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...