anyway).

I wonder what the UT’s position on the veto would be if a social progressive like a Donna Frye was Mayor. Hmmmm, let me think…

UT, get over it. Ain’t nobody this homie knows of that requires a super majority for a legislative veto. The Council’s veto should be set at two-thirds. Which, of course, means the council has to be expanded to at least nine districts, with six necessary for the veto. And which leads me to suggestion….

2. Council Expansion.: The proposed nine council districts is better than the ridiculous even numbered eight council districts the Strong Mayor reform package left the city with. Going to nine districts will reduce the number of people each councilmember is trying to represent from 163k to 146k. But this pales in comparison to the level of personal representation afforded citizens of, say San Francisco, whose 11 supervisors represent around 70k citizens each or Chicago, whose 50 (yes, 5-0) Alderman represent around 50k each. In other words, San Diegans are vastly underrepresented.

Okay, significantly increasing the size of the council adds to costs (staff and salaries, etc.) and to complexity (more people trying to reach agreement). So, what? How about we abolish the council entirely and just have a mayor—maybe a wealthy one like Steve Francis who will foreswear his salary—running the show? Boy, that would save the moola. And, of course, flush the whole concept of democracy down the porcelain fixture.

I’d like to see a council of 11, 12, 15 or 18 (which makes the 2/3 veto majority math easy). That would increase representation (and, potentially, diversity) on the council. So what if that would also render the current council chambers obsolete. They keep saying City Hall is outdated and needs to be replaced. So do so and build a new one, big enough to accommodate the needs of San Diego in 2008 as opposed to 1974 when the current City Hall was built. Which brings me to suggestion….

3. Build a new City Hall and don’t build it downtown. Why is “downtown”– a place most San Diegans seldom go to–the nexus of City municipal life? Could it be because the rents and land there is are cheap it would be foolish to move City Government somewhere else? Could it be because downtown is centrally located and convenient in terms of traffic and parking for most San Diegans to reach? Could it be because it places City Hall within easy walking distance of all the developers, bankers and lawyers representing these said and other special interests who can afford to maintain tony downtown offices precisely to lobby City Government?

Gee, I wonder which one it could be?

How about we sell all the City’s downtown property and disperse the mechanisms of City government around the City itself? Downtown San Diego has always been more of a wish than a reality anyway. Why is Normal Heights or Clairemont any less advantageous a locale for the seat of governance of a sprawling Uber-burb like San Diego? There are these thing called phones, fax and the internet which, I hear, makes communication over vast distances (like, say, Linda Vista to Mira Mesa) very doable these days.

Put the main City Hall, and its council chambers someplace truly central, like Kearny Mesa or Tieresanta. Have each councilmember’s office and staff located in their own district so their constituents can find them as opposed to the downtown suits. And put the Mayor in a really big RV and have him or her tool around town, doing each day’s business in a different district.

Okay, the last one is a little pie in the cracked sky. But why keep all the representatives of the City in the same building every day? They should be in the communities they represent. And access is power, something, interestingly enough, mayoral candidate St. Francis of the City acknowledges when he’s suggested the Mayor’s office be moved to City Heights or some such . Why do you think the very first battle in every new administration, be it mayoral or presidential, is who gets the office closest to the chief? You keep city government downtown and,–Surprise! Downtown money interests get disproportionate influence.


4. Fix the City Attorney conflict. An elected City Attorney cannot faithfully serve both the people who elects him or her and the members of City Government as the interest of the People and the Government often conflict. This puts the CA in an untenable position: either be a lapdog of the Mayor and Council (as past CAs were and which the Council and Mayor would like the current and future ones to be) or be a public advocate at odds with the very City Government he or she is called upon to represent. So, as I’ve advocated before, split the job. Create a new position of City Counsel to represent the City in legal affairs and turn the CA into something more akin to the County DA—a watchdog representing the legal interests of all members of the community. Do that or simply abolish the elected status of the CA and return the position to that of Council/Mayor appointment. You can’t have a good watchdog and lapdog at the same time. (Well, actually you can as my ninety pound shepherd-collie-Afghan mix attests to, but you get point.)

