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Roundtable: Debate, Water fight, Big Statue

March 16, 2012 12:59 p.m.

Guests: Christopher Cadelago, UT-San Diego

JW August, managing editor, 10News

Roger Showley, growth and development writer, UT-San Diego

Related Story: Roundtable: Congressional Debate, Dueling Water Boards, Big Kitschy Statue


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Read Transcript

CAVANAUGH: Did the candidates impress in our 52nd congressional debate? Did a shadow government set policy for the Metropolitan water district? And did members of the port arts commission unconditionally surrender? This is KPBS Midday Edition.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Friday, March 16th. On today's Midday Edition Roundtable, we'll be discussing the top San Diego stories of the week.

My guests at the Roundtable, JW August is managing editor of 10 News. Welcome.

AUGUST: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Christopher Cadelago covers county government and politics for UT San Diego. Good afternoon.

CADELAGO: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And Roger Showley is growth and development reporter for UT San Diego. Hello.

SHOWLEY: Hi, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Hour first topic, KPBS hosted a debate this week for candidates running are if the 52nd U.S. congressional district. KPBS set the threshold for participation at 10% factorability in an independent poll, and the candidates that made the cut were Congressman Brian Bilbray of the old 50th district, state assembly woman Lori Saldana, and San Diego port commissioner Scott Peters. If our listeners would like to join our discussion about the debate, the number, 1-888-895-5727. Chris, you were one of the reporters asking questions during the debate. How do you think the candidates handled themselves?

CADELAGO: I think all of them can walk away thinking they did something positive. We had Bilbray who was able to really get across some bipartisan work that he's done. He talked about a kind of -- working with Bob Filner, the Democrat from the border district, on making sure that the veterans affairs department has a two-year budget cycle instead of a one-year cycle, insuring that they can plan ahead. He also talked about working with a Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, on bringing America's cup to San Diego, which took a bill to do, an act of Congress to do. So he was able to do those things largely without much criticism of his direct record by the Democrats, who tended to have to focus on each other in this race, and that's what's driving the dynamic so far. Most people expect Bilbray and one of the Democrats, Scott Peters or Lori Saldana, it take it out of the primary on June 5th into the election in November. So that's largely what I saw. Lori was able to hit at Bilbray on some things, but she was also -- had a good grasp of the issues. Scott was kind of looking to appeal to a moderate voters in the district, there's a large number of independents. The district is split pretty evening between independents, Republicans and Democrat.

CAVANAUGH: Scott Peters said he liked calm and cool. I remember that was one of his answers. He appeared to be very controlled and actually brief in his answers:

CADELAGO: He did. And I think part of that was the fact that in the debate he was kind of the middle guy there, and you had Saldana, who tends to be a little more liberal than he is, and you have Brian Bilbray who's a little more conservative. So Scott was trying to balance these business interests with his more democratic-leaning philosophies. And it's a hard thing to juggle so far for him because you have to think about who his constituency is in this race. In primary elections, the folks that tend to vote tend to be kind of the most partisan.


CADELAGO: So he has to make it through this primary to run the kind of campaign he wants to run, which is one that appeals to moderates.


AUGUST: I thought it was interesting. I like how they peeled off against each other, and would form an alliance. They went after Peters for his taxes, he doesn't want to release his tax forms, because his wife makes I think a lot of money. And the both of them were attacking him on that. But it was interesting to hear how they would join forces on different things. They went after Bilbray for the gas thing, and I thought they scored points with that.


SHOWLEY: Chris -- I guess people might be surprised if they're all in a debate together, can you explain why that is?

CADELAGO: Part of it is because this year, with the top two primary under 14, you have the top two vote getters regardless of what party they're in, advancing to the general election in November. It changes the dynamic in this race, but at the same time, it doesn't. Because you do expect based on those numbers, probably a Republican and a Democrat to make it through. Having them all on the same stage is probably a good thing for voters to be able to really contrast the differences between them. And I think as you see one of the Democrats most likely emerge from the primary into the general, you'll start to see probably more focus on Bilbray's record. One of the things that Susan Davis was able to do when she defeated him after his first six years in Congress was really contrast the types of positions he was highlighting, kind of like the America's cup, and the veterans affairs one, with what he would do when he went back to Washington and voted. And they were successful in that saying you come here and say one thing, and you go back to Washington and you vote the other way. And Peters and Saldana have not started to focus on that yet, mostly because they have each other to contend with.

