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— City hall sources are scoffing at City Manager Michael Uberuaga's promise in last week's Union-Tribune to hold the cost of the proposed taxpayer-funded convention center expansion to $216 million. "What hogwash," says an insider with intimate knowledge of the project's cost overruns. "Two hundred sixteen million dollars is an imaginary number, just like all the previous estimates. Remember, it started at $140 million a few years back, and it's already programmed to go to $250 million and from there to $300 million. If Uberuaga says he wants to hold the line on costs, then why is he asking for a blank check from the voters? Why doesn't the city council pass a law telling the manager he can't go over budget? They won't do that because they are in a sweetheart deal with the contractor [Golden-Turner], who hasn't even set the final price, and the council refuses to bid the project out. Uberuaga is really full of hot air, to say the least." Insiders also note that Uberuaga's suggestion that the city's hotel-room tax be hiked after the convention center election is unrealistic, considering well-funded opposition by the city's big hotel owners to any more increases in the tax that pays for everything from trolley bonds to a $5 million arts subsidy. "Once they get the convention center expansion approved, there won't be any chance to increase the room tax," claims one disgruntled staffer. "Paying back the convention center bonds will sop up most of the room- tax money, and the other guys, including the libraries and the cultural types, will be left to struggle over the scraps."

Bathhouse politics

San Diego councilman Juan Vargas, intent on wreaking vengeance on a sex-club owner who unsuccessfully sued him for libel, may instead wreak havoc on the congressional campaign of fellow councilmember Christine Kehoe. Vargas is out to destroy Thad Poppell, the ex-butcher who runs Thad's, a sex club in a rundown part of Vargas's eighth district, where Vargas and his council colleagues have allowed streets, sidewalks, and sewer lines to go unrepaired for years. Vargas says he wants new laws on the books against clubs like Thad's and has threatened to take any action against Poppell that city bureaucrats can concoct to punish him for bringing his embarrassing libel suit. But going after heterosexual activity at Thad's means new attention for the city's politically connected gay bathhouses, which support Kehoe and have enjoyed a lucrative free ride at city hall even as other cities, most notably San Francisco, shut down bathhouses for their health risks years ago. Using Vargas's new-found mission against Poppell, Christian groups are preparing to open a campaign against the gay bathhouses at a time when openly gay Democrat Kehoe is running against Republican Brian Bilbray. The Union-Tribune, which has condemned Poppell but has been quiet on the gay bathhouse front, may soon be drawn into the fray. Because of Kehoe's congressional race and the behind-the-scenes role of Union-Tribune honcho David Copley, the paper may get national notice. In the face of such attention, watch for the voluble Vargas to back off on his threats to Poppell.

Bought and paid for

San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, fresh from a mysterious three-week "vacation" away from pressing duties at city hall, hosted a KOGO radio talk show last week and quickly began hyping the much-maligned Chargers' ticket guarantee as a great deal for taxpayers. Then she took a call from quarterback Ryan Leaf and hyped the team some more. No mention was made of the $10,000 that relatives and employees of team owner Alex Spanos gave Golding's now-dead U.S. senate campaign last year ... Monsignor Joe Carroll, who runs downtown's St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelter, is reported to be the star of some new pro-convention center commercials coming up next week. Carroll has long been associated with downtown Hyatt and Marriott Hotel owner Doug Manchester, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Carroll's favorite charity ... The top ten U.S. cities are all reporting budgetary surpluses, all except San Diego, says the Associated Press. "San Diego fiscal officials didn't return repeated phone calls from the Associated Press," notes a weekend AP dispatch unreported by the Union-Tribune.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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