Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jan Goldsmith: right wing and reckless? Andrea Dixon and developers are back in favor.

Jan Goldsmith is still going negative after being sworn in. Jan Goldsmith apparently likes campaigning more than he likes the job of San Diego City Attorney. In his inaugural speech, he combined his fondness for developers with some reckless, unsubstantiated allegations.

Goldsmith stirs up criticism with claim
Inaugural speech lashed out at foe
By Matthew T. Hall
December 14, 2008

The rub on Michael Aguirre was that he was reckless: He made unsubstantiated allegations that were beneath the dignity of any lawyer, much less San Diego's city attorney.

No one sounded that criticism louder than Judge Jan Goldsmith, who used it to unseat Aguirre in an election last month.

But in his first five minutes in office, Goldsmith made an unsubstantiated allegation of his own. During his inaugural speech in front of 2,000 people Monday, Goldsmith alleged that Aguirre had reassigned an attorney who dared to take an ethical stand in an office run amok.

From the dais, Goldsmith restored Deputy City Attorney Andrea Dixon to her old position advising the Planning Commission. Afterward, he declined to back up his claim or elaborate on it.

“I really think it says something about his character and integrity that he's willing to jump on this for political advantage to continue to grind his heel into Mike,” said Kathryn Burton, who was an assistant city attorney under Aguirre. “He made spurious accusations about the office and the management of the office that he hasn't even vetted. In a funny way, he's as reckless as Mike is.”

...The inauguration came a month after the supposed end of a tough political campaign in which Goldsmith said Aguirre habitually circumvented due process and Aguirre said Goldsmith was too close to builders and business interests.

A quarter of Goldsmith's high-profile speech involved the tale of Dixon being punished for refusing “to do something that she was ordered to do because it violated her ethical obligations.”

...Another former assistant city attorney, Karen Heumann, said a belief that Dixon was rubber-stamping development projects played a role in her being removed from Planning Commission duties.

Burton and Heumann said Goldsmith never spoke to them before making his accusation, to hear their version of what happened. Both were relieved of duty during the transition.

The public accusation by Goldsmith is surprising because, again and again in his campaign, he criticized Aguirre for making unfounded allegations.

“Your work is based upon conduct and actions, not based upon a lot of accusations and hot air and making enemies,” Goldsmith said at one televised debate. “That's a huge difference between us. I have never shot first and asked questions later...

UTC expansion

Retail giant Westfield's proposal for a $900 million expansion of its University City shopping center was at the center of the Dixon dispute.

The company sought approval to add 750,000 square feet of shops and 250 to 300 condominiums, raising concerns for neighbors about traffic, noise and other environmental issues.

Two July 25 e-mails show Burton asked Dixon to rewrite her memo reviewing the project to more fully analyze the legal issues and “to protect the public interest.”

Dixon wrote, “While I am very aware the project is controversial, I have not found any legal inadequacies in the EIR (environmental impact report), nor is there anything illegal concerning the draft permits.”

Burton replied, “Irrespective of any personal opinion regarding the merits of the project or the merits of the EIR, any opposition position that could prove problematic for the decision maker should be addressed.”

Burton added, “When I spoke to you about the project, you shrugged your shoulders and said: 'Ehhhh, the council is going to do what the council is going to do. Nothing we write will change that.' Your work on this project has not been of a quality that could be approved for distribution to the council.” ...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cheryl Cox should resign or be recalled; she has brought corruption, not character, to the Chula Vista mayor's office

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' office investigated and prosecuted a young man for taking two hours off when he worked for mayor Steve Padilla. Why? Because Cheryl Cox supporters were outraged that the young man used the time to try to get a photo of Cheryl Cox with disgraced politico David Malcolm. Dumanis topped off her gift to Cox cronies (including San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox, Cheryl's husband) by prosecuting another Cox opponent, Steve Castaneda. That political prosecution ended with the vindication of the victim.

Cheryl Cox told the voters that she was the candidate with more "character." That gambit was a hoax.

Cheryl Cox's character has been revealed to be cynical and corrupt. Not only is Cheryl dishonest and secretive, but she abuses her power. And worst of all, she happily watches as the District Attorney's office abuses its power on her behalf.

Chief of staff Dan Forster should go, and he should go now.

And Cheryl Cox should go with him.

Mayor's top aide got pay for other job on city time
By Tanya Sierra
December 12, 2008

Mayor Cheryl Cox's chief of staff was paid at least $25,000 as a consultant for his previous employer, with some of that work done on city time, according to documents released this week.

Dan Forster, who has worked for Cox since December 2006, said last month that he made $10,000 plus expenses for his consulting work for the North Slope Borough, a government agency he once worked for in Alaska...

North Slope Borough records show that officials agreed to pay Forster up to $27,030 between September 2007 and August 2008...Forster said Wednesday that he might have underestimated how much he was paid when asked about the work last month.
Invoices show that Forster has so far been paid $24,957, about $2,000 shy of his $27,030 contract maximum...

It is unclear how much of the work was done on city of Chula Vista time, but numerous e-mails – many with lengthy attachments – were sent to and from Forster's city e-mail account during his regular work hours at City Hall.

Last month, Forster said he did very little consultant work on city time. Cox said she gave Forster permission to consult during work hours because he was a good employee with an excellent record of being available when needed.

[This attitude is a complete contradiction of Cox's attitude toward city manager David Garcia. Being available when needed was not an acceptable defense in Cheryl's opinion just one month ago.]

The city's Internet and e-mail policy, however, prohibits employees from operating a business through the city's Internet link.

[Cheryl made it clear when she was a Chula Vista Elementary School board member that she didn't think policies applied to her.]

...This week, Cox proposed eliminating Forster's position because the city is struggling with a projected $20 million budget deficit next year...

Forster, who makes $124,000 a year at the city, said the idea was his and that Cox initially objected...

[I believe Mr. Forster's comment regarding Cox's objection to a clever idea. Cox is not a gifted problem solver, nor does she believe in doing the right thing.]

If his position is eliminated, Forster would stay through the end of June, when this fiscal year ends.

[Very clever idea, Mr. Forster, but not quite good enough. You should leave now, and take Cheryl Cox with you. And you should both be grateful that San Diego has a District Attorney who protects corrupt public officials.]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If it weren't for recent stories about Sarah Palin and Ted Stevens, I'd be surprised Alaska is on the list

North Dakota Tops State Corruption List
By John Fritze,
USA Today
Dec. 11, 2008

Federal authorities arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday...

"If it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States it's certainly one hell of a competitor," Robert Grant, head of the FBI's Chicago office, said Tuesday.

On a per-capita basis, however, Illinois ranks 18th for the number of public corruption convictions the federal government has won from 1998 through 2007, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Department of Justice statistics.
Louisiana, Alaska and North Dakota all fared worse than the Land of Lincoln in that analysis.

Alaska narrowly ousted Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in the election in November after he was convicted of not reporting gifts from wealthy friends. In Louisiana, Democratic Rep. William Jefferson was indicted in 2007 on racketeering and bribery charges after the FBI said it found $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer. Jefferson, who has maintained his innocence and will soon go to trial, lost his seat to a Republican this year.

But North Dakota?

Morrison said the state has encouraged bad government practices in some cases by weakening disclosure laws. North Dakota does not require legislative or statewide candidates to disclose their campaign expenses.

The analysis does not include corruption cases handled by state law enforcement and it considers only convictions. Corruption may run more rampant in some states but go undetected.

Michael Johnston is a political science professor at Colgate University in New York — which is ranked just after Illinois for corruption convictions. Johnston, who has studied political corruption for 30 years, said places such as Illinois gain a bad reputation that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Are the library closings really secret land deals?

Blog of San Diego
by Pat Flannery

Mayor Sanders made an abrupt proposal to summarily close down several libraries. Here is Andrea Tevlin's much more thoughtful budget cutting proposal. Hers shows a wider perspective and allows for community input.

Tevlin's recommendation is: "keep these facilities open until a more deliberate and comprehensive plan for facility closures is developed and presented to Council." She notes that a number of libraries are on Sanders' closure list and also on his expansion list. Is this just incompetence or something else? If it is incompetence it is really gross incompetence.