There are other tweaks that can be done (like having truly independent City Auditors appointed by a “blind” panel of public citizens and a truly independent City Ethics Commission. But these are my Big Four for Charter Reform.

Then again, why fix anything? I mean, things have been running so well in San Diego government for so long, if it ain’t broke……

STeve FRANCIS of the City

Okay. I had to bend over backwards to get the pun in the title in place. But it’s Lent, the season of atonement and forgiveness, so give me a break. Yet it does look like Steve Francis has his heart set on trying to save the City of San Diego one more time – even if the City is not particularly warm to his kind of saving.

So what does a millionaire who already blew a million (or two) on an abortive run for mayor do during this, the off-season between elections? Why, pump more time and money into his own think tank, of course. Like Carl DeMaio ideological cousin, the Performance Institute, Francis’ San Diego Institute for Policy Research serves the same basic goal – self promotion of its founder in the guise of promoting a retro-Reagan agenda. (Question of the day: Just how many neo-conservative think tanks can this berg float?)

It’s been long rumored that DeMaio has been trying to segue his think tank work into a run for City Council. Might Steve Francis still be nursing the political bug as well?

Last Thursday’s $50 a plate luncheon hosted by Francis’ institute was more about reminding San Diego that he was till around than it was about serving up the neo-conservative Dinesh of d’day—oh stop it already!—Dinesh D’Souza to wax poetic about all things illiberal in America. (Most disappointing that Dinesh didn’t extend his vein of thought about how American slavery actually made life better for their modern descendents. Like Iraqis will all benefit in the future from all the deaths because it will tighten labor markets and lead to higher wages! After all, D’Souza has made a career out of that sort of facile reasoning.)

Or, at least, it was about Francis reminding the audience of largely conservatives(and potential political donors) that he was still around. And willing. Though for what he has been less than clear. Perhaps this is what precipitated Jerry Sanders dropping playing coy and telling supporters three weeks ago that he was in the reelection race: letting Francis and other potential rivals know the lay of the land.

Meanwhile Francis does seem hot to trot the political runways again. Last time around, much of Francis’ support–including a number of key campaign staffers–came from outside of San Diego. His strongest local booster was then San Diego Republican County Chair Ron Nehring, who strong-armed an unusual party primary endorsement of Francis.

Isn’t it interesting that Francis’ local patron has now moved up to the State chair, a position from which he could steer even more support to a Francis run—for whatever.

Perhaps California’s state Republicans, still dominated by die-hard conservatives, see a win with Francis in San Diego as a flexing of clout that could serve as a possible offset to the rising clout of Arnold the RINO?

In any event, STeve Francis of the City bears watching.

On the Waterfront

Two weeks ago, former state Senator and current John Moores “senior advisor” Steve Peace and perennial (or is that centennial?) county Supervisor Ron Roberts presented their bayfront dream. The plan is nothing if not ambitious: reconfigure Lindbergh Field by moving the terminals over to Pacific Highway, close off a big hunk of Harbor Drive and create a bayfront promenade of parks and public spaces mixed with complementary commercial enterprises from Shelter Island to National City. One can only applaud any public figures who suggest something approaching comprehensive planning be applied to what has, since the days of Alonzo Horton himself, been the hodge-podge development of the municipal asset that Roberts calls “San Diego’s front porch.”

But it’s what lies behind the plan—the plan for the plan, if you will—that intrigues me. The history of San Diego’s waterfront development over the last decade is a lesson in political pointillism: lots of separate, discrete individual dots that, together, make up a comprehensive image. And if you connect all these dots, the dominant image they create is the logo of a candy company: M&M. Only in this case the two Ms refer to San Diego’s two behemoths of development, John Moores and Douglas Manchester.

Peace sees his initiative as a natural extension of the California Independent Voter Project that he spearheads (with a helpful infusion of John Moores’ money.) The primary interest of the CIVP, Peace says, is to stem the tide of increasing voter disengagement. Peace blames voter blasé on, as he puts it, “the binary world” of negative political posturing that has replaced civic dialogue in recent decades. Peace recently told me that, in his view, the whole purpose of the bayfront initiative is to try to develop a citywide (indeed, regionwide) positive dialogue on a critical civic issue—the waterfront—and then measure if such a positive dialogue can, in fact, improve citizen engagement. Thus one way of looking at the Peace-Roberts initiative is a sort of political-science experiment writ very large.

