Tuesday, December 21, 2010

San Diego firefighter wins $424,000 from city in court

San Diego firefighter wins $424,000 from city in court
He claimed retaliation for exposing wrongdoing in San Diego fire department
By Craig Gustafson
December 20, 2010

San Diego firefighter Paul Vandeveld on the job during the 2007 Witch Creek Fire.

A jury has awarded $424,000 to a San Diego firefighter who said he was suspended and denied a promotion in retaliation for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing in the city’s fire department.

Paul Vandeveld, 44, of El Cajon, has worked in the department since 1990 but his career stalled four years ago after he tried to stop his fellow firefighters from harassing a colleague and aided then-City Attorney Michael Aguirre with his investigation into the city’s pension scandal.

He was suspended without pay for 96 hours for sending an e-mail to higher-ups about the harassment and was denied a promotion several times despite being on the department’s “next in line” list to become a captain.

Background: Paul Vandeveld, a San Diego firefighter, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the city in 2008 for suspending him and denying him a promotion in retaliation for helping a city attorney investigation into pension issues.

What’s changing: A jury awarded $424,000 to Vandeveld in a verdict Thursday, a majority of the sum represents what he would have made had he received a promotion to captain.

Future: The city is considering an appeal. Vandeveld, a 20-year department veteran, has asked to have the suspension removed from his record so he’ll be eligible for promotions in the future.

The 12-member jury’s unanimous decision called for Vandeveld to receive the difference between what he would have made as a captain versus his current salary as a fire engineer. The jury also awarded him $60,000 in punitive damages and the lost pay from his suspension.

Vandeveld burst into tears when the verdict was announced Thursday in Superior Court, said his attorney Steven Shewry.

“He’s been under exceedingly high levels of stress and humiliation since people started getting named captain ahead of him,” Shewry said. “It’s been pretty tough on him. He’s not an emotional guy but you can see that it’s not all that pleasant every day for a guy who always wanted to be a firefighter.”

The circumstances that led to Vandeveld’s lawsuit began in 2006 when Aguirre interviewed the firefighter as part of an investigation into so-called pension spiking, a practice in which employees are promoted to higher ranks or positions shortly before retirement allowing them to collect larger pensions once they leave.

Shortly thereafter, Vandeveld tried to intercede on behalf of a fire captain who many in the department believed had leaked to a reporter that a battalion chief had been arrested for drunken driving. In his lawsuit, Vandeveld said some firefighters physically assaulted the captain and spray-painted “rat” on his fire helmet...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Former union boss gets $700,000 for lost pension; Judge says the payout wasn't legally necessary

I see that attorney Ann Smith and Judie Italiano are still working closely. I'm wondering if the pension board was worried about dirty laundry being aired. Ann Smith was closely involved when the illegal pension deal was made, and she knows where all the skeletons are buried.

Former union boss gets $700,000 for lost pension
Judge says the payout wasn't legally necessary
By Craig Gustafson
December 17, 2010

The San Diego city retirement board has awarded a $700,000 settlement to former labor leader Judie Italiano despite a judge’s ruling that she isn’t owed anything beyond her $5,700-a-year pension.

The settlement was approved by Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman because he had no choice once the parties agreed. He expressed concerns, however, that it was “clearly not legally necessary” given his previous decision against Italiano. The City Attorney’s Office also argued the deal wasn’t reached in good faith.

Italiano, former president of the city’s union representing white-collar workers, had been battling with the city and its pension system to restore the annual $86,000 pension she lost in 2007 after the Internal Revenue Service deemed it invalid.

At issue is the city’s past decision to allow labor leaders to include their union service toward their pensions as city employees. In Italiano’s case, she was able to combine her 22 years as head of the Municipal Employees Association — peaking at $114,000 annually — with her nine years as a city typist making about $17,000.

The IRS said the practice, called presidential leave, violated tax law because union leaders aren’t city employees and thus can’t receive credit for union work when it comes to a city pension.

Italiano sued the city and pension system for $1.8 million — the estimated value over time of her combined union-city pension — accusing officials of negligence and making false promises about how much she would have for retirement.

Judge Pressman ruled last month that the city didn’t properly approve the presidential leave benefit so it doesn’t owe Italiano anything but the smaller pension for her nine-year stint with the city.

While the case was still going on, pension and union officials were negotiating a settlement for Italiano. The pension board unanimously approved the deal in closed session Oct. 1 — 45 days before the judge ruled against Italiano.

Pressman reluctantly approved the deal on procedural grounds Monday despite his concerns.

“This court does not see this as a good faith settlement,” he wrote in a tentative ruling. “It is a settlement crafted to give judicial cover to an agreement based on prior illegal acts. This court is not inclined to grant that cover. If the parties choose, the settlement can go forward but without this court’s good faith determination.”

Mark Sullivan, board president for the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System, said the city and pension system were sued by Italiano on different grounds and the judge’s ruling only cleared the city from damages. He said the board needed to limit its financial exposure by settling the lawsuit.

“The cost to defend ourselves in this action would be pretty close to the amount that we were seeking to settle and there’s no way we would be able to recover that,” he said. “Our goal is to minimize the impact to the trust fund.”

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said it didn’t make any sense to agree to a settlement given the court’s decision.

“Once again, the pension board has overstepped its bounds,” he said. “Although the judge applied procedural standards, he made it absolutely clear that he is not inclined to grant ‘cover’ for this deal. We have other avenues to challenge the pension board’s side deal and will do so.”

Goldsmith declined further comment, saying he would seek City Council input before making any decision.

Italiano’s attorney, Ann Smith, did not return a call for comment.

Italiano, 64, won’t receive the entire $700,000 settlement. She owes the pension system $250,000 for overpayments she received in the first few years after she retired, a sum that will be subtracted from the settlement.

The remaining $450,000 will be used to purchase an annuity for Italiano that is expected to pay her nearly $28,000 annually for the rest of her life. The settlement also leaves Italiano eligible to receive taxpayer-funded health care in retirement, although it’s unclear if she is actually receiving the benefit.

Before the settlement, Italiano had a $480 monthly pension although she received nothing because the system used the money to pay down her outstanding debt. If the presidential leave benefit had been upheld, she would have received nearly $7,200 per month.

The settlement could fall through if the IRS raises any objections.

Italiano resigned from the union in May 2009 amid an internal investigation into her potential misuse of a union credit card. She repaid nearly $14,000.

David Malcolm: A Plant's Power Over a Man's Life

A Plant's Power Over a Man's Life
December 19, 2010
by Liam Dillon

The man with the troubled past walked into the downtown San Diego elevator.

In itself, this incident wouldn't be notable. The man walks into lots of downtown elevators. His bank is downtown. So is his business and the top-floor, invitation-only private club he attends where you have to wear a jacket at dinnertime. He lives downtown, too.

This time people noticed. They were about to walk into a meeting on the source of one of the man's greatest triumphs and greatest troubles.

The man in question, David Malcolm, wasn't invited to the meeting.

It had been more than 10 years since Malcolm put together a $100 million deal to buy 165 acres of bay-front land without cash or credit. A man accustomed to crafting big land deals for private gain did this one for the public, snagging one of the few undeveloped urban coastal parcels in Southern California.

"It could possibly be one of the single best financial deals done in the state of California's history," Malcolm said.

It had been more than five years since the deal became the noose that hung his public career and, according to a close friend, nearly killed him. Malcolm pleaded guilty to a felony conflict of interest charge after it was revealed his company was working as a $20,000-a-month consultant for the land's tenant and he didn't leave his public position. Despite the plea, Malcolm maintained that he's innocent or, at worst, an innocent victim. He even successfully fought to get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor and the conviction expunged from his record...

Ever since he became a Chula Vista city councilman 28 years ago, Malcolm's public life and his life as a real estate wheeler and dealer rarely has been without controversy. For 20 years, all the allegations against him — including one in which he was accused of plotting arson to collect insurance money — came to nothing.

Then the power plant happened. The deal Malcolm brokered as chairman of the Port turned over the plant's operations to Duke Energy, a power company in North Carolina. Duke, in turn, hired a company Malcolm ran for $20,000 a month to try to make similar deals happen elsewhere. In essence, Malcolm began working for a major Port tenant.

Malcolm stayed on the Port, which was negotiating tax breaks for businesses, like Duke, operating on Port lands in the South Bay...

Instead, Malcolm was sentenced to 120 days in a county-lockdown facility, probation and almost $300,000 in fines and court fees. His public career was over.

But Malcolm didn't leave the issue alone.

He sued the Port unsuccessfully over its legal advice. Three years after his plea, Malcolm won a fight to get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor and the conviction expunged from his record. The topic remains raw. Malcolm speaks in extended monologues about the case's arcane details...

[Maura Larkins' comment: I have a sense that plenty of public officials betray the public trust even more than Malcolm did, and they never get called to account. For example, Juan Vargas took a lucrative job with an insurance company right when he left his job on the California Assembly insurance committee. And then the voters returned him to office a few years later!

Also, Duncan Hunter is famous for warm relationships with military contractors. I also have sympathy for Malcolm's disgust with public entity lawyers. It seems that they are often chosen because they tell officials they can help them get away with ignoring the law.]