Take the Ocean Beach Library for instances. Is Sanders aware that:
"In 2005, the City purchased land adjacent to the Ocean Beach Library for an expansion. According to Council reports at the time, this property is collateral for a HUD Section 108 loan of $2.0 million garnered for the Ocean Beach Library. Loan payments are approximately $223,000 annually through FY 2017 and are being paid from District 2 CDBG allocations."
Here is the public record, from the Tax Assessor. It confirms the IBA's findings but does not reveal the sale price from attorney Thomas Bryan to the City. It would take a little more digging to get that. The fact that the City later borrowed $2 million against the property tells nothing of the sale price or the value of the property. The important point is that the City is on the hook for $223,000 per year for that property. They have probably used the $2 million elsewhere by now. They move such money around all the time.

It seems to me that this whole library and park closure business has more to do with secret land deals than balancing the 2008/09 Budget. If Sanders is about anything he is about land deals. It is my guess that somebody wants that OB site. The library lot together with the lot next door would make a perfect mixed-use development. How many of the other library lots chosen for closure would make excellent development opportunities? Here are aerial pictures of the seven properties, all prime developable lots.

It would explain why Sanders is so sore at Andrea Tevlin. Is she spoiling a well-laid plan? Her recommendations make all the sense in the world. She says: "we are recommending a comprehensive facility plan addressing proposed closures along with proposed openings be brought to Council by February 2009 in order to prepare for the future." Sanders was very scathing about that suggestion. Why? His demeaning remarks about Tevlin brought public protests from Councilmembers Atkins and Young.

Sanders argues that because of an implementation delay, Tevlin's recommendations will result in a "cost". He failed to mention that she has offset this "cost" by raiding two of his pet projects: a BPR (outsourcing) surplus and his reallocation of a Transient Occupancy Tax surplus (he wants to use it for promotional expenditure on his hotel friends). Look at the attachment to her Report to Council. Sanders has a very weak argument.

The best thing that came out of the new "Strong Mayor" form of government was IBA Andrea Tevlin. We are immensely lucky to have her. Let's hope the City Council votes to support her sensible recommendations over the very suspicious proposals of Sanders on Monday November 24, 2008.

Scott Peters' last act of infamy as a City Councilor

Scott Peters' last act of infamy as a City Councilor
by Pat Flannery

A bizarre end to Scott Peters' eight years on the City Council is unfolding. He is using his powers as Council President to finally ram an unwanted 12,000 square foot student center, with a 17,000 square foot garage, on a quiet single family residential neighborhood in La Jolla. For some unknown reason he has pushed this project like a tiger for his entire term in office.

Facing widespread opposition from his own constituents in La Jolla, he managed to get his former law partner, Suzanne Varco, to represent the City in a law suit filed by two La Jolla citizen groups: the Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use and the La Jolla Shores Association. On March 27, 2007 the City lost. Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn struck down the City of San Diego's decision to permit this totally inappropriate project.

Peters and the City decided to ignore the court, saying: "it was determined that the applicant would be allowed to resubmit a new application addressing the judge’s concerns, and process it through the City’s review process." Peters docketed the project for a Council hearing on December 2, 2008, his last day on the City Council. Here is the full documentation for the Council Meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Note that the project has been rejected numerous times by the City Planning Commission, the La Jolla Community Planning Association and other local groups.

According to this Peters Doctrine of land use, if a citizen objector sues the City and wins, the City simply invites the applicant to resubmit substantially the same project and call it a new project. The City will then decide what "addresses the judge's concerns", not the judge. That is what Peters has placed before the City Council on Tuesday. They should reject it.

But here is where it gets really bizarre: the City screwed up the public notice regarding the vacation of a right of way that is part of the project's application. Dr. Ross M. Starr, a Professor of Economics at UCSD, sent this email to the City Clerk on November 19th. He noted that after inspecting the site on November 18 "There were no posted notices for the hearing currently docketed for December 2, 2008."
There was however a posted notice dated October 1, 2008 for a hearing on October 16, 2008. Dr. Starr and his friends wisely took pictures of the posted notice on front of a copy of the Union-Tribune for that day, November 18, 2008. Here it is and another showing a wider view of the site.

The City's response was to go out to the site and post this Revised Notice, announcing a special City Council meeting for December 5, 2008. It explained in bold print: "This Posted Notice is being provided in addition to the Posted Notice, previously posted on November 19, 2008. The Hillel of San Diego Student Center Public Right-of-Way Vacation has been noticed for the City Council hearing of December 2, 2008. It is anticipated that this item will be continued until Friday, December 5, 2008."

This means that Council President Scott Peters informed the City's Development Services Department that five Council Members had reached a "collective concurrence", on or before November 21, 2008, to continue Item 343 on the City Council Agenda for Tuesday, December 2, 2008 to a special City Council meeting on Friday December 5, 2008. Such a "collective concurrence" is illegal - in breach of the California Brown Act.

Yet that is exactly what Scott Peters is planning - one final act of infamy on his very last day as a member of the City Council. I hope a sufficient number of his former La Jolla constituents turn up at City Hall on Tuesday December 2, 2008, to deny him this final abuse of elected office.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Public Records Request for CCDC's Nancy Graham e-mails finally granted, sort of

Link: 404
Voice of San Diego
by Rob Davis
November 25, 2008

E-mailWatch has ended. The Centre City Development Corp. recently turned over one final batch of e-mails sent or received by its former president, Nancy Graham.

We sought all of her e-mails after April 1, looking to determine what Graham had communicated as questions began being raised about her financial relationship with developers with business pending downtown. As my investigation continued, what did she tell people around her?

Turns out, not much. Or at least not much that was disclosed in the e-mails I fought for months to obtain.

Here's how the e-mails look by the numbers:

5,205: E-mails Graham sent or received between April 1 and her July 24 resignation.

0: E-mails that CCDC's attorneys from the Los Angeles-based law firm Kane Ballmer Berkman said were public records before our fight began in September.

4,388: E-mails that CCDC's attorneys ended up turning over after two months of back-and-forth.

413: E-mails that were spam or duplicates.

404: E-mails that were withheld and kept secret.

CCDC attorney Murray Kane offered this breakdown of why the 404 e-mails were withheld: 260 were attorney-client privileged; 35 were part of the deliberative process; 40 were confidential or related to on-going negotiations; 40 contained personnel, medical or "similar privacy matters"; 30 were preliminary notes or drafts not kept in the regular course of business.

CCDC withheld some responses to e-mails it disclosed. For example, Richard Ledford, a local lobbyist, sent Graham a May 13 e-mail entitled "Love That Press". It was written four days after our initial story documenting Graham's past business relationship with the affiliate of a developer with business pending downtown. The story was the first in that led to Graham's resignation and misdemeanor criminal charges being filed against her.

"I leave the country for a couple of weeks and you hit the press..." Ledford wrote. "you just gotta stay out of trouble! Ok, now don't shout, but my St. Paul client wanted to know if there are any fully entitled condo projects for sale in the redevelopment area. Yeah yeah yeah... don't start on me!"

Graham replied the same day. CCDC never provided her reply or the specific legal reason it was withheld.

For those who have been following E-mailWatch, at least two changes have resulted from our pursuit of Graham's e-mails.

Fred Maas, the CCDC board chairman, discovered from the e-mails that Graham had bought $18,000 in office furniture for CCDC's move to new offices earlier this year. That furniture is now supposed to be returned and replaced with less-costly furniture.

Maas said that CCDC is also taking steps to streamline the disclosure of e-mails requested in the future. Maas said CCDC's policy starting in 2009 will be to disclose all e-mails sent to staff members. Any e-mails containing confidential information will be directed to a special e-mail account; everything will be released otherwise, Maas said.


Friday, November 21, 2008

When it comes to greed, sometimes it's hard to differentiate between city unions and Republican insiders

We know that developers and their insider friends keep public money flowing to private projects, but in San Diego it seems that city unions are just as ready as the fat cats to suck the city dry.

Trying to DROP the Budget Deficit
Nov. 19, 2008

As the denizens of City Hall search every financial nook and cranny for ways to close the city's gaping budget hole, some sights have been set on the DROP program, the now famous pension perk that has long been the target of fiscal reformers.

The city could save in the neighborhood of $750,000 annually if the 13-member board of the San Diego City Employees' Retirement System votes to cut in half the guaranteed 8 percent interest rate paid on money city employees have in the program, according to a back-of-the-napkin estimate by Joseph Esuchanko, the city's actuary.

Though this savings would represent less than 2 percent of the city's $43 million midyear budget deficit, it would be equivalent of saving several libraries or recreation centers that Mayor Jerry Sanders has proposed closing to close the budget gap...

However, the pension board, made up of a mixture of current and former city employees and mayoral appointments, has consistently shot down proposals to lower the interest rate. The board is scheduled Friday to consider lowering it to 7.75 percent.

