Monday, February 28, 2011

Logan Jenkins: In a council meeting, what language is too foul? It's a fair question

I can't believe that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is getting involved in this case. Treasonous comments are okay, apparently, but don't say "wussies" with a "p".

Logan Jenkins: In a council meeting, what language is too foul? It's a fair question
By Logan Jenkins
February 28, 2011

“Any person making impertinent and slanderous remarks or who becomes boisterous while addressing the council shall be removed from the room.”

So declares the Carlsbad Municipal Code.

On Aug. 24, that genteel standard of decorum was put to a double test.

During the public-comment period, Neil Turner, a retired Army captain and member of the Minutemen, challenged the council to either present charges to the Grand Jury or “become complicit” in treason.

Throughout his three-minute address, Turner was calm, dignified, measured. Mayor Bud Lewis and council listened impassively to a gentleman accusing the president of breaking into and entering the White House. Turner implored the council to heed Lincoln’s words: “To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”

In light of the irrefutable facts — President Obama was born in Hawaii; the so-called “birthers” are conspiracy fabulists — one can imagine a hotheaded, patriotic mayor ordering the removal of Turner from the chamber.

No need to worry. Turner’s right of free, even if wing-nut, speech was exercised despite his slanderous — and arguably seditious — message. (He called upon members of the armed forces to resist the “unlawful” commander in chief’s orders.)

Next up to the lectern was Richard Shapiro, a homeless 53-year-old man who believes it’s his mission to spread the raw word that the justice system is corrupt from top to bottom. While he concedes his public diatribes are “an exercise in futility,” Shapiro soldiers on. He’s spoken “a thousand times” before councils from the Bay Area to San Diego, he told me.

The problem is, Shapiro feels the need to use rough language in settings where decorum is highly valued.

On Aug. 24, Shapiro began his address by picking up on Turner’s point about silence. Most people, Shapiro said, are moral cowards, though he used an off-color word that’s often sanitized as “wussies.”

Mayor Lewis, who had been through this R-rated movie before, immediately ordered two officers to grab the speaker. As he was being led away, Shapiro asked off-camera if he could say “heck” or “darn.” (In a subsequent meeting, Shapiro got a rise out of Lewis when he articulated the word “pusillanimous,” a $10 word for cowardly.)

Shapiro will be tried in April for three Carlsbad violations, culminating in the Aug. 24 blowup. Somewhat surprisingly, the District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the infraction-level case, an indication, one gathers, of the DA’s deep commitment to decorum.

I grant you, Shapiro is a street-wise provocateur, a gloating pain in the gluteus maximus, a homeless man’s George Carlin.

But in my etiquette book, it’s un-American to muzzle him, especially when more loathsome, if smoother, speech slides through like rancid butter.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

GOP is ready for Issa's "absolute right"

Chairman Issa: Oversight for whom?
By Rick Jacobs
February 24, 2011

In the weeks leading to Rep. Darrell Issa’s rise to chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, publications ranging from U.S. News to The San Diego Union-Tribune expressed concerns over whether he was willing to fulfill his new responsibilities devoid of the partisan politics and special interest agendas that had so frequently undermined the efforts of his predecessors.

Having spent the months before his ascent building his media profile alongside the likes of Glenn Beck, and hurling unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and “impeachable” offenses at President Barack Obama, these concerns could hardly have been considered unfounded.

And that was before an article in The New Yorker chronicled the colorful past for which Issa has largely denied responsibility – including his arrests on felony car theft and weapons charges, allegations of embellishing his military resume and reports that he was “under criminal suspicion” for a mysterious fire at one of his businesses.

Still, many Americans were willing to give Issa the benefit of the doubt, to give him a chance to reinvent himself and live up to the standards of transparency, impartiality and accountability to which he has pledged allegiance.

Unfortunately, it’s looking like America would have been better served to go with its gut on this one.

As his first action, the new chairman asked not his constituents, but more than 150 Washington lobbyists – collective contributors of more than $80,000 to Issa’s various campaigns for office – for their investigative and regulatory wish lists. Issa then refused to share the responses with the public. While he eventually caved to pressure from citizen watchdog groups, he posted the letters as a single, unsearchable PDF on his committee website, omitting several responses...

