It was the beginning of 1998, and John Moores, owner of the Padres, was ramping up his bid for a new baseball-only stadium downtown, to be paid for by San Diego taxpayers. His plan called for placing a measure on the November ballot that, if approved by voters, would not only give him a new stadium but also turn over to him and his associates exclusive development rights for a huge chunk of an old warehouse neighborhood on downtown's east side. It was a decidedly rich and lopsided proposal, but Moores was sure he could get it passed.
His ace in the hole was the San Diego City Council. By the summer of 1998, the council had readily given in to virtually all of his demands. That November, the measure was easily approved by voters, assured by a unanimous city council that the proposal was financially sound. But almost as soon as it had been adopted, the project faced mounting questions. Huge overruns in construction and land costs suddenly surfaced. The optimistic estimates of revenue that the project and its surrounding real estate development would generate were challenged by financial experts who noted that there were no guarantees attached to the measure. Cash shortfalls would have to come out of the city's general fund.
By the end of 1999, even the San Diego Taxpayers Association, an influential business group that had backed the original ballot measure, was warning of a dire fate if the city council did not change course. "The city manager is now recommending that the City Council authorize a sale of up to $299 million in bonds, clearly contrary to voter action," wrote Taxpayers Association executive director Scott Barnett in a December 14, 1999, op-ed piece published in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"Does the city of San Diego know how much its total contribution to this project, including land acquisition, required infrastructure improvements, and bond expense, will actually cost taxpayers? Answer: No. Yet once the bonds are issued, the city will be required to pay for all of these redevelopment components, whatever the price.
"Does the city know how much revenue will be generated and when it will be available to pay off the estimated $20 million annual bond payments? Answer: No. But the city will have to pay all the debt service, no matter how much in new hotel-tax revenues is actually available.
"The council must now close the loopholes that put the taxpayers at risk. How long this will delay the project is not clear. What is clear is that if the City Council votes today to proceed with ballpark bond financing, it will be placing the city treasury at enormous risk."
Yet, despite the critics, the city council has proceeded with the Moores plan and has even advanced millions of dollars of cash from city reserves to make sure construction proceeds, while a federal grand jury looks into the Moores-related stock dealings of councilwoman Valerie Stallings.
What has kept the city council so loyal to the Moores plan? Recently released records show that councilmembers and their staff have frequently phoned and met privately with Moores, his partner Larry Lucchino, and their employees, including ex-city manager Jack McGrory and Kris Michell, an ex-aide to Susan Golding. According to the records, McGrory has discussed closed sessions and personally urged councilmembers to cast their votes in ways financially advantageous to the Padres.
In return, Padres boardmembers, such as financier Ted Roth and syndicated columnist George Will, have taken councilmembers out for meals. Staff members have received tickets to games and invitations to dine in Lucchino's stadium box. Lucchino gave $500 for cancer treatment of a council staffer. And Lucchino, Moores, his daughter Jennifer McLeod, and Padres executives including McGrory have been donors to political campaigns of the councilmembers; several of the contributions were made only days or weeks after the councilmember seeking the contribution met privately with McGrory and other Padres officials or cast crucial votes in favor of the team.
Below is an 18-month chronology of Padres' city council contacts and actions as gathered from public records act requests and other public sources.
1-12-98 Memo to Judy McCarty re:meeting with Larry Lucchino, John Moores, Nancy Chase re: library matters.
1-22-98 Meeting, Christine Kehoe and Ted Roth, Padres board of directors, at Westgate Hotel.
1-30-98 Two phone calls from Valerie Stallings to John Moores's home in Carmel, CA.
3-27-98 Memo to Judy McCarty re: meeting with Larry Lucchino and John Moores -- review prelim. Site plans and discuss branch libraries. Their office.
3-27-98 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino, and John Moores re: preliminary site plan.
3-31-98 Contribution of $1000 by Jennifer McLeod, San Diego Padres, to Christine Kehoe 1998 campaign for U.S. Congress
3-31-98 Contribution of $1000 by Robert Jason McLeod, San Diego Padres, to Christine Kehoe 1998 campaign for U.S. Congress
5-5-98 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, John Moores and Larry Lucchino
5-6-98 Memo to Judy McCarty, meeting with Larry Lucchino and John Moores re: update on site plan. Your office.
5-19-98 Reelection campaign fundraiser for Byron Wear hosted by Jennifer McLeod, daughter of John Moores. Goal: $5000.
6-3-98 Memo from Kaye, "assistant to L. Lucchino" to Denise (Lara, an aide to George Stevens)
"Here are two sets of tickets: 10 txs in field for you and your group. 6 txs in Larry's Box -- Press Level Box 26A. Larry would like you to join him for an inning in his box and have a bite to eat. See you there."
6-5-98 Memo to Judy McCarty, meeting with Larry Lucchino, Kris Michell re: new
ballpark renderings. Meeting requested by Donna Legrand. Apologized for short notice.
6-5-98 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino and Kris Michell re: ballpark.
7-13-98 Breakfast, Christine Kehoe and George Will, Padres boardmember, La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.
8-7-98 Letter from Judy McCarty to John Moores and Larry Lucchino.
"Dear John & Larry,
"The roses are beautiful! There's too much said for the sake of argument and too little said for the sake of agreement. Please accept my gratitude on behalf of the citizens of San Diego."