But this is Steve Peace we’re talking about here: a man with a history of good intentions that have, on occasion, initiated events that have quickly grown beyond their initiator’s controls. Like energy deregulation that became the Enron fiasco and the San Diego Airport Authority that spawned the waste of public time—and monies—that was the Miramar initiative.

And now the Peace and Roberts initiative, however nobly inspired, is stirring up the always-troubled port waters with possibly unforeseen consequences. One of these seems to be the potential—if not the reality—of increased friction between the two biggest players in downtown San Diego.

Moores and Manchester are the two biggest-league players in the San Diego municipal ballgame. Indeed, with the passing of the matriarchy of Joan Kroc and Helen Copley, they are the new heads of a San Diego patriarchy, the crown princes of civic leadership and philanthropy.

Manchester came on the San Diego scene the old-fashion way, working his way up from humble local origins, building a real-estate empire project by project over the last four decades. Moores’ rise is more endemic of the modern route to wealth, riding the new wave of high-tech money in the 1980s and converting it into a real-estate empire in the 1990s and ’00s.

The two men have many similarities. Both are family men (score: Manchester 5, Moores 4). Both are nationally renowned philanthropists (though Moores wins this match-up having made some of the largest public university donations in U.S. history.) And both have been the dominant players on the San Diego waterfront for the last decade or three. On that score, though, Moores is the latecomer to the majors. Manchester built his waterfront empire in true monopoly fashion, assembling contiguous properties and building hotels on each one. Moores built his on the transformation of East Village, which flowed from his quest for a new home for his newly acquired Padres.

And therein lies another similarity between the two men. At the core of both their empires are major civic projects around which their private developments could flourish: the San Diego Convention Center for Manchester, Petco Park for Moores, with each man being a prime booster of the public projects that would, in turn, boost their own prosperity.

So how did San Diego’s titan twins end up in potential conflict? The two magnates co-existed peacefully enough in the 1990s. Like multimillionaire versions of Germany and Russia back in 1939, they maintained a cordial development détente, dividing up downtown into spheres of influence like a municipal Poland. Manchester focused on building out his waterfront holdings around the convention center while Moores did the same around Petco. But their two zones rubbed right up against each other on Harbor Drive. And where there’s rubbing, there’s friction.

In 1999, the two men became embroiled in a convoluted tussle over the Campbell shipyard property. Located right next to the convention center, it was the natural site for Manchester to next expand into. But Moores’ JMI Realty had already entered into a preliminary agreement with the Port District to build a hotel on the property. Then the Port District deselected JMI and switched award of the project to the Manchester Financial Group. A JMI spokesman at the time said that JMI’s only interest in the property was to get a hotel built on the site to generate transit occupancy tax revenues needed to offset financial obligations generated by Petco Park. But the series of legal and environmental hassles that followed ultimately resulted in the Port of San Diego paying Manchester a hefty $5 million (including a $3 million profit) to buy out his interests in the development deal. Meanwhile the hotel project remained derailed and the TOT dollars desired by JMI never materialized. Neither man was reported to be particularly pleased with the matter.

M&M may be generating friction again, this time over differing views of developing the waterfront north of the convention center. Manchester has focused his energies in recent years on two key projects: development of Lane Field and redevelopment of the Navy Broadway Complex. The Peace/Roberts vision would, if adopted, significantly impact Manchester’s plan and even cancel large portions of it. At a minimum, simply starting this new dialogue, as Peace calls it, has the potential to stir up a hornet’s nest of public action and “dialogue” that could bog down Manchester’s projects for years. As a man self-described as given to emotion, this cannot be a prospect that’s easy to swallow. Manchester was being unusually understated when he complained to Voice of San Diego that he wished “Ron and Steve would have come to us a year ago, before spending $3.8 million and going through the 28 public hearings.”