CAVANAUGH: And does it appear to you, I'm just going to open this up to everybody who listened to the debate, did it appear to you because Lori Saldana was the one who kept challenging Brian Bilbray that she thinks of herself as the main challenger to Bilbray?

AUGUST: Well, I think she does. And if you step back and watched it, I do think she was far more aggressive, even than the two men. She came prepared to go to war, and I think that was reflected in how she handled the questions she answered and how she grilled the other candidates.

CAVANAUGH: She challenged him on his defunding -- vote to defund planned parenthood, supporting Paul Ryan's bill to restructure Medicare, not signing a letter for gas speculation control. Even bad images in the staff office of immigrants, Bilbray's Washington office. What did you think about that criticism, Chris?

CADELAGO: I think two points I would make on that. Of the first one is you have places like planned parent hood, and the NARAL, who have given Bilbray a 10% rating in pro-choice, family planning type issues. And he comes here and stresses that he does think birth control is an important option for his three daughters and three granddaughters. And Social Security came out and was critical of Bilbray's votes to defund planned parenthood. So that was 1†shot he got in there early. On the other point you brought up, I think it was somewhat of a non sequitur. I don't think Bilbray responds to a criticism from the late '90s where someone in his office may have had a fax printed out on the wall that criticized his position on birthright citizenship. I don't know that there's a way to substantiate that. But I think it's all about how it comes off to voters. Do they buy that? Do they believe that? And the folks who do are probably the ones that would tend to support Lori Saldana anyway. So I don't know how much that matters.

CAVANAUGH: Let me remind our listeners, you can join this conversation if you'd like. 1-888-895-5727. Anita, welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. I heard the debate on Wednesday. I saw the debate later. And then I read the coverage in the San Diego Union Tribune. And it was interesting because it didn't reflect what I heard and saw. And it's too bad that you have two reporters from that paper. It seems to me that Bilbray deflected many of the issues, especially citizens united. Peters really didn't answer his financial situation in regard to 1% or 99%. And when you say that Lori Saldana came as if to battle, it's because she is aware of all the issues and educated in all the issues. And the other gentlemen, they just don't seem to understand all the issues.

CAVANAUGH: Anita thanks for the call. And I do appreciate people calling in and expressing their opinion on these things. Chris, you were there, right?

CADELAGO: The thing to note about Bilbray's position on citizens united, he talked about the division of powers, the executive branch, the judicial branch, and the legislative branch. Which he is a part of, and he talked about how he would not go after the president for attacking Iran as long as he didn't commit ground troops. And in that answer, he basically said there's a division of powers. And I think each of these should be able to act to a degree independently. And I think that was largely his answer on the citizens united decision. It's a decision of the Supreme Court, and we have to live with it for now. There is a move afoot in Congress and state houses across the country to try to get a constitutional amendment to overturn that. But for now, the law of the land.

CAVANAUGH: Independent of the answers that were given in this debate or not, what do you think, Roger, are the issues that are going to be deciding this election?

SHOWLEY: I was going to ask Chris that as well. Here we are in March, months before the primary, and many months before the election, and while congressional races are often local oriented, I still think there's going to be a national debate this year on what the priorities of the U.S. are, and I've got to think that the national issues like gas prices or economy or jobs or these other things are being more important into how these three candidates answer these questions. The next couple months will indicate whether they have a victory in sight.

CADELAGO: It's going to be jobs, jobs, jobs, and the economy. Peters was able to make a point early on in the debate. He has this 3-prong platform that he's focused on where he's talked about investing in transportation and infrastructure, making college more affordable, increasing financial aid, and also looking at really increasing innovation there on the mesa, which is a big part of the district in innovation through scientific research. Bilbray will talk about the bills that he thinks have spurred small business here. He'll talk about some of the Calloways, and some of the companies that have had to relocate to other areas because he'll say that California has been a nonbusiness-friendly climate. Ms. Saldana will talk about the various education and energy and job creation bills that she worked on in Sacramento. So they're all going to make that case.

