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Roundtable: Did Sunroad Pay To Play? Will Faulconer Mean Republican Comeback? Longer Runway For Palomar?

September 27, 2013 1:13 p.m.

HOST

Mark Sauer

GUESTS

Dorian Hargrove, San Diego Reader

Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

Alison St. John, KPBS News

Related Story: Roundtable: Did Sunroad Pay To Play? Will Faulconer Mean Republican Comeback? Longer Runway For Palomar?

Transcript:

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.

MARK SAUER: New questions emerge over the San Diego city Council's land giveaway the next developer Sunroad raises more than $100,000 annually. And Republican leaders propose Kevin Falconer be the candidate for mayor in a meeting of the GOP establishment. Plus, not everyone's enthusiastic for plans for right wing expansion for North County's McClellan Palomar Airport I am Mark Sauer and the KPBS roundtable starts now. Welcome. It is Friday, September 27th. I am Mark Sauer. Joining me at the KPBS roundtable to share is reporter Dorian Hargrove of the San Diego reader, Tony Perry, San Diego bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and Alison St. John, North County Reporter for KPBS news. Former Mayor Bob Filner took the heat when developer of Sunroad enterprises paid $100,000 in exchange for expansion of its Kearny Mesa project onto public land. Avoiding scrutiny in the deal however was the city Council who had okayed the giveaway with few questions asked. New details of the deal are emerging that show Filner may have done the right things, though perhaps in a ham-handed way were also benefited greatly from the Council's action. Dorian Hargrove, start, quickly give us an overview what is this project and give us a sense of its goal.

DORIAN HARGROVE: So it is a large mixed-use commercial residential project in Kearny Mesa. I think by the time all phases are done it will be 570 units.

MARK SAUER: A big project.

DORIAN HARGROVE: A big project and it is a two-acre park has winnowed down after a while the size of a park. Now it is a 2 acre park and basically Sunroad wanted to get more bang for their buck and took some more easement, some more land than they were initially entitled to

MARK SAUER: So they said the deal will be on a certain footprint in the park will be a certain dimension for the park obviously the public docket at the end of the phase 3 they say no, no we need, (inaudible) did does not sound like a lot, but

DORIAN HARGROVE: Well (inaudible) designed it and they already designed it taking 29 foot strips of land basically on two different sides so 18 feet total.

MARK SAUER: 18 feet. You know your story talk about this weekend asked the question we've been reporting this and we will get into a lot of this as we go but we have been reporting that Mayor Filner was kind of the culprit here and he kind of shook them come $400,000 and we will get into the tail of that in a second but the question I liked in your story was, you asked what does this mean to the developer, how much money? And you came up with the figure.

DORIAN HARGROVE: Yes there were three options they have they found out about the easement problem. One option was they could redesign the whole thing and take them, give the night feedback, the 29 feet strips of linen back, and the rents it was calculated that it would be about $600 a month or about $100,000 per year they were losing rentable revenue.

TONY PERRY: So that was what it was worth to developer the question probably was asking.

MARK SAUER: They were looking over many years we are talking millions of dollars over many years of the life of the project.

DORIAN HARGROVE: I don't think the option around for a while. The second one was to pay approximately $200,000 to do glazing on the windows, the two façades there.

MARK SAUER: It was fire safety issue?

DORIAN HARGROVE: To glaze for fire and that would've been $200,000. So that was always on the table and the last one was to try to get the Council to waive the policy

TONY PERRY: This is not the first time we've seen Sunroad pushing the envelope to try to get just a little bit more than really is legal, should we say at this point becauseWe had the thing where they actually had to remove the top story of the building.

MARK SAUER:the build to building and the FAA didn't like it because it was near Montgomery Field so they didn't like it and they had to work off the top of the building.

ALISON ST. JOHN: It makes you wonder why the company would pay attention when you do some company trying to push into in this case public land.

MARK SAUER: Tony?

TONY PERRY: We are in the depths of the terrible economic climate and these folks come along and say we will build some housing and some commercial and let's get some sales tax going, be partners with us, be nice to us and the council rolls over and in comes Bob Filner answers no, land has responsibilities, it has privileges, about something coming back this way so it is a classic poker play between the two sides bluffing if you make it too expensive we will take our poll and move to Temecula or whatever

MARK SAUER: Which they couldn't do in this case because they were stuck here.

