By Norma Damashek / NumbersRunner
San Diegans are no dummies. We know what happens to politically independent, outspoken, public-minded individuals who are brash enough to shake things up. They get maligned, noogied, humiliated, sent packing. Open your mouth too wide in this city and… you’re dead meat.
So we’re polite and genteel. Why look for trouble? Yes, the public gets screwed over and over again but we’ve learned to turn the other cheek. Forgive and forget — that’s our MO.
We swoon over the nice guys, especially the ones with agreeable manners. Like our avuncular ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, our puckish council president Todd Gloria, our sunkissed mayor Kevin Faulconer — honorable men beyond public reproach. Even when they’re plotting to pull the rug out from under us.
I’ll say this as politely and genteelly as I can. These three guys should be lined up along the wall of our downtown superior courthouse — TV cameras running at point-blank — and publicly charged with inflicting past, present, and future financial, political, and civic harm on the ordinary citizens of San Diego.
Jerry Sanders, Todd Gloria, Kevin Faulconer, those nice guys handed over exclusive control of the historic, multi-million dollar civic project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Balboa Park Panama-California Exposition to a private corporation stacked with political cronies.
They created a homemade Frankenstein named “Balboa Park Celebrations, Inc.” For over three years Gloria and Faulconer (with Sanders lurking in the Chamber of Commerce back boardroom) abused the public trust and looked the other way as their well-connected cronies sucked million-dollar transfers out of public funds and into this exclusive private enterprise.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith also averted his eyes from the spurious stunts of this corporate entity, downplaying its specious accounting and yet-to-be-determined legal and financial trespasses.
But whoops — the reportedly secretive, arrogant, and incompetent Centennial committee suddenly informs us that they’re dropping the ball. The only grandiose plan they managed to come up with is to leave the city in a royal lurch. They figure we’ll forgive and forget.
Apparently so do Sanders, Gloria, and Faulconer. Do you remember when these same honorable men tried to push down our throats an unsound and costly private plan to eliminate a few dozen parking spots from in front of Balboa Park art museums by engineering an intrusive bypass-bridge structure and erecting a privately-run parking structure in our world-famous publicly-owned Park? It took a lawsuit to put a halt to this fiasco. Didn’t we forgive? Haven’t we forgotten?
What about when the same official troika spearheaded the creation of a private corporation called the “Balboa Park Conservancy” to privatize Balboa Park management and governance? Have we forgotten that they transferred control of Park infrastructure, projects, and programs out of public oversight and into the exclusive hands of a stand-alone private corporation?
“Ironically, no bankruptcy judge would ever force the city of San Diego to transfer control of city assets and public property into private hands. Yet that is what the Mayor and City Council are doing — of their own free will. It’s a trickster’s story.”
But wait! Jerry Sanders, Todd Gloria, and Kevin Faulconer — the honorable trio tasked with privatizing basic city functions — has another notch in its belt.
Maybe you thought that when California governor Jerry Brown ended the decades-old mechanism known as REDEVELOPMENT our city would develop a new approach to planning for urban growth and implementing urban revitalization. Not so. Yet again, our nice guys pulled a fast one with another private corporation charged with doing public business.
Instead of dismantling the city’s preexisting redevelopment mechanisms, our honorable leaders simply melded the powerful downtown redevelopment arm (CCDC) with the city’s southeast redevelopment arm (SEDC) and gave it a new name.
They call it “Civic San Diego.” This city-owned private corporation wears more than one hat. It has the responsibility of masterminding the disposition of a $1.7 billion debt and obligation residue left over from CCDC and SEDC. And it has control over neighborhood and community development in former redevelopment areas. Moreover, it also has a strong intention to cement and expand its sphere of influence and dominion.
The city subsidizes the Civic San Diego corporation with millions of dollars from the general fund, yet there is puny public oversight and limited public accountability. It’s the nice guys’ version of how to run the city like a private business — where the public has no voice but foots the bill.
Late breaking news: the honorable mayor Kevin Faulconer and council president Todd Gloria have announced that they’re replacing Frankenstein senior (the discredited “Balboa Park Celebrations” corporation) with Frankenstein junior (the “Balboa Park Conservancy”) to oversee the city’s centennial festivities.
You may notice that the “Balboa Park Conservancy” — aside from having rubber-stamped the Laurel Street bypass bridge fiasco — has a stunningly vacant track record. It’s a sharp slap in the public face to bring onboard another set of unproductive underperformers.
Will we turn the other cheek? Will we give another pass to our nice guys? After all, they are — aren’t they? — all honorable men?
Norma Damashek is a long-time civic activist who focuses on promoting decision-making that serves the public good. She has spearheaded community-based coalitions and served on city and regional-government task forces and as past president of San Diego’s League of Women Voters.