GOP is ready for Issa's "absolute right"
Chairmanship gives the Vista Republican leeway to set the agenda leading to 2012
By Matthew T. Hall
February 19, 2011

It’s power that could go to a person’s head.

It made Republican Rep. Dan Burton issue 1,200 subpoenas and once vainly fire a pistol at a pumpkin (or melon or cantaloupe, accounts vary) to prove a White House aide’s suicide was a homicide and thus discredit President Bill Clinton.

Later, it led Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman to snarl at a colleague arguing a procedural point: “I will have you physically removed from this meeting if you don’t stop.”

That colleague? Issa.

After 10 years in office, Issa has now risen to a place of unprecedented prominence among San Diego County’s Congressional delegation.

The Vista Republican is the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. By deciding which areas of government to investigate for waste, fraud and abuse, he will help spearhead GOP opposition to President Barack Obama and help choose what the nation talks about as the 2012 presidential election nears.

Even as websites like and spring up to second-guess (and aides say smear) him, Issa bristles at any notion he might misuse his position...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How the state got stuck with a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars during the secret negotiations before the redevelopment deal

Click to see links within the story:
Morning Report: So That's How It's Done
Art's Out, Money's In
by Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego

...Documents gave us - and you - a front-row seat to see how the state got stuck with a bill of hundreds of millions of dollars during the secret negotiations before the big downtown redevelopment deal.

In a new story posted later, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher explains how this is actually a good thing for local schools. "I would have had great concern if there had been an argument that somehow education was going to lose out of this arrangement," he said. City Hall reporter Liam Dillon checked with the school district to see what they think and to provide some caveats.

Also: a former city councilwoman who's now a state senator wants to do away with state subsidies to support redevelopment.

How well have you been paying attention to all this? Check out our opinion section quiz about redevelopment and see how you score.

We've got more about redevelopment in our graphic illustration called the Downtown Money Tree: it shows how the downtown redevelopment agency - whose job is to promote urban renewal - will spend $462.5 million. The downtown library is getting a ton of funding, as is affordable housing. Smaller amounts - but still multi-million-dollar amounts each - go to public art, administration, marketing and consulting...

Monday, February 07, 2011

Walmart PAC donated to vote-flippers’ favored charities

Walmart PAC donated to vote-flippers’ favored charities
February 4, 2011
by Dave Maass
City Beat

Walmart’s political action committee, San Diego Consumers for Choice, donated to charities supported by San Diego City Council members Todd Gloria and Tony Young, who on Tuesday changed their vote and repealed an ordinance opposed by the mega-corporation.

According to campaign-finance statements filed on Jan. 31, the PAC donated $7,500 to the Jackie Robinson YMCA, where Young participated in a Toys for Tots drive and was a special guest at the annual “Christmas with Character” party on Dec. 18. The Alpha Project, an organization for which Gloria regularly fundraises, picked up $10,000 from the PAC. Gloria volunteered at the city’s winter homeless shelter, which is run by the Alpha Project, on Dec. 15.

The PAC also donated $10,000 to San Diego Earthworks, an environmental organization; Gloria will be hosting Earthworks’ annual awards ceremony in May.

Initially Young and Gloria voted to require that any retailer wishing to build a store 90,000 square feet or larger in San Diego first study the potential economic and environmental impact on the surrounding community. After Walmart produced enough signatures to force an election on the ordinance, Young and Gloria voted with five other councilmembers on Tuesday to repeal it, citing the cost—roughly $2.5 million—of holding the election.

Young and Gloria’s offices say neither had knowledge of Walmart’s contribution. Walmart did not disclose on its paperwork when the donations were made, but the reports indicate most were made between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. The PAC’s treasurer has not yet returned calls.

The PAC also made a $200 civic donation to the Barrio Logan College Institute, where newly elected council member David Alvarez has worked as an after-school teacher and mentor. The lone dissenting vote on the repeal, Marti Emerald, has also been involved in fundraising for the Alpha Project and served as grand marshall of Earthworks’ Earth Day parade in 2007.

