Where did this group convene?
When I got involved we were meeting at the law school on Ash.
And the topic was whether to have a strong mayor?
The topic was to create a new system for San Diego. People who had been working on that for five or six years are people who are close to [the] mayor right now: Bill Geppert, Cox Communications vice president.
So in other words, people who were involved with downtown. Was Moores there?
John Moores was a financial backer. He tended not to bother with coming to the meetings, with the details. Peter Q. Davis was a big contributor to this as well -- not financially -- but he was at the table many times. And what was very interesting to me in talking to some of the people who were attending these meetings, they really knew what they wanted.
They wanted a strong mayor, but when I'd talk to them about the way the city's run, the way the communities are run, the role of city councilmembers, the role of planning groups, advisory groups, just the way the rest of the city functions, they were amazingly ignorant and amazingly ignorant of the way the rest of the city functioned, or of what needed to be done, or of the moods and interests of any groups that were not involved directly in the business of downtown.
What happened after the future urbanizing area got broken up was that most of the big tracts of land to develop in the suburban style were gone and there was a long recession in the '90s and people tended to regroup.
Suddenly smart growth was a new idea. Everybody was hooking on to smart growth. Suddenly developers who had only built suburban homes were looking at building in the urbanized areas, because that was the only place that was available.
It was pretty clear that the suburbs were finished, and now the money's to be made downtown. You just go where these guys move, and you know where money is to be made.
I don't know who the invisible people were, but I do know that they were about. Maybe 30 people would show up at these meetings and talk about how to set up a strong mayoral form of government. Again, these people generally had no idea how city government was run. That wasn't the point.
I did go to meetings over the course of the year. I spoke up pretty freely. I didn't represent the League of Women Voters; I was going on my own. I was pretty clear about my position. City government needed reform and changes, and there was already a lot of peculiar stuff that had gone on with Mayor Golding and Jack McGrory.
We were already having trouble. It was clear to everybody who was downtown, I think, in the '90s, with Susan Golding, that the city was in financial trouble, because major projects -- I think the Republican National Convention that Susan brought in was, that was really the straw that broke the camel's back. And we couldn't find out at the time what it was costing the city. But a tremendous amount of money was diverted into all aspects of the Republican National Convention.
Qualcomm Stadium was also a major disaster. It wasn't because of the ticket guarantee only; that was just a stupid way. It was a gamble that they lost, and it could've worked out just fine, but they lost that gamble. It cost the city an enormous amount of money that doesn't get accounted for. The facilities, the training facilities, a lot of infrastructure doesn't get reported as directly related to projects.
That was true of the downtown ballpark as well -- the infrastructure decisions to work on certain roads, certain freeways. All the money gets pooled in a place. That means other areas lose that money. It's all related to the project, but it doesn't get included in the cost of the project, so you don't really know how much money has been included.
In the mid-'90s people who were asking questions were not getting answers about what was happening to their money and where it was going.
Why was that?
Partially because of the weaknesses of the city-manager form of government. Obviously there's no perfect or even excellent form of government that works, that does everything for everybody, and city-manager form of government has definite problems associated with it.
Jack McGrory, in fact, was acting for Susan Golding the way the new city manager in our new system will be acting for the mayor, as the personal city manager.
And he played that role for Susan Golding for a while until he understood that he was going to get screwed and that he couldn't really control the process. And so he got out while he could.
Did that result in a lack of access, a lack of information?
To some extent. But again, everything depends on the quality and the will of the elected representatives to make sure they get the information they want. And we don't tend to have that kind of politician in San Diego. Our politicians tend to be passive.
I was interested in improving city government. I went to these meetings. I was very uncomfortable because the only people represented there were downtown business interests, and very uniform in a usual group of complacent -- not complacent -- arrogant white men.
They were very aware of the problem that I was having, and I continued to go because I thought it was important for them to hear another point of view and just to talk about how other groups need to be represented.
What was their motive?
I think their motive is to arrange things so that business can move forward. It's not a bad thing. I think they want to have a system that works, that works for their interests -- but that's certainly what all of us are doing. We're trying to make changes that work for what we think are the highest interests.