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Looking Back At Some Big Downtown San Diego Stories

Audio

Aired 2/4/10

San Diego journalists Gloria Penner and Gene Cubbison have been covering the city for roughly 40 years. In her continuing series "San Diego's Evolving Downtown" KPBS Metro reporter Katie Orr spoke with Penner and Cubbison about some of the stories they've covered over the years.

— San Diego journalists Gloria Penner and Gene Cubbison have been covering the city for about 40 years. In our continuing series, San Diego's evolving downtown, KPBS Metro Reporter Katie Orr spoke with them about the stories they've covered over the years.

KATIE ORR: What are some of the stories that stand out that concern downtown from your reporting careers?

GLORIA PENNER: The big one is the story of C. Arnholt Smith and the Westgate Hotel, and the Westgate Corporation, and his involvement with the Republican party in the early 70s. That's when San Diego was tagged as the place to come for the 1972 Republican convention. And, it was a combination of downtown business types who were involved in pushing San Diego to do this. That story was a disastrous story. The only thing that came out of it was the Sheraton Harbor Island, because that was built. It was a story of corruption, and a story of possibly graft and bribery involving the justice department. The convention did not happen --

GENE CUBBISON: They took it out of town when the smoke was billowing, and people knew that there were political and perhaps legal flames burning.

PENNER: The story, theoretically, was that President Nixon wanted the convention here because San Diego was his lucky city. Whether that was true or not we don't know, and it almost happened -- it almost happened. But people of San Diego were not interested, they didn't really want it.

CUBBISON: And there was a fear that this was going to be the epicenter of a quarter million anti-war protesters coming here to descend on the Republican convention. Because, Nixon you promised to get us out of Vietnam, you're only escalating -- you and Kissinger, and there were thoughts maybe we could quarantine these people on Fiesta Island.

ORR: Gene, do you have any stories that stick out for you?

CUBBISON: Well, that one obviously, and eventually the convention, the Republican convention, did come here in 1996. Well, we got the convention back, in a convention center that was so small that they decided to expand it -- they somehow, and people have said never again a convention that size, but somehow they made 19,000 people wedge into that building. A couple of others that stood out is, that downtown was also the magnet for anti-war marches and riots during the late 60s and early 70s. A number of arrests there, flag burnings, etc. I remember 50,000 people, it seemed to me, came downtown in 1987 when Dennis Connor brought back the Americas Cup from Australia. PETCO Park, that kind of stands out, the long process of getting that built.

PENNER: You know what I remember? Walking along the embarcadero then, and we would watch the tuna fleet getting ready to leave to go out of the bay, to fish for the tuna. And slowly they disappeared, when the cannery was closed.

CUBBISON: It became economics, it became fuel, and then also the very strong regulation of the porpoise catches, the dolphin catches within the nets that kind of drove that industry offshore to the Pacific Islands, to the eastern Pacific down in South America, etc. When they were running, the smell of that rendered tuna would fill downtown on a Santa Ana, or whenever you got winds out of the south. It would come all the way up to Mission Hills, and you just, how can I breath, but still.

PENNER: But it was picturesque.

CUBBISON: It was picturesque, and they'd be working on their nets, and they just were a great tourist attraction.

PENNER: And, of course, there's the waterfront. This very precious resource of San Diego, that has been argued about, and fumed over, and delighted in for the last 40 or 50 years. In fact, I remember way back when there was a book written called "The Temporary Paradise." One of the ideas was that there would actually be a canal, that would go all the way from the bay, through the center of downtown, up past where City College now is, and to Balboa Park, it was going to be a canal.

CUBBISON: And Susan Golding, remember when she proposed going from the upper bay -- that is to say near the then-naval training center -- and digging a canal through what really is the Sports Arena zone, all the way to connect up with Mission Bay. Everybody's got a grand vision, Jerry Sanders now for Balboa Park, but this was a vision that could not be accomplished.

ORR: Gloria Penner is a host and political correspondent at KPBS. Gene Cubbison is a reporter at NBC 7/39. I'm Katie Orr, KPBS News.

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