To be clear, we are not alleging that Young, Gloria or Alvarez were influenced by these donations—knowing the city council members and their reputations, we doubt they were. However, we cannot help but note that the donations were made with campaign funds, while Walmart has other vehicles for philanthropy. The contributions may have been an attempt by Walmart to improve its public profile in the community or to access or influence the city council members directly or through their supporters and causes. Of course, the PAC could have been giving purely out of the goodness of its heart, but the fact remains the donations went to these groups specifically rather than other worthy non-profit organizations.

All told, the PAC spent $1.2 million in 2010 using contributions exclusively from Walmart Stores, Inc. These expenditures included $25,000 passed to the Republican Party of San Diego County, and civic donations of $22,500 to the San Diego County Taxpayers’ Association, $20,000 to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and $1,500 to the San Diego North Chamber of Commerce—all of which are pro-business and have historically supported Walmart...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Anatomy of a Botched Testimony

The Anatomy of a Botched Testimony
Voice of San Diego
February 1, 2011
by Liam Dillon

It was an idea without an author.

San Diego City Councilwoman Marti Emerald wanted to know who had gone around the council's back to breathe 20 more years of life into downtown redevelopment.

The guy at the Oct. 12 City Council meeting who had answers was Frank Alessi, the executive vice president and chief financial officer of the city's downtown redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corp.

Except Alessi wasn't saying much.

Here's a breakdown of Alessi's testimony to the council now that we have the benefit of three months of reporting and the context from newly released emails. It shows that not only did Alessi fail to respond to many of Emerald's questions, but that a key answer was false.

Emerald started her questioning by wondering if she could trust Alessi.

Emerald: If you were monitoring my comments from before you know how very upset I am about what I believe is a gross breach of trust. Going forward, I'm going to have a very difficult time believing anything that you and your staff have to tell us as a board.

Then she launched into him.

Emerald: Who actually hatched this idea?

Alessi: Well.

Emerald: Whose idea was it? To go behind this council's back and go to Sacramento?

Alessi: I don't have an answer to that. Other than (Assemblyman) Nathan Fletcher was the author of it.

Emerald: He just in the middle of the night came up with the idea? Who did he talk to about crafting this idea to bury it in the budget bill? Was it you? Was it the mayor?

Alessi: I can't speak for the mayor.

Alessi now is CCDC's highest ranking official following the resignation of former interim head Fred Maas in December. Alessi has been with the agency since 1979 and makes $176,800 a year. Ultimately the City Council, as the board of directors for the city's Redevelopment Agency, is his boss.

Emerald continued asking whose idea it was.

Emerald: Fred (Maas)? Who?

Alessi: Unfortunately, Fred, our chairman, is unavailable today. He's back East on personal matters. And he ...

Emerald: So who was involved, once the mystery person came up with the idea, who sat down and came up with the plan?

Alessi: There were several people involved. It's ...

Emerald: They were who?

Alessi: I defer, I would like to defer the answer to that question.

Emerald: Why?

Alessi didn't answer. He just stared straight ahead.

Emerald turned next to Alessi's personal involvement.

Emerald: C'mon I mean it's out here on the table here, you did this, you didn't talk to us, but at least let us know who was involved.

Alessi: Well, I personally was knowledgeable of the information.

Emerald: Were you involved in it?

Alessi: To a degree.

Emerald then began asking him how long he had been discussing the deal. His answer, the most significant he gave to any of Emerald's questions, was wrong.

Emerald: Can you tell us when this idea fell out of the sky or what?

Alessi: There was probably a week or, two weeks ago that was.

Emerald: Two weeks ago, you think?

Alessi: I'm guessing. I mean I can only tell you from my perspective.

Emerald: When did you first learn of it?

Alessi: I believe it's been about two weeks. I don't have ...

But that's not what emails we obtained through a public records request show. Alessi was involved as far back as August, six weeks earlier than when he said he was.

Alessi's answer to council fit the deal's official narrative at the time — that it was only weeks in the making. But that narrative fell apart a few days after Alessi's testimony. The deal's formation began in August, around the same time Alessi got involved...