CAVANAUGH: And it's important to remember that this may be decided on one issue like that. Before we round up any surprises that you guys heard in this debate, I don't want to leave this subject without mentioning very distinctly that the 52nd district that these candidates are running for is very different than the old 50th district that the man wee calling an incumbent, Brian Bilbray, represents.

AUGUST: Well, it sweeps down the coast more. And I think it's more -- I think we were talking, it's 47/53 Republican. So it's a relatively tight race, probably the tightest of all the congressional races.

CADELAGO: It's a district that goes from Poway through the middle of San Diego, La Jolla, Clairemont, downtown, all the way to Coronado. And the biggest difference between it and the 50th district, there's a 2.93% Republican registration advantage in the 52nd. And there was about a 9% Republican request registration advantage in the 50th. So we're coming to in the next couple months, who is going to be able to get their message out across all media. And you have to look at how much they have been able to raise to see who can do that. And while Lori Saldana certainly has done well in some of the polls, and has really secured the activist support in the democratic club support, she does trail Scott Peters by more than $200,000 in cash on hand. So that will be something to watch for. He's raised about $400,000, she about $140,000, and Bilbray had about $550,000 in the bank. And the other thing to consider is the Republican party is going to do absolutely everything it can to keep that seat. There's a drive to pick up, I think, 26 or 27 nationwide for the Democrats to take back control of the house. And the Republicans have really moved to protect this seat.

AUGUST: This is supposed to be a key Keat for both parties.

CADELAGO: And part of the reason we're not hearing probably more about that is because there's two very credible, tough Democrats in this race. I think the ones where you have one Democrat like Ami Berra, or Jose Hernandez, the Democrats have made a much bigger push to make that person known. Here, the folks in Washington have really stayed out of this race to see who emerges as the winner from their party.

CAVANAUGH: Did anything --

AUGUST: Which I can understand, because they don't want to tick off the one if the democratic wins.

CAVANAUGH: It's really interesting, and a complex race, considering the change in the congressional makeup, the fact we have a top-two primary now. I'm just wondering if there's anything, any moment, any quote that stood out for you in this debate, just to wrap things up.

CADELAGO: I think looking back at the debate, I tend to yeah with the caller. I think Lori Saldana did very well. She was very well prepared. I think Scott Peters had some nice points about what he would do about the economy also. One of the things he's really trying to stress is that he could work with both parties. And we'll have to see if that puts people every the top. It is going to be tough. Because in a primary you do get the most excited voters out there. Those are the two things, the points I think he made. And Lori Saldana was very obviously prepared with the attacks on Bilbray over gas prices and not being tougher on making sure federal regulators are cracking down on speculators.

CAVANAUGH: It may just be me, but the thing I remember is Brian Bilbray saying he invited President Obama to surf in Point Loma.

CAVANAUGH: And we just really have to move onto the next topic. Thanks everyone for a good discussion.


CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests at the Roundtable are JW August, managing editor of 10 News, Christopher Cadelago, who confers county government and politics for UT San Diego, and Roger Showley, growth and development reporter for UT San Diego. Of the feud between the San Diego County water authority and the Metropolitan water district went over the top, and some would say around the bend this week. The county released thousands of pages of documents and e-mails it claims provides evidence of a shadow government within Metropolitan that sets policy without input from San Diego.

JW, this story about the possibility of a shadow government at the Metropolitan water district sounds a little like a conspiracy novel, at least at first glance. Tell us why the Metropolitan water district is important to San Diego.

AUGUST: Well, they are the mamma agency that controls the water that comes into our region.

CAVANAUGH: We're the biggest agency. We're the biggest agency of water from Metropolitan?

AUGUST: Yes, we are. We're their biggest customer, but we're not treated like it.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the county authority has already filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan. What's that about?

AUGUST: It's because they are cranking up the rates, and they're claiming that the charges that the MWD -- I mean LA, the water district, the overall water district. I'm blanking on the name.

CAVANAUGH: Metropolitan?

