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Scandal city It might not be up to the level of Washington's Abramoff scandal, but the California Fair Political Practices Commission has filed a flurry of sanctions against San Diegans. First up is Ace Parking Management, the parking-lot contractor that for years has had a virtual monopoly on leases to operate city-owned parking facilities, including those at downtown's community concourse and Qualcomm Stadium. Last month Ace agreed to pay a $1500 fine for failing to report an October 10, 2004, contribution of $10,000 to the county Republican Party. The money helped finance a last-minute mailing on behalf of then-San Diego mayor Dick Murphy. By not disclosing its contribution in a timely fashion, Ace avoided being fingered by Murphy opponents Donna Frye and Ron Roberts.

A fine of the same amount was levied against the law firm of Casey, Gerry, Reed & Schenk. Partner Fred Schenk, whose website boasts that he is "the best asbestos attorney in San Diego," is the brother of ex-congresswoman Lynn Schenk, former chief of staff to Governor Gray Davis, who appointed Fred to the Del Mar Fair board. The law firm was cited for failing to report a late $10,000 contribution on October 22, 2004, to the "No on 64" campaign, which sought to defeat a measure that placed limits on certain liability lawsuits against businesses. Prop 64 won.

Finally, Milberg, Weiss, Bershad & Schulman, the former firm of attorney Bill Lerach, had to pay a $3500 fine for failing to report in a timely manner a late contribution of $50,000, made on October 28, 2004, also to the anti-Prop 64 campaign. ... Democratic ex-congressman Jim Bates, unseated by the GOP's Randy "Duke" Cunningham after Bates was accused by female staffers of sexual harassment, has taken issue with how the punishment meted out to him by his House colleagues was characterized here a few weeks back. "You said that I was reprimanded by the House of Representatives," Bates said in a phone message. " 'Reprimanded' is a legal term that refers to the Ethics Committee making a finding and recommending the House of Representatives vote in the House floor on this matter and issue the reprimand. That never happened. I was given a letter of reproval, which is like a letter of warning."

RIP The champion of a bitter mid-1980s battle to create La Jolla's cultural zone, a six-block area around the intersection of Silverado and Prospect Streets -- thereby scuttling plans by the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art to sell its historic Irving Gill-designed headquarters to condo developers -- has died. Susanna Sharkey Oxley was 86 when the end came in the early-morning hours of December 24 at a La Jolla Shores rest home. A longtime resident of the upscale coastal community, Oxley once worked at UCSD as chief research assistant for chemist and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling and lived in an avant-garde house designed by architect Rob Quigley.

But she was most famous for leading epic land-use battles in such heated controversies as limiting the size of commercial buildings in the Village, constructing a toxic-waste-burning plant on Torrey Pines Mesa, and saving historic buildings threatened with demolition, including those of the Green Dragon Colony. In September 1985, when the contemporary art museum was mulling a move downtown, Oxley organized a rally to promote downzoning of its real estate -- then valued at $12 million or so -- a move opposed by museum chief Hugh Davies. "That zoning proposal would tie our hands," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Anything that ties our hands will restrict our ability to raise funds." Other well-heeled institutions affected by the downzoning included the Bishop's School and the La Jolla Woman's Club, both of which occupy Gill buildings. Despite high-powered opposition, Oxley's cultural zone was ultimately approved by the city council in March 1986, and the museum remained in La Jolla, though it later changed its name to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and currently is building a downtown branch next to the Santa Fe Depot.

Pet projects The City of San Diego may be running short of cash, but that didn't stop officials from issuing a year-end spate of contracts to high-priced consultants. For instance, on December 2, a "Public Outreach Services Agreement" worth $139,037 was awarded to the public relations firm of Katz & Associates to promote the city's controversial effort to blend recycled sewage water into its drinking supply. Beginning on January 1, the contract says, Katz is tending a website dedicated to the issue, as well as conducting "stakeholder interviews" and looking after 67 city residents assembled to back the toilet-to-tap program.

Then there was a December 16 contract for $50,000 to hire a "facilitator for real estate assets policies and procedures." Apparently a response to an avalanche of bad publicity stemming from a Union-Tribune exposé of poor management in the city's Real Estate Assets Department, the facilitator, "from a professional commercial real estate firm," is supposed to "encourage new ideas and build consensus in the development of new leasing policies and procedures."

On December 9, a $25,000 no-bid, single-source contract went to the San Diego State University Research Foundation to help the city's Office of Homeland Security write applications for federal grants: "With SDSU's knowledge and experience with our regional emergency response disciplines and systems they are the only academic or other institution that can step in and assist immediately vs. our spending regional staff time that we do not have, to educate and develop another entity."

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