In 2005, the city ended the Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, for new employees. And both Sanders and City Attorney Michael Aguirre have tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the program altogether.

The program allows employees with five or fewer years left until retirement to keep working and collect a monthly pension payment based on their salary and years of service at the time they enter the program. The pension money is deposited into an account controlled by the pension system, which pays an 8 percent return no matter what is happening in the financial markets.

In exchange, employees freeze the salary that their pension calculation is based on the moment they enter DROP...

On Oct. 31, the pension deficit stood at $2.78 billion -- more than double what it was a year ago, according to Esuchanko...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Does San Diego need two city attorneys? Aguirre to represent the people, and Goldsmith to represent officials?

I suggest that cities need two city attorneys--one to give honest, accurate legal advice, and the other to defend officials.

Voters want the city attorney to look out for them, and not just for elected officials. Shamefully, most elected officials want to keep the system in which the city attorney's job has been to help officials do whatever they want, and get away with it. Alternatively, the attorney tells the council what to do, and acts as a de facto city council without being elected.

Apparently San Diego needs both Mike Aguirre and Jan Goldsmith.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How many lawyers does it take to do an ethics training? Three--Leslie Devaney, Priscilla Dugard and Christina Cameron

In the case below, three lawyers from Stutz, Artiano Shinoff & Holtz were apparently needed to give a two-hour ethics training to Murrieta officials.

But Stutz partner Daniel Shinoff has found easier methods of training public employees.

MURRIETA: Ethics training opens eyes
Attorneys from the San Diego firm Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff and Holtz held an ethics training
October 28, 2008

...Attorneys from the San Diego firm Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff and Holtz held an ethics training session for elected and appointed city officials dealing in public business. Members of the City Council and six commissions reviewed issues of transparency in government, reporting personal financial interests, handling public contracts and the misuse of public funds...

"The public's expectations of you are even higher than the law," Devaney told those in attendance. "And avoiding conflicts of interest is your responsibility."

[Blogger's note: This is actually not true. The public would be delighted if officials would simply obey the law. Devaney's problem is that she and her firm have spent so many years helping public entities get away with violating the law, that she has a distorted view of what the law is. The same is true for conflicts of interest, which Ms. Devaney apparently defines as anything that conflicts with her own interests.]

With regard to public meetings, Devaney said new restrictions on serial meetings limit how much discussion of public business can be done outside of a public meeting. If one commissioner e-mails another ... with the intent of getting a consensus, those commissioners will have violated a law that prevents city business from being conducted without the public's knowledge.

[Leslie Devaney's law firm orchestrated the PALMGATE scandal at MiraCosta College.]

..."It would look wrong," said attorney Christina Cameron, regarding financial favors for public officials. "If the public read about it in the paper, they would be sure that (you were) getting a better deal."

Regarding campaign contributions, current officials and even City Council candidates were warned of accepting contributions that might later be suspected of a quid pro quo exchange.

"During the campaign season, promises are going to be problematic, (even) when there is no smoking gun," said attorney Priscilla Dugard.

Murrieta officials have not always been on the right side of conflict of interest allegations. A former city councilman who had also been mayor pleaded guilty in 2007 to criminal counts of submitting a false document and conflict of interest. Jack van Haaster, who was ousted from the City Council in a 2005 recall election, admitted to failing to declare his financial interest in a road paving project when he voted on it.

Councilman Warnie Enochs was admonished by fellow council members in 2006 for helping his son on a contracting job on which Enochs had voted in favor. While Enochs said he did not benefit financially, his colleagues said his action was inappropriate for a public official...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Psychology of elected officials: the Diva

Some say Sarah Palin is going rogue:

Oct. 25, 2008

"...A second McCain source tells CNN [Palin] appears to be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.
"Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

"A Palin associate defended her by saying she is "not good at process questions" and that her comments on Michigan and the robocalls were answers to process questions..."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

SEDC's Regina Petty has written the best denial of a Public Records Act request I've ever seen

Regina Petty, attorney for the Southeast Economic Development Corporation, has written a heated, angry letter. I much prefer it to the cold, disinterested letters of refusal I have received from attorneys Daniel Shinoff and Diane Crosier when I was trying to get the invoices for Daniel Shinoff's bills to San Diego County Office of Education. (Yes, at one time Diane Crosier put Shinoff in charge of denying my requests for Shinoff's records!)

Here is Regina Petty's letter:

I Am Sorry, for You
Voice of San Diego
By Regina Petty
San Diego

Oct. 20, 2008

I am sorry when I must inform a person requesting records that the Public Records Act expressly exempts from disclosure privileged information.

[Blogger's note: You mean you wish you didn't have to come up with a bunch of bogus excuses when someone makes a legitimate public records request.]

I am sorry that was dissatisfied in July 2007 when it promptly received a summary of the amounts the Southeastern Economic Development paid to my firm for legal services in response to a Public Records Act request.

[Come on. You knew they'd be dissatisfied. You intentionally left out the information they wanted.]

I am sorry that I responded by agreeing to perform the task of redacting privileged and confidential information from multiple years of statements for legal services even though there is no legal authority requiring that I do so for this type of document.

[Right. You could have just copied the documents without redacting them.]

I am sorry that in 2007 no one from ever came to review the redacted statements for legal services which took some time to prepare.

[You say (below) that you couldn't find the documents recently. When did they get lost? Was there ever anything for VOSD to look at? How severe what the redactation job you did on the documents?]

I am sorry that's attention to its own Public Records Act requests unexpectedly vacillates from indifference to exclusive focus.

[What?!? You mean you thought they were going to let you off the hook, and then they didn't? Yes, I guess that would be a disappointment.]

I am sorry that when recently renewed its request for the records the SEDC staff was unable to immediately locate the documents from 2007 so that the redaction task had to be performed again.

[Yes. That's too bad.]

I am sorry that there were extra demands placed on my time in September due to the replacement of more than half of the board members of the SEDC.

[If you had given better legal advice, there wouldn't have been so many board members losing their positions.]

I am sorry that there were extra demands placed on my time in September because of the additional board and committee meetings that were held by the SEDC.

[See previous]

I am sorry my highest priority in September was attending to the needs of a Board of Directors managing a major organizational transition.

[Transition? You mean the people to whom you gave legal advice got caught carrying on questionable relationships with developers, and were forced out?]

I am sorry that my daughter's desire that I accompany her as she relocated to France was inconvenient for

[I'm sure VOSD would have been perfectly happy if your secretary had simply copied all your invoices and turned them over while you were gone. But that would have been inconvenient for you, right?]

I am sorry that I shortchanged my daughter by delaying the trip to be present for the SEDC Board of Directors meeting on Sept. 24 and limiting the trip to return in time for another agency's board meeting on Oct.2...I am sorry that my presence was required at publicly noticed meetings of the SEDC and other agencies on Oct. 2, 9, 10, 13 and 14 so that Will Carless was unable to determine my whereabouts.

[Sorry, Ms. Petty. There's no way you will be able to make Will Carless the bad guy here. Your presence was required because of a scandal you helped create.]

I am sorry that Will Carless called me at my home on Oct. 9 while I was attending a publicly noticed meeting at the SEDC.

[See above.]

I am sorry that Will Carless has repeatedly falsely claimed that responses to Public Records Act requests were late.

[I'm a whole lot more likely to believe Will Carless than to believe Carolyn Smith's lawyer. He has no motivation to lie; you do.]

I am sorry that Will Carless is a bully.

[This sounds like blaming the victim. You wanted to violate the California Public Records Act, so you call Will Carless a bully for demanding that you obey the law! You sound just like Daniel Shinoff.]

I am sorry that Will Carless did not notice that his abusive conduct caused me to stop taking or returning his telephone calls in early August.

[Or did you stop taking his calls because you wanted to hide your billing records?]

I am sorry that Will Carless cannot discern any real news to use for his blog in light of the global financial, political and social issues of the day.

[The SEDC fell apart due to the efforts of individuals to enrich themself by abusing the system. Isn't it newsworthy to find out how much its lawyer was being paid? The global financial crisis seems to be the result of the efforts of individuals to enrich themself by abusing the system. Credit Default Swaps were invented because individual investors wanted to get rich faster, and the problem was that these instuments hid the identity of the seller. Why didn't the SEC jump on this problem? Probably for the same reason that you, Regina Petty, didn't jump on the problems at SEDC. My guess is that individual lawyers at the SEC thought they could help out their greedy investor friends and get away with it. Individual public entity lawyers at both the SEC and the SEDC are an appropriate subject of investigative journalists.]

