Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It appears SDG&E is largely to blame for fires

Click here to see the original article.

Probe of Calif. Fires Lays Most Blame on Power Lines
Downing of Poles by Santa Ana Winds Renews Debate Over Costly Option of Burying Electrical Cables

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 24, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- When the firestorms of October were finally extinguished and hundreds of thousands of Southern Californians returned to their homes, officials set out to understand how 21 fires erupted in the span of just three days.

Searching high and low, they found the easiest explanations at ground level: A 10-year-old boy confessed to starting one fire while playing with matches. That blaze blackened 38,000 acres north of Los Angeles, though authorities opted not to press charges against the youth, who has been described as distraught.

Two other fires were attributed to arson, something officials said happens routinely when fires erupt elsewhere. "The arsonists jump in because they have cover; there's other fires already," said Bill Peters, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In an odd twist, a convicted arsonist was discovered among the volunteers fighting fires in San Diego County. Paroled after setting seven blazes 10 years ago, the man was not implicated in the October fires.

The leading cause of ignition appeared to be power lines.

As many as eight fires were blamed on sparks from lines blown down by the high, hot Santa Ana winds that sweep across Southern California each autumn. The Witch fire, which burned 200,000 acres and killed two people, was ignited by a power line, as was the smaller Guejito blaze with which it merged.

The findings have renewed calls for improving the safety of the power lines, either by reinforcing poles and line fasteners or, in some cases, placing cables underground in rural areas that experience the worst winds.

"We're certainly all looking at undergrounding in fire-prone rural areas -- even though that hasn't been the norm -- given the number of fires that have broken out over the last several years," said Christy Heiser, a spokeswoman for San Diego Gas & Electric. She noted that 60 percent of the utility's lines are already underground, twice the national average.

The problem is expense. Burying power lines can cost $1 million a mile. It also makes any repair a matter of digging.

"People don't understand the consequences of it," said James A. Kelly, vice president for engineering and technical services at Southern California Edison, which is less eager to bury the lines. "It's like using a 20-pound sledgehammer to kill an ant."

Edison is experimenting with less costly options, including poles made from composite materials designed to withstand winds that "are sufficient in some instances to snap wooden poles," Kelly said.

Indeed, the Santa Ana winds remain the primary reason for October's fires. The gusty, dry gales exceeded 100 mph, and blew steadily for so long that they drove fires over terrain that had been thoroughly burned four years earlier.

"As a general rule, the younger the stand, the less fuel there is," said Jon Keeley, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "But if you overlay what burned in October 2007 against earlier fire histories, what you can see is a huge portion of what burned in 2003 got re-burned. If you include the 2002 fires, it's like 100,000 acres."

Keeley said that suggests that controlled burns are relatively ineffective on Southern California's scrubby landscape. In testimony to a Senate panel last month, he urged restricting new residential development in fire-prone areas, tightening building codes on the houses that are built, and exploring the burial of power lines in the corridors that Santa Ana winds sweep through.

"Power companies aren't eager to do it because it's expensive," he said. "But given the cost of these fires, I can't believe it's not cost-effective."

And after all that, Keeley said, the public must understand that fires in Southern California are like earthquakes: inevitable.

"The thing is, everything is going to re-burn: Southern California is a fire-based ecology," said Peters. "The intangible here is, as long as people want to live on that interface between nature and man, we have to deal with that. And so that's why -- well, this happens all the time. Because that's where we live!"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Whistleblowers out of luck in San Diego

The following article is from Voice of San Diego:

Despite Advice, Mayor Still Controls Whistleblower Hotline
By EVAN McLAUGHLIN Voice Staff Writer

Dec. 17, 2007 | Employees at the city of San Diego still do not have an outlet for anonymously reporting financial misconduct to the City Council's Audit Committee, even though a rule requiring the panel to field the concerns of whistleblowers was put in place seven months ago.

Instead, officials for Mayor Jerry Sanders are still in charge of the hotline. It keeps in place an arrangement in which City Hall's boss oversees the very forum where potentially embarrassing complaints about his administration are registered, while also having the power to fire the thousands of city employees prone to use the hotline.

Dailing Out

The Issue: The whistleblower hotline is overseen by the Mayor’s Office even though city law says a City Council committee should field the complaints.
What It Means: That puts the mayor in the position of supervising the very hotline that could field embarrassing complaints about his administration.
The Bigger Picture: Along with the auditor and appointments to the Audit Committee, it’s recommended the hotline is also made independent of the mayor.

It's a dynamic that concerns some officials who want to ensure the whistleblower process is an effective fix for a city that has suffered the scrutiny federal investigators and the loss of the its credit rating because of past breakdowns in financial controls.

"Any employees that might want to blow the whistle on something and it's a particularly sensitive issue to the mayor's administration, that might cause them to pause," said Jeff Kawar, a fiscal and policy analyst at the council's Office of the Independent Budget Analyst.

The hotline is among the several remedies recommended by outside consultants at Kroll Inc. and Vinson & Elkins. Together, the city paid more than $25 million to for the firms' expert opinions.

The two firms were hired after the discovery of errors and omission in the city's financial statements, in which the magnitude of the city's looming multibillion-dollar pension and retiree health care liabilities were downplayed.

Related Links

Both Mayor and Council Seek Majority Power for Committee (Aug. 9, 2007)

Hired to Reform, Former Auditor Left Unhappy with Mayor's Control (Feb. 26, 2007)

The inaccurate financial statements attracted the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has since sanctioned the city for securities fraud and fined its former auditor. Audit firms the city hired subsequent to the 2002 and 2003 disclosure problems have withheld their blessings of the city's financial statements, which has in turn barred the city from Wall Street.

