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— The Port of San Diego calls the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan “one of the largest waterfront planning efforts in the nation.” For more than seven years, competing interests have negotiated and compromised on parks, open spaces, and ecological buffers, a new harbor and marina with a waterfront promenade, condos, hotels, offices, restaurants, a relocated or decommissioned power plant, and Gaylord Entertainment’s $1 billion convention complex. Getting the plan approved by government agencies is crucial to Chula Vista’s economy, which settled into the dumps after eastern Chula Vista was built out. But the city has a long history of failed bayfront plans, and the current one is as fragile as the bayfront ecology. So why has Chula Vista’s mayor entered into conversations with David Malcolm and the San Diego Chargers?

Chula Vista’s bayfront stretches from the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge on Gunpowder Point to the salt evaporation ponds near the south end of the bay. The master plan covers 128 privately owned acres just south of the refuge and approximately 430 acres controlled by the port. Pacifica Companies, a private developer, and the City of Chula Vista control the 128 acres. Though Pacifica does not own the private land, it holds an exclusive option to build on 97 of those acres. The port’s land is owned by the state and must be used for public purposes; private residences cannot be built on port land.

While Gaylord Entertainment has behaved like a diva, stomping out of negotiations and making dramatic departures, Pacifica’s president, Ash Israni, has agreed to a $7.5 million trust for eventualities associated with the environmental impact report, and he has worked on a land swap with the port that would protect sensitive wetlands. An important part of the redevelopment plan, the land swap would involve an exchange of approximately 97 acres of Pacifica land next to the wildlife refuge for approximately 57 acres of port land on which Pacifica would build condos, a hotel, offices, and retail space.

The master plan’s environmental impact report is due out this spring. Once that report is approved by the City and the port, the master plan must be approved by state and federal agencies, including the California State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission.

In December 2006, while Pacifica’s negotiations with the port were well under way, Chula Vista had a change in leadership when Cheryl Cox became mayor. Her husband, Greg Cox, has also served as the city’s mayor, from 1981 to 1990, and he is currently on the County Board of Supervisors.

When Cheryl Cox came into office, a source close to Pacifica says, “she wanted to change everything.” At one point Cox came into Pacifica’s office accusing Pacifica of caving in to extortion because they had committed up to $7.5 million to a foundation for habitat restoration and trail maintenance.

On another occasion, David Malcolm appeared in Ash Israni’s office, the source reported, and began “aggressively advising” Pacifica on the land swap. According to the source, Malcolm was very forward about the fact that he was advising Cox on the bayfront.

Cox and Malcolm did not return phone calls.

David Malcolm has a long history with the Chula Vista bayfront. He’s been a Chula Vista City Council member (1982–1992), a coastal commissioner (1984–1995), and a port commissioner (1995–2002). Over the years, his business dealings have been questioned a number of times. In 1984, according to a January 5, 2002 Union-Tribune story, Councilman Malcolm was “accused of seeking amendments to city and county rules that would in effect increase the value and hasten the development of a 48-acre tract near National City in which he had an interest.” Mayor Greg Cox, who the U-T story says was a codeveloper, pulled out of the deal, and Malcolm eventually donated his interest to charity. In 1988, the California Fair Political Practices Commission investigated nine conflict-of-interest allegations against Malcolm. He was cleared for lack of evidence. In 2002, he resigned as head of the port commission amid allegations that Duke Energy, to which the port had awarded a contract to operate the South Bay Power Plant, was paying Malcolm $20,000 a month to represent the company’s interests. The following year Malcolm pleaded guilty to one felony conflict-of-interest charge. Later, the Fourth District Court of Appeal threw out Malcolm’s appeal, ruling that it is wrong for “a trustee to engage in self-dealing, including the contingent feathering of one’s own nest.” (The conviction was expunged in 2006.)

David Malcolm was a central issue in the 2006 Chula Vista mayoral race between incumbent Steve Padilla and Cheryl Cox. Cox ran on a platform of openness and honesty. On June 19, 2006, Cox spoke before the board of directors of Crossroads II, an influential group of Chula Vista residents who are organized around land-use issues. Although the group does not support political candidates, guests often address the board prior to meetings. Cox was questioned about her relations with David Malcolm. Sam Longanecker, a Crossroads II boardmember, recalls that Cox sought to distance herself from Malcolm in her response. “She said that her children and Malcolm’s children had grown up together,” said Longanecker, and that “you have no control over your friends and what they do. Ultimately,” Longanecker said, “she implied that she and Malcolm had gone their separate ways.”

The source close to Pacifica reported that another developer has been “courting city officials for the Pacifica site.” Although Pacifica has the exclusive right to develop, its contract expires in December.

Pacifica’s land is owned by Chula Vista Capital, led by Adnan Zakkout, and was purchased in 1994, according to the Union-Tribune. Mayor Cox, who has done consultant work for every major player on the bayfront — including Pacifica and David Malcolm — has had an enduring relationship with Zakkout. As far back as 1996, working as Zakkout’s consultant, Cox was advocating that a Padres stadium be built on Zakkout’s bayfront land. Cox’s 2004/2005 Statement of Economic Interests shows that she received income of between $1001 and $10,000 from a company called Global Financial and Consulting, whose address is 875 Prospect in La Jolla. Shortly after Cox assumed office, her calendar reveals that she met with Zakkout at his La Jolla office, 875 Prospect.

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Comments

iantrowbridge1 March 19, 2008 @ 6:20 p.m.

Excellent story and hopefully the Cox quid pro quo tag team will eventually be exposed for who they are before they bankrupt Chula Vista

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Susan Luzzaro March 22, 2008 @ 12:02 p.m.

The story is only the tip of the iceberg.

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eastlaker May 3, 2008 @ 8:37 p.m.

You are right that most Chula Vistans want the old power plant gone. And many are critical of the Gaylord project--essentially hijacking the Chula Vista bayfront, when the western part of the city really needs decent recreational space. I would like to think that it would be possible to see a reasonable, balanced development if that is what the people in city hall wanted. But that doesn't seem to be what they are looking for.

Chula Vista should be a POWERHOUSE in the development of solar energy; Chula Vista should work towards living up to the city plan, which has called for the building of swimming pools for years and has not followed through.

Chula Vista should work on water gathering, storage and saving.

Chula Vista should stop allowing other communities to look upon it as a joke and take itself and its future seriously. There is much good in Chula Vista, and things could be much better if the community leadership was truthful, trustworthy, visionary and honest.

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