With Malcolm was his cousin Dan Malcolm, an incoming Port commissioner from Imperial Beach. David Malcolm said that he and Dan were "very close," according to a Port memorandum on the conversation. The memo added the environmental director felt uncomfortable discussing the power plant and the conversation ended.

"This information is included only for public disclosure and to avoid any appearance that the District has been cooperating or in any way engaged with David Malcolm on matters related to the South Bay Power Plant," the Port report states.

It's not just future development that's at stake. There's about $60 million set aside to pay for the plant's demolition. The Houston-based company that currently owns the plant, Dynegy, pays the Port rent. Dynegy also is for sale.

The city of Chula Vista wants in, too. Its leaders were the ones who contacted Malcolm, Peace and other South Bay leaders over the summer to get the plant down. Malcolm and Peace helped arrange a meeting with state regulators this fall to push for the plant's closure.

"I had a choice of saying, 'Oooh, I'm not going to call David Malcolm,'" said Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox. "Why wouldn't you call someone who knows as much about it as he does?"...

Last week, that ask came. A Chula Vista councilwoman emailed Malcolm, Peace and others requesting advice for responding to the Port's latest demands...

[Maura Larkins comment: Was that councilwoman Patricia Aguilar?]

Convicted of a Felony, But Not a Convicted Felon

July 5, 2006
Convicted of a Felony, But Not a Convicted Felon
Voice of San Diego

You'll remember my question about the little present former Port Commissioner David Malcolm received last week from Superior Court Judge John C. Einhorn. In 2003, Malcolm pleaded guilty to violating the state's law against public officials participating in deals in which they have a personal financial interest. He was sentenced to three years probation and he had some fines and other economic penalties.

Like many people who finish their probation time, Malcolm asked the judge to expunge his record. Einhorn agreed and gave Malcolm one more little benefit - he ordered Malcolm's charge to be lowered from a felony to a misdemeanor and then expunged.

I wondered what the deal was. Did this mean that, like Britney Spears' first marriage, Malcolm's conviction was successfully annulled? Does it mean that Malcolm is no longer a convicted felon?

I called the district attorney's prosecutor in the case, Stephen Robinson. He said, essentially, that no, Malcolm is no longer a convicted felon, but he was still convicted of a felony.

My brain exploded after we talked but let me try to put this puzzle together:

Malcolm's recent pardon allows him to have the benefits and privileges that we non-felon citizens enjoy: to vote, to run for office, etc. But Robinson said that certain benefits won't be available to Malcolm. For instance, he can't carry a firearm.

"If, four years from now, I was going to run his criminal record sheet - his rap sheet - it will be there. It doesn't disappear," Robinson said about the criminal conviction. He said that if he was investigating Malcolm again, he could use the "rap sheet" to argue that Malcolm has a history doing such and such.

Now, apparently, it's a normal thing for someone to complete his or her probation and to ask the judge to expunge the record as such. If it's not normal, let me know.

But what's really interesting is the second part of this deal: that Malcolm had his charge reduced to a misdemeanor before it was expunged.

I asked Robinson if Malcolm could now argue that he was never convicted a felony, but, instead he was convicted of a misdemeanor.

"I suppose he can say that. I just look at it from my perspective, which is from the criminal-justice perspective. The conviction still stands," Robinson told me.

My brain just exploded again thinking about it.

Robinson, for the record, had argued strongly against the judge allowing Malcolm's charge to go from a felony to a misdemeanor.

His reasoning seems pretty logical: While a port commissioner, Malcolm agreed to become a paid consultant to Duke Energy and he agreed to put the interests of Duke Energy above those of the Port District.

From the DA:

While actively participating in Port District business that directly benefited Duke Energy, Malcolm was being paid $20,000 each month.

So, it wasn't as if he were urinating in public or committing another such misdemeanor violation. This is a heavy accusation to which Malcolm pleaded guilty.

Again from Robinson's brief:

While occupying this position of trust, he betrayed the people of San Diego for his own pecuniary gain. Malcolm's behavior cannot be described as one or two mistakes. It similarly was not a series of errors that took place over a short period of time or in haste. Rather, Malcolm deliberately and methodically engaged in a course of conduct that put the interests of the people of San Diego second to his own financial interests.

Again, it doesn't appear to be a misdemeanor offense.

I called the judge, who referred me to Malcolm's own court filings. When I get them, I'll share them. We still, after all, are left with important questions: If it's true, as Robinson said, that Malcolm's conviction will always haunt him as a felony, then why would Malcolm want it to be reduced to a misdemeanor before it was expunged? What's the point?

"I'd have to ask him what motivated him to take that two-step process," Robinson said.


Friday, December 17, 2010

San Diego police are sorry they sued the city

San Diego police are sorry they sued the city
Lorie Hearn
Watchdog Institute
December 16, 2010
By Kelly Thornton

The San Diego Police Officers Association has sued the city several times in recent years, and the city has spent $8.6 million to fight them so far. That makes the city’s own cops its most expensive legal adversary.

Now, the officers are sorry.

The police union has a new lawyer who called two of three lawsuits “frivolous” and has filed two malpractice lawsuits against the attorneys who sued in the first place.

“The San Diego Police Officers Association knows this was expensive litigation for the city and has apologized profusely and we’ve done what we can to make it right,” said the POA’s new attorney, Michael Conger, an employment, business and personal injury lawyer from San Diego. “We’ve gotten rid of any litigation to the city related to this nonsense.”

In total, there are 23 lawsuits filed against the city between 2003 and 2010 in which the city has spent more than $1 million. The POA cases are three of those. For all 23 cases, the city has spent $55.3 million, according to an analysis by the Watchdog Institute, a nonprofit investigative reporting center based at San Diego State University.

One of the three cases brought by the POA was to force the city to pay officers for time spent putting on uniforms and protective gear and answering work-related emails. Another case accused then-City Attorney Michael Aguirre of bribery and extortion related to contract negotiations, and sought his removal from office. A third suit was a spinoff of the second; both alleged that the city’s underfunding of the pension violated police officers’ constitutional rights.

The POA lost all three cases – two at summary judgment, meaning a judge didn’t even think the case was worth going to trial. In the overtime case, a federal jury decided in favor of the city after a six-week trial.

More than 1,000 officers opted to drop any appeals based on advice from Conger. The previous lawyer, Gregory Petersen, an Orange County civil rights and employment attorney, is appealing one of the cases on behalf of about 100 clients who’ve stuck with him.

As the cases dragged on, POA members’ credit cards were charged $20 to 40 a month. To cover legal fees, the organization had to mortgage its headquarters.

“I think they were hurt dramatically,” Conger said of the officers. “They paid Petersen over $2.8 million for the privilege of bringing frivolous lawsuits, and he didn’t win one single motion. He doesn’t think he did anything wrong and doesn’t want to pay a dollar.”

At the same time, the financially crippled city hired an outside legal firm, Latham & Watkins, at up to $750 an hour, because the city had a conflict defending against its own employees...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mayor of Redevelopment No Longer?

Mayor of Redevelopment No Longer?
(Click on the link above to get all the links in the story.)
by Scott Lewis
Voice of San Diego
December 13, 2010

Redevelopment is the reason the city of San Diego can consider building a new Convention Center, football stadium and other enhancements downtown at a time when rec centers, libraries and swimming pools are in danger of closing elsewhere.

Cities all across the state use the mechanism for their blighted neighborhoods. But unlike most of them, San Diego does things differently. For one, it allows two nonprofits, fully funded by the city, to manage its redevelopment efforts downtown and in southeastern San Diego: CCDC and SEDC respectively.

And, also unlike other areas, San Diego made its elected mayor the executive director of the Redevelopment Agency -- the entity that oversees not only CCDC and SEDC but the other areas considered blighted in town.

Now, that may change. The City Council is considering ousting him as San Diego's redevelopment leader and hiring a professional manager wake of the mayor's efforts to extend the lifespan of downtown redevelopment without involving the public or City Council.

U-T: We Want Maas Redevelopment
The Union-Tribune made its case for downtown redevelopment this weekend featuring an editorial about, and a Q&A with, the outgoing chairman of CCDC, Fred Maas.

If that didn't give you enough Maas, the man himself penned an op-ed of his own with a now common claim that visionaries like him are only held back by shortsighted "small-town undertakers."

In the Q&A, Maas blasts the proposal supported now by five City Council members that the downtown redevelopment agency take over from the city's ailing general fund, the duty to pay back bonds on the last expansion of the Convention Center - a move that would free up $9.2 million a year.

"We run the risk of bankrupting ultimately over the next 20 years the redevelopment agency. This is not that different from underfunding pensions or from granting benefits without a way to pay for them by raiding our coffers to pay for things that were never contemplated."

Moral: If you don't like something that's happening in the city, compare it to the pension system! But question: Aren't redevelopment efforts eventually supposed to run out of money?

The new City Council president is considering your thoughts on those questions and others as he proposes a new ad hoc committee for redevelopment. And he has set up an email address to collect them: budgetandfinance@sandiego.gov.

Snow? Ha!

The U-T drew a direct line from the major snowfall and incredible collapse of the roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis to the Chargers search for a new stadium (did you see the video of the roof collapse?). Presumably, this adds urgency to the stadium debate there - the Minnesota Vikings are often mentioned in the same breath as the Chargers as possible teams that could relocate to Los Angeles.