Vinson & Elkins and Kroll concluded that weak internal controls -- the checks and balances of ensuring financial statements accurately reflect the city's financial health -- contributed to the city's reporting errors in 2002 and 2003.

Objections to the city's disclosures were first aired by pension trustee Diann Shipione, who didn't have the luxury of a confidential hotline. Instead, when Shipione sounded the alarms on the reporting errors and the controversial deal forged between the city and its retirement board, she was derided as crazy and vindictive. Pension officials tried to embarrass her by taking out an advertisement in a local newspaper that compared her to Chicken Little and sought to have police arrest her at a meeting.

Kroll and Vinson & Elkins recommended setting up an employee hotline, where employees could report concerns of misconduct anonymously and confidentially. Both firms saw it as a way to bring to light the city's financial reporting problems before they reach the desks of potential bond investors.

Each consultant advised the city to have a panel independent of the Mayor's Office handle calls. In May, the council followed the path laid out by Kroll, who recommended that the Audit Committee review the complaints that were cataloged on the hotline.

However, establishing the hotline has become one of several growing pains for the new committee, which was created in January. Many of Kroll's recommendations for the committee depend on the decisions of voters, who will need to change the city's bylaws in order to remove many auditing powers from the mayor's supervision as the firm recommended.

The Audit Committee expects to hear a presentation next month from outside consultants at Jefferson Wells about the best way to handle the hotline, said Councilman Kevin Faulconer, the panel's chairman. Faulconer said he wants to know how other cities arrange their hotlines so that the city can follow the best practices of government.

One city where the mayor is not involved in overseeing the hotline is Los Angeles. Employee complaints are routed either through the controller, who is elected, or the Ethics Commission, which is appointed by various city officials.

Lee Ann Pelham, the executive director of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said employees would be more reluctant to complain about misconduct at work if they knew their calls were being handled by someone who worked for their boss.

"The hallmark of a workable ethics system is the ability to refer something to an office independently and confidentially," Pelham said.

Jo Anne SawyerKnoll, who heads Sanders' Office of Ethics & Integrity, said concerns that the mayor is too close to the hotline are unfounded. Sanders and his staff don't meddle in the complaints and because safeguards are in place, such as how the calls are fielded by a company outside the city.

"In theory, there is nothing wrong with the whistleblower line and program to be under the mayor as long as you have certain things in place that allow it to be confidential and anonymous," SawyerKnoll said.

SawyerKnoll said that an overwhelming number of complaints don't deal with misconduct. Her office doesn't investigate the alleged malfeasance. Rather, it refers complaints to the city auditor, who also reports to the mayor. She said she welcomes the council committee's involvement when it gets a process for reviewing complaints in place.

Until the Audit Committee takes over, the hotline rests with Sanders, who has gained more and more control of the complaint forum -- both by his designs and others' -- since he took office.

Former City Auditor John Torell created the hotline in 2005 before the city switched to the voter-approved strong-mayor form of government, when his office was removed from the city manager's administration and was instead controlled by the mayor and eight City Council members.

But once Sanders was put in charge of the entire city workforce, including the city auditor, in 2006, the hotline became the purview of the mayor. Torell bristled at the idea of reporting to Sanders, saying he didn't have enough independence from the administration he was tasked with inspecting. The hotline became one of the many new internal controls that would be compromised if it remained in the custody of mayoral officials, he said.

Several months into the strong-mayor structure, Sanders plucked the hotline from Torell and handed it to the Office of Ethics & Integrity. Torell then became one of four officials to serve on a committee that heard the complaints that were left on the hotline before he departed City Hall in a huff because of his diminished independence nearly one year ago.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The SEC says the pension deal included fraud

City's Former Auditor Charged With Fraud
December 11, 2007

SAN DIEGO -- The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged San Diego's former auditor with fraud for making false and misleading statements on city bond offerings.

The agency said Thomas Saiz and his former firm -- Calderon, James & Osborn -- signed off on incorrect statements about the health of the city's pension fund. The statements came in five city bond offerings in 2002 and 2003. Those bond sales raised $260 million.

Saiz agreed to pay a $15,000 fine as part of a settlement in the case filed Monday. Neither he nor the firm admitted wrongdoing.

The city's failure to disclose its pension woes became known in 2004, leading to the mayor's resignation and severely hampering San Diego's ability to borrow money.

Last year, the SEC charged the city of San Diego with securities fraud in connection with the bond sales in 2002 and 2003. It ordered the city to hire an independent financial consultant for three years but stopped short of levying fines for failing to disclose bad news about the pension fund.

The city employee's pension put San Diego $1.4 billion in debt, according to officials.

The Commission's investigation is ongoing, according to its Web site, "as to other individuals and entities that may have violated federal securities laws."

NBCSandiego.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What is the real purpose of the Lincoln Club? It doesn't seem to be education.

The Mayor’s Backroom Buddies: Who is Cox Really Looking Out For?
By Jen Badgley

Anyone who’s been following the bayfront development knows that Mayor Cox has been on Gaylord’s side since day one. Even when Gaylord got caught lying to the Port Commission , she was quick to jump to the company’s defense. Why has the Mayor been such a devoted cheerleader for a disreputable, out-of-state developer whose shaky finances earned it an “F” grade from one financial rating service?

Mayor Cox claims that she supports Gaylord because its plan is the best for Chula Vista, but if you take a look at the facts—especially the money trail—it’s obvious whom she’s really looking out for.

