The Dark Side of the 2015 Balboa Park Celebrations

by on February 24, 2014 · 2 comments

in California, Culture, Economy, History, Media, Politics, San Diego

balboa park 02By Doug Porter / San Diego Free Press

A non-profit group set up by the city to create a world class year long celebration of the centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park hasn’t produced much of anything concrete to date, despite spending millions of dollars in public monies. And they’re making the claim that their lack of progress is nobody’s business.

Citizen activist David Lundin’s inquiries into the machinations of the group responsible for planning the Balboa Park Centennial Celebration have stirred up quite a fuss. After reading reports about difficulties and missed deadlines by the entity (Balboa Park Celebrations, Inc) he filed a series of requests for documents (ala Public Records Act).

The resulting exchange was simply stunning in its arrogance and hostility. My response from reading the email exchange between Lunkin and the group is that something must be seriously amiss with this group.

Via UT-San Diego:

The nonprofit group organizing a yearlong party in San Diego’s Balboa Park in 2015 has taken the position that it does not have to make public its contracts, letters or other documents, saying it is not subject to disclosure laws even though it received and spent millions of tax dollars.

Balboa Park Celebration Inc. was entrusted by the city with planning the 100th anniversary of the Panama-California Exposition at the park.

The group on Friday told a citizen seeking records that it was not created by a legislative body and has no board members who represent a legislative body, key criteria for entities subject to open-meeting and open-records rules.

“As our team is busy trying to put on an event for millions to enjoy, we must devote our limited time to more productive activities,” spokesman Victor Avina wrote in an email.

The Balboa Party group has yet to reveal any of the promised corporate sponsors for the event. Its funding thus far has come via $2.8 million in city tourism and hotel tax dollars. Board members of the Tourism Marketing District have deferred consideration of a request by the group for an additional $3.2 million, citing a lack of progress.

A letter submitted just prior to her resignation from Julie Dubick, the latest of three CEOs to resign from the group, admitted some of the much vaunted events and corporate relationships for the 2015 celebration were “aspirational.”

From UT-San Diego:

A Jan. 1, 2014, deadline for the committee to provide the city with a full calendar of events resulted in a still indefinite, incomplete schedule, and no word of any specific corporate or private underwriting.

An Inside Job

nothing to seeYou would think that, perhaps, our City Attorney or even the District Attorney would be sniffing around by now. But you’d be wrong. This is business as usual, not to be trifled with by anybody demanding a public accountiung.

Read some of the very interesting observations sent along to SDFP in email from David Lundin:

  • Julie Dubick was former Mayor Jerry Sanders Chief of Staff;
  • [Media outreach coordinator] Jerry Braun was Mayor Jerry Sanders top PR Flak
  • Sanders initiated the creation of the private Balboa Park Celebrations Inc. in 2011 while he was Mayor;
  • Under the terms of a comprehensive October 25,2011 Memorandum of Understanding approved by Sanders, BPCI was given exclusive control and jurisdiction over the Park and its assets for 2014 and 2015 , the City abandoning any rights or powers over the Park for this period to the private corporation;
  • Sanders controlled who was appointed to the BPCI Board. They were his buddies, friends and supporters;
  • After Sanders left office, Dubick became the CEO of BPCI at a salary of $15,000 a month + benefits. Her salary was to increase to $20,000 a month during 2015.
  • Braun became a PR “consultant” to BPCI at a fee of $8,000 a month, increasing to $12,000 a month in 2015. These positions were never advertised or offered to the public. The salaries are paid from City General Funds and Hotel Tax revenues ;
  • Dubick resigned from BPCI in February of 2014. She took a position with Gafcon, Inc.. a San Diego based construction and consulting business. Yehudi Gaffen is CEO and founder of Gafcon, Inc. He is also a member of the Board of directors of BPCI;
  • In January and February of 2014, both Dubick and Braun refused to answer questions from the Press regarding BPCI, its progress, its finances, sponsorships or the Centennial schedule;
  • The City Council has never held any meaningful oversight hearings relating to BPCI, its creation, the contractual delegation to BPCI of all authority over the Park during 2014 and 2015, its finances, progress, or BPCI’s refusal to make its books and records available to the Public as Public records;
  • BPCI continues to have exclusive and unrestrained control over all aspects of the Park schedule and public venues for 2014 and 2015 under the terms of the October 25, 2011 MOU with the City signed while Sanders was mayor;
  • BPCI had specific Milestone Reports due to the City on November 1,2012 and January 1, 2014. BPCI failed to meet the explicit requirements of the MOU regarding the contents of these reports. The City did nothing about these material breaches;
  • BPCI has failed to release am accurate schedule of events and venues to be used, list of sponsors, budget for 2015, or internal documents;
  • Braun continues to be retained by BPCI as PR consultant at $8,000 a month. He will not meet with the Press, and will not answer any questions from the Public;
  • The City Council has not set any future public hearings on these issues. Both I -Mayor Gloria and Mayor-Elect Faulconer have refused to make any comments on BPCI to the Press or the Public.

iMayor to the Rescue?

In an “exit interview with UT-San Diego published over the weekend, iMayor Todd Gloria pledged to “present to the public a format of a celebration event that is achievable.” He also strongly suggested that, although the Balboa Park group’s missteps go back before December 2012, the current mess was former mayor Bob Filner’s fault.

From UT-San Diego:

When Bob Filner became Mayor I was excused from that process and wasn’t included in anything and didn’t have a great deal of knowledge of what the centennial celebration looked like under his administration other than what I might read in your paper. So when I took over in August it had become this $100 million extravaganza where kings and sheiks and others were going to come to San Diego and we were going to have this celebration. That was really beyond the more modest version of a $20 million to $30 million celebration that I think Jerry Sanders and I had discussed.

At the same time as the expectations were raised, very little was done from the mayor. I think the Centennial Committee tried its very best but this event depends heavily on mayoral leadership. No time was spent raising money. And hence the predicament we find ourselves in today.

I have been reluctant to pull the plug on this because I think we have to do this. We should do this. You know in 1915 this city of 40,000 people put on a multiyear world’s fair and really set us on 100 years of prosperity as a result. We can’t let that milestone go by with just a sheet cake. And it’s my expectation that we will not do that. What I’ve tried to do is sort out where we’re at internally and to right-size this event to something that is doable within the next 10 months to pull it together.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Marilyn February 24, 2014 at 3:25 pm

We went to Park and Rec to reserve the room we have used in the War Memorial Building every month for more than ten years, and was told we could not contract for the room after June 2014. Why? because of the 2015 celebrations. No explanation other than that.
Who do we complain to? there doesn’t seem to be an entity for the public’s imput. I remember when we celebrated the 200th birthday of San Diego with a cake. And that, without disruption of residents who use the park facilities regularly.


Tom Cairns February 26, 2014 at 8:41 pm

To find out about the original intent of both the 1915 and 1935 expositions, go to the Marsten House bookstore, and get Matthew F. Bokovoy’s “The San Diego World’s Fairs and Southwestern Memory, 1880-1940”. Between the pluralism of the 1915 fair, and the consumer-oriented 1935 fair, you’ll understand how the fairs where used to promote consumption. A necessary read.


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