Back in San Diego, it was a pretty nice day at the stadium yesterday, as Sam Hodgson's photos prove...

Sulking in San Diego

» Last week, we mentioned a video provoking guffaws across San Diego's political twitterati the last few days. It portrays San Diego as an insecure teenage girl uncomfortable that "the boys" keep making fun of her big pension. It's clearly trying to chide the media for begin so negative while making the case that we shouldn't worry so much about the city's problems, and we should support a new stadium and other projects championed by downtown redevelopment officials and the mayor.

As the U-T summarized, nobody wants to take credit for the flick.

I actually agree with another anonymous commenter, though, who said that the city is better represented by the mother figure in the video - always trying to convince people who are worried here that everything is fantastic. And she does that, even though she regularly admits (even trumpets) how bad things are going to get if we don't deal with our big pension.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

With more than 130 lawyers on staff, since July 2006, San Diego spent $34 million on private lawyers."

Morning Report
by Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego
Dec. 9, 2010

In other city finance news, 10News and the Watchdog Institute report that "despite having more than 130 lawyers on staff, since July 2006, the city of San Diego has spent more than $34 million on private lawyers."

And the U-T says about 2,200 current and retired city workers "may be forced to accept significantly reduced pensions or pay a lump sum of as much as $50,000 to keep their current pension."

December 10, 2010
Calculating the Cost of a City's Litigation
by Brian Baxter
The AM Law Daily

San Diego, no stranger to large legal bills, is grappling with $130 million in litigation costs accumulated over the past eight years, according to an analysis conducted by the Watchdog Institute, a nonprofit investigative reporting center at San Diego State University.

KPBS, a media arm of the university, has the details on the Watchdog Institute's findings. One of the more interesting tidbits: although San Diego has 137 in-house city attorneys, including 27 in its civil litigation unit, since 2006 the city has spent more than $34 million on outside lawyers.

Some of those who spoke to Watchdog said that former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre bears the responsibility for some of those bills. In the spring of 2006, Aguirre threatened to sue two law firms--Vinson & Elkins and Willkie Farr & Gallagher--for malpractice.

Eventually, Aguirre hired his own lawyers--on contingency--for litigation in which he claimed both firms charged excessive fees and failed to meet deadlines on work the firms did related to the city's pension crisis. (A voicemail message left for Aguirre at his office--he now is in private practice after losing a reelection bid in November 2008--was not returned by the time of this post.)

But wasn't Aguirre the one who was fighting to reign in the billing rates of Am Law 100 firms doing work for San Diego, as The American Lawyer reported in November 2008?

In that story, reporter Ross Todd detailed Aguirre's suits against three firms--Vinson, Willkie Farr, and bond counsel Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe--for work they did related to San Diego's financial disclosure practices. Vinson paid $4.35 million to settle its role in the case in June 2008. Orrick paid $2.8 million in a similar settlement a month later. A case against Willkie Farr is pending. (Bryan Vess, a San Diego plaintiff's lawyer trying the case against Willkie Farr, did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Patrick Swann, Jr., a partner at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps defending the firm.)

Since then Aguirre's successor, former local judge Jan Goldsmith, has told Watchdog that Aguirre's litigiousness contributed to a spike in San Diego's legal expenses and insurance rates. Goldsmith claims that Aguirre lacked confidence in his own lawyers, hired expensive outside lawyers, and made insurers nervous with his "sue happy" mentality.

One firm singled out by the Watchdog Institute for its billing rates is Latham & Watkins. Watchdog reports the firm has received $18 million for work it has done for San Diego over the past eight years, charging up to $750 an hour for its services.

Goldsmith also told Watchdog that when he took office in 2008 he was shocked by the amount of money being spent on outside counsel at firms like Latham.

"It was huge, and it was obvious that we had to rebuild the law firm...and make it to a point where we have confidence to handle these cases in-house," Goldsmith said. "It was a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars to use Latham & Watkins essentially as a division of the city attorney's office."

After Aguirre was voted out of office in November 2008, The Am Law Daily reported that Latham's role as "most-favored-firm status could be jeopardy." Goldsmith described the hourly rates charged by Latham lawyers as "outrageous," and noted that attorneys from his own office made only $49 an hour. Goldsmith told Watchdog he negotiated Latham down to $550 an hour on cases the firm already was handling, ones in which it would have been more costly to start over with new counsel.

A Latham spokesman disputed the hourly rates stated by Goldsmith, telling Watchdog that the firm's discounted hourly rates were closer to $400 per hour, with the current city attorney likely citing figures billed by senior lawyers at the firm. Latham noted its success in recovering legal fees from insurance companies for the city.

"A primary reason why municipal clients engage a firm of the caliber of Latham & Watkins is that we often save them money in the long run," the firm told Watchdog. "The total collections from insurance companies equal or exceed the amounts billed by Latham to the city for work since January 1, 2005--with approximately $18.5 million collected to date." (Latham stood by its statement to Watchdog when contacted by The Am Law Daily.)

Despite the firm's successes, Latham's yearly billings for San Diego have decreased from $11.9 million in 2009 to $2.7 million through October of this year, according to the Watchdog Institute report. Aguirre told Watchdog that the city council--not the city attorney--is responsible for hiring outside counsel. Latham, he told Watchdog, was first hired under his predecessor, Casey Gwinn.

"Isn't it funny how two years later it's still my fault," Aguirre said. "The idea of trying to blame me even two years later is so ludicrous. That just shows you how desperate they are."

The City Is Losing Institutional Knowledge on the Chargers Issue

...The City Is Losing Institutional Knowledge on the Chargers Issue

More than just football fans should be concerned about Michell's departure and how it fits into the unrelenting Chargers debate.

Downtown stadium or not, the city has to do something about the Chargers. The city loses $12 million a year operating Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley, money that otherwise could pay for police, fire, parks and library services.

Why does the city lose that much money? Because past city officials failed in their negotiations the team. The city struck such a series of bad deals with the Chargers that the team essentially gets free rent and can leave town whenever it wants while the city bleeds tax dollars.

Michell, Rath and outgoing downtown redevelopment head Fred Maas all were key figures in the city's current talks with the team. Soon they'll all be gone — though the city could hire Maas back as a consultant.

Whomever takes that trio's place will be going up against a team attorney who has worked on stadium issues for eight years and in his recent spare time has advised on other crises involving one of the nation's largest private financial institutions, Lance Armstrong's doping allegations and the divorce case with the fate of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the balance.

Five Things to Know About Kris Michell's Departure
December 8, 2010
by Liam Dillon

1. The Mayor's All Grown Up

Yesterday's departure of Kris Michell, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders' top political aide, came with many things left undone...

"I think she was critically important to the mayor," said Phil Rath, a former city policy advisor who is now a lobbyist. "She was intimately involved in all of the major issues. She was the mayor's point person for pretty much everything that is a major issue in our time."...

2. She Was the Mayor's Link to the Downtown Establishment

...Still, Sainz agreed with the premise that Michell provided the link between the Mayor's Office and the downtown establishment.

3. Expect the Mayor to Hire a Political Expert

If Michell was the city's most powerful person you knew nothing about, her replacement Julie Dubick is a little less of a mystery.

She's an attorney, former partner at downtown law firm Seltzer Caplan and has worked as assistant director of the U.S. Marshals Service and with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. She ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2000. Her biography from that time notes that she was the highest-ranking woman in federal law enforcement when she worked with the Marshals Service.

Dubick joined Sanders' staff when he took office in 2005. Her legal background has allowed her to give the mayor guidance independent of the City Attorney's Office. Rath said Dubick was one of the top lawyers in the city.

"We never trusted (former City Attorney) Mike Aguirre's legal advice because we always thought it was political advice," Sainz said. "Julie provided the legal perspective."

[Maura Larkins comment: Baloney, Mr. Sainz. Julie simply provides the interpretation of the law that suits your agenda.]

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Adding to the Porkfest's Questions

Adding to the Porkfest's Questions
by Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego
December 7, 2010

Downtown's redevelopment agency devoted quite a bit of effort to keep the public from seeing an early version of a report justifying its future existence.

The agency stonewalled our requests under public records law, but finally relented and released the draft of a report that aimed to determine whether downtown San Diego was still blighted - rundown - and needed billions in public money to help it recover.

"The study in its current form does nothing but add to burgeoning questions about the deal's legitimacy and the core mission of redevelopment agencies," writes City Hall reporter Liam Dillon.

All this comes in the wake of the secretive late-night pork-barrel deal in Sacramento that greatly extended the life of the redevelopment agency and circumvented the public process that this study was supposed to kick off.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Randy "Duke" Cunningham regrets guilty plea

Disgraced ex-congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham regrets guilty plea
Nov 22, 2010
CBS Channel 8 San Diego

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - In his first media interview since going to prison, Randy "Duke" Cunningham said he regrets pleading guilty almost five years ago to conspiracy and tax evasion charges, and that he did so on the advice of his lawyers when he was physically and emotionally weakened.

The former GOP congressman from Rancho Santa Fe is serving eight years and four months in the Federal Corrections Institution in Tucson after admitting to taking $2.4 million in bribes from two defense contractors in exchange for steering government contracts their way.

