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— The late Johnny Alessio, who died five years ago at age 87, rose from shoeshine boy to czar of Tijuana's Caliente racetrack, as well as C. Arnholt Smith's bagman, friend of Richard Nixon, and border- area connection to the Mafia's L.A. family. He wound up in the Lompoc federal penitentiary, along with brother Angelo, on a 1971 tax-evasion conviction. His son Dominic "Bud" Alessio did time in the same place two years later, after being convicted of providing "gratuities" to a prison administrator for going easy on his old man and uncle, who were allowed offsite motel visits with women, among other small favors, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 1988, Bud sought a pardon, enlisting local bigwigs like onetime San Diego police chief and Union-Tribune executive Bill Kolender and Catholic bishop Leo T. Maher on his behalf. Now Johnny, the former West Virginia coal miner's son, is among those honored in Little Italy's streetlight-banner lineup of famous Italian-Americans. Alessio's flag, adorning a pole at the corner of India and Cedar Streets and bearing his photo, is sponsored by NBC-owned KNSD-TV and the taxpayer-funded Centre City Development Corporation.

Wheeling and dealing Has uncertainty generated by the Cheetahs indictment of San Diego city councilman Ralph Inzunza thrown a wrench into the school district's plans to unload a large piece of property it owns on Commercial Street just east of downtown? Inzunza and his backers have been pushing hard for the district to spin off the real estate for development as condos, apartments, and various commercial uses. Earlier this year, the councilman showed up with a well-organized group of his backers at a board meeting to speak personally in favor of the move, departing loudly disappointed when the required super majority vote for selling off the land could not be mustered. One principal supporter of the proposal is boardmember Katherine Nakamura, wife of architect Kotaro Nakamura. Her political backers include Inzunza; rental properties in the Commercial Street neighborhood belonging to his brother Nick, mayor of National City, bore pro-Nakamura signs during her 2002 campaign. After the board turned down the initial proposal, school district superintendent Alan Bersin -- another Inzunza ally who has frequently met with the Eighth District councilman, according to official calendars released by Inzunza in June -- ordered his staff to keep pushing the deal. Part of the Bersin strategy included establishing "Commercial Street Redevelopment 'Short List' and 'Ranking' Committees," according to a May e-mail from district property aide Louis Misko. The "community" advisory group members, ostensibly independent from district staff, were to recommend a development proposal from those submitted by competing interests, some including Inzunza's campaign backers. A July e-mail from Misko's boss, Bob Keisling, to Bersin honcho Lou Smith outlines how members of the so-called citizens committees are to be picked by Misko and signed off by Smith and the district's Facilities Management division. The public was not invited to apply. Of one proposed member, Connie Zuniga, Misko wrote: "She has an open mind and will be considerate of the District's needs and concerns." For public consumption, the appointments were to be fronted by school-board member Ron Ottinger. "Louis has outlined the background for each below and a recommendation that they be appointed by Ron Ottinger as the rep for this district," says Keisling's July e-mail. "I'd recommend that you approach Ron Ottinger and see if he is willing to nominate these people. If so, we will take it from there to see that it gets done. If not, then I'd recommend that we nominate them from Facilities [Management]." Contacted last week, Misko declined comment. At press time, the revised Commercial Street deal had yet to see the light of day.

Not too hot to handle To pick up a little extra cash, the San Diego Unified School District board has quietly approved installation of cell- phone microwave-transmitting stations at various local schools, starting with Point Loma High. Parents worried about radiation danger will be comforted to know that "numerous studies have been done on the effects of electromagnetic fields in general and wireless facilities specifically, with no harmful effects reported," according to a report from district chief of staff Terry Smith ... City councilman Michael Zucchet, facing mounting legal expenses stemming from his indictment in the Cheetahs case, has mortgaged his house for a $100,000 line of credit from Washington Mutual ...Yes, that was local Cox Communications honcho Bill Geppert holding forth at election night's Arnold Schwarzenegger victory bash thrown by San Diego Republicans at downtown's Manchester Hyatt. Besides his cable duties, Geppert is also head of the taxpayer-subsidized Economic Development Corp., whose highly paid director, Julie Meier Wright ($515,000), played a key role as a woman in Arnold's campaign fending off those pesky groping allegations.

-- Matt Potter

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