— As San Diego's homicide rate soars, police department critics are zeroing in on the department's abysmal "clearance" percentage -- the rate at which murders are solved. According to FBI statistics, the 1998 national clearance rate was 69 percent. In San Diego, for the 11 months ending November 1999, it was 35.8 percent. Among the most notorious unsolved local homicides: the case of Tsunao Saito. The 46-year-old UCSD Alzheimer's researcher and his 13-year-old daughter were gunned down late on the night of May 7, 1997, as they returned from Saito's laboratory. Ever since, stories have circulated about Saito's involvement in small foundations set up by UCSD doctors to circumvent the university's rules against making money on the side, and Mexican hit men hired by the mob. But no suspects have ever been identified by San Diego homicide cops.

Tissue Paper Wall

Editorialists at the Union-Tribune have opened their guns on ex-city councilman Bruce Henderson and his backers, attacking Henderson's stand against those big cost overruns racked up by the proposed taxpayer-financed Padres ballpark. But the pro-Padres pressure hasn't stopped at the U-T's editorial page. Before last month's city council vote on upping the stadium cost to $300 million, councilman George Stevens announced he'd gotten a personal call from none other than U-T editor-in-chief Herb Klein, lobbying for the cost hike. That coincided with a story in Editor & Publisher, the newspaper trade magazine. E&P wrote about the nationwide fallout from the so-called "Staples arena scandal," in which the L.A. Times gave the arena half the advertising money from a puffy magazine section about the new building. In the wake of the Times fiasco, E&P surveyed editors and publishers from around the country about the sturdiness of the wall between their news and advertising departments. "While the news and business sides are cooperating at unprecedented levels, they still butt heads over how much influence advertisers should have, who should have the final say over editorial content, and how much journalistic training advertising and publishing employees need," the magazine reported. "The survey also revealed that only about a third of those responding claim that ethical guidelines for employees are in place at their paper, with fewer than 20 percent of them confident that they had actually been distributed to workers." So what stands between the news and advertising departments over at the U-T? Not exactly a brick wall, according to the story. " 'There is a lot of collaboration and discussion that goes on, but editorial decides what is news,' says Gene Bell, president and CEO of the Union-Tribune Publishing Co., which operates the San Diego Union-Tribune. 'It's always been understood.' " The U-T's Klein, a sports nut from back in the days when he served as an advance man in Richard Nixon's congressional campaigns, was on the panel that recommended the Padres stadium deal in July 1998.

Soft Money, Hard Cash

Metabolife, the controversial San Diego diet-drug company founded by Michael Ellis, who copped a plea after being busted in a methamphetamine-making case, has been contributing large amounts of so-called "soft money" to the Democratic Party. Federal records show that since May of last year, Metabolife has given a total of $133,000 to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial Committees. But it isn't all bad news for Republicans. On October 6 of last year, the reports show Metabolife finally kicked in $45,000 for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. All that cash has made Metabolife the sixth largest soft-money donor in the state of California -- and the biggest in San Diego -- for the current election cycle. Price Club founder Sol Price of La Jolla, with a soft-money donation of $110,000 to Democratic causes, ranks 11th, and another faithful Democratic giver, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, comes in at 22, with $80,000. A San Diego outfit called American Specialty Health Plans gave $60,000 to Republicans, ranking it at 29th in the state's soft-money derby. And Darrell Issa, the Vista car-alarm millionaire who's running for Congress, gave the Republicans $35,000, placing him 46th.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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