TONY PERRY: It's the classic back and forth between the city and anybody willing to spend money in the city of San Diego

MARK SAUER: That's a good point you would've thought that would happen before they were right there ready to start building phase 3. So let's get to the point that Tony raises, why did Filner, he vetoed this and the Council passed it unanimously so it looks like they had the votes to override the veto

DORIAN HARGROVE: So Filner steps in and I guess two weeks after the fact, two weeks after the veto there was a check or two checks that came through and it was $100,000, one to veterans Park in Ocean Beach and the other one to a bicycling advocacy group.

MARK SAUER: So the former mayor did not put the money in his pocket, it went to public programs good causes that one way or the other were not getting funded.

DORIAN HARGROVE: It went into the city account. If it had gone to its private account I think the US attorney would be today blazing away with a possible indictment, but it went into a public account, and they belched it right back out

MARK SAUER: Then they returned it.

DORIAN HARGROVE: It goes back to the ham-handed way of describing what he did. It was the right, this is public land, and consider it could be looked at a public the gift

MARK SAUER: Let me jump up ahead a little bit here because the city we talked about this yesterday the city does have a provision, the two city attorneys have noted you cannot just give away public land like this. Explain that.

DORIAN HARGROVE: Yeah and this goes actually quite a ways back in history where city attorneys have objected to any kind of donation or anything that can be looked at as a gift. Unless it serves a public purpose. And as recently as the World Trade Center building downtown to be used as a homeless shelter, city attorney's office came and said, make sure that the Council gave a statement saying this is going to benefit the greater good or the public. And for this project in Sunroad, I don't know how they can claim such a thing. Where the city attorney was...

TONY PERRY: And for those of us with long memories we remember the city dealing with private companies to get them to move in or expand on Torrey Pines Mesa and they got all sorts of deals. And they moved in and a lot of them did not fulfill what they said in terms of how many jobs or I think one of them skedaddled out of town after starting. So yeah, there is a history of companies promising to do this or that in in exchange for a sweet deal from City Hall. Sometimes they follow through, sometimes they do not.

MARK SAUER: We have a lawsuit involved. We have a byte from attorney Cory Briggs that we want to play kind of outlining what he sees as the Council's role in this.

CORY BRIGGS: You have to remember that heat Council members unanimously voted for the giveaway despite some of them being up on the dais and being critical of the Mayor over the $100,000. Yet, they still voted to give away public property. That is unconscionable and unfortunately it is symptomatic of what goes on at city Council too often.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I feel like it raises the question, Tony make the point that it is sort of behind-the-scenes if it is what is the public getting for the 7 feet of parkland because maybe there was some kind of a benefit that the city council felt they were gaining, but it is also much part of the bigger deal. It's impossible to tell.

TONY PERRY: If that was the case was never mentioned in e-mails between the summer as vice president top story and anyone else in the city. I mean I went back quite a ways and there was no way you will get this benefit if you allow us the anything else. It was strictly, a this is going to make us be more profitable and here is the project we want.

DORIAN HARGROVE: And the feds are not investigating the city Council.

TONY PERRY: You push this along and at the end of the game is eminent domain where the government steps in and buys people's property maybe they don't want to sell but the force them to sell and then sell it to somebody else because I think it's in the public interest. Always controversial and of course there's been efforts to rein in eminent domain but this is kind of minor-league eminent domain. This is hey, you wanted, you pay for it.

MARK SAUER: But this park they had to give the green space as part of the development that was a mitigating thing and it looks like they were always planning to take some of the land back. Quickly in the few seconds we have left on the segment what's the next up we have a lawsuit appears the hearing in Superior Court.

DORIAN HARGROVE: There's actually two lawsuits brought attorney is representing and they're going to be heard on November 15 so we will see that their arguments are going to be.

MARK SAUER: We will wrap it up there on the Sunroad story and next year San Diego Republicans were missed it really pushing the Mayor's office to liberal Democrat Bob Filner last fall but Filner self-inflicted demise gave few GOP leaders a shot at taking back the key post the media questions for GOP leaders which candidate had the best chance of winning and how can we limit the field. Tony Perry, your story this week on how they came together the Back Glenn (inaudible) Councilman Turner Kevin falconer and I don't know kind of if cigars or smoke were involved, but it was kind of a backroom deal.

TONY PERRY: It was a throwback to the days when half a dozen guys could meet at the Cleopatra Club or maybe the Grand Grove where women were not allowed in those days and cut a deal. More people about 30+, they were out at Tom Sudbury's very nice home in La Jolla, but they went on to say okay who is our man? Is it Kevin falconer, or is it Carl DiMaio. Carl would be making his second run, but of course...

