San Diego City Council Votes Today on Flawed ‘Midway Rising’ Deal

by on September 13, 2022 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

You Get What They Pay For: Midway Rising and Every Other City “Deal”

By Mat Wahlstrom

In the wake of an FBI investigation into the mayor for his alleged pay-for-play deal to broker (in cahoots with the local Chamber of Commerce) the sale of the city’s sports arena site to a donor in exchange for $1 million to support his re-election campaign, today (September 13) the city council will consider implementing stronger anti-corruption rules.

If you were mistaken in thinking this actual news item was about San Diego instead of Anaheim, it’s understandable. Because the details of the Angel Stadium scandal are tellingly similar to what’s being done here in ramming through approval of Midway Rising.

But thanks to an authority outside the clubbish state and local authorities, Orange County at least is having to finally answer for the corruption exposed by federal investigators that led to Anaheim’s mayor resigning.

Meanwhile, today at 2:00PM, the San Diego City Council is scheduled to vote to anoint Zephyr Partners as the exclusive agent for the disposition of the historic Sports Arena complex and development of the surrounding acreage in the Midway area, called Midway Rising.

As has been widely reported by La Prensa and the San Diego Union-Tribune, Zephyr’s principal and his wife, Brad and Stephanie Termini, were the single largest contributors to Todd Gloria’s 2020 mayoral campaign, donating over $100,000 to a political action committee (PAC) that was so corrupt it ended up having to shut down.

Additional reporting by CBS8 has revealed that all three members of the Zephyr team still are or have been subject to litigation regarding unpaid vendors, breach of contract, and performance default that they failed to disclose.

But a look at the two lobbyist disclosure filings related to Zephyr shows how much deeper the rot goes.

Both Southwest Solutions and Miller Public Affairs have engaged over twenty persons not just in direct lobbying of electeds and city staff for Zephyr: they have held multiple fundraisers on behalf of every elected in San Diego city government, from the mayor to every one of the council members and the city attorney.

And this is in addition to the donations made by individual members of these organizations directly to their campaigns and pro-candidate PACs.

These two lobbyists are also tag-teaming on the SDG&E franchise agreements. And of course, the local big bad, Southwest Strategies brought us 101 Ash Street and Tailgate Park.

Yet spokepersons for the mayor and council members themselves feel free to routinely scoff that people don’t understand how things works and that of course no one is buying influence.

Lobbyists try to defend themselves by saying that their actions are not exclusive to any one client, and that it is unfair to characterize their activities as seeking a quid pro quo. Yet those represented by lobbyists are the same clients whose projects they work to get green-lighted and are routinely approved.

Lost in all this is the ability of voters to make any meaningful choice at the ballot box and the ability of citizens to have their voices heard on any issue that doesn’t already have a price tag on it.

Recently in the Washington Post, Chief Justice John Roberts was reported lamenting that it was wrong for people to see the U.S. Supreme Court as untrustworthy because what it is doing is unpopular. This exactly gets cause and effect backward. It is unpopular because what it is doing is untrustworthy, by making decisions not grounded in sound legal reasoning but in line with the partisan positions of those on the bench.

So it is with every initiative proposed by our local electeds, when they drone on that their decisions are ‘data-driven’ rather than outcomes they torture statistics to support. Especially when what gets decided inevitably just happens to dovetail precisely with what their donors want.

What can be done?

Since the Citizens United decision equated cash with free speech, there’s little to stop corruption from the top until that’s overturned. But one solution is at hand to rein it in from below.

In response to the peril of climate change and state violence, California’s Democratic Party has weighed whether to ban accepting contributions from fossil fuel companies and police unions. Although neither has yet been implemented, the pressure to do so — especially to appeal to younger voters turned off by business as usual — at least recognizes that some sources of campaign funds are too tainted to cause anything but harm.

Since in San Diego we’re virtually assured that whoever is elected will be a Democrat, what’s to stop the county party from demanding pledges of all candidates that they will reject any monies fundraised by lobbyists — or else lose their endorsements?

This wouldn’t stop lobbyists from their actual lobbying activities — nor is it intended to. And it wouldn’t stop the scourge of troll PACs. But it is a simple, common sense step that would go a long way towards rebuilding trust in our local electeds and their decisions.

More people than ever are aware that the system is not working for them but against them — if it ever did. And all of the crises we’re facing are bound up in the crisis of legitimacy. And every solution needs to be pursued to avoid a total collapse.

Our local politicians need to decide that it’s in their long-term best interests to make the changes necessary to be accountable to voters and not indebted to donors.

Or they can wait until the FBI knocks on their door.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mat Wahlstrom September 13, 2022 at 11:00 am

Although technically not part of the article, I have to wonder if this won’t get pulled from today’s agenda— just as they did on the 101 Ash St ‘settlement’ — in response to the outcry Frank’s article reported,

But whether it’s today or later, I’ll be shocked if the fix isn’t in.


Frank Gormlie September 13, 2022 at 11:11 am

Wow! Do you really think so? The steamrolling could get stalled.


Frank Gormlie September 13, 2022 at 11:15 am

Oh btw, your opening is awesome – had me fooled. Incredible parallels.


Mat Wahlstrom September 13, 2022 at 11:27 am

Right? It was crazy when I read it. Let’s hope justice is served here.


Mat Wahlstrom September 13, 2022 at 12:37 pm

Since I mention the Citizens United decision, here’s the petition to the U.S. Senate to overturn it and pass the DISCLOSE Act,


kh September 13, 2022 at 5:21 pm

The Citizen’s United decision is unfortunate and harmful, but regrettably seems justified and legal to me.

The problem isn’t exactly the money in politics, but how easily voters are bought. I’d welcome any legislation that checks the power of money in politics and gives free speech a fighting chance against paid speech.


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