Most Chula Vistans probably aren’t familiar with the Lincoln Club, an elite group of corporate executives and real estate moguls who fund campaigns for business-friendly politicians, but this group pumped almost $80,000 into Cox’s mayoral bid. The director of the Lincoln Club, Gordon Carrier, is also a principle at the architectural firm Carrier Johnson, which was retained by the City to work on the bayfront redevelopment, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Another Lincoln Club contributor is Phelps Development, which formed the Gaylord Phelps Development LLC partnership last year for the “sole purpose” of winning a contract to oversee the bayfront development, according to Gaylord spokesman Brain Abrahamson. The port district was about to hire Phelps to oversee the budget, development and environmental guidelines on the bayfront project until the Voice of San Diego exposed this classic “wolf guarding the henhouse” set-up.

This embarrassing stunt hasn’t stopped Cox and her real estate cronies from stacking the deck in Gaylord’s favor. How do you think Gaylord’s local representative got a seat on Chula Vista’s Real Estate Advisory Committee? And as long as we’re asking questions, here are a few more questions that the Mayor won’t answer:

After years of public meetings, why is she ignoring the Citizens' Advisory Committee and giving free reign to Gaylord to build a development considered an eyesore and environmental disaster by many Chula Vistans?

Considering Chula Vista’s burgeoning debt, why is she giving away $300 million to Gaylord, a company that is already carrying a debt load of more than half a billion dollars? And what about the hidden infrastructure expenses that will cost Chula Vista even more?

Besides Gaylord’s convention center, what else do the Mayor and her Lincoln Club buddies have planned for the bayfront area? Why won’t she talk about the big picture for the future of Chula Vista?

Mayor Cox is supposed to represent the interests of all Chula Vistans, not just the wealthy developers who bankrolled her political career. But it’s clear whom she’s working for in City Hall. The Lincoln Club got its money’s worth when they helped elect Cheryl Cox.

Posted by LJF Team on September 26, 2007

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Was Vencent Donlan pushed into crime?

UPDATE (link): Email from Vencent Donlan?

Robin Donlan deposition
Robin Donlan's $7.7 million fraud

Did someone push Vence Donlan into committing stock options fraud?

How did so many people who were close to Robin Donlan become involved in criminal activities?

These individuals include Donlan's brother, Michael Carlson; her PTA friend, Kimberlee Simmons; her fellow teachers at Castle Park Elementary School; her union, California Teachers Association; her school district, Chula Vista Elementary School District; her brother's boss, Commander Sam Gross of Santa Barbara Sheriff's department; her lawyers; and finally, and most distressingly,
her husband, a former navy pilot and school teacher who is now serving an almost-4-year federal prison sentence.

Robin's husband Vence Donlan was never in trouble before he married Robin.

What caused him to begin to commit stock option theft a few months after he married Robin?

Could it have been pressure from his wife?

That was certainly the reason that CTA, CVESD, teachers at Robin's school, and law enforcement and lawyers became involved in criminal activities. Robin Donlan put them in a position where they had to violate the law or push back against pressure. Sadly, they all decided to break the law.

I suspect that Robin was fearful in March 2002, when she learned that her school district and her fellow teachers had been sued, that her involvement in the wrongdoing would eventually be exposed.

Robin Doig Colls married Vence Donlan in early 2002, perhaps in part because she feared that her role in the wrongdoing would be exposed, and she wanted the support of a husband. Possibly she expressed fear to her husband that she would have to pay a lot of money in a lawsuit, and he felt the need to provide her with a lot of money.

One thing is for certain: Robin committed crimes, encouraged crimes, and covered up crimes. And a lot of people suffered the consequences.

It's time for Robin to come forward and tell the truth, and try to repair some of the damage she's done. The same is true of Chula Vista Elementary School District, California Teachers Association, and the San Diego County Office of Education-Joint Powers Authority.

How about a return to the rule of law, Robin and friends?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

It's so sweet of Kaiser Permanente to give charity to Keenan and Associates

Keenan & Associates Presents Fourth Annual Summit

Torrance, Calif.

Keenan & Associates, the largest privately held brokerage and consulting firm in California, presented their fourth annual Keenan Summit, featuring notable California thought leaders addressing topics critical to employers such as health care reform legislation and public employer liabilities for retiree health care costs...

The Keenan Summit was made possible by the generous contributions of these sponsors: Blue Shield of California, Health Net, Valley Oak Systems, MuniFinancial, United Healthcare PacificCare, Blue Cross of California, Express Scripts, Bay Actuarial Consultants, Aetna, Unum, Delta Dental,
Kaiser Permanente,
Wachovia Securities, Vision Service Plan, Maximus, and Johnson Rooney Welch.

About Keenan & Associates

Keenan & Associates, headquartered in Torrance, CA, was founded in 1972. Keenan has grown to the 17th largest insurance brokerage and consulting firm in the United States. With a network of offices located throughout California and a staff of more than 650 insurance specialists, Keenan is a full service Broker and consultant, dedicated to providing superior insurance products and services for public agencies and health care organizations. The company?s exceptional growth is directly related to its concentration on meeting the risk management, employee benefits, workers' compensation and property & liability consulting and brokerage objectives of public entities, health care systems and high-tech firms.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Encinitas councilwoman abstains from closed session in protest

Good for Teresa Barth! Secrecy and wrongdoing go hand in hand.

San Diego Union Tribune published this story by Angela Lau on October 17, 2007:

Frustrated that Encinitas City Council's closed sessions are not transparent enough, Councilwoman Teresa Barth abstained from Wednesday night's closed session in protest.

