San Diego Four years ago, the City of San Diego hired Republican Patrick Garahan, a Coronado-based lobbyist, to persuade the United States Congress to pay for a multimillion-dollar pedestrian bridge.
The bridge would link downtown's Petco Park with a parking garage across Harbor Drive and the railroad tracks.
Garahan was ultimately paid more than $100,000. He says he obtained $1 million in federal funds, a sum much smaller than he had hoped for but which he notes was better than nothing.
The elaborate suspension bridge, featuring an elevator and designed by the firm of noted Massachusetts architect Moshe Safdie, has leapt in cost over the five years it has been in the planning stages.
By current estimates, about $16.4 million will be required to build the structure and surrounding improvements if ground is broken, as expected, late this year or early next. The project is scheduled for completion in 2008.
In addition to Garahan's $1 million, $3.8 million of additional federal funds obtained in part by Patton Boggs, another lobbying firm retained by the City, will go into the project.
Four million dollars will be contributed by a partnership, led by Padres owner John Moores, that is building a condominium project near the bridge. The balance will be paid from funds raised through local property taxes by the City's Redevelopment Agency.
The City has long argued that the bridge is essential to the economic success of downtown's ballpark district, on which local taxpayers have already lavished more than $300 million in subsidies and public improvements.
The story of how taxpayers paid Garahan to lobby Congress for the construction money, in the form of a budget earmark, is not an unusual one.
Recently the New York Times reported that the number of local government projects paid for with earmarks had grown from 4219 valued at a total of $27.7 billion in 1998 to 12,852 worth $64 billion last year. Critics say the earmarking process is innately corrupt in that it forces local taxpayers to hire lobbyists to obtain federal funds that are public money in the first place.
Cases such as that of the downtown pedestrian bridge, they say, illustrate the pork barrel nature of the earmark process, resulting in wasteful, over-the-top projects far more expensive than they need to be.
Five weeks ago Garahan sat down to describe in detail how he brought his long experience as a lobbyist, onetime transportation secretary of Vermont, and high-ranking member of the Republican Party to bear on obtaining the earmarked funds for the bridge.
"In terms of these kind of earmarks, they come in two ways for transportation. There's an annual transportation appropriations bill, and then there's this big bill, of course, every six years, this so-called surface transportation reauthorization bill. In those bills there's thousands of earmarks.
"Really, in the last 25 years it's become kind of part of the deal, where every member of Congress and every senator's entitled to them. Congressmen, they get about $15 million apiece, except for the ones who are more powerful -- on the right committee. Then in the Senate they get a little more than that.
"I'm a professional engineer, a civil engineer, and I've been involved in this business since, really since '80, on the public side. Originally from New York, but I moved to Vermont in 1973, and I lived there till 2001.
"I was [Vermont's] secretary of transportation, which is in charge of the highway department, the DMV. We had ten state airports. In that role, I got involved with the [congressional lobbying] every year.
"We ended up getting about as much as California gets some years because our senators, unlike the California senators, tend to stay there a long time, and they get to be very powerful.
"One of our senators was on the Appropriations Committee, and the other one was the chairman at one point of what they call the Environment and Public Works Committee. So we had two very powerful guys, and we were able to get all kinds of things: covered bridges, and railroads, and highways, and bridges.
"So I became very familiar with that, and in the process, I spent some time in Washington doing my job and got to know a number of the staff people. Most of the work I've done in the last decade has had to do with this nexus of transportation and politics and funding.
"I was the chairman of the state Republican Party. And a member of the Republican National Committee from '85 to '87, and I was involved in a number of other political things.
"[At the 1996 GOP convention in San Diego] I was in charge of all the computer network, the telephone, radios, all housing assignments, kind of all the logistical stuff, all the support stuff, and, you know, the physical running of this thing.
"I went back to Vermont for five years. But I spent a winter here, and I said, 'Boy, it's pretty nice here.' I really fell in love with San Diego.
"I lived in Coronado. I rented a house, and I sent my kids to school there. We had a kid in high school, and all that stuff. Not to mention how expensive it was, but fortunately we were able to get in before it went completely nuts.
"I heard about this [pedestrian-bridge project], and I went to see [then deputy city manager] Bruce [Herring], who I had worked with before, and I told them this is what I had done, and I gave him the background that I had.
"What I tried to do was to get -- I mean, I got a million dollars, but I think, you know, through different scenarios we could have gotten more.
"The problem was that it was a high priority for some people, but there were other things that were equally high priority. In the end there's only a certain amount of money you can get, and if the powers that be aren't willing to say, 'We really want more for this and less [for] that...' So I think we got as much as we could. I guess it's pretty close to being built. It's designed.