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— The strange case of Kotaro Nakamura got a bit stranger last week with the latest denial by the San Diego Unified School District of a reporter's requests for records outlining Nakamura's company's financial dealings with the district. Nakamura, husband of school-board candidate Katherine Nakamura, is a senior partner in Roesling Nakamura, an architectural firm contracted to do millions of dollars of design work for the school district. In January of this year, the firm was awarded $75,000 worth of work to design upgrades for Gompers Secondary, Jefferson Elementary, and Oak Park Elementary. Then in June, a "change order" was issued, jumping the fees to a total of more than $1.4 million. Two architects experienced with school contracts said the transactions seemed out of line and were not the way the district usually has done business. According to a letter to the Nakamura firm from district contract specialist Joanne Branch, the final price was the result of secret, no-bid "negotiations" held between the district and the architect. When the district was asked this summer to provide records showing details of the negotiations, it balked, claiming that the records were protected from public release under a vague and obscure "deliberative process" exemption in the state's public records act. Then, two weeks ago, district chief operating officer Lou Smith wrote that the records were being shielded from public view "to protect the architects' financial interests." Last week, the district, prodded anew for the Nakamura records, changed its story again. In a letter dated September 26, school district attorney Sandra M. Chong claimed that "disclosure of these documents would seriously undermine the District's ability to perform a public function, i.e., negotiate with architects to obtain architectural services on the terms most favorable to the public. The District would lose its business advantage in negotiating agreements if the District's strategy and decision-making process were revealed." In August, two months after the original request for the documents was made, Nakamura and his partners wrote a letter to his wife, promising they would no longer seek architectural work from the school district, one of their biggest clients, if she were elected to the board in November.

Chairman of the freebies Under the city's new ethics law, San Diego city councilmembers have filed statements revealing gifts they received during the first half of this year. At the top of the free-lunch list was Eighth District councilman Ralph Inzunza, who was wined and dined by -- and in one case received a "glider chair" he valued at $290 -- people with business at city hall. Developer Aaron Feldman treated Inzunza to a $21 lunch on January 14, a $51 round of golf on March 13, and another $21 lunch on April 3. Developer Kent Trimble, son-in-law of county supervisor Ron Roberts, paid for $51 of golf on March 14, and David Baron of the Barona Casino shelled out $61 for lunch and golf on April 11. Hospitality magnate Bill Evans, whose hotels sit on land leased from the city, gave Inzunza tickets to the theater worth $70, flowers valued at $45, and a $16 lunch. Pepper Coffey, a real estate woman who led the fight against a plan to build a cargo port at the city's Brown Field, contributed the "glider chair" on April 6. A week later, backers of the cargo port filed a claim against the city, alleging that Inzunza, who has a house in the airport's flight path, had violated conflict-of-interest laws when he voted with the 8-1 council majority last October to renounce its exclusive negotiating agreement with the cargo promoters. Inzunza called the allegations "sour grapes." Other councilmembers who reported gifts included Mayor Dick Murphy, who received a $200 "Super Bowl Dinner" courtesy of the New Orleans Saints; and La Jolla councilman Scott Peters, who attended the annual $75 Chamber of Commerce dinner thanks to the largesse of lobbyist Ben Clay's firm, Carpi & Clay. Councilwoman Toni Atkins got an "original cartoon" valued at $250 from Union-Tribune editorial cartoonist Steve Breen. And councilman George Stevens reported receiving a birthday check for $105 from "Diamond Bid Board of Directors." He also picked up $105 in birthday cash from the Reverend Clyde Gaines.

Seeing red That plan to turn San Diego's red trolleys into "rolling billboards" at $40,000 a car has drawn criticism from the person most responsible for bringing the trolley to town in the first place. "I don't think they should be used as mobile advertising," says former San Diego mayor Maureen O'Connor, who shepherded the trolley through a skeptical city council back in the late 1970s and originated the anti-ad policy to give the new system a clean identity. "That would not in my opinion be in the best interest of the trolley long term." ... Attorney Mike Aguirre, who this spring took the covers off Mayor Dick Murphy's then-secret negotiations with Dean Spanos and his Chargers football team, is representing San Diegans for Clean Elections in its fight with the city ethics commission.

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