Closed sessions are scheduled to discuss sensitive items, such as litigation strategy. Wednesday night's meeting discussed litigation against F Street bookstore and labor negotiations.

Barth said Wednesday night she will not attend any more closed-session meetings until the city switches its 24-hour notification policy for closed-session agendas to 72-hour notification. She said she wants citizens to have time to prepare to testify before the council begins discussions.

She said her action was prompted by repeated pleas from the public to open closed sessions. She sought outside legal opinion and concluded that the city should give the public 72 hours' notice.

She said she does not consider closed sessions to be special meetings, but regular council meetings. City Attorney Glenn Sabine said in a previous council meeting that closed sessions are special meetings.

Under the Brown Act, special meetings only require 24 hours' notice, whereas regular council meetings require 72 hours' notice.

“The city is meeting the minimum requirements (of the law), but I don't think we are doing this in full disclosure and transparency,” she said, adding that she wants an opinion from the state's attorney general.

Barth's action was consistent with her campaign promise when she ran for office last year. She had said she would try to make city government more transparent.

Shortly after she was installed, Barth said she got the city to notify the public that they can speak on closed-session agenda items before the council commences discussions.

But that was not enough, she said.

Barth's ally, Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, said she attended Wednesday night's closed session, but she wants to do more research to make sure the city is complying with the law.

Encinitas resident Russell Marr, who has been pressuring the council to give more notice on closed-session agenda items and disclose closed-session votes, said the council is violating the Brown Act.

“I told you 10 times about 72-hour notice. It's time you wake up,” he said.

Angela Lau: (760) 476-8240; angela.lau@uniontrib.com

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Was Davis Recalled for Cheney's Wrongdoing?

Utility Consumers' Action Network
Consumer Advocates

Vice President Cheney suppressed evidence of price manipulation during CA energy crisis

Posted July 20th, 2007
A recent story by Jason Leopold on Truthout.org reports that Vice President Dick Cheney was aware of price manipulation and artificial powerplant shutdowns during the 2000-2001 California energy crisis, but kept the information from the public. According to the story, just before Cheney's National Energy Policy was to be announced, the Vice President ordered the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to seal documents related to settlements with two energy companies that had been investigated for wrongdoing. Leopold writes:

So in May 2001, just days before Cheney unveiled his long-awaited National Energy Policy, FERC entered into confidential settlements with Williams in which the company forfeited $8 million it was owed by California's grid operator for power Williams sold into the marketplace at inflated prices. Williams did not admit any guilt for the power plant shutdown and, on orders from Cheney, FERC agreed to keep details of the settlement sealed. FERC later entered into a similar settlement with Reliant. The company agreed to forfeit $13.8 million it was owed by California's grid operator, did not admit to any wrongdoing, and FERC kept the details of the settlement confidential.

Williams and Reliant never admited guilt. But do you remember the audio tapes with Enron employees laughing about all the money they had stolen from poor "Grandma Millie" in California? That's who these guys are. They don't have to admit their guilt because there are tapes and transcripts that have recorded it for us. One Reliant employee is quoted in the report as having said, "we decided as a group that we were going to make [the money we lost] back up, so we turned like about almost every power plant off. It worked." A Williams employee is quoted as having told a powerplant operator that it wouldn't hurt the companies' feelings, "if the power plant that was down for repairs was kept offline for an extended period of time so the company could continue to be paid the 'premium' for its emergency energy supplies from the ISO."

Dick Cheney's decision to keep such blatant wrong-doing from the public is part noble, and part sickening. Cheney was protecting a friend. After all, the man who had hand-picked Dick to succed him as the top man at Halliburton sat on Williams' board of directors. And that man, Thomas Cruikshank, had told Cheney that FERC, "was in possession of incriminating audio tapes in which a Williams official and an AES power plant operator discussed keeping a Southern California power plant offline so Williams could continue to receive the $750 per megawatt hour premium for emergency power..."...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pat Flannery isn't wanted at April Boling's interview

Council Candidate April Boling got a free ride at the Realtors
by Pat Flannery http://www.blogofsandiego.com/

As a 30 year veteran of the San Diego Association of Realtors I went along this morning to the monthly meeting of its Government Affairs Committee. I am not a member of that Committee (you can't just apply, you have to be asked). But I have made a habit of turning up as a guest during the political season, going all the way back to when Maureen O'Connor (Mayor Mo) first ran for Mayor against Roger Hedgecock in 1983.

You can imagine my surprise and dismay this morning when I was asked to leave while they interviewed April Boling. I had turned up in May when they interviewed Carl DeMaio with no problem. What was different with Boling? I was looking forward to asking her about the prospect of amortizing the $1.2 billion pension deficit. She was on Murphy's Blue Ribbon Committee that reported on the pension problem. She knows it well.

I know she is friends with Mike Mercurio, the Realtors' Director of Government Affairs. They are fellow directors of the San Diego Taxpayers Association. Did Mercurio contrive to keep me out in order to ensure a friendly interview for Boling? If she needs that level of protection, Marti Emerald will chew her up in the election debates. Or will she only go to friendly debates, like those arranged by the Lincoln Club or the Chamber of Commerce?

The state prison miasma

from San Diego City Beat's "Last Blog on Earth"
August 9th, 2007 — Kelly Davis

"Our sister paper, L.A. CityBeat, published a series of stories this week on prison reform issues, following up on the story we ran last week. Here are some interesting facts from the lead story by L.A.’s Mindy Farabee:

" In the last 30 years, California’s passed 1,000 new laws lengthening jail sentences.

