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— For years, members of the San Diego City Council and their pals partied hearty in the so-called City Box at Qualcomm Stadium, chowing down on free hot dogs, steaks, chicken, wine, beer, desserts, and all manner of other goodies laid out in a scrumptious buffet courtesy of Service America Corp., which had the contract to sell food and booze at the stadium. But that was before Jerry Mailhot and his attorney, ex-city councilman Bruce Henderson, sued the council in 1998 for accepting the freebies in violation of state financial-reporting laws. As a result, the council was forced to stop partaking of the food and drink and later agreed to a settlement with Henderson under which the council members agreed to file amended financial-disclosure reports revealing their acceptance of what they admitted were gifts from Service America. Because Qualcomm is owned by the city, the councilmembers were allowed to keep their free tickets to the box, and they have continued to attend football and baseball games, as well as all other special events, ever since.

Next week is the grand opening of the city-financed Petco Park baseball stadium, and the council is all set to keep on partying. Tucked away in an obscure document called the "Joint Use and Management Agreement" between the city and the Padres adopted back in February 2000 is a small clause establishing an exclusive new venue for the council to play. The "City Suite," according to the agreement, is "a Private Suite on the Club Level between first-base and third-base with a seating capacity inside and outside of the Suite of not fewer than 22 persons." In addition, "the City as an owner shall be entitled to one admission ticket for each seat in the City Suite for each Event at the Ballpark Property, including Padres Games, free of charge." And while common citizens are being urged to carpool or take the trolley to the new stadium, or otherwise fork over big money for parking, the city council will be able to "use and occupy 15 VIP parking spaces for all Events at the Ballpark Property, at a location to be designated by the Padres in the immediate vicinity of the Ballpark Structure."

None of this sits well with Henderson, who frets that the arrangement bears at least an appearance of impropriety, coming as it does against the backdrop of the case of fallen councilmember Valerie Stallings, who pled guilty to charges that she had accepted improper gifts from Padres owner John Moores. "None of this was in the original ballot measure approved by voters," notes Henderson. Stadium manager Steve Shushan, who reports tht the box is still getting its final finishing touches this week, insists the council will pay for its own food and drink.

Killing the messenger Bruce Henderson has not been forgotten by some die-hard Padres fans, who are warming up for the season by using the Padres official website to beat up on the longtime foe of John Moores's sweet financial deal with the city of San Diego. "Why not post a colossal Bruce Henderson Charity Dart Board!!" says a message by fan David Stanforth. "Selling darts on opening day for an opportunity to throw a celebratory pitch into the face of Mr. Henderson would, I think, raise quite a bit of money to help a charity. We are not trying to be mean spirited or anything, just give fans an opportunity to have fun and generate money to a good cause. Mr. Moore's [sic] and company could throw the 'First Pitch'!" Another fan signed "Motes1" chimed in: "Don't forget Mike Aguirre, wasn't he in league with Henderson? BTW, great idea, I'd be more than happy to contribute a few bucks for a good cause!" (Aguirre was actually co-chairman of the pro-ballpark ballot campaign.) "Padres04" added his two cents: "Yeah, Mike Aguirre, Donna Frye's whipping boy who may become our next city attorney. I pray that does not happen." Wrote "Cropdusta": "I hope Klesko hits a homer that manages to shatter Henderson's windshield. That guy is a poo eater. What is happening with the Padres' lawsuit against him?" Concluded "Titans04": "During the ballpark tour, I searched for the Bruce Henderson memorial urinal and couldn't find it. If they haven't dedicated one to him yet, I'm sure they will."

Light of day Local astronomers are up in arms over plans by the federal authorities to throw a little more light on the border. "With no concern for local residents and institutions, the Border Patrol is preparing to install 24 diesel-powered, 4000-watt, portable light towers over a half-mile stretch of the Mexico/US border just one mile from one of San Diego's few astronomical educational outreach facilities, the San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA) Observatory at Tierra Del Sol," writes association president Scott Baker. "Observing the sky in the presence of that kind of light pollution will be something like using a telescope under the lights at Petco Park -- in other words, practically useless." A border patrol spokesman says the portable generators powering the lights will be equipped with oil drip pans and mufflers, and ways are being examined to keep the disruption from the lights to a minimum. Before they are deployed, he says, a public meeting will be held.

-- Matt Potter

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