During the nearly hourlong interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, he also said his visitors have included former Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of Alpine and Ron Packard of Carlsbad but his only family member who has come is his son. He said his wife, whom is in the process of divorcing him, and their two daughters do not communicate with him.

The 68-year-old former Navy fighter pilot also told the newspaper he fears the prostate cancer that caused him to drop nearly 100 pounds during the scandal has returned.

Upon his sentencing in 2006, Cunningham told a judge his decision to plea guilty was not made under duress. But to the Union-Tribune this month, he said he was pressured by lawyers who said it would costs millions to fight the charges and he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Those lawyers could not be reached for comment, according to the newspaper.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Out of the Loop, in a Snit

My question: why wasn't Fred Maas investigated at the same time Nancy Graham was investigated? How come she took all the blame for helping developers? Maybe Fred Maas will be investigated now. See video of Maas refusing to answer questions.

City Council members grilled outgoing CCDC leader Fred Maas on Monday about details of a deal that allows the agency to sequester $6 billion more in property taxes for downtown redevelopment.

Out of the Loop, in a Snit
by Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego
Nov. 16, 2010

When it comes to running the city, one might assume that the City Council wouldn't just be in the loop, it would be the loop. That would be a bad assumption, as the council learned last month when the city's downtown redevelopment agency worked out a deal with the state to sequester property tax money. The council had no idea what was going on.

The City Council, which thinks the agency went rogue, spent Monday trying to figure out what it didn't know and when it didn't know it. There was plenty of bipartisan agency-slamming and talk about whether the agency's head deserves to keep his job. It's a rather moot point: he's leaving.

Council, City Attorney Feast Again on Porkfest

November 15, 2010
by Liam Dillon

If the state Legislature is where the late-night downtown porkfest gets fattened up, San Diego's City Council is where it gets slaughtered.

For the second straight hearing, council members sliced and diced staff from the city's downtown redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corp., about secret negotiations that led to a last-minute state deal to eliminate limits on downtown redevelopment. The deal happened without the council's knowledge even though members were working on a plan to remove the limits themselves.

Last month, the council had requested a timeline of when key players knew about the deal, which allows the agency to collect $6 billion more in property taxes and potentially finance a new downtown stadium for the Chargers. Outgoing agency head Fred Maas, who had revealed previously that discussions about the deal began in August, attempted to do that Monday afternoon.

Maas said he spoke between five to 10 times with local Republican state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, the provision's sponsor and he had briefed others on the deal.

But that — and a bland memo from Mayor Jerry Sanders' office also released Monday — wasn't enough. Councilman Carl DeMaio wanted to know about how the deal began, specifically contact between Maas and mayoral chief of staff Kris Michell. Maas refused to answer. DeMaio, in turn, openly wondered if he could fire Maas.

"I don't think I feel comfortable with Mr. Maas staying until the end of the year," DeMaio said.

Incidentally, Maas had just formalized his resignation effective at the end of the year, as the city is seeking to replace him with a permanent downtown redevelopment chief.

Had that not happened, Councilwoman Marti Emerald said, she might have sought Maas' removal sooner.

"I think there's probably some of what you're hearing too is that maybe it should be an immediate resignation," Emerald said. "No offense to the great volunteer work you've done, but this City Council is trying to repair the damage done by previous councils and mayors in doing deals behind closed doors that have gotten us into a lot of trouble."

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who also was kept in the dark about the deal, poked a hole in one of the main arguments made by its proponents. City Council, backers say, has the ultimate decision on how and if the city should spend the new money.

But there are restrictions to how that new money could be spent, Goldsmith pointed out. Had the deal not occurred, property tax dollars would have flowed directly to the city's day-to-day operating budget, meaning it could pay for police, fire and other city services. Now the money will be sequestered downtown, meaning it couldn't pay for those services...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jack Johnson's arrest shows development as a blessing and a curse

Jack Johnson's arrest shows development as a blessing and a curse
Jack B. Johnson, Prince George's County's executive, was arrested on Nov. 12 as federal investigators served search warrants at the County Administration Building. His wife, Leslie Johnson, was also arrested. Each was charged with evidence tempering and destroying evidence.
By Miranda S. Spivack, Ovetta Wiggins and Carol Morello
Washington Post
November 14, 2010

Development deals have been at the center of Prince George's County's most contentious political fights for decades, the source of its highest hopes and deepest embarrassments.

The wins have included luring the Redskins from the District, creating a tourist and shopping destination at National Harbor and, most recently, persuading Wegmans, the Rochester, N.Y.-based grocer with a cultlike following, to open a mega-store in a county that has long been shunned by upscale retailers.

But the arrests of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and his wife, Leslie Johnson, on Friday as part of a federal probe of political corruption in Prince George's are a reminder that the money swirling around big development deals can be both a blessing and a curse.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post outlining his achievements during his eight years as executive, Jack Johnson said he was "very, very proud" of his development record.

Two weeks later, according to an FBI affidavit, the Johnsons were overheard on a wiretap plotting how to rid themselves of a potentially incriminating $100,000 check from a developer and hide wads of cash totalling $79,600. They could each face 20 years in prison if convicted.

"Upper Marlboro has developed a reputation for having a pay-to-play atmosphere, and you certainly don't hear that about other jurisdictions" in the area, said Joel D. Rozner, a lobbyist and former county zoning counsel, referring to the county seat.

The downtown porkfest continues: The $20 Million Subsidy of the Visitor Industry

The $20 Million Subsidy of the Visitor Industry
November 13, 2010
by Scott Lewis
Voice of San Diego

The Convention Center Corp. this week released the snazzy new drawings of its proposed expansion, which could be the most expensive facility the city has ever built.

The drawings showed the newest feature, meant to give us all chills: They put grass on top of it to make a five-acre park. It's like a gigantic Chia Pet. The Chia Center!

The Chia Center came with a barrage of stats.

On his Facebook page, for instance, Councilman Kevin Faulconer noted one of them: The city collects $20.2 million a year in sales and hotel taxes directly from the business the Convention Center delivers to pay for "police and fire."

"The San Diego Convention Center is the definition of return on investment," he wrote.

Is the expansion the definition of return on investment, though? In plugging the new expansion, the city's Convention Center Corp. said it would bring in an additional $17.1 million in taxes to the city.

Do a little arithmetic and we get to $37.3 million total coming in to the city's day-to-day budget because of this new building.

There's only one problem. Actually, two.

No. 1: The new convention center is expected to cost $50 million-to-$60 million a year in debt payments on the loan the city would have to get to build it.

N0. 2: The city still pays $8.75 million a year on the last Convention Center expansion.

So let's do that arithmetic. That's at least $58.75 million a year for the facility.

That means it's a loss to the city of more than $20 million a year.

Or, I suppose we could call it not a "loss" but a subsidy of the visitor industry of about $20 million a year.

There are basically four ways to pay for this facility being floated.

• I. Raise some kind of special tax. This would be, most likely, a type of rental car surcharge or maybe a hotel-room tax increase. It would require a vote of the people mdash; perhaps even a two-thirds majority. This is not going to happen. They might alternatively put it through the Hotel Government, aka the Tourism Marketing District. We'll see.

• II. Form a new, special, group — known as a business improvement district — just among the businesses that benefit directly from the Convention Center. This would make them all chip in a bit and pay for it — or a good portion of it.

• III. The port district. The port, a government agency, makes its money from hotels and other lease holders on port land. It could, and should, at least chip in. Port Commissioner Stephen Cushman is the mayor's special designate in charge of all things Convention Center expansion.

• IV. The Downtown Money Tree (aka The Porkfest): Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher has now made it possible for billions of dollars of downtown property taxes to stay sequestered downtown into projects that are supposed to spruce up neighborhoods.

I would be willing to bet that they'll go almost wholly for Option IV. Trust me, they will not take this to the voters, so that eliminates the chance for a new tax. (I know, raising a special tax to pay for a special effort! Absurd! What is this, 12th Century England!?)...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Did Ernie Dronenburg falsify his credentials?

From my personal experience with our newly-elected County Assessor, Ernie Dronenburg, I can safely say that he seems interested in protecting the powerful and has a habit of ignoring the little guy, even when he also has to ignore the law to achieve his goals.

San Diego county results
November 4, 2010
San Diego Union-Tribune
DAVID L. BUTLER 244408 48.86%
ERNEST J. DRONENBURG 255780 51.14%

Election 2010: Assessor, congressional incumbents and more
By The San Diego Union-Tribune
October 24, 2010
Assessor/Recorder/Clerk endorsement

I emphatically disagree with your endorsement of Ernie Dronenburg for San Diego Assessor/Recorder/Clerk (Editorial, Oct. 16). In my professional capacity as the county assessor/clerk/recorder of Riverside County from 1991 to 2004, I have worked with both candidates. David Butler is by far the superior candidate. With more than 30 years of experience in the office as an appraiser, manager and assistant department head, Butler has consistently demonstrated his knowledge of the needs of the office and the needs of the taxpayers of San Diego. His focus has always been on providing excellent public service.

In his candidate statement, Dronenburg states that he was an “assessor 20 years.” This statement implies he was an elected county assessor. The truth is Dronenburg was never an elected assessor of a California county. David Butler is the assessor of San Diego County, and has demonstrated his ability to implement budgetary cutbacks and still get the job done.