AUGUST: Metropolitan water district is overcharging us for transport fees for the water to come in through their delivery system. Way overcharging. In fact they're making a profit on it, which is against the law for a government agency, and they're taking the extra money they're making off of that and kind of passing it onto the other water agencies up north, to kind of sweeten the pot for those guys. So they're all kind of ganging up on San Diego. Not that I'm a homer on this thing, but I really think we're -- I'm 110% convinced that there is something funny going on up there.

CAVANAUGH: So that is what's already being alleged by the county water authority, that's basically the subject of the lawsuit that they've already filed. Now, this week, the water authority made headlines with words like secret society and shadow government. What is this alleged conspiracy the county is talking about?

AUGUST: That these people meet in a session without San Diego being there. They have had 60 of these meetings without San Diego going there, and I hear that what happens when San Diego shows up for a 9:00 AM meeting, that they have been meeting at 7:30 AM in the morning, an hour and a half before San Diego shows up. And I don't think that's the way you should be doing business. They're like a dysfunctional orchestra, like -- it's like the wood winds and the brass and the percussion go over and practice by themselves, and they have their own conductor, and then they try to put this all together and have a coherent policy, nobody knows what's going on. They know what's going on, but San Diego is left out of it.

CADELAGO: But the Met isn't -- as I remember your stories about this --

SHOWLEY: It's not the board members who were meeting in secret, it's the staff members.

>> Right. And that's the argument, whether it's a violation of the Brown Act. It depends on what they're doing, what they're doing and whose orders they're carrying out.


SHOWLEY: San Diego is the biggest user, how come we don't have more votes and sway in the thing?

AUGUST: We do have more votes than anybody but still don't have the biggest number of votes together. They gang up on us.

CADELAGO: So it's like four votes out of a couple dozen or something.

AUGUST: Right. We don't have enough to carry it. So it's always favoring the other guys.

CAVANAUGH: The county water authority released a huge book of documents this week to reporters. Tell us the whys and wherefores of that. Where do the documents come from?

AUGUST: This is a California public records act request, and it's all the communications from MWD. Their communications, hundreds and hundreds of them, and I just happened to have the smoking gun here with me, which was the famous e-mail I'm looking at right now from a fella named Chris Thesin to a David Gustav son, and it says it's what I briefed you about from the last secret society meeting." And this was dated October 20th, 2011. And you can actually see these, if you're an interested citizen, you can go to the Metropolitan water district, and they're loaded all of these e-mails.

SHOWLEY: The county water authority.

AUGUST: Yeah, the county water authority has loaded them on the website. And I just found this out, I printed them out.

CAVANAUGH: Secret society, anti-San Diego coalition. And the county water authority alleges that this, what they call a shadow government, pays dues to get into meetings and also hires consultants. Is that also in those documents?

AUGUST: Right, you pay to play. Absolutely. That's what they keep saying. And there's this kind of a strange organization called Cordoba, which is a consultant, which part of the management team, our former Met GM is part of the management team, and these guys have a kind of hinky past in Los Angeles and they are advising the people at the secret meetings.

CADELAGO: So obviously MWD complied with this PRA, and they turned it all over. They had to, based on the law. What are they really saying? How does this tie into the lawsuit? Are they denying this secret society? Are they saying so what?

AUGUST: I don't think they actually dinied all of that. The issue at this particular meeting was about this rate hike they're talking about. And I don't think anybody's asked them to deny it. They just -- San Diego, you're just being paranoid. You guys are just paranoid. That's how the coverage was in LA. These guys in San Diego are paranoid.

CAVANAUGH: I think the quote of the week was from Kevin Faulconer hunt of the Orange County water district. He said they had to form a separate working group without San Diego being there because San Diego kept asking "one dumb question after another." And the meetings just went on for hours and hours.

AUGUST: Shame on us for asking questions.

CADELAGO: It seems like these are relationships between member agencies between cities that have gone on for decades, and maybe they've kind of been similar dynamics, just new players that come in and are appointed by local City Councils, but you still have this kind of anti-San Diego bent that goes on for quite some time.

AUGUST: A lot of bad blood.

