— An ambitious plan by Mexican president Vicente Fox to develop a series of upscale marinas along the Baja California coastline for wealthy gringos is drawing heat from world environmentalists. Dubbed "Nautical Steps," the plan would link the port of Ensenada to a series of smaller marinas, spaced no more than 120 miles apart, along the entire 2500 miles of Baja coast and also include developments in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa facing Baja across the Sea of Cortez, reports the Washington Post. Fox hopes that the program would lure a big segment of California's 1.6 million boat owners with touristy restaurants, hotels, boat-maintenance yards, and gift shops. The government's tourist-development agency, Fonatur, which built Cancún from a sand pit, expects to sink $240 million into the deal and is counting on hundreds of millions more from private investors, the paper says. But critics say the massive influx of new development would threaten the Sea of Cortez and its teeming wildlife. The paper quotes Homero Aridjis, a Mexican environmental activist, as saying Nautical Steps is a "monster" and fearing that just the announcement of the program will set off a land and construction boom along the pristine coast. Wallace Nichols, a biologist with Wildcoast, told the paper, "Even if it were a very small, well-designed, clean project it would destroy something." Fox's environmental minister, Victor Lichtinger, responded, "People say growth destroys the environment. I believe what really destroys it is poverty." ... Ex-Mexican ambassador to the United States Jorge Montano has joined the board of San Diego-based International Thunderbird Gaming, a news release from the company says. The firm's gambling establishments include locations in Mexico and Venezuela.

Truth, justice, and American bail North County's Spencer Douglass, bailbondsman and Republican wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, had to avail himself of his own services last week when investigators swooped into his Carlsbad office and arrested him on charges linked to a scandal at Riverside County Jail, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. The 55-year-old Douglass, who owns one of the nation's biggest bail-bond operations, had to post a $5 million bond before he could get out of the Vista lockup. The official visitors also searched the sprawling estate Douglass owns in Rancho Santa Fe. Douglass and Michael Testi, vice president of Douglass, Inc., along with nine employees of Douglas-owned Ray's Bail Bonds in Riverside, are charged with a total of 222 felony counts relating to the alleged paying of fees to jail inmates to steer new business to the bondsmen. Riverside prosecutors charge that Ray's agents paid more than $15,000 in more than 200 cash payments to the inmates in exchange for the referrals, the paper says. It also quotes Penny Harding, executive director of the California Bail Agents Association, as saying that Douglass "is well-known and he has made enemies because of his aggressive business style." Douglass has been a major player in North County politics, sometimes with mixed results. He made no bones about his support of incumbent sheriff Jim Roache over challenger Bill Kolender in 1994 and came out a loser. More recently, he gave $1000 each to the Bush for President and the Friends of Rudy Giuliani Exploratory Senate committees. Conservative political consultant Jack Orr, a longtime buddy, once produced a promotional mailer featuring a caricature of Douglass as "Superbondsman," complete with red cape.

Hearts and minds Controversial San Diego schools honcho Anthony Alvarado, whose latest dust-up has been over the departure of San Diego High principal Anthony Alfaro, had to be taken to the hospital last week after complaining of chest pains, says a school-district memo. He was later released and returned home to rest, according to the document. He was reportedly back at work last Monday ... La Jolla's Bishop's School, alma mater of infamous gay killer Andrew Cunanan, has just picked up a $1 million donation from Padres owner John Moores. The money will help pay for the school health and fitness center, to be named after Padres announcer Jerry Coleman, whose daughter Chelsea is a sophomore at the school.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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