Gary L. Orso


The recommendation for Ernie Dronenburg cites Dronenburg’s qualification as a “state-certified assessor.” In fact, there is no such thing as a “state-certified assessor.”

Scott Olsen

Chula Vista...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Frye's Disgust at the Late Night Pork Fest; Marti Emerald stands with Frye

Frye's Disgust at the Late Night Pork Fest
October 15, 2010
by Scott Lewis
Voice of San Diego

Perhaps nobody was more angry about what happened last week when Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and the Centre City Development Corp. just decided themselves to extend the life of redevelopment downtown than City Councilwoman Donna Frye.

Not only has she been demanding CCDC begin paying back the loans from the city that got downtown redevelopment started in the beginning, she's also been sticking her neck out for Proposition D, the tax increase paired with 10 financial reforms.

Her alliance with the mayor, once an arch rival, on that has been rather inspiring to see. But like a lot of us, she was startled to learn of the news from Sacramento that the deal had been done.

On Tuesday, she came up with the idea to send the governor a letter asking him to veto the legislation. As it turned out, the governor had yet to sign that part of the budget and she figured that if the city of San Diego officially sent him a letter asking him not to, he actually might not.

But it didn't happen.

Why? I told the story earlier of Councilman Kevin Faulconer grappling with the issue. He, like Frye, was so incensed by what Fletcher did that he just ... well ... couldn't bring himself to undo it.

But that ended up being dwarfed as a display of insecurity by what Council President Ben Hueso did. He had supported the idea of sending the letter to the governor but when the opportunity to try again — after Faulconer killed it — he balked.

Well, he didn't balk. He ran away. Seriously. After expressing his concern about it and saying he thought everyone should relax a little, he called a recess on the meeting and then disappeared. Since he runs the City Council meetings, Faulconer had to take over the dais.

Whatever bug Hueso caught also, then, landed in Councilman Todd Gloria's donut. Gloria suddenly decided that the discussion they'd been having about how outraged they were was enough for him. That is, just them bloviating in council chambers was enough to send a message to the state that they aren't going to take getting undermined like that anymore...

And Frye was angry. When I talked to her on the phone after the tumultuous day, I told her that I thought people might feel like they couldn't trust city leaders right when they're asking people to have faith in their pledges about how extensive the Prop. D reforms will be.

"I don't blame them," she said...."We sat through a very lengthy public process to assure the public that there would be a full blight study and a public process they could participate in. Not only was that not true. But at nighttime, they essentially went behind the back of the redevelopment agency members — which means the public — and completely thumbed their nose at the process and that is wrong."...

Wednesday, the letter went out, authored by Frye and Councilwoman Marti Emerald...

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Nathan Fletcher in the dark of night gets stealth stadium deal into California's budget

In the Dark of Night
Voice of San Diego
Randy Dotinga
October 9, 2010

Should law be patched together in the middle of the night when hardly anyone is watching? Sacramento seems to think so: in a last-minute move that sent local eyebrows skyward, the state legislature slipped a bill into budget negotiations Thursday night that would pave the way for San Diego's downtown redevelopment agency to more easily pay to build a downtown football stadium.

This is hardly a case of simple bureaucracy at work. As we report, the mayor's promised "transparent process" over this issue is now history, and the effect of the deal on the city's day-to-day budget is unknown, just as voters begin considering boosting their sales taxes to bail out the city. On top of all that, "the deal was done in stunning secrecy."

The assemblyman who spearheaded the deal defends his move, saying it's a big job creator, but acknowledges that the county wasn't thrilled about the idea. County supervisors issued statements, with one saying the deal could actually spell trouble for the stadium.

Also: the city attorney says a public vote on the stadium won't be necessary if only redevelopment funds are used to build it. The city's head of redevelopment says this deal will save the city money.

Fletcher: Bill About Jobs, Not Chargers
October 8, 2010
by Liam Dillon

Republican state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher said the word "no" a lot when we spoke on the phone about the last-minute deal that removes a major financial hurdle to the city building a new Chargers stadium downtown.

Fletcher authored a provision introduced and approved in last night's state budget that lifts San Diego's downtown redevelopment cap, a necessary step before the city could build a new Chargers stadium using public money.

Was this bill something you required to support the state budget? No, he said.

Was this bill done to build a Chargers stadium? "Not exclusively, no," Fletcher said.

Fletcher emphasized that lifting the downtown redevelopment agency's cap would affect hundreds of projects, not just a football stadium. He did say a football stadium was the most high-profile effort now being discussed. He said he had been in contact with the Chargers in the last week, along with other stakeholders.

Is this deal similar to the 2009 one the city of Industry received, and Fletcher opposed, to help build a potential football stadium there? No, he said. That was an environmental waiver specific to the stadium, he said. This action affects lots more, Fletcher said.

"It's like comparing apples to carburetors," he said.

Instead, he said, this was all about jobs. Fletcher released a fact sheet saying it would create 110,000 permanent and temporary jobs.

But not everyone's happy. San Diego County, for one.

"The county expressed their opposition to this," Fletcher said.

County leaders had been meeting with city officials to discuss increasing the cap and potential financing for a stadium. In June, the city hired a consultant to examine the need for further redevelopment downtown. The $500,000 study was expected to take 18 months and City Council members had praised it as a public process.

This deal ends both of those things.

Fletcher conceded the process wasn't pretty.

"We can have a long debate on the process," he said. "There's probably fair criticism. I criticize the legislative process frequently, but at the end of the day what we're focused on is the product and the results. If we have the opportunity to take action to get tens of thousands of San Diegans working again, we had to do it."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Report: San Diego County spends less on fire services than neighbors

Report: San Diego County spends less on fire services than neighbors
Sep 1, 2010
La Jolla Light
By City News Service

San Diego fire agencies invest significantly less in fire and emergency medical services than their counterparts in Orange and Los Angeles counties, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study by the National University System Institute for Policy Research found that fire agencies in San Diego cumulatively spent $152.85 per resident in fiscal year 2009-10, compared to $177.98 in Orange County and $217.71 in Los Angeles County.

The data was culled from the budgets of more than 70 separate fire protection agencies throughout the three Southern California counties, according to the Institute for Policy Research.

Erik Bruvold, the institute's president, said the findings should be "worrisome" to San Diego residents in the wake of the 2003 and 2007 firestorms that destroyed 4,500 structures and caused billions in damages.

"In the seven years since the 2003 firestorm we have seen many important steps toward improving our fire fighting efforts," Bruvold said. "However, the biggest one - significantly increasing investment and the priority placed on fire and EMS among municipal budgets - hasn't been a step that enough local policy makers have embraced."...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

How To Be Wiser About Wildfires

How To Be Wiser About Wildfires
Voice of San Diego
August 30, 2010

This is the season to get the message out that although wildfires can be extremely destructive, they are not like tsunamis or tornadoes: with the right information, people have a chance to make wise choices, and can reduce their risk of losing a home by making the wisest changes they can afford to make. Who wouldn't want to reduce home losses in a wildfire? I think that it could happen in our region, when enough people understand a few basic facts: how homes burn and how to reduce the risk of that happening.

Basic fact number one: Most homes ignite in a wildfire from embers igniting the home itself, or a structure close to the home. A few ignite from superheated air, especially from other burning homes, and even fewer ignite from the actual wildfire flames.

Basic fact number two: there is no such thing as a "fire-safe" plant, but there are "fire-wise" people.

Home Ignition Risks from Wildfires:

Embers: 80 percent of home ignitions in a wildfire are caused by embers landing on the house and igniting the house, due to the home's flawed design and construction. New homes now must be built to standards that will prevent ember ignition. Older homes that have not been retrofitted against ember attack are at high risk.

Live embers can land from a fire five miles away. Fire-wise professionals tell us the only way to protect older homes is to retrofit them to resist ember attack. Some fixes are cheap: installing attic and foundation vent screens and adding screens to tool-shed windows, and weather-stripping garage, sunroom, and shed doors. But wood shake roofing is the greatest hazard of all, and a new roof, or replacing small dimension handrails or exterior stairways with heavy timber or metal, or replacing windows and doors, are expensive.

Heat: some homes are destroyed in a wildfire after igniting from heat radiated from an adjacent burning building. For example, a tool-shed ignites because it had unscreened windows and embers got in. The tool-shed radiates heat up to 2000 degrees then ignites the house. In suburban areas, where homes may be as close as 10 to 20 feet apart, 2000 degrees radiating from a burning home will ignite the adjacent homes. Each home that has been made low-risk will also protect its neighbors.

Flame: Flames moving from the wild-lands across the homesite cause a small percentage of home ignitions, compared to homes ignited by embers. Assume the area for 100-foot around the home is fire-wise. If so, the wildfire flame is too far away to ignite the house. A fire-wise homesite, out to 100 feet from the home, will have non-combustible latticework, decks, sheds, fabric structures and furniture, gravel mulch and fences within five feet of the house, and plants that are lean, clean and green.

If homeowners spent $1,000 a year on the lowest-cost retrofit items — vent screens, weather-stripping, a bit of fencing, etc., — they would reduce their risk a lot in a few years. However, replacing a wood roof, siding or decking, or putting in fire-resistant windows are big home improvements, and some people simply may not be able to do them. One home that is still a high risk can threaten a whole neighborhood. Santa Barbara, after suffering huge home losses from wildfires, now requires these improvements be made as point-of-sale upgrades. Is this something San Diegans should consider? Other models exist: communities could accept donations for non-profit funds to help neighbors who can't afford to do the most important work. This kind of mutual assistance would be very fire-wise.

