San Diego It looks as though more of downtown's endangered historic buildings are headed for the wrecking ball. This time the doomed structures are in Little Italy, where a Texas developer wants a $5.3 million subsidy from city taxpayers to tear down the old Steiner Block, bounded by India, Grape, and Fir streets and Kettner Boulevard, and replace it with a 13-story, 224-unit condo complex to be designed by Rob Quigley, architect of Mayor Dick Murphy's controversial downtown library proposal, and Mark Steele, who just happens to be on the city's Planning Commission.
"Our team is aware and shares the growing concern in Little Italy that insensitive redevelopment of downtown is creating 'super block' designs which ignore the existing urban fabric that makes downtown neighborhoods desirable and unique communities," says a recent letter to the city from CLB Partners of Dallas, which built the giant Park Laurel condo complex in partnership with Robert Lawrence, son of late Hotel del Coronado magnate M. Larry Lawrence. Its twin towers now cast a long shadow over the Laurel Street entrance to Balboa Park. CLB is also partnered with Lawrence in the heavily criticized Paseo de Mission Hills condo project. In addition, the company built the massive Seahaus condos in La Jolla. CLB's letter continues: "We are also aware of the lack of public spaces, affordable housing, and public parking in Little Italy." It adds, somewhat cryptically, "We propose to address these issues through a rich dialogue between the diverse design elements for the redevelopment of the Little Italy block."
CLB is run by Will Cureton, who retired in 1976 as quarterback of the Cleveland Browns to go into accounting, the firm's website says.
Plenty of Peace It's been a heady few weeks for ex-Democratic state senator Steve Peace. First his name was bandied about as a potential candidate to succeed Mayor Dick Murphy. Then it came to light that Peace -- a friend since boyhood of David Malcolm, ejected from the port commission for conflicts of interest that eventually got him a stretch in local custody -- is currently on the payroll of Padres owner and downtown real estate guru John Moores. Then there was the local debut of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, a new documentary that recounts how the now-defunct Houston energy giant looted billions of dollars from California consumers, thanks to a Peace-authored public utility "deregulation" bill. (Peace's role isn't explicitly mentioned in the film, but ex-San Diego mayor Pete Wilson, who as governor signed Peace's pro-Enron scheme into law, is featured prominently.)
But the crowning touch came last Thursday, when two of Peace's closest cronies, North County GOP political consultant and lobbyist Jack Orr, an old pal from Peace's days in the state assembly, and Art Castanares, once a top Peace legislative aide who is now associated with him via a campaign-consulting and influence-peddling outfit called Cornerstone Strategies, were featured on KPBS-TV's Full Focus with Gloria Penner . The show, speculating about who the new mayor will be, was subtitled "Who Will Save San Diego?" Neither Orr nor Castanares was identified by Penner as part of Peace's well-oiled machine, which has long played a major role in county politics, but each had plenty to say about how the city should be run. Proclaimed Orr: "Murphy was Neville Chamberlain and we needed a Churchill." Chimed in Castanares, "Very well put"; he later called Democratic assemblyman Juan Vargas "the 900-pound gorilla in this race."
Last June, another member of Orr's inner circle and his longtime client, millionaire bail bondsman R. Spencer Douglass, agreed to forfeit his bail-bond license, pay a $425,000 penalty, and spend 93 days under house arrest at his Rancho Santa Fe estate after pleading guilty to 123 misdemeanor counts of illegally paying inmates in the Riverside County jail to solicit bail business from fellow prisoners. Felony charges against Douglass were dismissed under the deal. Before he got into legal hot water, Douglass was a major patron of the San Diego GOP's Lincoln Club, giving more than $100,000 over four years.
Brown out Now that former Democratic governor Jerry Brown is running for state attorney general, his ties to ex-San Diegan and convicted felon Dick Silberman, once a major Brown fund-raiser and close political advisor, are likely to draw increased scrutiny. And it probably won't help that Silberman's youngest son, Craig, who once worked for his father in various lobbying ventures, has turned up as an advocate for Parkeon -- makers of "multi-space parking meters" -- on a list of registered lobbyists at city hall in Oakland, where Brown is now mayor. ... Word from Sacramento has it that Oceanside city councilwoman Esther Sanchez, last week said to be in the running to replace San Diego councilman Scott Peters on the California Coastal Commission, has been taken off the short list. Latest reputed contender: Chula Vista mayor Steve Padilla.