(End of Regina Petty's letter and of my responses.]

VOSD Editor's Note: Will Carless has doggedly, yet professionally, pursued open records and answers from an agency that has been extremely reluctant to provide either. While this can sometimes be a tense effort, we stand behind his work.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Many Chula Vistans--including some Republicans--aren't happy with Cheryl Cox

Voice of San Diego
A Disillusioned Former Cox Supporter
October 7, 2008

Yes, there is a political war in Chula Vista. Steve Castaneda may be running for re-election to the City Council this November, but his broader sights are set on the Mayor's Office. Mayor Cheryl Cox is on the other side, summoning as much charisma as she can muster to fight this thing out. She doesn't seem to be winning.

One reader, Susan Watry, has already responded to my requests for perspective on it.

"When we supported Cheryl Cox in 2006 we hoped that adults were finally going to be in charge at city hall. Unfortunately we got a rigid authoritarian who has to be in control of everything, who has no ability to compromise and who considers anyone who disagrees with her the e-n-e-m-y. She swooped in expecting to run the city like she ran the Chula Vista Elementary School District -- with a heavy hand and little public input.

"She immediately chose Councilman Jerry Rindone to form her legislative committee. She has even surprised her own council with things these two hatched up behind closed doors.

"She has been out to get Councilman Castaneda for two years. She has strong ties to the Lincoln Club who spent heavily in the June primary in an effort to defeat Castaneda. Just this week I was given a letter she and Greg Cox are sending out asking people to help elect Scott Vinson who is trying to unseat Castaneda. Don't look for harmony anytime soon."

...Comments on Voice of San Diego regarding above article:

Editor´s Choice
During her campaign, Cheryl Cox repeated over and over that she was the candidate that would restore trust between the citizens of Chula Vista and their mayor. I heard her over and over saying this. I agreed. I voted for her. Since her election, I have seen little of what I consider attempts to restore trust. On the contrary, the mayor has worked behind closed doors, corresponded by emails with devlopers out of sight of the public, and proposed new (phone) taxes, calling them tax reductions. None of these were presented in a manner that would make a citizen of Chula Vista feel they were included and wanted them to "trust" their city officials. I am disappointed. My trust has not been restored.

Posted by Sam Longanecker
October 7, 2008 10:44 pm

I agree with the other three completely. This is the Mission Statement of the Chula Vista City Council and Mayor Cox totally disregards it on every point. City Council Mission Statement The City of Chula Vista is committed to build and nurture a progressive and cohesive community which values our diversity, respects our citizens, honors our legacy, and embraces the opportunities of the future. It is horrible how big corporations with money to throw around are the only ones considered worthy of doing business in the city and get whatever they want. We need an elected City Attorney who will make sure the laws and policies of the city are interpreted equally and fairly to protect the existing residents and businesses from atrocities such as the MMC Energy proposed large heavy industrial peaker plant a mere 350 feet from homes and 1300 feet from a Headstart and school!

Posted by Theresa Acerro
October 8, 2008 8:34 am

Poor Cheryl. She won the mayors job just as the bottom fell out of real estate development and the city's tax base, which is founded on unlimited sprawl development, is going to hell. And all she does is play dirty George Bush type republican politics, instead of rethinking the city's revenue sources and coming up with a more balanced approach to maintaining a sustainable city. Chula Vista deserves better leadership than she can provide.

Posted by Watcher
October 8, 2008 11:09 am

Cheryl Cox has spent too much time trying to appease her friends and not enough time trying to understand the city she lives in. She laments that she can't get a 8 dollar beer in CV. She will show you all the postcards of the Gaylord facilities in other cities, yet she probably couldn't tell you she stepped foot outside the facilities, which is excactly the problem for the businesses on Third Avenue. If this council election is a referendum is on Cox, then we can expect to see Steve and Pamela. I bet the Supervisor is disappointed that the Cox name he helped build in the South Bay has been sullied by such a divisive and ineffective leader like Cheryl.

Posted by Third Avenue Al
October 8, 2008 11:35 pm

I’m a life-long Republican and I must say that I’m embarrassed to be in the same Party as Cox. While I did vote for her, I will never do so again. She bungled the Gaylord mess, the City Manager, and bungles almost everything that she touches. We would be much better off if she just stayed home and let the city mail her salary.

Posted by Dean
October 9, 2008 6:58 am

This Blogger's comment:
My guess is that Greg Cox taught his wife everything she knows about politics, and also introduced her to David Malcolm, Bonnie Dumanis, Patrick O'Toole and others whose efforts on her behalf ended up exposing the ethics-free environment in which Coxes operate. Greg has simply been luckier than Cheryl, not better.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Cheryl Cox didn't even bother to pretend to oppose political prosecutions

Peter O'Toole and Bonnie Dumanis seemed to have opened the Public Integrity Unit for the sole benefit of Cheryl Cox, going after Cox's opponents for the flimsiest of reasons. Money spend on defending public employees has never bothered Cheryl Cox. She spent huge amounts at Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Of course, at CVESD Cheryl was in charge of deciding who would be attacked, too. She was sort of a two-for-one deal: Bonnie Dumanis and Cheryl Cox wrapped up in one package. Castle Park Elementary still hasn't recovered from Cox's illegal actions and her expensive payments to lawyer to help her get away with it.

San Diego Union Tribune
City won't ask DA to reimburse legal bills
By Tanya Sierra
October 8, 2008

CHULA VISTA – Chula Vista officials won't ask the district attorney to reimburse the city $609,000 for legal bills one councilman said are from a “fishing expedition” that caught nothing.

The motion to ask for reimbursement failed on a 2-2 vote, after a heated discussion at last night's City Council meeting. Councilman John McCann was absent. Mayor Cheryl Cox and Councilman Jerry Rindone voted against requesting a refund, and Councilmen Rudy Ramirez and Steve Castaneda voted for it.

Reached Monday, McCann – who did not indicate he would be absent – said he did not know how he was going to vote, and he was still waiting for legal advice.

In the last two years, Chula Vista has spent more than $600,000 defending council members questioned or prosecuted by the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit.

Ramirez made the initial request last month. Over the course of several meetings, some residents criticized the city for agreeing to pay $194,000 for Castaneda's legal bills, which he incurred for his defense during a perjury trial in April. Castaneda was found not guilty on six counts and a mistrial was declared on four others...

Last month, Ramirez asked for the council's support in requesting reimbursement for legal bills. He said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has unfairly persecuted Chula Vista with investigations that have led nowhere.

In an interview Ramirez said: “When I go fishing, I pay for the fishing expedition.”...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Chula Vista Peaker Power Plant Protest October 2, 2008

The young man in the middle drew the colorful posters his family is holding.

The Russell Coronado family

Meanwhile, inside the council chambers, the hearing was taking place. The crowd outside could be heard now and then.

Protest planner Hugo Ivan Salazar at the hearing.

After dark, a crowd waited outside while the CEC (California Energy Commission)hearing went on.

Diana Vera spoke to the crowd.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why do businesses give shoo-in Greg Cox such big campaign contributions?

The San Diego Reader's Susan Luzzaro has some questions, and some possible answers, about San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox's campaign donors.San Diego Reader
Big War Chest, No War
By Susan Luzzaro
May 21, 2008

"...Greg Cox has been a San Diego County supervisor since 1995, and he will be a candidate again on the June 3 ballot. He represents District 1, the southern part of the county, which includes Chula Vista, where his wife is mayor, and Otay Mesa. Cox’s opponent, Howard Johnson, says his campaign has only $20,000.

"The total amount Cox has collected for his war chest, $280,000, is remarkable because it is so unnecessary. Why are people donating sizable amounts to a shoo-in? A look at Cox’s campaign donations between July 2007 and March 2008 is equally remarkable for what they reveal about what’s going on in his district.

"...In the second half of 2007, employees of San Diego Gas & Electric and its parent company, Sempra Energy, gave Greg Cox $6150. SDG&E has been pushing hard to get the Sunrise Powerlink project approved. Supervisor Cox and Mayor Cox have given strong public support to the controversial project.

"Worth mentioning is that the Coxes have investments in three companies located on Otay Mesa: Medtronic Inc., Copart Inc., and Ethos Environmental. Disgraced former port commissioner David Malcolm is a major stockholder in Ethos Environmental.