"UC Berkeley professor Jonathan Simon has found that “almost all offenders are not likely to commit a crime” after they reach their mid 40s. Roughly one-fifth of the prison population is 45 or older.

" Legislative bill AB 900 authorizes Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger to spend $7.7 billion to build more prison facilities. That money comes from general obligation and lease-revenue bonds. By the time the bond money’s paid back, the real cost could be closer to $15 billion."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

An Open Letter to Cheryl Cox about Gaylord--and Blackmail

Dear Cheryl:

It was odd that you accused the unions of blackmail regarding the Gaylord project that failed in Chula Vista. Whatever did you mean when you talked about blackmail on TV on January 6, 2007?

Here's how Merriam-Webster defines blackmail:
"Extortion or coercion by threats especially of public exposure or criminal prosecution."

Now Cheryl, did the unions do that? Does Gaylord (or you?) have a dirty secret that the unions threatened to expose? Isn't it really that you are blackmailing the unions by blaming them for the deal gone sour, when the true reasons have to do with envirmonmental problems?

Let me assure you, Cheryl, that if anyone is trying to blackmail you, the perfect defense against blackmail is to come clean in public, apologize, repair the harm you’ve done.

You know what I suspect? I suspect you were thinking about me and my pending lawsuit against you when the word “blackmail” popped out of your mouth so awkwardly. It’s your guilt that is talking, and your contempt for the law. You won’t give an inch, you won’t say you’re sorry, you just point the finger at someone else.

Instead of admitting you broke the law, you charge that someone who talks about your violations of law in public is “blackmailing” you. But if someone talks about your secrets PUBLICLY, Cheryl, that means they’re NOT blackmailing you. Me, for example. I believe that someone as dishonest and contemptuous of the law as you should not have control over public policy and public dollars. Of course, you have the option of becoming an honest person who respects the law. I urge you to do so. Right now you’re not making a wise choice, Cheryl.

Let’s see, who could really blackmail you? The press! Bonnie Dumanis! They are keeping your secrets. It sure isn’t me. Why don’t you do the right thing, and apologize, and come clean about what you and your lawyers did to Chula Vista Elementary School District and Castle Park Elementary. It would help taxpayers all over San Diego county. Your lawyer Dan Shinoff has gone on to cause even more trouble at MiraCosta College than he did at CVESD. The price tag for his folly was $3 million at MiraCosta.

It was a shame that you couldn’t tell the truth in the "Castle Park Five" case at CVESD. You wasted tax dollars once again. You forced Superintendent Lowell Billings to hide the truth about Robin Donlan and her friends, so you lost. Shame on you for wasting so many hundreds of thousands tax dollars on multiple criminal cover-ups.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Good Riddance, Gaylord

Below is a letter I found in Voice of San Diego about the Gaylord Entertainment project that fizzled in Chula Vista yesterday. Gaylord (and mayor Cheryl Cox) blamed the unions, but many believe that it was environmental problems on the sensitve bayfront that discouraged the developer. It's interesting that mayor Cheryl Cox, a longtime trustee of the nature preserve next to the planned development, never made a peep about environmental problems.

Ted Kennedy, Chula Vista
Thursday, July 5, 2007
My suspicion is that Gaylord actually read the environmental-impact report and isn't about to try to ameliorate the impacts and was looking for a dignified backdoor escape hatch. Too bad none of our local politicians read those pesky things or they wouldn't be so enamored of the good old boys from Tennessee. I am also concerned that it took our local environmental watchdogs quite a while to not be lapdogs instead. Now if we can just scare the Chargers away...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Who are attorneys supposed to represent when they're paid by a city?

You might think that Cheryl Cox, former CVESD trustee and now mayor of Chula Vista, would somehow be in charge of what the City of Chula Vista does. Cheryl says it isn't so.

She might have had something to do with the choice of John Witt, former San Diego city attorney, as a special counsel for Chula Vista. But she has nothing to do with the fact that he is suing city council candidate Patty Chavez for $100,000 because she lent herself $11,000 for her campaign and didn't report it to her opponent, Rudy Ramirez.

You might think Rudy Ramirez has something to do with this draconian attack on a housewife who ran for office. After all, he might want to strike some fear into her so she won't dare run against him again. Rudy himself is under investigation, he says. He claims he will be vindicated. Somehow, I think he's right. I don't imagine John Witt feels the same way about Ramirez that he does about Chavez. Ramirez is a Republican and Chavez is a Democrat.

Cheryl Cox says she's formed a committee to look at the rules.

How about a committee to look at how the rules are enforced, Cheryl? You've made it clear that you believe attorneys who work for cities should represent the interests of the elected officials. Somehow, I don't think you've changed your mind about that.

Jon Osborn of La Mesa disagrees with Cheryl Cox regarding the proper recipient of a public lawyer's loyalty.
On June 22, 2007 he wrote to the San Diego Union-Tribune:
"Judith Wenker (Letters, June 20) asked "How can [City Attorney Mike Aguirre] expect his city official clients, to whom he owes the duty of confidentiality and competent legal advice, to confide in him...? The client to which Mike Aguirre owes those duties is the city of San Diego."

Why do so many public officials depend so much on secrecy? Why can't public business be carried out in the open?

Legalized bribery

Am I missing something, or is our campaign finance system simply legalized bribery?

I don't see that giving huge sums of money to candidates is freedom of speech. It's freedom to drown out the speecch of others.

