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Abe Lincoln championed government for the people and said you can only fool some of the people all of the time. In San Diego, government gives succor to a handful of the most affluent people while the taxpaying suckers foot the bill — seemingly all of the time.

San Diego has inadequate police protection; undermanned and underequipped firefighting forces despite periodic catastrophic wildfires; a wastewater system out of compliance with federal rules; a hemorrhaging library system; a rotting infrastructure; a lack of downtown affordable housing despite developers’ solemn promises; a big pension shortfall; and a staggering structural fiscal deficit. Yet political and business leadership conspire to steer public money into downtown projects that should be financed with private capital. Real estate developers and their toadying lawyers and lobbyists get rich on taxpayer money while the quality of life for most of those taxpayers declines.

A new book outlines the historical, political, economic, sociological, and journalistic forces that brought about these twisted priorities. This book is Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failures in San Diego, published by Stanford University Press. The publication date is September 10. It will go into stores and can be purchased online around that time.

Scott MacKenzie

The authors are political science professor Steve Erie, director of the urban studies and planning program at the University of California San Diego; Vladimir Kogan, a political science PhD candidate at the same university; and Scott MacKenzie, assistant professor of political science at the University of California Davis.

The hucksters have an alliterative name for San Diego’s corporate welfare: “public-private partnerships.” The authors show why the name should be “public-private pillaging.”

For example, Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) is “a shadow government with little direct contact with the voters,” says Erie. The system is rigged so that redevelopment money goes into a downtown that is not blighted while neighborhoods get crumbs, even though they are blighted. In San Diego, “As long as the sun rises, people aren’t watching what happens. This gives leaders considerable leeway to craft these public-private partnerships that benefit the private partners without close public scrutiny or criticism.”

Steve Erie

One way this is achieved is through “stacked deck committees,” Erie explains. A task force or committee will be appointed to study a particular issue, such as a massive subsidy to a sports team. But the committee members will have a personal stake in downtown interests. “You know what the report will be before it comes out.”

Invariably, the Union-Tribune will effervesce that the task force is made up of “distinguished citizens.” The book is critical of the U-T for not being a watchdog; for distorting the records of politicians who pose a threat to the establishment, such as Donna Frye; and for being a booster of the downtown crowd. Worse, most people get their news from television, which plucks items from the U-T. “On a scale of one to ten [ten being highest], our TV stations are a number one or two” in investigative and interpretive journalism, says Erie.

“What’s unique about San Diego is that the types of business interests that have a stake [in the corporate welfare schemes] provide benefits for only a few,” says Kogan. “The convention center benefits local hotels but not the rest of the people. The industries dominant in San Diego have very few spillovers for the rest of the economy. Other cities have corporate leaders with broader interests. Here the benefits are not for the community as a whole.”

Says Erie, “Look at how we have largely privatized the bayfront. Compare that with Chicago’s Millennium Park, which is open to the public.” San Francisco’s Presidio has been mainly turned over to the citizenry. “We have a privatized political culture. Other cities have the public as beneficiaries.”

In the early 20th Century, San Diego became wed to the military and has been feeding off it ever since. As a result, San Diego has become less self-reliant. “It was the boosters and the blue jackets, the Navy and the chamber of commerce. But Los Angeles won the infrastructure battle, developing railroads and the harbor and pushing full throttle on industrial development,” says Erie. “San Diego didn’t want dirty industry with minorities, Eastern European workers, collateral damage. The leaders thought of the military as clean industry. The Navy was the most Southern of the armed forces, bringing a plantation mentality with them.”

San Diego became accustomed to being bailed out by the military; after all, Navy-related spending can be contra-cyclical, rising while the economy is falling. But the Navy was not the only government teat being sucked. State and federal governments supply funds leading to tech and biotech industry innovations. Hotels, condo towers, shopping centers, sports stadia, and the like rely on fat government subsidies.

Yet business leadership professes to be conservative — lauding free enterprise, rugged individualism, freedom from government interference, all the while begging for subsidies. It’s part of the weird culture. San Diegans want first-rate services but won’t pay for them through taxes. The people distrust local government, but if they examined reality, they would distrust the businesses that are picking their pockets. Yet antitax populists “frame the discussion” so that all the woes are blamed on pension recipients, says Kogan, citing Councilmember Carl DeMaio and the editorial page of the Union-Tribune.

Vladimir Kogan

“In San Diego it’s a matter of framing,” says Kogan. “You either want an abandoned military base or you want Liberty Station.” That housing project is called “Corky’s Porkyville” in the book, after developer Corky McMillin, who grabbed every government subsidy he could get his sticky fingers on and built homes “on a park-like site that could have become another Balboa Park by the bay,” as columnist Neil Morgan put it. The project was typical San Diego: a private developer raked in public loot while the taxpayers got nothing but a huge traffic headache.

Meanwhile, Balboa Park was being underfunded while the City poured money into Petco Park, a massive gift to the Padres baseball team. The book shows why the deal was a loser for the public but a big winner for the then–majority team owner John Moores, who rode off to Texas with his gold.

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Comments

x76 Sept. 7, 2011 @ 9:32 a.m.

Wow. Slam and dunk. The most concise and on-target description of how our little border town works. Great column, and I think I will read that book.