SHOWLEY: I think it's important to look at the historical element of this, and that is how MWD came to be. It was mainly because San Diego was late to join MWD, not only the 1940s. We had our own water supply. Until we ran out of water in 1944, and the Navy built an aqueduct. Then we had to join the MWD. And LA has their own water supply.

CADELAGO: I’ve heard it described as a shotgun marriage between San Diego and LA. And part of it was the water department in World War II ordered this pipeline between San Diego and Riverside. Before that, I think San Diego had its own water rights to the California river. When this happened, they had to start splitting the water rights with MWD, which started causing this rub that we still see today

SHOWLEY: So we're stuck -- basically it's San Diego versus the rest of Southern California. And the old saw is we're south of Southern California. Well, unfortunately, we're not. We're part of that MWD monster.

CAVANAUGH: This is a long long-term battle between San Diego and the Metropolitan water district, which heated up just a few years ago when we started to import water from the Imperial Valley. Is that right?

AUGUST: That's correct. If you'd look the billings for the Met, the amount of money these guys are grossing on their billings has been dropping, and part of that's got to do with Imperial Valley. And that's ticked them off. They're not happy about that. But we don't have other sources of water. We have to import. Other water districts up in LA have other options for their water. We don't.

CADELAGO: I was just going to ask JW, I wonder if people don't here are going to start to object to the county water authority tactics. They are spending rate payer money, kind of going to war with MWD. Is that the best way to be spending that money? Are they doing it --

AUGUST: Well, do they roll over? Do they let these guys do and? I think that's a good question to ask, but it's going to cost us 40 or $50 million more next year in the increased rates. How much is too much? I don't know. But I wouldn't roll over. I wouldn't. I don't know if they sue and they win, they can recover attorney fees. I don't know that. If that's the case, that might change it.

CAVANAUGH: Now, this load of information was basically dropped during the start of hearings on another rate increase that the Metropolitan water district wants to enact. What is that all about? Metropolitan water district I know says they need this rate hike it use on long-term water project. But I suppose it's just another in a series of hikes that San Diego county water authority has to basically accept if these member agencies vote on them, and this one is a 12.5% through 2014.

AUGUST: That's right. 7.5 in 2013, 5.5 in 2014. And this is how childish this gets. When we -- when the fresh water plant in Carlsbad was being built, the Met will provide extra funds for projects like that, all across Southern California. And they were set to get money for the project in Carlsbad. But when San Diego sued, they said, well, tough luck. You're not getting any money from us. So they took that money and passed the parcel out to other water districts up north. So don't mess with the Met or you're going to get punished. That's what they said to the water authority down here. And I think that just added to the bad blood.

CAVANAUGH: This is all very disheartening, isn't it? If you just -- water is so crucial to us in San Diego. And to have this in-fighting going on really is quite demoralizing, isn't it?

SHOWLEY: It just shows you, that a region competing on the world stage to be battling each other like this like kids in fourth grade is embarrassing.


AUGUST: I don't know. I think we got to protect our rights. Look after the San Diego region. Sure it doesn't look bad out there, but again I don't think we can just roll over for these guys. I don't think we're -- maybe there's no bad guys in this, but we certainly are not getting a fair shake here.

CAVANAUGH: Go ahead.

CADELAGO: Not to completely change the subject, but JW's team and folks at the UT have done a lot of in-depth reports over the last couple years, just about MWD's other spending. This is an agency that clearly has had some trouble with buying cases and cases of wine and going out to expensive dinners. So as a water user, as a taxpayer and rate payer, you look at this and you just wonder what your rates have gone up all this much and all this kind of monkey business is going on at the same time.

AUGUST: Very nice offices up there.

CAVANAUGH: Is there any chance that the state could get involved in this and basically say, yeah, stop it. This issue is too important to the people who live in this region.

>> If they can prove their Brown Act violations with the secret meetings, that might be so.

SHOWLEY: But guess who runs the state. The LA delegations in the Senate and the assembly. They don't care about San Diego. They care about their own territory.

>> But we've got a pretty independent attorney general. Maybe she'll take a look at this.

CAVANAUGH: What happens if the water authority does win this lawsuit?

