The proposal to build a new San Diego city hall at a cost to taxpayers of at least $587 million is slowly making its way through the City-owned Centre City Development Corporation, en route to final council consideration sometime this summer. Critics of the spending plan include City Councilman Carl DeMaio and others who say the City could make do with a far less costly fix than the gold-plated four-block civic center complex proposal hatched in 2007 by Mayor Jerry Sanders.
But whether the project gets off the ground or not, a well-connected Sacramento-based lobbying outfit is already making big money acting as a “community outreach consultant” for CCDC. According to its contract, signed last July, California Strategies, Inc., was paid an initial $175,000 to carry out its tasks, including conducting focus groups, writing op-ed pieces and letters to the editor, designing polls, and meeting with the city council. A request for qualifications issued last May says, “CCDC seeks a qualified strategic public affairs and/or public relations firm to assist in developing a comprehensive and proactive public outreach program intended to educate, increase communications with, and engage the entire San Diego community with regard to exploring the possibilities for redevelopment of the Civic Center Complex.”
The City insists that the consultants aren’t actually lobbying in favor of the project, but critics note that the contract calls for the firm to meet with “Mayor Sanders and his leadership team,” as well as city councilmembers, city council candidates, and influential private citizens in order to “clarify the Civic Center Complex issues.” Two weeks ago, CCDC approved an additional $105,950 to extend the contract, for a grand total of $280,950.
The firm is run by Bob White, who got his start back in the 1970s with then-Mayor Pete Wilson, rising to become Wilson’s top staffer during Wilson’s time in the U.S. Senate and later as governor. He now advises Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ben Haddad, another former Wilson gubernatorial aide who has also worked for ex-Mayor Susan Golding and the local chamber of commerce and the La Jolla–based defense firm Science Applications International, is another principal of the company. Lobbyist-disclosure records on file at the City show that the firm currently acts as an advocate for a wide array of local clients, including Scripps Health, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, Kelly Capital, and the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties. Subcontractors on the CCDC contract include Porter Novelli, the national PR and lobbying firm where Kevin Faulconer was an executive before his election to the city council in 2006. But what may have closed the deal with the city was a Sacramento fund-raiser hosted last May 7 by Haddad, White, and associate Craig Benedetto, which records show raised $5300 for the Sanders mayoral campaign