"Do campaign contributions affect the future? Ask the Coxes. A February 1995 Union-Tribune article reported, “In the six weeks before Greg Cox was appointed to the Board of Supervisors, he and his wife made campaign contributions to three of the four county supervisors who would select him to the coveted position.” Dianne Jacob, the one supervisor who did not receive contributions, said she would not have “accepted money under circumstances like that.… It carries the wrong message.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Recall Mayor Cheryl Cox press conference

September 30, 2008

Press Conference: Communities Taking Action, a new grassroots organization, takes the first steps to recall Mayor Cox

276 4th Ave Chula Vista, CA 91910 (map)
Joins us for our press conference where we announce that we are recalling Mayor Cheryl Cox. This will take place in front of City Hall at 6:00 PM.

Days earlier, Channel 10 covered another protest against Cheryl Cox.

Chula Vista Power Plant Protest

CEC Protest at Chula Vista City Hall
Thu, Oct 2, 5pm – 7pm
276 4th Ave Chula Vista, CA 91910 (map)

California Energy Commission meeting begins at 10AM in Chula Vista City Hall. You can come early if you wish. PROTEST begins at 5PM. Make sure to bring your kids, family, and friends. Plenty of parking on Davidson Street.

Open government=rule of law

"...[W]e have to deal with the big issues at hand: the loss of open government, the degradation of the rule of law..."
--Mike Copass

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Where did Bonnie Dumanis send former PIU chief Patrcik O'Toole?

In March 2007 (see photo above) San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced the formation of the Public Integrity Unit with much fanfare.

Bonnie Dumanis recently moved controversial Public Integrity Unit chief Patrick O'Toole out of the unit. But what is he doing now?

He continues to be absent from the District Attorney's office flow chart. But perhaps that is because he doesn't want to be seen as subordinate to Bonnie. He'd rather not be seen at all.

I guess Bonnie and Pat want to leave the matter of O'Toole's current assignment up to our imaginations.

Here are some possibilities I've come up with:

1. A new PIU has been formed, known as the "public intimidation unit" or, alternatively, the "political impact unit." It will continue to investigate political enemies, but in a secretive manner.

2. O'Toole's new job will continue to involve the tipster(s) who initiated the investigations of the Chula Vista city employee who took 2 hours off work to spy on mayor and former CVESD school board member Cheryl Cox's yacht party with David Malcolm, and councilman Steve Castaneda's claim that he never planned to buy a condo which he never bought.

3. O'Toole will ask for and receive assistance from his friends in the Bush Justice Department, an office which has proven to be expert in political prosecutions (Don Seligman), and hiring and firing based on ideology and politics (Anthony Gonzalez and Monica Goodling and the eight fired US attorneys).

4. O'Toole will prove to be an invaluable aid to Dumanis' political ambitions, or, alternatively, the two of them will go down in flames together when their secret shenanigans are exposed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Chula Vista falling apart under leadership of Cheryl Cox and Steve Castaneda

Scott Lewis writes about Dave Garcia, the fired city manager of Chula Vista, and his relationship with mayor Cheryl Cox and Councilman Steve Castaneda. After attacking Cheryl Cox regarding perjury charges that were rejected by a jury, Castaneda seems to be working well with Cox in their joint effort to make questionable and secret charges against the city manager.

Help Wanted: Doctor, City of Chula Vista
By Scott Lewis
Sept. 18, 2008

...The dysfunctional City Council could not even agree to protect taxes and fees the city already charges. There will be more revenue losses.

There are some city managers who see it as their job to placate their nervous bosses on city councils -- giving them what they want (low taxes) and avoiding what they don't want (painful and unpopular cuts). And some of them are clever enough to push off budget obligations even in the toughest of times. David Garcia, whatever you think of him now, was not one of those managers. He spoke with a sense of reality about the situation all local cities are in and he didn't hide the necessary pain.

If the City Council, consumed with short term convictions, chooses someone the politicians can bully, Chula Vista will someday fall off the rails and ground to a halt.

So why do they even need to choose a new manager? Why was Garcia fired without an explanation? I don't know. A month ago, the local newspaper revealed that Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox had officially chided Garcia for viewing what was called "inappropriate" images on his computer. Cox and Garcia agreed that the matter had been settled between the concerned employees who had complained and Garcia. The word "inappropriate" implies quite a spectrum. Managing a fantasy football team, for instance, could be "inappropriate" but so could viewing pornography.

The fact that the matter had been handled to supposedly everyone's satisfaction implied that whatever Garcia was viewing was more on the former side of the spectrum than the latter. Garcia's attorney, Bob Ottilie, said that the images were vacation photos. Again, "vacation photos" can include quite a spectrum of images. And there is no excuse or apologizing for a man who would create a hostile work environment by displaying nude pictures or something.

Unfortunately, the city has, to date, not released the details about what was inappropriate.

So only a few people know what was happening. And the one who seemed most interested in getting rid of Garcia and sharing what was supposedly inappropriate with reporters -- City Councilman Steve Castaneda -- did not return my call for comment.

I asked Mayor Cox in a dozen different ways to share some insight about what had happened. If Garcia had played better with Castaneda and others, would he have kept his job? What changed between when she seemed OK with the issue between Garcia and now when she joined the 4-1 majority that had him fired?

She wouldn't say.

OK. I went at it differently. Had Garcia's tough approach to balancing the budget created enemies?

"Any time you're involved in a situation in which you are in a hiring freeze and the employees are asked to do more and any time you're involved in layoffs or diminished opportunities the employees will tend to compete and there will be people who are concerned," Cox said.

In other words, yes.

So was this partly why Garcia was fired?

Again, she wouldn't say.

"The City Council believed we needed to make a change in order to move forward together. It became clear that this action was in the best interest of the city," Cox said.

"In order to move forward" is an interesting way to put it. This implies that whatever it was that some City Council members were not going to put behind them what had besmirched Garcia. The dysfunctional body would apparently function even worse.

Yes, that's the last thing Chula Vista needs.

The city is sick to the bone...

Risk factor for fraud: employees (like SEDC's Carolyn Smith) who never take a vacation

Why didn't Carolyn Smith take a day off? Maybe she was afraid fraud would be uncovered.

Why No Vacation is a Risk Factor
September 11, 2008

...The [SEDC] audit states that Smith claimed not to have taken a day off for sick leave or vacation because she enjoys her position.

The audit then says this:

A risk factor for fraud in any organization is present when key employees work for many years without taking time off.

I talked to a source of mine who is familiar with these kinds of issues and asked the source why this is a fraud risk.

The source said one reason why certain employees don't go on vacation is because they're afraid that someone will step in their place and "their whole scam will unravel."

"It is very common in fraud situations that you will find people will either not go on vacation or not relinquish their duties to someone else," the source said.

The audit did find fraud in SEDC's hidden system of bonuses; Smith continues to maintain that the documentation her agency provided was sufficient.

Update: I heard back directly from Denise Callahan, the Macias Consulting Group partner that led the audit. This is what she had to say:

A risk factor becomes present when employees do not take vacations because there could be a desire to hide or conceal inappropriate activity. In fact, fraud tends to be uncovered when key employees had to be on leave/vacation and were not able to continue to conceal the activity.


CCDC's Nancy Graham charged with ethics violations and conflict of interest

Why didn't Bonnie Dumanis' Public Integrity Unit file charges in this case?

Criminal Charges Brought Against Nancy Graham
Sept. 12, 2008

City Attorney Mike Aguirre's office has charged former Centre City Development Corp. President Nancy Graham with three misdemeanors, alleging that she improperly used her position and failed to disclose her potential conflicts-of-interest.

The charges, filed Wednesday in San Diego Superior Court, say Graham participated in a decision in which she had a financial interest. Graham also faces two counts of violating local ethics rules. One count alleges that Graham influenced the negotiations of a downtown condominium and hotel project at CCDC, the city's downtown redevelopment agency, when she knew it could benefit a former business partner.

The other count says Graham failed to accurately disclose her economic interests. Before moving to San Diego in 2005, Graham worked as a developer in Florida, where she had a business relationship with The Related Group, a large Florida development company. Together, they built a mixed-use condominium project, a partnership that Graham estimated had paid her almost $3 million as of last summer -- including a $125,000 payment that came in mid-2007. Graham did not subsequently report that income on the annual conflict-of-interest form that public officials are required to submit to the city.

The charges say that Graham and her husband began receiving income on March 7, 2006 and continued receiving payments through April or May of 2007.

Graham received the money while she participated in negotiations at CCDC about a city-subsidized $409-million, 41-story hotel and condominium project proposed by The Related Cos., an affiliate and part owner of Graham's Florida business partner. CCDC selected the company as the project's preferred developer in March 2007.