AUGUST: Oh, man, I don't know! We get the LA coliseum.

AUGUST: I guess they can't raise the rates, and they have to maybe pay back some. It's going to be three or four years for this case to work its way through court.

CAVANAUGH: And in the meantime, this rate hike is most likely going to go through.

AUGUST: It is. We don't have much of a choice.

CAVANAUGH: Now, before we go on to another are topic, I know that there's another story that you want to talk about. 10 News has been following it. We may not be hearing much more about it. It's the story of sergeant Elizabeth palmer of the sheriff's department. Can you briefly tell us what's going on here?

AUGUST: Well, it began with a citizens call from a former police officer who was hassled by this sergeant going through the metal detectors down at the south bay courthouse. And just the -- this guy was not a whack job, you know? We get plenty of calls on whack jobs who you were set with the cops. This was a good guy, and what he said was troubling. So we went on the air and we asked the sheriff's department for a comment. And they won't comment because it's personnel. Well, are what happened is we began getting more e-mails and calls from other people that began relating the same sort of behavior, kind of very aggressive, I'm a police officer, you really have no rights with me, shut up, keep your mouth shut, that kind of behavior, which was really when somebody in authority does that, I think that's not a good thing. And it wasn't like this one isolated incident. And we keep -- we could do a story a day about her right now. We've been -- we cooled it the last three or four-days.

CAVANAUGH: Is sergeant Elizabeth palmer, where is she assigned?

AUGUST: She's not in the Courts anymore. They're kind of hiding her out some place. We're not sure.

CAVANAUGH: What have they done about this? The sheriff's department.

AUGUST: Well, they have told us on the record that internal affairs is looking at it, which is good. I'm glad to hear that. But that's the extent of it because there's so many laws in place that protect the personal behaviors of police officers that that's about all we're going to get out of it.

CAVANAUGH: How many allegations did you hear about?

AUGUST: Well, we're still checking them out. Blue we reported on at least five different allegations, pretty much the same sort of aggressive behavior.

CAVANAUGH: Can you explain one? Tell us one of these aggressive behaviors so we have a better idea what we're talking about?

AUGUST: Well, I can tell you one. We'll break one on your ear right now. I'm working with a gentleman right now who's telling me he was pulled over on a curfew check, a young man. And he told palmer that he was with his mom at an ACLU meeting, which was a mistake. So she got him out of the car and he showed her his driver's license, and she took the driver's license and burned the edges of it and then hand today back to him.

CAVANAUGH: These are some allegations! . So what are you -- how are you going to be following these stories?

AUGUST: Just follow up on complaints from citizens and see where it goes. See what the sheriff's department does. There's just too much. There's stuff on the record too. The county has oversight board called CLERB that she has been found in the wrong in the past for her behavior with citizens.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you very much for the conversation that we had about the Metropolitan water district. And thanks very much for breaking some news on our air. We always appreciate that. And we have to move on.


CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests are JW August, managing editor of 10 News, Christopher Cadelago, county government and politics for UT San Diego. And Roger Showley, growth and development reporter for UT San Diego. What happens when a piece of public art that happens to be very popular except people who know about art? We all found out recently as the San Diego port commissioner gave a thumbs down to their own public art committee and voted to accept a permanent version of the kiss statue, known as unconditional surrender, on the San Diego bay front. This week, two members of the public art committee decided to resign in protest.

Roger, what's the big deal about this 25-foot statue on the waterfront? Who likes it? Who hate its?

SHOWLEY: Well, this is a sort of social battle between us and the experts. Historically, public art was a man on the horse. After the civil war, the U.S. and Europe was full of statuariy. In the 20th century, there's a lot more sophisticated view about arting something more provocative, should be more that you feel, have more subtleties. And it should make you stop and think. And unconditional surrender doesn't make you stop and think, it makes you stop and take a photograph. It's a very nice statue, based on a 1945 picture taken at time square at the end of World War II. And the artist he specializes in these sort of pop culture images. So he blew this thing up in 25 feet, and the port of San Diego got a copy of this five years ago, it's been on the waterfront. So when it came time to move it out, there was a group saying well, we want it, we like it, we want it keep it in San Diego. And they said okay. You can donate it to the Port. Well, the art committee is charged with discussing whether they would accept a donation. Their criteria clearly say this sort of thing is not appropriate. And the committee voted six/4 against it last year.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the port of San Diego has funds to spend on public art. And they revamped their public art committee, and they brought in new membership, people who are prominent in the arts in San Diego. And they drew up a new list of rules for accepting art on the waterfront. So when they looked at the rules, when their brand-new public art committee looked at the rules and then looked at unconditional surrender, they said no! ; isn't that right?