Homesite Risk Reduction:

How to keep the homesite from igniting? Assure that all the man-made materials for shade structures or furniture near the house are noncombustible, or keep them in storage when not in use, and decide how best to keep the plants noncombustible. No magic plant exists that will protect a home, though some require a lot less work to keep from igniting. Any plant, even the low-maintenance ones, still needs two things in order to not ignite: cleaning and water.

Every year before fire season, cut down dead weeds, remove leaf litter over two inches deep, and clean off roofs. Then keep going: green hedges, beds of ferns and succulents, and some plants like junipers, rosemary, and cypresses build up a dead layer under the green foliage. Clean out all that dead stuff before July, and during fire season remove new buildup is removed. Some plants can be cut very short in the summer and regenerate in the cool wet season. If a plant is too much work to maintain, learn if anything else can be planted that is less work. Make decisions carefully.

A plant list with water needs and cleaning requirements would help people be more fire-wise. Plants need water to be hydrated and resist ignition. Many species need water three times a week, and without it, will dry and die. Dead and dry plants ignite. Others require much less water, and need it less frequently, to be hydrated. If water is limited in your homesite or your budget, less thirsty plants will help you have a low-risk homesite with the water they need, some only three times a month.

For a homeowner with a tight budget for maintenance, plants that require less water and less cleaning, e.g., small trees versus big trees, will have a lower-cost, low-risk landscape. But some people like bigger trees and are able to invest more to maintain a landscape of more high-upkeep plants, and still have a low risk homesite. Both are fire-wise, as long as the homesite is clean and plants are hydrated through fire season.

A Better Future:

These pre-defended homes and communities would be likely to survive in a wildfire. A pre-defended home with a wildfire approaching will need someone to shut windows and, if they have it, to spray aon a fire-retardant foam for extra insurance.

When the smoke clears, we all could return to our lives in our communities, and the charred wildlands would start on its natural post-burn healing cycle. What a different future that would be, than the one we presently anticipate when wildfires threaten. And yes, it is possible, if we choose wisely and make it happen.

-- KAY STEWART, San Diego

Kay Stewart is a California registered landscape architect. Many local experts can help homeowners learn more. Wildfire Zone lists many of them,

Monday, August 30, 2010

MTS exec tops transportation pay list

As far as I know, all the officials discussed below earned their pay. But I wonder what's so special about transportation? Maybe transportation decision-making requires more objectivity than other fields.

MTS exec tops transportation pay list
By Jeff McDonald
August 29, 2010

The man in charge of making San Diego’s buses and trolleys run on time tops the list of transportation executives whose salary and benefits were examined as part of The Watchdog’s ongoing public compensation survey.

Paul Jablonski, who signed a five-and-a-half-year contract in 2008 and is promised annual 5 percent raises, will receive a $414,000 compensation package this calendar year, records show.

The pay package starts with a $279,300 base salary, but includes a series of retirement and other benefits that push him past the city manager of San Marcos, Paul Malone, who topped The Watchdog’s list for municipal administrator compensation at just over $408,000 a year.

The Metropolitan Transit System operates the San Diego Trolley and the city bus system. It also contracts to provide freight-train service in San Diego and Imperial counties.

Jablonski oversees a 2,300-member workforce and a budget of nearly $220 million. In addition to his salary and benefits, he gets 41 paid days off a year, which is among the lowest in the latest survey...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What does Lorie Zapf do for a living?

Aug 27, 2010
What does Lorie Zapf do for a living?
City Council candidate’s small business was dissolved months ago
San Diego City Beat
By Dave Maass

Back in March, each candidate for San Diego City Council filed with the City Clerk a Form 700, or “Statement of Economic Interests.” Among other disclosures intended to reduce conflicts of interest, the candidate is required to list all sources of income.

District 6 candidate Lorie Zapf listed only one business interest: “Zapf & Associates, Inc.,” a corporation engaged in “consulting, creative, sales” activities. She listed herself as the president and CEO.

CityBeat has learned that Zapf & Associates Inc. has gone out of business.

According to records on file at the California Secretary of State’s office, the corporation was dissolved on April 6, 2010, which means it no longer exists. The corporation had been registered to Zapf’s home address in Clairemont—the same address against which a bank filed a “notice of default” in March that said she and her husband, Eric, were behind on their mortgage payments by several months.

Zapf, a Republican, and her Democratic opponent, Howard Wayne, emerged from the June primary election with the most votes and will face-off in the November election.

On the campaign trail—and on the ballot—Zapf describes herself as a legal advocate and a small-business owner. However, it is unclear what happened to her small business and what, exactly, she now does for a living.

Zapf has also publically described herself as the regional director for Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a non-profit organization that advocates for tort reform. This position was not disclosed on her Form 700 (as is usually required) and instead Zapf listed CALA as one of her company’s sources of income.

Records with the San Diego Treasurer’s office indicate that in 2008 the couple applied for a Business Tax Certificate, the required document one needs to run a business in San Diego, for Eric Zapf & Associates, Inc.. However, the real estate business (also listed to the Zapfs’ home address) has not yet received the certificate. The treasurer’s office tells CityBeat it has requested more information, though declined to say what information was requested and when the request was made.

Meanwhile, the Zapfs seem to be operating at least one other business under a fictitious name. Eric Zapf claims to be the founder of Wet Kiss Creative, which distributes items such as Slapitz—a “slap on” bracelet-style device that is used to display stuffed animals. He also seems to be marketing a magnetic wall mount under the name Air-Pin.

Companies operating under fictitious names are required to register with San Diego County. Wet Kiss Creative is not listed in the county’s database.

Both Eric and Lorie Zapf are featured on the web site for Eric Zapf Homes & Estates, which provides “full brokerage services.” The website says it is currently being upgraded.

The Zapf campaign refused to respond to inquiries regarding anything related to these issues. Instead, campaign spokesman Matt Donnellan wrote via e-mail:

“You and CityBeat have adopted the role of advocates and agents of former Assemblyman Wayne's City Council campaign. It is absurd to think that we would respond to this thinly veiled inquiry by our opponent.”

Donnellan is referring to investigative reporting published in CityBeat that revealed that the Zapfs had defaulted on a mortgage on their home in Clairemont and that Eric Zapf had defaulted on a second home in Nevada and was delinquent three times on his taxes. Our reporting also uncovered that Zapf had falsely described herself on official forms as holding a master’s degree in business. On top of that, we also published anti-gay e-mails sent by Lorie Zapf and dug into the numerous lawsuits she and her husband have filed even while advocating against frivolous lawsuits.

While Wayne has used some of the reporting to attack his opponent, for the record, none of the information originated with the Wayne camp. The campaign did lend CityBeat a DVD recording of a public forum that featured Wayne and Zapf; it did not result in a story.

The newspaper did not endorse Wayne in the primary—it endorsed Steve Hadley—and has not yet endorsed a candidate for the general election.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ethics Commission Fines Graham $32,000

See all posts re Nancy Graham.

Ethics Commission Fines Graham $32,000
Former CCDC President Nancy Graham at an Ethics Commission hearing in May
By Rob Davis
Voice of San Diego
August 12, 2010

Nancy Graham, the former Centre City Development Corp. president, was fined $32,000 Thursday by the San Diego Ethics Commission, ending a two-year saga that derailed nearly $2 billion in downtown projects, drew FBI attention and almost took down the city's downtown redevelopment agency.

Graham, who didn't attend the hearing, was penalized for failing to report some $3.5 million she received from a private business deal done in Florida before moving here in 2005. The commission found that she violated city ethics laws 18 times.

Her partners in that deal, which included the Lennar Corp., paid Graham while she was CCDC's president. But she never reported that income on her annual conflict-of-interest disclosures. Without any stated conflict, she went on to negotiate the terms of a downtown hotel proposed on land Lennar owned near Petco Park.

The issue went unnoticed until I asked her about it in spring 2008.

She told me that the private deal was long in her past, that she hadn't had any interest in the private deal for years. She said she'd sold her interests in N-K Ventures, the business she owned with her former husband.

"I have no interest in N-K or anything they do," Graham told me in 2008. "It is a bullshit argument by either sour grapes losers or other people."

That claim proved false.

In fact, it was Graham's own testimony -- this time under oath, not to me -- that unraveled her changing story. We found a sworn deposition she'd given in 2007. In it, Graham acknowledged receiving $125,000 from the Lennar deal while she was CCDC's president.

At the same time she was negotiating a deal with Lennar, the company was paying her profits from the old business deal.

That drew the Ethics Commission's attention, prompting an investigation that started in the summer of 2008 and ended Thursday night.

A three-member panel of commissioners had proposed fining Graham $25,000. But two other commissioners, John O'Neill and Bud Wetzler, argued for more. O'Neill pointed to Graham's public statements and called them disingenuous. He recalled a statement she made during a day-long ethics hearing in May when she claimed she didn't know that building a hotel near Petco Park would be profitable to its developers.

O'Neill held up a blue post-it note he'd written in his notes about that claim. It simply said: "Absurd."

