continued Mention that editorial to Drobnicki and she sees red, pulling out a copy of the February 1996 letter to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Robert B. Pirie that Mathis cowrote with Warden and 7th District councilwoman Judy McCarty. The three local pols maintain that popular support for the citizens group Move Against Relocating Choppers Here (march) is based on "wishful thinking" and conclude, "The marines at Miramar represent an enormous economic benefit to the city of San Diego, and we are quite anxious that march not create the erroneous impression that the marines are not welcome."
"We're his constituents, but he totally turns his back on us," Drobnicki says. "Prior to that letter, various local planning groups and important community leaders asked him to place on the city council agenda a Senate bill that said for safety reasons, send the helicopters to [the] March [base]. It would have been very easy to do. But instead, Harry Mathis drafted his own motion for the city to oppose that bill. When it comes down to the chamber of commerce people or his constituents, it's always business."
Tillson says Mathis's letter was not meant to "degrade or denigrate" march members, but rather to amplify his contention "that among the march group was a significant element with another agenda, which was to see Miramar closed to free it up for a civilian airport."
Critics in La Jolla also say Mathis doesn't listen to them. When community groups challenge the new development of mansions, critics say, Mathis invariably sides with the builder, refusing to bring the matter up before council the way his predecessors did.
Tillson admits that his boss doesn't like to go to council to solve problems. "Bringing something that still needs to be resolved to the full council sometimes doesn't render the best decision," Tillson says. "So his style is to have potentially controversial issues discussed at the community level and worked out. There will always be disagreements on any specific project, because the spectrum of opinion is so broad. What Harry attempts to do is encourage sides to work out differences among themselves, because he believes the community knows best what it can do, what it can support, how its community atmosphere is best preserved."
That's all well and good, counters Welsh, but it just so happens that the community planning groups in La Jolla that approve developments on an advisory basis to the city are controlled by architects and developers, "and these are the people who supported Harry [in his two elections]." A September 13, 1995, fundraiser for Mathis's upcoming reelection campaign was held at the home of Martin McGee, a trustee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association. Two weeks earlier, McGee had sent a letter to association "supporters," urging them to come to the party and "bring at least a $25 check. Many of us will give more. The rules limit contributions to $250 per person." McGee added, "Harry hopes that if he has raised some significant money this year, it will discourage opponents and ease the grind of another campaign."
Welsh's own battle with Mathis took place two years ago. Developer Marc Kaye - son of Peter Kaye, formerly a high-ranking editor with the San Diego Union and currently editorial director of NBC-owned Channel 39 - had bought a lot at 7764 Lookout Drive. He tore down an old structure - built in 1894 as La Jolla's first general store - and an accompanying guest cottage, realigned the lot into two, and constructed two new residences. Welsh didn't mind the construction so much as the size, noting that while the original structures totaled about 1000 square feet, their replacements were 4000 square feet and 5000 square feet - and on lots significantly below the hillside neighborhood's average.
Welsh and other neighbors fought the project for more than a year, finally getting the city to charge Kaye with failing to get a coastal development permit prior to demolition as well as a second permit for a density calculation to ascertain if the new lots were no more than 300 square feet smaller than the average lot size (according to the city, the new lots measure 8407 square feet and 6795 square feet, while the average is 13,116 square feet). But in a September 1995 memo to the La Jolla Shores Advisory Board, senior city planner Ron Buckley said that because the errors were not discovered within the 90-day review period, "the matter cannot be revisited or overturned."
Welsh and his neighbors tried to get Mathis to bring the Kaye project up before the city council, but no dice. "Harry decided not to hear it," Welsh says. "But I wasn't surprised. Back when the project was first proposed at the La Jolla Shores community hearing, Marc Kaye said that both Harry Mathis and Susan Golding wanted him to get his permit. And later, when I appealed, Harry specifically said he would not limit the size of anyone's ability to develop houses in the hillside area."
Mary Frances Smith, member of the La Jolla Community Planning Association and chair of its Coastal Development Permit Review committee, defends Mathis as a champion of private property rights. "I think he's great, I really do," she says. "There's a fight here in La Jolla over community rights versus property rights, and when a person's property is taken, that's against the law. Does the community have the right to tell a person how large a house they can build? What really has caused big problems in La Jolla is the fact that larger homes tend to replace older, smaller ones - and when you purchase a piece of land that you pay the price for in La Jolla, you are not going to pitch a tent. People demand more space. And I know if I was told I must build a smaller house, I would probably sue the city."
Critics say Mathis's pro-development stance is not limited to the residential side. Activists are still angry about the new Vons Plaza on Pearl Street, in which the supermarket chain is razing its existing 27,000-square-foot store and installing a Safeway measuring more than 50,000 square feet.