And fat cats who throw around large sums are making an implied threat: do what I want, or I'll drown you out. I'll give my money to your opponent, and blast you off the airwaves.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The People Don't Understand Leslie Devaney

Leslie Devaney, who ran against Mike Aguirre for City Attorney in 2004, says:

"Until the public understands the role of the city attorney, I'm not ready to run for the position again."*

Translation: As long as people think the City Attorney is supposed to represent ALL the people, and not merely protect the people in office, she won't be a part of it.

* from Voice of San Diego, "Aguirre's Foes Search for Champion," by EVAN McLAUGHLIN Monday, June 11, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sunroad-like deals happen all the time, but it appears that no one notices unless the FAA intervenes

Yesterday Murtaza Baxamusa wrote in Voice of San Diego about "The Sweet Deal for Developers."

"The witch-hunt for nefarious actors on the Sunroad project ignores the reality of the sweet deal developers get every day at the Development Services Department...

"Development Services boasts of efforts to "streamline the permitting process," including over-the-counter permits and "inspectors for hire," demonstrating an apologetic culture in implementing regulations.

"The results are impressive. Development Services continues to get high customer service points in developer surveys...

"Add a developer-friendly streamlined review process to a badly written development agreement, and you have a disaster waiting to happen...In April 2006, FAA started noticing this tall [Sunroad] building, and the rest is history ..."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

You know a lawyer is planning to cover up crimes when...

You know a lawyer is planning to cover up crimes when he asks to be indemnified. That's what Bonny Garcia asked--and received--from San Diego County's deeply corrupt Otay Water District a few years ago.

SDCERS, the San Diego City Employee Retirement System, should not have agreed to pay for the defense of its lawyer, Loraine Chapin, in 2005. That case has still not gone to trial. It appears that SDCERS wanted to make sure Chapin continued to help them get away with wrongdoing. But when Chapin's lawyer asked in 2006 to be indemnified, the pension board balked. If he does a good job covering up Chapin's wrongdoing, he won't need to defend himself. Apparently the board wants him to do a really good job.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bush administration fights to stop private Mad Cow Testing

Tthe US now tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cattle for mad cow disease, so some meat packers have tried to take up the slack. Big meat companies don't like the idea, fearing that competition from safe meat might hurt their business. Competition might be good for consumers, but, according to an Associated Press story today, it wouldn't please the big cattlemen. So the Bush administration opposes private efforts to ensure safety.

The Agriculture Department argues that if you do too much testing, you might get a false positive result, which would harm the meat industry. So far, three cows in the US have been found, after multiple tests, to have mad cow disease. The cows were from Washington, Texas and Alabama.

It's better for a sick cow to get into the food chain than to hurt the meat industry, according to the Bush administration.

Veggie burger, anyone?

From Sea to Shining Sea--Bush administration fights Mad Cow testing for all

Tthe US now tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cattle for mad cow disease, so some meat packers have tried to take up the slack. Big meat companies don't like the idea, fearing that competition from safe meat might hurt their business. Competition might be good for consumers, but, according to an Associated Press story today, it wouldn't please the big cattlemen. So the Bush administration opposes private efforts to ensure safety.

The Agriculture Department argues that if you do too much testing, you might get a false positive result, which would harm the meat industry. So far, three cows in the US have been found, after multiple tests, to have mad cow disease. The cows were from Washington, Texas and Alabama.

It's better for a sick cow to get into the food chain than to hurt the meat industry, according to the Bush administration.

Veggie burger, anyone?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I've seen up close how school board member turned Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox nurtures her friendships with developers (most recently in the Laurie Madigan case), but I'm just getting to know Cheryl's husband Greg Cox and his fellow San Diego County Supervisors.

Rob Davis writes in today's Voice of San Diego:

"When developers in San Marcos want to build homes atop coastal sage scrub -- a dwindling habitat that's home
to the rare California gnatcatcher -- they turn to San Diego County's government for help.

"Over the last decade and a half, developers have destroyed 183 acres of scrub in San Marcos, paying San Diego County $879,000 for the right to do so.

"Their ability to build on the habitat was supposed to be temporary. Under a compromise forged to help North County cities develop after the California gnatcatcher became threatened, the cities were granted the ability to destroy 5 percent of the habitat while they worked on a long-term conservation plan."

It looks to me like the supervisors are selling irreplaceable resources to keep their campaign coffers filled with developer contributions.

The agreement to sell was supposed to be temporary.

From Voice of San Diego:

The Issue:
In exchange for the right to oversee development in federally protected areas, a group of North County cities agreed to formulate long-term conservation plans. Nearly 15 years later, those plans remain unfinished.

What It Means:
Each government received the right to develop an allotted amount of sensitive land as conservation plans were being developed. The county has offered its allotment up for sale to developers, removing an incentive for cities to finish their plans.

The Bigger Picture:
San Diego’s habitat plans, once lauded as pioneering efforts, have been beset by delays, funding issues and other problems.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cheryl and Greg Cox: "We have pretty much lived our lives as an open book."

“We have pretty much lived our lives as an open book,” Cheryl said to Tanya Mannes for a January 1, 2007 article for the San Diego Union Tribune.

Strange, I haven't noticed Cheryl's nose getting longer. Maybe that only happens in fairytales. Cheryl is nothing if not a good actress. She seems so sincere, doesn't she?

Yet this is the very same Cheryl Cox who was so opposed to having pictures taken at one of her private fundraisers, that her associates not only threw out a young man with a camera, but got District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to investigate him! Jason Moore is now under indictment for allegedly lying about whether he filled out his leave slip before or after he took the two hours off work for Chula Vista mayor Steve Padilla. (Good luck Bonnie and Cheryl, on getting 12 of Jason's peers to convict him. But in the meantime, maybe your doctors could prescribe some pills to make you less mean.)