All of this could result in a win-win situation for Messieurs Manchester and Moores, of course. Manchester has a penchant for making lots of money even off of failed development projects by suing public entities—in addition to the port settlement, he got $2.2 million from the city of Oceanside over a development deal gone south. Litigious lawyers must even now be salivating at the thoughts of the size of the settlements Manchester might muster over the even bigger Navy and Lane Field projects.

Moreover, it can be certain that Manchester will be able to secure a lucrative slice of whatever development opportunities the Peace/Roberts “dialogue” might generate. And Moores can clear a spot on his shelf for the kudos he’ll receive for being a visionary force in creating a livable San Diego waterfront for generations of San Diegans to come.

Peace strenuously points out that he and Roberts are acting without overt collusion with Moores. (Though he does say the whole idea for the waterfront initiative came about over a breakfast between “four old white guys”—himself, Roberts, Moores and the project’s conceptual architect.) Moreover, he denies that their plan will maim Manchester in any way. Peace, in other words, comes in peace.

Peace also points out that Moores’ interests downtown are altruistic. Yes, Moores lives downtown and has extensive business holdings there, but, Peace says, he has moved into his Bono phase of life, more interested in philanthropic projects like AIDS and stem-cell research than getting involved in a big, downtown imbroglio.

But therein may lay the rub. To Moores, San Diego is a nice place to live and rake in a few extra tens of millions from real estate and sports ventures—all the better monies to give away in his new role in life as a global philanthropist. But “Papa Doug” Manchester takes a more paternal view toward his San Diego projects. He doesn’t just live in San Diego; his entire business identity is San Diego. His San Diego projects are, in their own way, his professional children. And Moores, directly or indirectly, unintentionally or not, is messing with two of Manchester’s babies.

Thus on this, Valentine’s Day, it would seem there is little love to be lost between M&M down on the tangled political turf of the San Diego waterfront.

Clash of the Titans

And I’m not referring to the cheesy 1981 takeoff on Greek mythology. If you recall, that camp flick showed us that even great stars like Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith are willing to suck it up every now and then be part of a real dog of a dog and pony show in exchange for a big paycheck.

No, I’m referring to our own local cheesy dog and pony show that hit the boards this week – the Peace and Roberts save the bay campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud both of them for their efforts to dare suggest that some element of comprehensiveness be applied to how we treat the City’s single greatest natural asset.

It’s just that I’ve become a tad cynical over the years and always find myself, wanting to or not, asking the Columbo-style “why” questions.

Like why didn’t Peace, the father of the ill-begotten San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, bring up his ideas to transform Lindbergh and the waterfront several years ago before the SDCRAA embarked on its Quixotic Miramar quest . And, as Doug “I Don’t Own All of Downtown Yet But Give Me Time” Manchester said, it would have been nice if the Peace and Roberts show had rolled into town last year when the debate on the Broadway pier development was heating up.

Now I’m sure both Ron and Steve have the civic good of the city in mind. But I’m also sure both will milk this for whatever political advantage they can gain from it. Run for Mayor, Stevo? Tired of serving forty decades on the Board of Supers, Ron and looking for other employ – perhaps with JMI? All speculation, of course. But when you leave obvious questions unanswered, speculation runs rampant. (At least in this blog…..)

Which takes me to my final piece of Peace speculation. The former state senator, as you recall, is a “senior adviser” (great work if you can get it) to John “If Doug Manchester doesn’t own it chances are I do” Moores. Moores has presumably let Peace off his JMI leash to pursue his “I have a Bayfront Dream” campaign. (Even as Moores is a major contributor to the organization backing Peace.)

But John Moores is a very, very smart man. And he can connect the dots on Peace’s promenade plans. And these dots lead right to Doug Manchester’s Navy Broadway complex.

And Manchester seems more than a little irked at Peace’s Johnny (more)-Come-Lately entrée into the bayfront debate.

So one has to ask? Have our local development Zeus and Jupiter started throwing surreptitious civic lightening bolts at each other? Is Peace’s master plan proposal actually a quite declaration of war by his Master against his greatest downtown rival, the stakes being control of the City’s waterfront?

How exciting. I’m going to get myself a bowl of popcorn and see how this plays out.