It amazes me to see national media assert that until just a few years ago, San Diego was cleanly and efficiently run. Not so. The cozy relationship between politicians and the real estate industry goes back decades, with one brief respite during Pete Wilson's mayoralty. (He abandoned it when he focused his eyes on higher office.) The pension mess has been building since the mid-1980s. Accounting/stock market scams run from U.S. Financial and U.S. National Bank in the 1960s and '70s to Peregrine Systems in the 2000s.
What San Diego has had was a public relations campaign called "America's Finest City" that even its own citizens believed. It was unearned.