MARK SAUER: He lost to Filner last fall.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Or Ron Roberts.

TONY PERRY: Or Ron Roberts was a courtesy because he's 70 when he's doing very well at the board, and he has run before. I think it was Carl or Kevin, Carl or Kevin. Most of the participants really wanted Kevin but Papa Doug Manchester wanted Carl and he said nothing good has been done in San Diego in 15 years...

MARK SAUER: It was little more blustery but again, on a family program...

TONY PERRY: Jerry Sanders was there, the former mayor, and did not take this kindly and we all know him for the low voiced, courteous community college sociology professor at the end that's not what he was but that's what he was did. He not take this lying down (inaudible) be the candidate, used some four letter language he may have remembered from the 25 years of being a cop and it went on, and it was not nice language, not the kind of stuff you should say around your mother or your priest, rabbi your mom, or not when there is a video camera around that could go to YouTube but in certain gatherings it can have a chastening, bracing effect and apparently it did.

MARK SAUER: He was clearly angry he just (inaudible).

TONY PERRY: Remember in 2008 during his election when his opponent was saying pretty nasty stuff about him and went up there and said how are you, Jerry and he responded bleep you. He's capable of this language not very often but he does it and apparently it had a very chastening effect. Papa Doug backed down, apologized and from that meeting came a feeling that it is Kevin, Kevin is our man. Carl did not back down at that time. But, couple days later did.

MARK SAUER: They all left the meeting wondering geez...

TONY PERRY: Carl did not tip his hand and clearly Carl wanted to run for mayor I think he already talked about a platform to reform City Hall. And Carl is a City Hall man. I mean, he spent some time over there, he knows the issues and has his backers, but had already started to run for Congress. Wanted to switch over I think that ultimately stayed with Congressman. Doug's newspaper said we are going for the price on Kevin tonight. That kind of thing.

MARK SAUER: Who had run to the front page and editorials endorsing DiMaio

MARK PERRY: Last fall they were politically as close as you can get between the newspaper and Carl but this time around they want the mayor's office and they think Kevin is a better candidate.

MARK SAUER: Dorian?

DORIAN HARGROVE: If he had run and lost what would that do for the political career? That would...

TONY PERRY: As they say on the West Wing, he will be playing celebrity golf for the rest of his life. Although technically that is not sure if he'd been eliminated in the primary he could have switched back to the Congressional although that sort of flip-flopping as Mr. Fletcher will tell you can be a problem when you're trying to sell your self for somebody with great conviction.

MARK SAUER: Plus you're a two-time loser at that point.

TONY PERRY: And you start to smell little bit also there's another candidate using the GOP nomination in the district who is of credit, and so, it would have been tough.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Just to get a sense of the background meetings, where the two candidates DiMaio and Faulkner there pitching their (inaudible)? So do you feel like that meeting was it for DiMaio's decision?

TONY PERRY: I think so and Faulkner had to prevail and contact people and he had, as I say worked the room in advance so what he was sending out was a vibe that is Carl if you run, you're alone all those people that were so nice to and gave you money and endorsed you that last time they are not going to be there, they are with me. I think (inaudible) completed to Carl's thinking he also sent me an e-mail the other day saying that he went to lots of meetings and no one meeting was definitive and that he had decided on Congress because he simply said the city has a five year labor agreement that he'd had always pushed for and that Bob Filner pushed for and he got , so he was trying to talk down the idea that it was that meeting. I'm not sure I'm convinced by that.

ALISON ST. JOHN: They must have known that the meeting was crucial because without a registered elected Democrat they needed to get the full support.

TONY PERRY: In November 2012 there were 2 ½ Republicans, I'm counting Fletcher as a half because he had been a Republican was independent they were all split up in the primary. Nearly rallied around although rather slowly around Carl DiMaio in the runoff and he got beat by Filner. Now this time since there's not going to be an 80% turnout, 80% turnout, maybe 40 or 45, Republicans have a shot because historically Republicans turn out to the polls in these low turnout kind of snoozer elections like this is turning out to be.

MARK SAUER: So it's here we've got a clip from Kevin Faulkner they settled on this (inaudible) what he says because the fiery meeting, this is a more moderate tone as he got out and launched his career, here we go.