The project at 7th Avenue and Market Street downtown would have been built atop city land and included an $8.7 million city subsidy for including affordable housing. CCDC's board unanimously voted Wednesday to kill that project, citing Graham's involvement and undisclosed business partnership.

State and local laws prohibit public officials from influencing decisions that can benefit themselves, their spouses or their business associates. The laws extend the prohibition for a year after receiving money from a source...

To Regina Petty, SEDC lawyer: Don't let the door hit you on the way out

Voice of San Diego
September 25, 2008

Regina Petty, corporate counsel of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., will not seek to continue as the agency's lawyer, Petty told SEDC's board at last night's meeting.

Petty will stay at the agency while SEDC searches for new legal representation, said SEDC board Chairman Cruz Gonzalez. The board voted last night to issue a request for proposals to find a new attorney for the troubled agency, but Petty said she would not apply to be the agency's lawyer.

"It has been a privilege for me to be SEDC's attorney, and, although I continue to be well qualified to serve -- better qualified actually than when I started as counsel -- in order to have a proper attorney-client relationship, you have to have board members that are willing to reasonably listen to your advice, and care about complying with the law. It's not clear to me that that is currently the case with this board." Petty said.

Petty has been criticized by at least one member of the board. In July, Derryl Williams sent a letter to Mayor Jerry Sanders criticizing the culture of SEDC and the way board meetings have been run.

Williams wrote:

Using corporate counsel and Special Agency Counsel, the President of SEDC controlled questions and the flow of information so that board members could not obtain sufficient answers to assist in making good judgments.

Petty was also criticized by City Attorney Mike Aguirre at an SEDC Executive Committee meeting last week.

"I want to look Carolyn in the face and I want to say 'Regina, it's time for both of you to go,' in my opinion," Aguirre said. "I've listened to several of the meetings, I've listened to the legal advice and I have to say the legal advice is skewed in favor of the existing management."

And the author of a damning audit of the agency, released two weeks ago, also mentioned Petty's legal advice. The lead auditor said some board members her team interviewed felt that Petty "would convey info they didn't believe was quite accurate." ...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wall Street Journal Endorses Mike Aguirre

'The Garden at This Skunk Party'

September 8, 2008
San Diego's political scene was buzzing this weekend over this Wall Street Journal editorial praising City Attorney Mike Aguirre for his battle against public employee pensions.

The paper describes all of the troubles that have befallen San Diego city government, from run-ins with the IRS and SEC to the $1.2 billion pension deficit.

Then it says:

The garden at this skunk party is City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who has made himself very unpopular with the political establishment by suing to rescind the 1996 and 2002 pension promises. Though a liberal Democrat normally sympathetic to unions, he says the benefits were granted as part of "the largest municipal securities fraud in American history," and so taxpayers shouldn't have to honor them.

It goes on to talk about similar pension problems in New York and New Jersey, and closes like this:

Taxpayers in those states need a rabble-rouser like Mr. Aguirre willing to stand up to union interests. The San Diego attorney faces a tough re-election battle in November, but he's setting off an alarm that voters across America need to hear.


Do CCDC officials cover up until they can't cover up any more?

The following story from Voice of San Diego contains an audio link.

Voice of San Diego

If you're following the Nancy Graham story, you should listen to her comments at an April board meeting of the Centre City Development Corp., the downtown redevelopment agency she once led. (Thanks to Ian Trowbridge and Pat Flannery for the audio.)

AUDIO: Nancy Graham's Statement
At the April 23 CCDC meeting, Graham read a statement into the record about concerns that had been raised that Graham may have had a conflict by participating in the negotiations of a proposed downtown skyscraper. CCDC's board defended Graham at the meeting.

(We later revealed that Graham had received money from an affiliate of the project's developer at the same time she was involved in those negotiations.)

In April, Graham said:

I can guarantee you and I think you all know me well enough to know right now that there's no truth to those allegations whatsoever. ...

Most importantly, I think what they were not aware of is that I did not negotiate this deal, but brought in two people that have impeccable credentials. ... I asked Jerry (Trimble) and Murray (Kane) to come in and negotiate this particular transaction. ... I personally think it would be an absolute insult to the members of the negotiating team to suggest that in any way they would not work to protect CCDC and the Redevelopment Agency's interests or that I could sway them to do something. These guys have incredible integrity. I did not negotiate this transaction. However, having said that, while I think the whole issue is a red herring like they say in law school, I nevertheless feel it's important for me to recuse myself from participating in any further action or discussions with regard to 7th and Market.

That statement and decision drew effusive praise from CCDC board member Jennifer LeSar:

I think it's incredibly unfortunate. I've always found Nancy to be incredibly transparent, very ethical, I've never been surprised by anything that she's done, she's an excellent communicator and has been always forthcoming about the things that have been going on in her life that could have any impact. And I just find this really, really unfortunate. For whoever's behind this behavior, I think it's atrocious. And I guess I just want to say that I think Nancy is taking the higher road here. ... Nancy, I guess I just want you to know, I'm very proud of you. I talk about you in places I do this kind of work. I think we're lucky to have you. In my mind, these going-ons don't taint my impression of you, your leadership here or the work you've done.

CCDC board chairman Fred Maas weighed in, too:

Some of the things that have been said and the tactics and conduct of people who have tried to impugn and indict Nancy has been outrageous. It's been upsetting to me as a person, let alone as chair, for the kind of tactics and untruths which have been circulated regarding this project. ... To make these accusations by whoever for whatever reasons I think is an outrage and it is worthy of scorn by this board and everybody in the community. She has my unqualified support.

Both Maas and LeSar have since been more contrite.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Un-Refuted Claim

At an April board meeting, former Centre City Development Corp. President Nancy Graham addressed concerns about her potential conflict of interest with the affiliate of a business partner working to build a city-subsidized skyscraper downtown.

"I can guarantee you and I think you all know me well enough to know right now that there's no truth to those allegations whatsoever," she said. "... I did not negotiate this transaction."

But as we've since documented, Graham was in fact involved in negotiations -- at the same time she was receiving money from the developer's affiliate.

James Lough, an outside attorney CCDC hired to investigate Graham's involvement, drew the same conclusion. In a staff report for Wednesday's CCDC meeting, Lough wrote: "Ms. Graham was involved in the negotiations of the potential [development and disposition agreement]."

Lough's conclusion came after reviewing CCDC files and interviewing the agency's staff. But the CCDC staff -- many of whom also had been involved in the negotiations -- did not publicly raise any concerns about the obvious discrepancies in Graham's explanation.

I asked Fred Maas, the CCDC chairman, whether he was concerned by the lack of disclosure. He said:

Lots of mistakes and unfortunate circumstances happened during that period of time. In retrospect I think we all wish we had done things differently, but we didn't. We recognize the omissions and errors and are doing our best to correct them.

September 8, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

Mike Aguirre wins regarding police retirement payments

A court has dismissed a lawsuit by police against San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre. Aguirre has been trying to reduce pension benefits given away in 2002 by Mayor Dick Murphy, with support from Ann Smith of the MEA. The purpose of the giveaway was to keep unions quiet about a billion-dollar underfunding of the city pension system.Voice of San Diego
September 4, 2008
Court Loss for City Cops

In another legal loss for city cops, a federal court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by more than 1,500 city police officers against City Attorney Mike Aguirre and the city's retirement system.

The police officers had argued that their federal constitutional rights were violated when, in 2005, the city reduced or eliminated their employment benefits by mandating that police officers pay higher payments into their retirement plans, thus reducing the take-home pay of many officers.

In her decision yesterday, Judge Marilyn Huff dismissed the case, referring in her decision to an earlier decision she made in a related case brought by the Police Officers Association, the union that represents city police officers.

Huff ruled in that case that there was insufficient proof that the employment benefits that were reduced in 2005 were vested constitutional rights, and that the under-funding of the pension system doesn't implicate federal constitutional rights.

This was the second court loss for city police officers in two weeks. On Aug. 21, another federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against the city by more than 700 officers for breach of contract and unpaid overtime.

"So much for Aguirre never winning a lawsuit," said Executive Assistant City Attorney Don McGrath, who represented Aguirre in the lawsuit. McGrath said that, by his count, the POA has lost six of the seven lawsuits it brought against the city and Aguirre.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

SEDC refuses public records requests

SEDC Won't Produce Documents
August 29, 2008
Voice of San Diego
by Will Carless

The Southeastern Economic Development Corp. has, for almost two months, refused to provide documents and information that would shed light on when and how its various clandestine bonus programs were introduced.

