"The agency developed speeches and materials for public presentations and on-air debates, news releases and editorial board pitches for the media." The resulting campaign, according to GCS, "succeeded in winning the support of virtually all of San Diego's major media, including the San Diego Union-Tribune's editorial board. On Nov. 3, Proposition M passed with 53 percent of the vote."
In a third PR battle touted on its website, GCS was retained by U.S. avocado growers who were attempting to halt the lifting of a federal ban on imports of Mexican avocados. "The media relations push included a series of press releases, media alerts, advertising, pitch letters and one-on-one phone contacts and interviews.
"Key tactics included turning out 1,500 growers at the USDA's two-day hearing and a major rally attended by more than 25 media, including the Associated Press, CNN, The San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego Business Journal, San Diego Daily Transcript, Santa Barbara News Press and four local television stations (three networks and one independent)."
According to its contract with the airport authority, signed in November of last year, GCS is to receive a maximum of $2,225,000 over a three-year period from June 2004 through June 2007. Gable's services are billed at $240 an hour; his partners Cook and Schmid each make $200 an hour.
Among other tasks, the contract requires the agency to "write articles for local and trade publications" and "create digital videos" to "explain the need for increasing the commercial air transportation system capacity to meet economic growth."
An attachment to the contract calls for GCS to recruit supporters of the authority's position from the ranks of local reporters. That part of the effort, the contract says, is "aimed to establish and foster media relationships on the Authority's behalf, as well as encourage and promote media buy-in and positive press coverage for site selection issues."
The contract's "scope of work" says that GCS will "develop coalition and outreach strategies to organize and mobilize the business, economic and political interests regarding the Airport Site Selection Program."
Beginning this month, the GCS contract says, public relations workers will fan out to more than 30 "ethnic community street fairs and festivals" across the county, pitching the airport authority's message. Venues are to include the Gay Pride Festival, Cabrillo Festival, Ocean Beach Street Fair, Fiestas Patrias, UCSD Multicultural Festival, and Little Italy's ArtWalk.
And the contract goes further. The "Airport Site Selection Program --Work Program," a document attached to the GCS contract, says the consultant will assemble a group of what it calls "Friends." The program calls for "identification and approaching of potential 'Friends'; 'Friends' communications, mailings; and 'Friends' meetings."
Though the contract is carefully couched in legalese and bureaucratese, its point is hard to miss.
"Coalition and outreach strategies are an integral program component aimed at boosting community, business and legislative support for the site selection process and referenda."
"Included in this outreach are identifying influentials, developing and maintaining the coalition as well as opposition databases, organizing and mobilizing businesses, coordinating with ASAP21 and similar groups, developing and implementing the Pilots program, maintaining regular communications briefings as well as scheduling and facilitating coalition meetings."
When asked during a recent telephone interview about the "opposition database" mentioned in his firm's contract, Gable said, "There's going to be a debate. You have a roster of people on your side, and you have a roster of people on the other side." He insisted that it appeared more sinister than it was. "You want to know who the people on the other side are, what their names are, are their arguments logical, are they making sense, where they are coming from.
"The opposition database is just gathering information, that's all," according to Gable. "It's just clips, letters to the editor, public records. It's just used as background. It's kind of like what you do in preparing an environmental impact report: you go around gathering up all the data." Asked if it was the airport authority's role to track opposition to a new airport with a ballot measure pending, Gable said, "No, that's our role. I would assume that somebody out there on the other side is doing the same."
Gable, who made it clear he personally favors a new airport, pointed out that his firm was also putting together a database of those who support getting rid of the existing airport and building a new one. "There are a lot of those kind of people. They are sick and tired of waiting for a new airport."
To the question of whether he viewed his assignment as helping the airport authority promote construction of a new or expanded airport, Gable first answered, "Yes." After being asked further about whether it was legitimate for a public agency to pay for such advocacy, he said, "I would withdraw that straightforward yes and cite to you from Exhibit A, Article 1-A of our scope of work: Our job is to provide effective public awareness, understanding and support of the airport planning and site selection processes."
Regarding his assignment to work closely with ASAP21, a pro-airport relocation group, Gable said his firm would eventually provide the same kind of liaison to groups against the expansion plans but that those opponents had yet to be identified.
ASAP21, short for Alliance in Support of Airport Progress in the 21st Century, was organized by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and others to lead the push for a new airport. According to the group's website, "San Diego must have a new, world class, environmentally sound, international airport to ensure the continued growth of the regional economy in San Diego County." The website goes on to say, "ASAP21 is a political advocacy organization; it is not a planning organization."
The GCS work program for the airport authority contains a list of activities that Gable's firm will perform in conjunction with ASAP21. These are described as "communications team liaison with ASAP21; community events, meetings in collaboration with ASAP21"; and private "Site selection briefings with ASAP21." Conde says this liaison between the public agency and the private political advocacy organization is incontrovertible evidence that the authority has exceeded its bounds.