CAVANAUGH: What was it about it?

SHOWLEY: Well, there are several elements. Practically speaking, can you raise a million dollars? This was going to be a donation. So the first question they had was, do you have a million dollars? No. Have you raise today? No. But we'd like to. So that was a mark against them. Then the question is, are is this great art? The art is supposed to be unique, thought-provoking, tasteful, and esthetic, and so forth. No, again the art committee said this is not any of those things. And on top of this, how many copies of this will be all over the United States? So then they talked about is it a unique concept? No, it's taken from a photograph. So it isn't even original art. It's an image of another image of another image. It's sort of a third generation thing. So I guess you you could say is this 25-foot statue Mickey mouse or doctor Seuss character art? When it came to the port board a few weeks ago, one commissioner said we won't call it art, we'll call it an attraction. And that's kind of what it is. It's a public attraction. And it certainly attracts lots of people. So if you want something that people come to and see and populate the waterfront, this is doing it.

CADELAGO: Would you say that there was more objection to it being kitsch and not art or more that it doesn't have a real connection? Like you said, it was taken in time square, obviously this is a military town but so what? This picture itself doesn't really have a whole lot to do with San Diego.

SHOWLEY: I don't think they -- the military theme didn't bother them so much as the fact that it's just a copy. It's nothing original. It's like something you'd see in the wax museum.


AUGUST: What are they Donna do with the one that they're going to ship out? Where does that go?

SHOWLEY: Well, they set up a foundation called the statue foundation that has an office in Santa Monica. And it's made of basically fiberglass, and people have been loving it so much that it has holes in it, are and the paint is wearing off. So it has to be repaired.

CAVANAUGH: Basically what the port decided to do was allow a bronze replica to be made and it will be painted, it won't be bronze, it will be painted in color. And if indeed people are able to raise $1†million by the end of this year, is that the way that works?

SHOWLEY: They have 12 months. And since the meeting, the midway museum has announced that it's going to take on the job. And they feel like they can raise 70% of it privately in two weeks, and then go public for the rest of it.

CAVANAUGH: Let me take a phone call. Aaron is calling from sera mesa.

NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to share my thoughts briefly on this so-called art piece. I heard everyone accept people who know about art like it, but I don't consider myself an art expert. But I'm opposed to a so called public art project being No.†1 like it was said, basically the equivalent of putting the original drawing of Mickey mouse or Donald duck up. And No.†2, it's not connected to San Diego. NO.†3, it's a depiction -- that kiss was not consensual, as far as was publicly known. It's an assault. So I have a real problem with that.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Aaron. That's not the first time that's been mentioned to me. And indeed, sensibilities have changed a lot since 1945.

AUGUST: Right. And people could go up and look under the skirt! Geezy Creezy.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, stop!

SHOWLEY: Somebody at the port meeting did wonder about the apparent assault of a woman. At the end of World War II, people were just so excited about the end of the war, people were kissing each other, perfect strangers all over the place, including in San Diego. We have a number of pictures like that.

CADELAGO: There's your connection.

SHOWLEY: I don't think it --

AUGUST: I've been to Padre games where they do that. Not much anymore.

SHOWLEY: I don't think it was the San Diego connection or the sexual implications of it. It's more the quality of the art itself that bothers the art people.

CADELAGO: Would you say -- this caller probably disagrees, but would you say that the majority of public opinion is behind this piece?

SHOWLEY: Yeah, I mean some of the port members went down to the statue and asked people randomly, what do you think? Oh, I love it! Keep it!