Cheryl spent six years in control of one of the most secretive public entities in San Diego County, Chula Vista Elementary School District. There is a lawsuit in the works against her for her role in the destruction and alteration of documents, and the creation of phony documents, at CVESD when she was on the board.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Trailer comes loose on Chesapeake Bay Bridge; 3 killed

Last night traffic was snarled for hours at the peak of rush hour when a trailer came loose from an SUV.

Why did the trailer come loose?

The same thing happened to me when I was pulling a U-haul trailer with a U-haul hitch, installed by U-haul. The trailer started swinging from side to side as it hung on to the car by the chains. Fortunately, it was early afternoon on highway 94 in San Diego, and no one was near me.

I found that the bolt that was supposed to hold the trailer to the hitch had disappeared. I lifted the trailer and shoved it back into the hitch. I used a pen in place of a bolt and drove VERY SLOWLY. The pen broke and I lifted the trailer again, but this time I injured my back.

What's wrong here? I suspect that the plastic clip--that holds the bolt in place--broke, and allowed the bolt to slip out.

U-haul--how about a clip redesign?????

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Only in California and Haiti do Casinos Regulate Themselves

Here's an interesting post by Cheryl A. Schmit, Founder and Director of Stand Up for California.

"...As of February 2006, the CGCC had only completed six audits of the state’s 55 tribal casinos. The reason given for such lax oversight: the compacts failed to clearly establish the state’s role as independent regulator.

"What’s the effect of this? There have been numerous instances of corruption and theft in tribal casinos. One estimate is that the state received only half of the tribal casino revenues it was due under the 1999 compact. Unlike Las Vegas and other states, California tribal casino patrons have little assurance from independent regulators that the state’s tribal casinos are fair..."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Jason Moore, meet Robin Donlan

Jason Moore, who took two hours off work and caused Cheryl Cox to go after him like a butcher's wife with a carving knife, should be introduced to Robin Donlan.

Robin Donlan is Cheryl Cox's protege. Cox spent hundreds of thousands of public dollars hiding Donlan's crimes against a fellow teacher (and against the people of California) committed from 2000 to 2004.

Cheryl Cox and the rest of the Chula Vista Elementary School District board made sure teachers and administrators at Chula Vista Elementary School District committed perjury regarding Donlan's crimes. The California Teachers Association provided Donlan with legal help and worked with Donlan and the Castle Park Five to create a media attack on Superintendent Lowell Billings, who had the nerve to transfer Donlan out of the school where she was continuing to cause trouble.

Without the support of Cox and Chula Vista Educators, Donlan might have lost the sense of entitlement and invulnerability that caused her to help her husband Vence Donlan fleece Wireless Facilities out of $7.7 million dollars.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Greg and Cheryl Cox both play the "look the other way while our lawyers do the dirty work" game

The San Diego Union Tribune hides the wrondoing of public officials it likes. But the SDUT did give a perfect description of how those officials go about their business in the first paragraph of an article on April 22, 2007:

"San Diego County Officials aren't actively helping the Chargers find a new stadium site--they met only once with team representatives last year--yet since September they've paid $109,787 to two consultants who specialize in stadium deals."

The SDUT article goes on to note that a "one-hour phone call at a cost of $585" was part of the bill for something the county supervisors pretend NOT to be working on.

Gee whiz, you don't think Greg Cox and the all-Republican board of supervisors is trying to steer a stadium deal to Chula Vista, where his wife is mayor, do you? These consultants, who cost an average of $506 per hour, won't steer the Chargers away from cities with Democratic mayors, will they? Well, if they do, it's probably good for the Democrats. The Chargers have a tendency to drain money from any city that builds them a stadium.

San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox pays public money to lawyers to get him what he wants, but pretends he himself is not involved. This is exactly how his wife, Cheryl Cox, operated in Chula Vista Elementary School District with her lawyers
Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz.

The Cox Collaborative sets up lawyers with an assignment, then continues to channel public money to those lawyers while looking the other way. A public employee is appointed as go-between so that the Coxes don't have to communicate directly with the lawyers. They can claim ignorance of all the dirty deeds--unless someone actually provides the Coxes with the proof of the misdeeds.

The Coxes were provided with proof that Daniel Shinoff and Kelly Angell (AKA Minnehan) obstructed justice and suborned perjury on Cheryl Cox's behalf. Rather than investigate, Cheryl Cox said that the lawyers had told her not to talk about the matter.

Cute little scheme, isn't it? Greg and Cheryl aren't as dumb as they pretend to be. They are, however, every bit as secretive and dishonest as they appear to be.

Cheryl Cox and her posse should repay Chula Vista Elementary School District

Cheryl Cox collected about $30,000 for approving the wrongdoing of the CVESD board for six years.

Cox kept her mouth shut about serious illegal actions, faithfully bowing to the wishes of the board majority comprised of Patrick Judd, Pamela Smith, and Larry Cunningham, even when the law required her to do otherwise. Cox proved herself to be unfailingly loyal to developers and political operatives. Then she collected her reward. She's now mayor of Chula Vista.