"The record does show an attempt to deceive," O'Neill said.

Wetzler said Graham's actions, coming at the top levels of the organization, were "one of the most serious of all violations we could have."

"I'm convinced," he said, "that someplace along the line she shifted from accidental to intent."

A $36,000 fine was entertained and rejected; the five commissioners had to unanimously agree, and two did not.

So they deliberated quietly and settled on $32,000 -- less than the maximum $90,000 that could've been levied but more than originally proposed. The fine was unanimously approved.

Graham was fined $4,000 each on two violations: Preparing a staff report on the hotel project and discussing it at a CCDC board meeting. She was fined $1,500 apiece for 16 other violations, including sending e-mails and participating in negotiations about the project.

It's the second-largest fine in the Ethics Commission's nine-year history

The Question on Nancy Graham: Why Was She Hired in the First Place?
By Don Bauder
July 26, 2008

Nancy Graham, who recently resigned as head of Centre City Development
Corp., has left the state, supposedly to be with her ill mother. The
city attorney's office has been investigating her for a month, and now
CCDC will hold its own investigation, supposedly by an outside lawyer.
Questions abound on whether she was at all influential in a developer
named the Related Group getting the nod on a planned CCDC project at
Seventh and Market.

Before CCDC hired her, it should have asked
questions. On Nov. 23 of 2005, I reported in a Reader column that
Graham's successor as mayor of West Palm Beach, Florida, had charged
that she was too cozy with Related Group. She didn't arrive in San
Diego until the following month.

While she was mayor, her signature project was done by Related.
Then she went into the private sector
with her husband (from whom she is now divorced), and did a project
with Related. I have subsequently learned that her ex-husband is still
owed money by Related.

On April 23 of this year, I wrote a column on
the Seventh and Market project; Karen-Huff-Willis, head of the Black
Historical Society of San Diego, and activist Ian Trowbridge,
questioned whether she had been involved in Related negotiations.

Graham told me she had been in some meetings in which an agreement had
not been reached reached, but she did not negotiate the deal. The CCDC
backed up her claim. Huff-Willis this week threatened to sue CCDC. She
says that under Section 1090 of state law, public officials must be
guided by the public interest, not personal interest...

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A judge will decide tomorrow whether to count 12,000 ballots that the Country Registrar failed to pick up

Barry Jantz sent this news:
From: @FlashReport
Sent: Jul 21, 2010 10:11p
**Breaking News** Moments ago Salas called Vargas and conceded the 40th SD Dem Primary. The recount is over!

Thank you Barry for keeping us up to date!

Good news: The Riverside votes are being counted, thanks to a Superior Court Judge.
Bad news: Juan Vargas has gained several votes. What's up with this? I am ashamed if, as it appears, roughly half of Democrats in this district either don't know or don't care that the head of the Assembly Insurance Committee took a job as vice-president of an insurance company immediately upon leaving office. But then I wonder: did Republican-leaning individuals ask for Democratic ballots so they could vote for Juan Vargas in the primary?

Thanks to Jim Sills and Barry Jantz at San Diego Rostra for keeping us posted.


Was it miscommunication? Or intentional neglect? Why didn't the County Registrar of Voters collect 12,000 ballots from the post office on June 8, 2010? Or why didn't the Post Office deliver them? How did this ball get dropped?

No matter what the outcome of the counting, however, I have come to wonder why so many Democrats would vote for someone as unethical as Juan Vargas. I sure hope Mary Salas wins. Juan Vargas should be running as a Republican.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Did Republicans work for Juan Vargas to sabotage the Democratic primary?

I can't help thinking that it was very odd that Juan Vargas, who had so few Democratic endorsements, apparently got so many Democratic votes. Or did he? Democrats allow Independents to vote in the Democratic primary. Did some people ask for Democratic ballots to sabotage the primary? I also wonder why the post office delivered ballots late to the Registrar. Did someone at the Registrar intentionally delay the delivery?

Back before he made it official that he was best friends with insurance companies (by accepting a lucrative position in an insurance company), Juan Vargas was already raising doubts about his integrity. Here's an article from 2006 about Juan Vargas, followed by an article about San Diego County Office of Education's Diane Crosier that was written about a week ago.

Lawmaker opposed homeowners' efforts
By Bill Ainsworth
March 4, 2006

Assemblyman Juan Vargas, criticized by some homeowners for opposing consumer-oriented changes in insurance laws, accepted nearly $2,000 for a golf trip and more than $500 in meals from the insurance industry last year, state documents show.

Major insurance companies, including Allstate, Hartford Life and Prudential Financial, paid for Vargas to play golf at exclusive courses, including Pebble Beach, last September, according to state records.

Vargas is chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee, which oversees legislation affecting the industry...

I am trying to figure out how Juan Vargas was able to be taken seriously as a candidate for public office after his shameless personal gain from insurance companies during and directly after serving as insurance committee president of the California Assembly. My conclusion is that some people and institutions are as corrupt as he is. Here are the endorsements he boasted about on his website:
The United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME Local 3930

United Nurses Associations of California

Crime Victims United

Coachella Valley Teachers Association

Desert Sands Unified School District Teachers Association

Palm Springs Unified School District Teachers Association

California National Guard Veterans Association

San Diego City Firefighters, Local 145

CDF Firefighters, Local 2881 “California’s Fire Department”

Black Police Officers Association of San Diego

Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO

AFSCME, Local 3299, University of California Workers

Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, San Diego

Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, retired

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, retired

Senator Ron Calderon

Senator Waddie Deddeh, retired, Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City, San Diego

Senator Joe Simitian

Senator Leland Yee

Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, retired, former Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus

Steven Hernandez, Mayor Pro Tem, City of Coachella

Emmanuel Martinez, Council Member, City of Coachella

John Minto, Board Member (ret.), San Diego Police Officers Association

The list of endorsements for Mary Salas was huge, many times the size of that of Juan Vargas, and included many more elected officials. So how did Juan Vargas manage to get approximately the same number of votes as Salas in the 2010 California Senate 40th district election? I will continue to ponder this question as I mourn the fact that so many Democrats are either ignorant of or tolerant of shocking and inappropriate acceptance of insurance company largess by Juan Vargas.

There Is a Free Lunch, and They're Not Telling You About It
June 27, 2010
Voice of San Diego

Top employees at the San Diego County Office of Education have been allowed to avoid reporting gifts despite a California law that is supposed to ensure that the public can peek at who is paying for meals, handing out baseball tickets or giving other gifts to influential government employees.

The office has allowed employees to report their income without revealing gifts, an exception that could obscure important information about who is wining and dining public officials. California law says that gifts are income, no different than the other earnings that top employees already must report on annual statements of economic interests.

The Fair Political Practices Commission urged the County Office of Education to change its guidelines after being alerted to the issue by voiceofsandiego.org earlier this month. Depending on how long the office has failed to report gifts, its employees may need to report gifts they received years ago. Office spokesman Jim Esterbrooks said the agency is updating its guidelines to comply.

Gifts have played a role in a contentious lawsuit filed by a former employee that alleges free meals contributed to a "culture of corruption" at the agency that steered County Office of Education business to specific law firms.

For instance, employees who help oversee legal work for school districts regularly accepted free lunches from an attorney who is frequently hired by their department, according to testimony by employee John Vincent taken as part of the lawsuit. Attorney Dan Shinoff usually paid for the meals, which happened more than once a month, Vincent said.

Diane Crosier, who directs the office's risk management department, was one of the employees that accepted the meals, according to the testimony. Her department controls millions of dollars in legal work for school districts across the county. While Crosier does not decide which attorneys to assign to each legal case, she oversees Rick Rinear, the worker who does. Rinear also went to lunch with Shinoff from time to time, along with other employees, Vincent said in the deposition this year.

Crosier is required to reveal her economic interests to the public because she helps make decisions with a financial impact for a public agency. The County Office of Education does not require Rinear or the other employees to do so.

California law typically requires employees like Crosier to reveal gifts worth $50 or more from a single source annually, so frequent free lunches would likely need to be reported.

Yet Crosier did not report any lunches with Shinoff...

Saturday, July 03, 2010

How corrupt does Juan Vargas have to be to make voters turn against him? His lucrative job at Safeco after accepting gifts as assemblyman

I still have high hopes that Mary Salas will win this contest, but I can't believe there are so many Democrats in the South Bay who would vote for Juan Vargas, who went straight to a lucrative job in the insurance industry when he left the California Assembly and gave up his seat on the insurance committee.

Vargas maintains 6-vote lead over Salas
Riverside County votes uncounted
June 28, 2010

State Senate candidate Juan Vargas maintained a six-vote lead Monday over rival Mary Salas in a South Bay Democratic race, but while the vote count is almost over, the dispute may go on for some time.

Not only is a recount likely, but a controversy over uncounted ballots could alter the vote totals from the Riverside County portion of the district.

Updated tallies by the San Diego County registrar’s office from the June 8 primary election in the 40th state Senate District showed Vargas with the same lead he had Friday. Both candidates gained 45 votes in the latest batch of results.

There are 50 absentee and provisional ballots left to be counted in San Diego County.

The district reaches into Imperial and Riverside counties, and registrar officials in both those counties said Monday that they have finished counting votes.