CAVANAUGH: It is demonstrably the port keeps saying over and over again it's the most popular piece of public art that they've ever had anything to do with. So it would be difficult for them to give a complete thumbs down to it. But there are members of the public arts commission who have resigned over this

SHOWLEY: Two of them yesterday. I wasn't there, but KPBS reported it. So I reported it from you, thank you. They announced they were going to leave the committee, and somebody else indicated, then I called the chairman, and she said she asked the rest of them to hold off for a week to let tempers cool before you turn in a resignation. I think the issue here is also that committee was just reformulated, reconstituted last year, and they spent a year and a half developing these guidelines. And for the very first decision they made, they were overturned by the port. If I was on the committee, I'd say what am I doing here? It's a waste of my time, goodbye.

CAVANAUGH: What's the difference between an attraction and public art?

SHOWLEY: Eight letters, I guess. Or something.

CAVANAUGH: Are they actually going to make a distinction between these two?

SHOWLEY: No, it really is -- it is public art, it's just whether it's bad art. You could say on Sundays -- I hate to insult everybody, but Sundays up and down Balboa Park there's a lot of bad art. Who are we to judge whether it's good or not? But they did hire these people to be experts, and they're not going to take their advice, and the port board does say we are responsible for the port, and we have the final say. So that's fine. But then don't ask somebody to give their opinion if you don't want to believe it.

CADELAGO: As anyone besides the port authority and their subcommittee, their appointed subcommittee weighed in? Is there any other governments or experts or anyone that --

SHOWLEY: Our editorial board has weighed in.

CAVANAUGH: I read that.

SHOWLEY: And we had lots of letters to the editor.

CAVANAUGH: That were in support of it

SHOWLEY: And there are lots on my stories, lots of comments posted by people, pro and con, most for the statue. So I don't know. My compromise would be to put it on top of the midway aircraft carrier set on the grass. But that's not going to happen.

CAVANAUGH: Our senior editor here, Mark Sauer, said that this was sort of a uniquely San Diego story. The fact that the -- we're such a still military town, and that weighs so heavily in the decisions that are made here. But I'm wondering if that's actually true. Because isn't public art really a problem for most big cities these days?

SHOWLEY: Yeah, I think everywhere you go, you can see examples of bad public art. It's not like the artists know what they're talking about from the public opinion point of view, but sometimes things -- look at the Eiffel tower. It's something the Parisians hated 120 years ago, now it's an icon worldwide. Sometimes a piece that people hate at the beginning loved later on.

AUGUST: It could be like the Hollywood sign.

SHOWLEY: It's not public art, but look at it now.

AUGUST: It's part of the whole scene.

SHOWLEY: And this is really setting a precedent for what's going to happen for the rest of the port art plan. They want to have -- they said they want to have a world class collection of public art over the years that will be a big tourist draw. You could see on the brochure, every brochure they put out be -- unconditional surrender will be on the cover. The international artist who is see that will say that's their idea of public art, I'm not in it.

CADELAGO: I have to ask to bring it full circle from the first discussion, and the former port chairman, Scott Peters is is there. What does he think of this?

SHOWLEY: He was one of the two people on the board who voted against keeping. That's politically risky for him.

AUGUST: Oh, elitist!

SHOWLEY: But he's a pretty schooled person in art. And he was upholding the art committee as was bob Nelson.

CAVANAUGH: Let me take a phone call. Adrian from La Jolla.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I was calling to give my support to the public art committee of the port. I've been a San Diego resident my entire life. And the idea to me that this sculpture, whether or not it's art is completely subjective. But I'd just like to point out that it's basically San Diego accepting another city's sloppy seconds. This particular piece of art has been proposed to many other city, actually, to try it make it permanent. And they've all rejected it. I just think it's strange San Diego has decided to take it.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. We're accepting sloppy seconds, Roger.

SHOWLEY: Well, I don't think that's fair. I mean it is a finish thing to see. ComiCon is headquartered in San Diego. How much more public art can you be?

AUGUST: Oh, that's it! They could put it by the Convention Center for ComiCon

SHOWLEY: There's a nice piece of public art there that I like myself.

CAVANAUGH: We have to wrap it up, gentlemen. Thank you very much.