KEVIN FAULCONER: We will repair our broken roads, our sidewalks, sewer lines, our infrastructure. We will bring back certainty for businesses ready to create jobs and economic growth. We will eliminate bureaucratic waste so tax dollars are invested in public safety, parks, libraries and improving our neighborhoods.

TONY PERRY: Kevin is not charismatic, let's put it that way. On the other hand I give you Pete Wilson, not charismatic, three times elected mayor. He was as he would tell you a pair of brown shoes in a tuxedo world. You don't need to be a fireball to get elected mayor of the city of San Diego particularly if you have the establishment, which Kevin now does.

MARK SAUER: These are different times and Carl was a fireball he was the flamethrower out there maybe they figure he is better in Congress as a backbench flamethrower here but it's completely different candidate.

TONY PERRY: We are also talking in the primary they are all congealed, a runoff it will probably if we have a run of it will be Kevin and one of the Democrats, Gary, Fletcher, the new Democrat or David Alvarez, so it will be one, mano a mano, hand into hand as they say. All of the (inaudible) behind one works well in the primary and it me swap over to the runoff if there is one. But we don't know.

DORIAN HARGROVE: Who knows, Filner's time in office might have woke people up a little bit and you want more you know that dullster back in office. I mean, it...

ALISON ST. JOHN: It will be hard to follow that up.

TONY PERRY: You might be a yearning for dullness. We've had excitement, thank you, no, the Democrats to their credit they tried this, they try to get around just one candidate and they could not do it. The other night they went four offers they had to go for Alvarez who's been a Democrat longer than Fletcher and without the controversy attached to that. They just haven't been able to get their act together in the same way that Republicans did. Was it Will Rogers who said I don't belong to any organized party. I'm a Democrat. And that is certainly true locally they are not as organized as Republicans. Filner even though he had disregard or contempt really for the County party, well he had contempt for everybody and everything but certainly for the County party. In spite of the fact that they were late coming to the game, that will make that much difference.

MARK SAUER: Alison we will give you the last word on this.

ALISON ST. JOHN: If money counts for anything it pays off because Faulkner has made as much, twice as much as his rival.

TONY PERRY: Indeed I'm agnostic on money it has advantages but those multimillions, there is free media as they say, KPBS is on this story, the boys and girls in Mission Valley, half a dozen of them or more are on this story, Voice is on the story, the reader is on the story, heck I may write a story or two myself, so I'm not sure that this is going to be television or mailer dominant campaign.

MARK SAUER: But we will certainly see. All right we will move on many travelers in our region might not even be aware that the airport located near Interstate 5 in North County but that could change his plans to extend its runway ever come to fruition. A step in that direction mistaken this week with the release of a report saying such an extension is feasible at McClellan Palomar Airport which everybody refers to as Palomar Airport. All right Alison, tells about the airport at it exists now is generally (inaudible) and small commercial jets.

ALISON ST. JOHN: It is kind of a secret airport a lot of people in North County don't know about because some find they can actually fly to LA really quickly without having to drive all the way down to Lindbergh Field but it was started in the 50s and is now at a point where the runway is just less than 5000 feet so it is not ideal for these commercial jets. And it turns out that really the most important constituency that would like to see this expanded I think is commercial private jets. Rather. And the companies that are developing especially in Carlsbad there's a lot of biotech companies that are interested in this. It's interesting because when you look at the feasibility study there is a map of the range that could be reached if they expand the runway and I think this is a good way of seeing visually what the impact would be if you spend the runway by 900 feet, you might be able to fly as far away from Carlsbad to China. There's actually only one jet that could do that I believe it is the global express. But, that is something which I think is very appealing to some of the companies that are in Carlsbad into some of the North County cities were trying to attract more companies to, and base their operations there.

DORIAN HARGROVE: Is it that harder for these corporate execs to go to Lindbergh? My goodness, Orange County?

ALISON ST. JOHN: I have to tell you as someone that lives in North County it is onerous with the traffic to drive to Lindbergh Field and it's very convenient to be able to need to Carlsbad and catch your flight and if you are a busy executive that is an appealing thing.

DORIAN HARGROVE: There is not many cities in the country that are close within 30 min. the Lindbergh is pretty close pretty central anything about it as far as in Denver it is an hour drive or whatever it might be.

TONY PERRY: In Kansas I think it is an hour away.