SEDC President Carolyn Y. Smith has consistently claimed that the bonus programs pre-date her arrival at SEDC, and that she was merely following agency protocol when she approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for herself and her staff.

But the agency has repeatedly declined to provide any documentation that would prove such claims. And a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this month quoted Smith’s three predecessors at the agency as saying that they do not remember any such bonus programs being in place during their tenure...

Is the CCDC a charitable organization for San Diego developers?

By Ian Trowbridge, Mission Hills
Voice of San Diego
August 29, 2008

On Tuesday, the mayor will ask the City Council to confirm his reappointments of three CCDC Board members, Fred Maas, Kim Kilkenny and Robert McNeely whose terms have expired even as several investigations of CCDC are underway and it is important to know whether any of these board members are implicated in the growing scandal at CCDC. With the collusion of Council President Scott Peters, these reappointments have been placed on the consent calendar.

..Maas is a Republican political operative turned developer and a confidante of Nancy Graham -- meeting with her according to her calendar for the whole of Wednesday mornings for weeks.

As befits a political operative, he currently has the role of distancing the CCDC Board from Graham even though they appointed her, gave her a $65,000 bonus for unknown services, and allowed her to run CCDC as if it were a charitable organization for downtown developers.

Maas refuses to release documents detailing the goals set for Graham and how she achieved them to warrant the $65,000 bonus even though the board violated the Ralph M. Brown Act (Government Code Section 54957) in conducting and voting on her compensation in closed session. Kilkenny is an executive of a major developer of Otay Ranch who seems to have little concept that he is supposed to protect the public interest. McNeely was on the selection committee that chose Nancy Graham...

CCDC Attorney Resigns

CCDC Attorney Resigns
Voice of San Diego
By Rob Davis
Aug. 29, 2008

Helen Holmes Peak, the corporate counsel for the Centre City Development Corp., has resigned, citing concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

Peak, who is a partner with Lounsbery Ferguson Altona & Peak LLP, an Escondido law firm, participated in discussions about the proposed Ballpark Village from 2005 to 2007, while one of her partners represented Lennar Corp., one of the project's developers.

She did not disclose the relationship on her statements of economic interest until 2007. Even when she did report it, she did not recuse herself from meetings and discussions about Ballpark Village, a massive mixed-use project proposed by JMI Realty and Lennar.

Peak disclosed receiving more than $10,000 from Lennar in 2007, according to her annual conflict-of-interest disclosure forms. But she didn't subsequently recuse herself from discussions about Ballpark Village, saying that she didn't know Lennar was involved.

Lennar is essentially a silent partner in the project; it is part owner of the underlying land but is not listed documentation submitted about the project...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Courts shouldn't have to depend on the memories and truthfulness of board members--Brown Act requires closed sessions be recorded

It appears to me that many, if not most, unlawful strategies are decided by public entities during closed sessions in board meetings.

Good for Briggs and Trowbridge, who are working to bring those discussions to light.

Lawyer to SEDC: Record Meeting

Cory Briggs, a local attorney who filed a lawsuit last week against the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., has written a letter to the agency's corporate counsel, Regina Petty, asking her to ensure that the closed session of SEDC's board meeting tomorrow is recorded.

Briggs' letter says his client, activist Ian Trowbridge, wants the meeting recorded because the closed session discussion could become evidence in his lawsuit against the agency. That lawsuit alleges that SEDC's board violated state open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, when it voted in closed session last month to pay outgoing SEDC President Carolyn Y. Smith a $100,350 severance payment.

The Brown Act forbids the board from discussing a termination payment in private... the open session discussion is preceded by a closed session item that's listed on the meeting agenda as "Public Employee PerformanceEvaluation/ Discipline/ Dismissal/ Release."

Briggs' letter reads:

"The need for a neutral, objective record of tomorrow’s closed-session discussions should be obvious at this point. The discussions are likely to be evidence in the above-referenced matter and may become evidence in other proceedings. The best protection for my client, your client, and especially the public is for there to be a clear record of what is discussed -- one that doesn’t rely on the memories or truthfulness of persons accused of breaking the law -- in the event that the discussions become relevant at a later date...

"[N]ot preserving a contemporaneous record of the discussions could constitute the spoliation of evidence and subject your client (and possibly even you) to sanctions."...

August 26, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shocking! Nancy Graham lied to the press!

Voice of San Diego reports: "When she resigned July 24, [CCDC'S Nancy]Graham said she was in Tennessee, caring for her elderly mother..."

The Palm Beach Post reports:

"Her 83-year-old mom, Virginia Roskan, has Parkinson's. But when Page Two called Roskan's home Thursday, Graham's sister said she had no idea where Graham was.

"'She's not here right now, and I have no idea where Nancy is,' Kay Smith said from Lebanon, Tenn. 'She's been traveling a lot. I haven't seen her in a while...'"

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Half the SEDC board supports Artie

These people won't quit! It seems they have no shame. It appears that Charles Simpson, Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, Randy Jones and Kea Hagan really believe that it's okay to use tax dollars for insiders, and leave the public good out of the equation. Even after large secret bonuses and the chairman's profits from a deal with SEDC have been exposed, they want to continue business as usual.

SEDC keeps Owen as chairman

By Helen Gao
August 13, 2008

"Southeastern Economic Development Corp. Chairman Artie “Chip” Owen survived an attempt on his leadership position Wednesday night, as a board vote to oust him failed.

"The board voted 5-4 to keep Owen in place. His land deals and connections to a developer with SEDC business have come under fire.

“I feel we need to be a little more proactive than we have been,” said board member Richard Geisler, who made a motion to remove Owen.
The quasi-independent nonprofit city agency guides redevelopment on 7.2 square miles east of downtown, and has been under fire for budget and pay anomalies. The board fired president Carolyn Smith last month, with 90 days' notice.

"Geisler was supported by board members Cruz Gonzalez, Karen L. Howard and Derryl Williams. They were outnumbered by votes from Owen, Charles Simpson, Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, Randy Jones and Kea Hagan..."

After the above vote, mayor Jerry Sanders appointed new members to fill the seats of all but one of the board members who voted to keep Owen (including Owen himself). Unfortunately, Sharon Whitehurst-Payne remains on the SEDC board.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who is Chula Vista's city attorney?

Who exactly is the city attorney that Cheryl Cox wants the City Manager to coordinate with? It's not Ann Y. Moore, even though Moore is still listed on the city's website.

The National Law Journal
wrote on June 2, 2008:

"Chula Vista City Attorney Ann Y. Moore is retiring on Thursday and will join San Diego's Norton Moore as a senior partner, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Moore began as an assistant city attorney in 1995 and was appointed city attorney in 2003. The move comes before a ballot initiative that would make the city attorney elected, rather than appointed, if passed. The city council hasn't named a replacement for Moore, the Union-Tribune reported."

What's going on, Mayor Cox? Who prepared that letter for Mr. Garcia? Why the secrecy?

Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox had problems in her earlier job

Recently two employees reported that Chula Vista City Manager David Garcia was looking at inappropriate images on his laptop, and Mayor Cheryl Cox hired an investigator to look into the report. On May 28 she wrote a memo saying the City Council disapproved of Garcia's Internet conduct.

This is a far cry from Cox's behavior as a board member of Chula Vista Elementary School District.

In 2001, two employees at CVESD reported that they feared that a fellow teacher would kill them. This sounds a little more serious that downloading images on a laptop, doesn't it?

Cheryl Cox and her fellow board members never investigated.

Why not? Partly because she knew the report was false. But more importantly, she knew that the two teachers from Castle Park Elementary made the report to coverup criminal wrongdoing by the teachers.

Cheryl also wanted to coverup that wrongdoing. Castle Park Elementary has been a mess ever since, going through 11 principals in 11 years.

It looks like Cheryl wants to make a mess out of Chula Vista, too. Can we look forward to 11 city managers in 11 years, Cheryl?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

FEMA and Sanders got together after the fires, now taxpayers pay inflated bills

Jeanne Fowler couldn't could not figure out why A.J. Diani Construction Co. removed so much cement from her property. Her property had a lot of concrete, she said, but her driveway and pathways were not destroyed. Now she knows: the contractors were paid by the pound.

Diani removed 305 tons of concrete, 372 tons of ash and trash, and 11 tons of metal from the remains of Fowler's home, according to invoices. The company charged $164,789; her insurance company agreed to pay $57,779.

Who pays the difference? Taxpayers.

Watsonville-based Granite Construction Company also participated in the clean-up.

