San Diego Gas & Electric
The utility giant has more to gain from the convention center expansion than merely the extra electricity demand it would generate. sdg&e owns 11.5 acres in the path of the proposed downtown ballpark site between 7th and 11th and J and Harbor Drive, directly across from the proposed convention center expansion. "Our goal is to get the best return for our investment there," company spokesman Doug Kline told the Union-Tribune last month. "We are supportive of the Padres and happy to discuss this property with them." The paper also reported that deputy City Manager Bruce Herring said he and other top city officials expect to meet with (sdg&e) chairman Stephen Baum shortly to "commence negotiations," and that the company might trade some of the land for stadium-naming rights.
Michael Shames, who runs the nonprofit utility-watchdog group ucan, has another theory. "It's intriguing that sdg&e, a public utility, would give money, because the convention center and having more tourists come to town has very little bearing on electrical service issues. My sense is what we're seeing here is power politics, whereby the mayor scratched sdg&e's back by supporting its merger [with Southern California Gas], and now this [contribution] is payback. The city council supported the merger despite its own expert's testimony that indicated it would not benefit San Diego. Ultimately the agreement reached between sdg&e and the city was overturned by the Republican-controlled [California] Public Utilities Commission."
San Diego Chargers
Alex Spanos, the Stockton-based developer who owns the Chargers, has been a chief beneficiary of the city council's largesse. Mayor Golding and the council awarded his team the controversial ticket guarantee and the $78 million Qualcomm Stadium upgrade, along with effectively booting the Padres out of Qualcomm by turning over revenue sources like advertising fees exclusively to the football team. The city council also spent about $20 million on a state-of-the-art team training facility.
Today the team is said to want more than $20 million of additional improvements to the stadium, which are bound to raise questions of concealed cost overruns and require support by Mayor Golding and the city council. City insiders see a deal in the making. Chargers chief financial officer Jeanne Bonk sits on the board of the San Diego Taxpayers Association, the business lobbying group that once endorsed the controversial Chargers ticket guarantee as "a good deal, a fair deal, a very tough negotiated deal." This year, the taxpayers association is in the vanguard of the support for the convention center expansion. Other board members include Nancy Chase, a political consultant to the Yes-on-A campaign; David Nuffer, chairman of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau; April Boling, treasurer of the Yes-on-A campaign; and Steven Cushman, chairman of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation board.
Another direct financial beneficiary of convention center expansion is television station kusi. A closely related corporation, McKinnon Broadcasting Company, owns an entire city block worth $4.2 million at 450 Second Avenue, virtually across the street from the convention center and the next-door Marriott Hotel and Marina. County records show that McKinnon Broadcasting, run by Michael Dean McKinnon, owner and general manager of kusi, purchased the property from an outfit called Coast Cable Partners in December 1996, just as the controversy over whether to build the expansion without a public vote was breaking out. Further development of the area with an expanded convention center and a new baseball park would add millions of dollars to the value of the Second Avenue parcel, which is currently a parking lot.
McKinnon is the son of Clinton McKinnon, a former newspaper publisher who was once the city's top Democrat. No stranger to political intrigue and wheeling and dealing, die-hard Republican Mike McKinnon was elected to the Texas state legislature in 1972 at age 30. He purchased kusi in 1990 from then-bankrupt United States International University for the distress price of $17 million. The independent station, with its lucrative lineup of Baywatch and Jerry Springer shows, is now said to be worth upwards of $100 million. Since buying the station, McKinnon has run an iron-fisted operation, directly controlling the newsroom by hiring and firing a series of newsreaders and morning personalities.
Yet another high-stakes player in the waterfront real estate game is Solar Turbines, a subsidiary of the giant Caterpillar Co., which has long yearned to convert its bayside factory, the publicly owned ground under which it leases from the port district, into more lucrative commercial development. Last September Union-Tribune columnist Neil Morgan reported that recently retired Solar president Morris Sievert said, "He thinks it's a waste of prime harbor-front property to keep Solar there. In 1974 he offered the Port a deal to move it, but 'There was zero interest. The commissioners loved Solar right there on the bay.'
"Years later Glen Barton, as Solar president, proposed a residential development on the site with Caterpillar funding. Says Sievert: 'Mayor O'Connor and Ron Roberts immediately shot that down, ostensibly because no local engineers or architects were involved. Now we can be sure Solar will be there for, I believe, another 25 years. So much for San Diego's vision of the future.' " With a friendlier port commission, including Golding insider and veteran city hall lobbyist Mike McDade, a chief spokesman for the convention center expansion, Solar thinks it has a big chance to resurface the commercial-use proposal. A favorable climate renegotiation would net the company at least $200 million in lease concessions that might not otherwise be granted.
Hyatt Regency San Diego
San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina
It is no surprise that two hotels controlled by Douglas Manchester are the biggest single donors to Proposition A. Close friend and generous patron (both politically and charitably) of ex-mayor Roger Hedgecock and Monsignor Joe Carroll -- who are appearing in paid broadcast commercials for the Yes-on-A campaign -- Manchester would be the biggest winner if the expansion proposal passes. His hotels include the Hyatt Regency and the Marriott, the most direct beneficiaries of expansion. The former insurance salesman was a small-time developer when he first pitched the Marriott to the San Diego port commissioners in the 1970s.