MARK SAUER: The (inaudible) you described information to hear, that is a heck of a trip owners 45 min. or in our traffic order to get to the airport I can imagine how this would appeal to business traveler certainly.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I think this is really part of a trend in North County which is attempting to establish itself almost as a separate region order to attract businesses and jobs. They have a university, Cal State San Marco save to the hospitals Palomar and Tri-City this airport is sitting there sort of right before developing.

TONY PERRY: Who's going to pay for this expansion am I going to pay to underwrite the CEOs and their comfort?

MARK SAUER: (INAUDIBLE)

ALISON ST. JOHN: This is a question supervisor Bill Horn is really one behind initiatives to expand the airport, they have already, the county authority spent 75 million in the last decade to upgrade the runway. He says that in order to expand the runway 900 feet would cost about 95 more million and the FAA would be prepared to kick and perhaps two thirds of that.

TONY PERRY: Expand over the road, into the

ALISON ST. JOHN: No, that wouldn't work

DORIAN HARGROVE: Expand the other way toward Legoland

ALISON ST. JOHN: Expand east toward El Camino Real over in Oakland Hill.

TONY PERRY: Is there an old tomato field back there?

DORIAN HARGROVE: There are buildings there as well, right, there are office building strictly to the east of the runway.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And there are residential buildings of course not that far away so this is really the big question is will these interests which I think are very interested in expanding the runway perhaps for private purposes and some people including myself who find it very convenient to be able to fly to Los Angeles without having to come to Lindbergh Field, will those interests overcome the local people who don't want that extra noise

MARK SAUER: That's what I want to ask about what about the neighbors and the noise 900 feet sounds like it would be a lot more noisy.

ALISON ST. JOHN: No, at least according to the feasibility study this is hard to grasp but expanding the runway would reduce the noise because it would move the aircraft. They be able to start the runoff for the back end as they take off they would be taking off over less residential areas and moreover commercial areas.

TONY PERRY: There are friends in Carlsbad about this because as a civic entity pearls that I think is a bit of a history of not playing well with others. They've had their dispute with Encinitas to the south and certainly Oceanside to the north are they just going to and they had concerns about the desalinization plant on the coast are they going to sit. But this happen are they talking litigation

ALISON ST. JOHN: the Mayor of Carlsbad is one of the major components because he want to develop biotech hub that's already developing in Carlsbad and this is a major incentive so he and supervisor Bill Horn are very much behind it and I think that's interesting the cities in North County have not always been in agreement but there is the beginnings of a sense of the cities in the county are seeing that it is to their advantage and to work together to leave off a region I will be able to attract business and more high-paying jobs by working together. So all the Mayor's I think, several of the mayors, four or five of them have supported this expansion.

MARK SAUER: Speaking of business tells about the economic outlook that the study talks about with and without the extension.

ALISON ST. JOHN: According to the feasibility study the economic benefit is 221 million to the region agreed to enter 22 jobs, $81 million income to workers. The forecast over 20 years, which is $8 billion says that expanding the runway would increase the income by 163 million, which is actually not that much over 20 years. And I think the question is, where is that benefit going to go? Is it going to go to a few private corporations is it coming to the County? Where exactly is the benefit going because is the cost to the taxpayer and the noise as well

MARK SAUER: Are we going to be able to fly to China within the next decade let's say?

ALISON ST. JOHN: What's happening next is there's going to be a 20 year master plan where all these things will be discussed and in that, one hopes definitely there will be some kind of public participation. But it is not that long. They are talking about ending their 20 year master plan in 2015. So people are interested in having input I think need to wake up and start playing a role in this.

MARK SAUER: And there is going to be chances for public comment on all of this.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's right yes at the moment there has been there's a committee but the people who are in touch by the noise have not really had much of a say and I think now with a 20 year master plan they have to for environmental reasons

TONY PERRY: What's the final decision-maker across the city Council board of supervisors, coastal mission (inaudible)?

ALISON ST. JOHN: All of those people you have get a lot of ducks in a row.

MARK SAUER: So that's a lot, and it remains to be seen how tough the pushback will be.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Yes it was interesting that not many residents showed up in fact that this meeting that the supervisors had to accept the feasibility study this week but as the process moves along we may see more public involvement.

MARK SAUER:We will have to wrap it up. That wraps up another week of stories of the KPBS roundtable I would like to thank Tony Perry, Alison St. John and Dorian Hargrove for joining me. Remind all the stories are available at our website KPBS.org. Thanks very much for joining us today on the roundtable.