Complaints over debris cleanup tab unanswered
By Dana Wilkie
August 10, 2008

"Mayor Jerry Sanders... was told in the spring that homeowners were outraged by the program's high costs...At the same time, Sanders' spokesman acknowledged, the mayor heard from homeowners who were getting “fairly elevated invoices.”

"Spokesman Fred Sainz said the mayor “immediately inquired” about the high bills, and though he wasn't wholly satisfied with the explanations from city staff members, Sanders “took their answers at face value.”

"Sanders has been unwilling to comment on the debris-removal program before or since The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Aug. 3 that city-hired contractors charged much more than private contractors to clear similar home sites and often hauled away far more debris than what private companies took from comparable lots.

"The city assured homeowners that they would be charged no more than their insurance allowed for demolition, which means most of the costs of the $9.4 million program will be borne by federal, state and local taxpayers..."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mike Aguirre continues to win against firms involved in pension mess

Voice of San Diego
July 29, 2008

San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre has settled another of his lawsuits against firms retained by the city before and during the pension meltdown.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, the city's former bond counsel, has agreed to pay $2.88 million to settle a case filed by Aguirre in 2005, which alleged that the San Francisco-based firm failed the city by not discovering problems with the pension fund sooner.

The city will net $1.88 million from the settlement after paying expenses and a contingency fee to outside lawyers Bryan Vess and Dan Stanford, who assisted in the case, Aguirre said...

To date, Aguirre said he has recovered a net of more than $9 million from outside lawyers, accountants and consultants somehow involved in the pension crisis.

Monday, July 28, 2008

SEDC board member Chip Owen bilked taxpayers

Owen got $500,000 before joining board
By Jeff McDonald and Helen Gao
San Diego Union Tribune
July 22, 2008

"Three years before he joined the board of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., Artie “Chip” Owen and a company he managed bought 4.4 acres that they instantly sold to the government agency for a $500,000 profit, records show.

"Caravan Properties LLC bought the property on Market Street near 54th Street in San Diego from Federated Industries Inc. of Chicago for $1.8 million on May 1, 2000.
The transaction was time-stamped 10:59 a.m., the same minute Caravan filed a quitclaim deed transferring ownership to the company and Owen. The subsequent sale from Caravan and Owen to SEDC for $2.3 million also was time-stamped 10:59 a.m.

The transaction was first reported by San Diego blogger and real estate broker Pat Flannery.

Records obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune show SEDC entered into a purchase and sale agreement with Caravan Properties in April 2000 – before Caravan bought the land from Federated Industries.

Critics questioned the sale. Owen “knew the land and bought it,” said Kathleen MacLeod, who volunteers for a number of community groups. “Why didn't SEDC buy it for $500,000 less?”

Owen... was appointed to the board in February 2003 by then-Mayor Dick Murphy. He currently is the chairman.

The Market Street deal was not his first with the SEDC...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dealings of former president Nancy Graham of CCDC to be examined

See all posts re Nancy Graham.

CCDC Chairman Fred Maas wants to conduct an investigation into the business connections of former CCDC president Nancy Graham (left), who resigned on July 24, 2008.

ROB DAVIS of Voice of San Diego wrote on July 25, 2008:

"Fred Maas, the chairman of the Centre City Development Corp.'s board of directors, said today he will seek a "fact-finding mission" to examine the circumstances surrounding former CCDC President Nancy Graham's involvement in the development project at 7th Avenue and Market Street downtown...

"Graham, who resigned Thursday, had previously been a business partner with a sister company of the 7th and Market developer, Related of California. The company, along with CityLink Investment Corp., is leading efforts to build the 41-story, $409-million downtown skyscraper. Under the current terms of the deal, which has not been finalized, the city of San Diego via CCDC will give the developers an $8.7 million subsidy to construct affordable housing in the building...

"Graham's resignation comes eight months after signing a three-year contract with CCDC. She does not get a severance and walks away from more than $496,000 in salary, as the contract set her annual pay at $248,000."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Carolyn Smith of SEDC out

Voice of San Diego
July 24, 2008

...Carolyn Y. Smith, the embattled president of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., was forced out of the office she has held for more than 14 years by a unanimous decision of her board Wednesday night.

In a nearly six-hour board meeting that drew dozens of community members and many supporters of Smith, the SEDC trustees ultimately decided to grant Smith a severance package of $100,350 and to bring an end to a tenure that, while supported by some in the community, has been marred by scandal of late.

Smith has been at the center of a maelstrom of publicity since a story two weeks ago revealed a system of hidden bonuses and extra compensation under which she has paid herself and her staff more than $1 million over the last five years...

Chip Owen and welfare for the rich

Voice of San Diego
July 24, 2008

Months after Artie M. "Chip" Owen, now the chairman of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., earned $500,000 by flipping a piece of property to the agency, he signed over $400,000 of that money to another developer doing business with the agency.

Owen, who joined SEDC's board three years after the land transaction, was listed in public documents and discussion as the sole businessman involved in the land sale and as the manager of the corporation that exacted it, Caravan Properties LLC.

However, shortly after the deal finalized, the lion's share of the earnings shifted to Santa Monica-based Pacific Development Partners LLC, according to documents on file with the County Registrar's Office and SEDC...

Friday, July 11, 2008

San Diego demonstrates how to win an award for excellence in accounting

David Washburn of Voice of San Diego find that Enron by the Sea made the New York Times again, in an article about "skim funds."

"New Jersey and San Diego had versions of skim funds, and won "excellence in accounting" awards from the Government Finance Officers Association for many years while operating them. Each ended up with far less money in its pension fund than its books showed. The Securities and Exchange Commission found that San Diego had committed securities fraud by overstating the soundness of its pension fund; it is still investigating New Jersey."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

SD City unions prefer secret pension deals; Mike Aguirre opposes them

San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre

Metropolitan Employees Association duo Ann Smith-Judie Italiano continue their odd alliances with Republican judges. The alliance began with the billion-dollar pension deal supported by the MEA bosses and former San Diego mayor Dick Murphy. And it continues with Judie/Ann's newly-forged alliance with Jan Goldsmith.

The bizarre alliance is apparently built on the expectation that San Diegans will continue to sacrifice their own well-being and that of their city, and will go back to using the City Attorney's office to cover-up wrongdoing in city government, in order to keep Judie/Ann in power.

And it involves a major flip-flop on the party of candidate Goldsmith. Scott Lewis explains:

The Union Pawns
By Scott Lewis
July 9, 2008

Voice of San Diego

It was rather amusing to see Judge Jan Goldsmith tout his endorsement from the San Diego Municipal Employees Association...

The best radio ad of the campaign season was Mr. Goldsmith's very own takedown of his rivals. Remember, he used a circus theme to paint City Hall as a mess...

[Quote from Jan Goldsmith's radio ad:]
In ring two, see Scott "the wonder pony" Peters jump through hoops, straddle fences and juggle important city issues all to please his labor union handlers.

Now that Goldsmith is the preferred choice of the firefighters union, the police union, and the white-collar City Hall workers, is it no longer so bad to be associated with unions?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How come people cheat and at the same time claim the moral high ground?

Newsweek's Sharon Begley explains:
"...In a new study that will not exactly restore your faith in human nature, psychologists David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo of Northeastern University instructed 94 people to assign themselves and a stranger one of two tasks: an easy one, looking for hidden images in a photo, or a hard one, solving math and logic problems...Then everyone was asked, how fairly did you act?, from "extremely unfairly" (1) to "extremely fairly" (7). Next they watched someone else make the assignments, and judged that person's ethics. Selflessness was a virtual no-show: 87 out of 94 people opted for the easy task and gave the next guy the onerous one. Hypocrisy, however, showed up with bells on: every single person who made the selfish choice judged his own behavior more leniently—on average, 4.5 vs. 3.1—than that of someone else who grabbed the easy task for himself...

"...DeSteno said, it may be because "we have this automatic, gut-level instinct to preserve our self-image. In our heart, maybe we're just not as sensitive to our own transgressions." Adds Dan Batson of the University of Kansas, a pioneer in hypocrisy studies, "people have learned that it pays to seem moral, since it lets you avoid censure and guilt. But even better is appearing moral without having to pay the cost of actually being moral"—such as assigning yourself the tough job....

""Since it's a cognitive process, we have volitional control over it," argues DeSteno. That matters because of another nasty aspect of hypocrisy: we apply the same moral relativism when judging the actions of people like ourselves. When "people like us" torture, it's justified; when people unlike us do, it's an atrocity..."