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— What's the biggest challenge facing new San Diego City Manager Mike Uberuaga? Controversies over a new baseball stadium, the convention center expansion, or cost overruns at the proposed downtown library? None of the above, say city hall sources. Instead, it's the city's $2.5 billion sewage treatment system, under construction for years. Costs there are rising quickly, and new projects such as sewer mains and pumping plants are being added on at a dizzying pace. "It's really kind of out of control," says one observer. In the South Bay, an offshore pipeline to carry processed sewage deep into the Pacific Ocean from a treatment plant is said to be costing far more than expected due to tunnel troubles. Current price: $97.9 million. Then there's the city's so-called Toilet-to-Tap program. Taxpayers have spent more than $20 million of local and federal funds to conduct years of research on whether a filtering system can be devised to clean up sewage enough to make recycled drinking water. Despite widespread skepticism, city officials claim they've almost mastered the science required and are said to be on the verge of releasing an environmental impact report on the $100 million-plus project, to be built across the street from the city's new North City Treatment Plant, which makes irrigation water from sewage. But the plan is drawing fire from opponents as diverse as Republican Bruce Henderson (who coined the "Toilet-to-Tap" sequitur) and Democratic Assemblyman Howard Wayne, who has scheduled hearings early next month to examine the reality behind the city's claims of purity and reliability. In preparation for the meetings, Wayne released results of a survey he did of his constituents in which 80 percent of those responding opposed the plan. "When asked whether they would be willing to pay more in water rates to fund this plan, designed to relieve the shortage of water in Southern California," Wayne said in a news release, "support declines to 13 percent." Even when offered the option of having the state impose higher standards on the treated sewage, according to the survey, 75 percent of respondents remained opposed. Wayne claimed that response to the question generated "one of the largest returns of survey questionnaires in recent memory."

Movie moves

As underground film buffs know, a defining moment in the career of the late Andy Warhol came when he shot San Diego Surf at the beach in La Jolla. It was never released. But now the movie has found a home with Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which just obtained the copyrights to all of Warhol's video and television works from the Warhol Foundation, the group that controls rights to the artist's graphic work. Museum director Thomas Sokolowski told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette all of Warhol's movies will soon see the light of day -- the copyrights are expected to generate about $7 million a year in royalties ... Oliver McMillan, the outfit that built that big Gaslamp Quarter movie complex without any parking, apparently isn't making the same mistake twice. Before moving ahead on a controversial $40 million movie-theatre-cum-shopping project in Tacoma, Washington, the company is demanding that taxpayers build a 1000-car garage.

Winners and losers

When boom arrives, can bust be far behind? That's the question being asked by San Diego real estate developers even as they bask in a brisk recovery from the price collapse of the early '90s. And quite a land rush it's been. Suddenly, reports American Banker magazine, "big names like Morgan Stanley & Co., Starwood Lodging Trust Corp., and Carlyle Holding Corp. are all buying a piece of California." Consequently, says the magazine, land prices have "skyrocketed." In San Diego, "some investors are paying up to $100 million for land that hasn't even been approved for building," said Dennis M. Moser, vice president of Genstar Land Company Southwest. Getting development permits for that property is another thing altogether, Moser told the magazine. "That probably means there are going to be some very big winners and conceivably some very big losers."

Contributor: Matt Potter

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