Here's my suggestion, Cheryl. You harmed the children of Chula Vista with your loyalty to the politically powerful. Don't you feel even a little guilt that you walked over those kids to get where you are now? If you do, why not return the money you were paid as their trustee? While you're at it, why not ask Judd, Smith, Cunningham and Bertha Lopez to return their ill-gotten gains, also? Judd and Smith must have collected well over $100,000 between them. Perhaps they could hire someone to teach the employees of CVESD about their obligations under the law, and their obligations to the children of those who pay their salaries.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Abuse of power and public money in Chula Vista since Cheryl Cox took office

Citizens are starting to notice that Chula Vista has been giving away money to Cheryl Cox's friends since Cox became mayor. At the same time, Cheryl Cox's camp is abusing its power (which includes the power to get Bonnie Dumanis to engage in bizarre attacks on Cox's political opponents). All this from someone who campaigned on the issues of CHARACTER and FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY.

ELVA GIBSON writes (San Diego Union Tribune letters April 7, 2007):

Regarding “Ex-mayoral aide pleads not guilty to perjury in 'political dirty trick' ” (Our Region, April 3):

Am I the only one confused by the article about an unemployed former Chula Vista mayoral aide who has been charged with five felony counts of perjury that could land him in prison? Jason Moore's attorney said this investigation is over whether his client turned in a leave slip before or after the photography incident occurred back in August.

He also said that at no point did the incident being investigated cost taxpayers a penny. I think there clearly is a waste of taxpayers' dollars – specifically, the cost of a six-month investigation about when a time card was turned in. And if there is a conviction, what will be the cost to incarcerate Moore? Isn't a time-card question an issue for Chula Vista's Human Resources Department? Or is it too busy giving golden handshake checks to former city management?

One just has to read the articles about the recent sweetheart deal Chula Vista gave to one of its former employees being investigated over conflict of interest. Let's see, one ex-employee gets a $155,000 payout and annual benefits of nearly $30,000. The other? Well, he gets five felony counts.

I guess the lesson to be learned is that if you are being investigated you should get three high-powered attorneys, and you'll land safely, thanks to a generous golden parachute. Sad.

San Diego

Monday, February 12, 2007

Re/Max wants a judge to stop the Ummels

Marti Ummel and her husband have been picketing Re/Max Associates in San Diego's north county because deception by a Re/Max real estate agent cost them about $150,000.

"Nobody's going to feel sorry for us," Marti Ummel said to Voice of San Diego's Kelly Bennett, referring to the Ummels' comfortable financial situation. "We can afford to get screwed. But there are other people who can't."

Marti Ummel makes an excellent point. Victims that are the most severely damaged by illegal actions rarely have the ability to do what the Ummels are doing. Most victims don't have the time, money, and emotional fortitude. They have to be at work to survive the financial damage done to them, and they are often emotionallly devastated by violations of law committed against them. Ironically, it is those who are less severely damaged who must challenge wrongdoers on behalf of all victims. To that end, the Ummels have filed suit against Re/Max and their La Costa-based real estate agent/mortgage broker Michael Little.

Kelly Bennett of Voice of San Diego reports:
"Marti Ummel said she asked Little to get an appraisal for at least a month before he finally requested it in July 2005. The Ummels' copy of Little's request for the appraisal shows double underlines and exclamation points next to the notes for the appraiser, John Contento: "Purchase price $1,200,000; Need yesterday -- sorry!"

"The Ummels claim this as evidence that Little influenced the appraisal so that they would feel more comfortable buying the home at that price. Another, almost identically sized, home on the same block had sold six weeks' previously for $1.095 million, but the Ummels say Little didn't tell them about it.

"Marti Ummel said the only way she found out about the recent, lower-priced, sale was by looking at a flier dropped on her doorstep by another Realtor a few weeks after they'd closed the sale.

"Roger Lopez, an appraiser who wasn't involved in the sale, said that requests for price-matching aren't uncommon for appraisers to receive. Because appraisers' businesses depend on being asked to do appraisals by mortgage brokers, they sometimes feel "undue pressure" from the mortgage brokers to match the price they're asking for."

Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Ummel, for informing the public and putting some much-needed pressure on crooked real estate agents. It's clear that Michael Little feels he'll get away with his subterfuge. And quite likely he will. He'll have a huge industry behind him, and as Roger Lopez says, "There's a gray area."

Yes, there is always a gray area. We'll see if the legal system considers Michael Little's behavior to fall inside the gray area, or outside it. It looks like fraud to me.

Re/Max wants a judge to stop the picketing. They want their victims to remain unknown to the public. I'm not sure if they want to change the free-speech provisions of the Constitution, or if they think the judge in the Ummel

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ann Smith is getting her wish--SD is selling its children's inheritance to pay for illegal deal

On Jan. 11, 2007, Andrew Donohue reported the following for Voice of San Diego:

City Prepares to Sell First Batch of Land

The city of San Diego has taken preliminary steps to sell 34 properties -- including raw land, a mobile home park and La Jolla homes -- in an offering that provides a glimpse of what the Mayor's Office will be unloading as it begins to evaluate the city's vast real estate portfolio.

Aides said Mayor Jerry Sanders aims to sell $20 million worth of property in each of the next five years as he attempts to manage the city's fiscal crisis and that the posting was the first of what are likely to be many. Although the city charter forbids Sanders from using land-sale proceeds to directly fund such pressing issues as the $1.4 billion pension deficit or to pay raises for police officers, the additional money could go toward another expensive need on the mayor's extensive wish list: infrastructure projects...

An accompanying photo of the San Ysidro border crossing carries this caption:

A 2,800-square-foot U.S. Border Patrol building at the border with Mexico, and the 4.5-acre parcel it sits on, are among the 34 properties that the city of San Diego may sell as part of the mayor's plan to raise $100 million over the next five years. Photo: Vladimir Kogan