However, questions over uncounted votes in Riverside County could be a wild card. About 12,500 mail-in votes were delivered after the 8 p.m. June 8 deadline, meaning the votes wouldn’t be counted. Elections officials there are exploring whether they have the legal right to count those votes.

There were reports of miscommunication between the county and the U.S. Postal Service, which resulted in the ballots arriving late...

Vargas takes insurance job
Ex-assemblyman's reversal draws fire
By Bill Ainsworth
December 8, 2006

Profile Juan Vargas

Job as of last Sunday: Assemblyman, insurance committee chairman

Interesting fact: $335,000 in campaign contributions from insurers over the years.

Notable quote: “I'm not going into insurance or finance. I'm just not interested.” (April) New job announced this week: Vice president of California external affairs for Safeco insurance

During his campaign for Congress, Juan Vargas was harshly criticized for accepting $335,000 in campaign contributions from insurers and frequently taking their side while chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee.

The San Diego Democrat not only disputed that but he went further and said he would not take a job in the industry after leaving office.

Now he has done just that.

Vargas, whose Assembly term ended this week, is the new vice president of California external affairs for Safeco, a Seattle-based company that sells auto, surety and homeowners insurance to 4.3 million customers nationwide...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Grand Jury's Big Flub

I can't understand why people don't admit it when they're wrong. Especially when it's obvious to everybody that they're wrong.

Morning Report: The Grand Jury's Big Flub
Jun 17, 2010
Voice of San Diego

It's a pretty stunning number: $679 million.

According to the San Diego County Grand Jury, that's how much the county has saved through outsourcing, managed competition and other cost-cutting strategies. A grand jury report implies that the savings came over 16 months in 2007 and 2008.

The Union-Tribune adapted the statistic in an editorial bashing the city for failing to more fully embrace outsourcing.

But there's a problem with using that number for the 16-month period: It's just plain wrong.

As we show in our latest Fact Check post, the savings actually refers to the period from 1998 to 2008.

The grand jury's forewoman responded to us with this head-scratcher: "I stand by what was written in the report. I have no response to give you, to correct or deny."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ernie Dronenburg will be opposing county assessor David Butler

When he was on the San Diego County Office of Education board, Ernie Dronenburg was a firm supporter of Diane Croiser. He wouldn't even acknowledge a constituent's information about problems in the business office at SDCOE. (His attitude seemed to be the same as Sergeant Schultz on Hogan's Heroes: "I know nothing!") He stood shoulder to shoulder with Bob Watkins in refusing to question practices regarding the SDCOE Joint Powers Authority. What was the result of this attitude? Among other fiascos, Dronenburg's inaction resulted in the MiraCosta College Mess.

I figured Dronenburg just wasn't interested in politics. I thought he had been drafted to serve on the SDCOE board when it was being torn apart by crazies. But I was wrong. Dronenburg is interested in politics. Politics as usual. Shame on him.

More Intrigue in the Assessor's Race

David Butler is a 34-year veteran of the assessor's office and currently serves as assessor.
Kelly Bennett
Voice of San Diego
Jun 9, 2010

For the first time since the early 1980s, the county assessor/recorder/clerk post is up for grabs.

And in the obscure race, last night's results brought even more drama.

David Butler, the appointed assessor, garnered 36.8 percent of the vote last night. He'll face a runoff in November with longtime politician Ernie Dronenburg, who snagged 34.2 percent of the vote...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another deceptive mailer sent to Democratic voters

The flyer that was mailed to my house sure looks like it came from the Democratic Party; it says in large capital letters, "VOTER INFORMATION GUIDE FOR DEMOCRATS." It contains color photos of Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.

But Democrats don't support Proposition 16. So why does this deceptive flyer urge me to vote to help energy companies?

I think the flyer was paid for by friends of Pacific Gas & Electric, which is hoping to prevent municipalities from providing energy to citizens. After the energy companies caused the horrible California financial crisis of 2000-2001, they should allow citizens to defend themselves from unscrupulous corporations who are happy to plunge an entire state into crisis in order to increase profits.*

This kind of deception is why voters need good reading and thinking skills, and this deception may also explain why those in power allow (or perhaps encourage?) our failing education system to continue shortchanging children. It's shocking to me that the biggest changes have merely led to privatization of education, not real change. We now have a bunch of failing charter schools in addition to failing public schools. The success rate hasn't changed significantly, and I don't think it will until we change how teachers are evaluated.
*From Wikipedia:

The California electricity crisis, also known as the Western U.S. Energy Crisis, of 2000 and 2001 was a situation where California had an artificial shortage of electricity. The state suffered from multiple large-scale black-outs, one of the state's largest energy companies collapsed, and the economic fall-out greatly harmed Governor Gray Davis's standing.

Artificial supply shortage was created by gratuitously taking power plants offline for (unnecessary) "maintenance" on hot summer days of peak demand. Rolling blackouts adversely affected many businesses dependent upon a reliable supply of electricity, and inconvenienced a large number of retail consumers. This demand supply gap was further exploited by energy companies, mainly Enron. Enron traders were thus able to sell power at premium prices, sometimes up to a factor of 20x its normal peak value. State cap on retail electricity charges squeezed the industry's revenue margins, causing the bankruptcy of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and near bankruptcy of Southern California Edison in early 2001.

The financial crisis was possible because of deregulation legislation instituted in 1996 by Governor Pete Wilson (Republican). Enron took advantage of this deregulation and was involved in economic withholding and inflated price bidding in California's spot markets. The crisis cost $40bn to $45bn...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Would Lorie Zapf bring "strategic fraud" to City Council?

Would Lorie Zapf bring "strategic fraud" to City Council?
by Pat Flannery
Blog of San Diego
May 24, 2010

Lorie Zapf, a candidate for City Council District 6, is attempting to turn a bust into a boon. Last week Dave Maass of CityBeat broke a story busting her for being in default on her family home in Clairemont. Responding to CityBeat Ms. Zapf tried to paint herself as the champion of all families who are attempting to negotiate a modification of their mortgage with their lender.

Maass asked me for my (real estate) opinion on the veracity of Zapf's claim, that "strategic defaults" are now commonplace. I told him it was "B.S." Lenders do not modify loans for borrowers who have the means to make their payments. Modification is for families who have genuine hardship, not slick real estate professionals like Zapf's husband.

Before responding to CityBeat I pulled the relevant Deed of Trust and the Notice of Default from the County Recorder. The loan on which the Zapfs are in default is an interest-only Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). A quick look confirmed that Zapf's "explanation" to CityBeat was indeed B.S. HELOC rates are already the lowest rates available.

Reporter Maass was now caught between two opinions on "strategic defaults". Mark Goldman, a real estate lecturer at SDSU, was telling him "In order to just have the bank consider your request, they pretty much force you into going into default. There’s a lot of people in that situation.” A classic example of "Those who know, do. Those who profess to know, teach". But the journo handbook requires that reporters call know-all professors.

Then CityBeat asked me to research another Zapf Notice of Default, this time in Las Vegas. Was this too a "strategic default"? So I dug out all the Zapf documents on their property at 2446 Craigie Castle St., Henderson, NV. It is a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom single-family house built in 2004. The Zapfs bought it from the builder, Dell Web of Arizona, on September 10, 2004 for $511,875 as a second home.

It was a "second home" because they used "second home" financing. They got a $417,950 first loan and a $52,277 second, both from Countrywide. Wife Lorie would have to be intimately involved. A husband can't get "second home" financing without a wife's full cooperation. Their combined 1st and 2nd loans, $470,277, was 92% financing. That kind of loan-to-value ratio is not available for investment properties. If Eric rented out this property as an "investment", he defrauded his lender and Lorie was equally responsible. Yet that is exactly what Lorie told Channel 10 they did. She said it was an investment property, owned by her husband...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ethics Official Says Nancy Graham's Actions Had 'Appearance of Corruption'

Perhaps Gil Cabrera wasn't the right person to head the San Diego Ethics Commission. He has made a career defending those accused of white-collar wrongdoing. Now that he's gone, the Commission is at last going after real corruption rather than small mistakes in reporting campaign finances.

* San Diego news, analysis and conversation.
* Government

Ethics Official Says Graham's Actions Had 'Appearance of Corruption'
May 20, 2010
Voice of San Diego

Sitting a few feet from Nancy Graham, one of her former bosses testified Thursday of how hard the former Centre City Development Corp. president worked in San Diego. Came in early, CCDC chairman Fred Maas said. Stayed late.

When voiceofsandiego.org first raised questions in 2008 about Graham's undisclosed financial ties to developers doing business downtown, Maas gave Graham the benefit of the doubt, he told the San Diego Ethics Commission at a daylong Thursday hearing. She was the agency's president, he said, and he held a "kinship" with her.

Maas recalled asking Graham directly about the financial relationship: Did she know where her past business venture's income came from?

"I was told absolutely not," Maas said. So he stood up for her.

Then VOSD reported that Graham earned more than $3 million from a Florida development deal. Lennar Corp., which paid her from that deal, owned land in downtown San Diego, the site of a proposed hotel that Graham was negotiating about.

Graham never reported receiving those millions on her annual conflict disclosure forms here. If she did, she would've had to recuse herself from negotiations designed to clear the way for a hotel on the land adjacent to Petco Park. If the hotel had been built, Lennar and another developer would've made about $100 million...