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Don Bauder Sept. 7, 2011 @ 11:04 a.m.

I highly recommend Paradise Plundered, a concise explanation of San Diego's problems. Best, Don Bauder

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InOmbra Sept. 7, 2011 @ 12:29 p.m.

Can't wait to read it. Vlad Kogan also authored an important study on one of San Diego's favorite mechanisms to give public money to private groups via "special assessments": http://polisci2.ucsd.edu/vkogan/research/special.pdf

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Don Bauder Sept. 7, 2011 @ 1:21 p.m.

Erie and Kogan also authored an excellent paper showing how the Petco Park subsidies enriched a few and fleeced taxpayers.

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monaghan Sept. 7, 2011 @ 1:03 p.m.

Privatization of profit, socialization of risk. Sigh. Maybe this book will influence the outcome of the coming race for Mayor. I am pitching my tent in the land of Hope.

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Don Bauder Sept. 7, 2011 @ 1:23 p.m.

Most San Diego taxpayers don't understand how they get taken to the cleaners. This book explicates that clandestine process.

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Don Bauder Sept. 7, 2011 @ 8:44 p.m.

Yes, privatization is often government-sanctioned thievery. Best, Don Bauder

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Fred Williams Sept. 7, 2011 @ 11:14 p.m.

I'm highly recommending this book to all San Diegans who are interested in the city's past, present, and future.

I would love to see Vlad Kogan run for Mayor, if only to present to the voters an honest assessment of where the city really stands.

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Don Bauder Sept. 8, 2011 @ 8:43 a.m.

Is the San Diego public ready for an honest assessment? I hope so. Best, Don Bauder

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alweiss Sept. 8, 2011 @ 9:19 a.m.

Erie summed it up best when he was quoted in an article here in The Reader titled "Dust Bowl Coming?" (Feb. 13, 2008): “This is a second-rate town blessed with a first-rate climate but cursed with third-rate leadership and a fourth-rate newspaper.”

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Don Bauder Sept. 8, 2011 @ 12:45 p.m.

Steve Erie has a way with words. And he thinks straight. His descriptions of San Diego have been right on the mark. Best, Don Bauder

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clockerbob Sept. 9, 2011 @ 10:34 a.m.

In two years you'll probably crank on a good book about Rebecca's hanging suicide ,meanwhile, not a word in this week edition.

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Don Bauder Sept. 9, 2011 @ 4:02 p.m.

I posted a blog item when it was ruled a suicide. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 11, 2011 @ 12:43 p.m.

Hey, "dude," whatever. As long as there's booze, sand, sun, and surf, we'll just keep on rockin' 'till it's all gone . . .

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Don Bauder Sept. 11, 2011 @ 4:32 p.m.

That attitude is deeply inculcated in San Diego culture. Best, Don Bauder

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politicky Sept. 11, 2011 @ 5:26 p.m.

Thank you Mr. Bauder, I usually love your articles, but I swear you read my mind before you wrote this one, lol.

<p>Overstock.com has a great price on the book today :)

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Don Bauder Sept. 11, 2011 @ 11:27 p.m.

Let's hope that great price at Overstock lasts. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 12, 2011 @ 8:04 p.m.

Abe Lincoln said "We must disenthrall ourselves."

It didn't take.

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Don Bauder Sept. 12, 2011 @ 11:04 p.m.

The word "disenthrall" sure didn't take. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 13, 2011 @ 8:54 p.m.

More's the pity. (I'm tempted to make a pun on a local mfr, but that would be in bad taste.)

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mridolf Sept. 12, 2011 @ 8:40 p.m.

When the authors show up for a book signing, I'll buy a copy.

Don Bauder, I always like your insights, and this is no different. But I have to ask, why does everybody I meet outside of San Diego have such a damned good impression of San Diego? I travel for a living. That is, I'm an engineer, who travels the country (and occasionally the globe) for my job. People always ask "So, where are you out of?' When I say San Diego, (never just California), they usually smile. Everyone that has been here says how they really like San Diego. The only constant negative is 'it costs too much'. I remind them that only the housing that costs too much. Everything else is the same as the rest of the state. They don't argue.

But, my issue is, what are we lacking that other places have? Parks? Bike trails? Good Schools? What? And, do we have high crime? Poor emergency services? I travel to places where, in urban areas, you can drive mile after mile without seeing a shopping center, a neighborhood grocery store, or decent restaurant. Something in San Diego must be right, besides the mild weather, to make it so, well, attractive to others.

I don't disagree that plundering may have been done by officials. What I'd like to hear is, two things. (1) Where is it better (with the same climate); and (2) what precise things have we been denied from this plundering? Tell me what others have, that we don't. Be specific.

And don't say police and fire funding. That's too general.

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Don Bauder Sept. 12, 2011 @ 11:09 p.m.

Visitors have such a good impression because of the weather. A visitor won't see the corruption. Indeed, a visitor may see the unblighted downtown and think the place is making great progress, not knowing that it's only downtown. Yes, San Diego lacks parks, soccer fields, is closing libraries and rec centers, etc. Where is it better with the same climate? Since Southern California is the only U.S. place with the same climate, that's a tough question. Maybe Santa Barbara. Best, Don Bauder

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Fred Williams Sept. 13, 2011 @ 2:48 a.m.

Mridolf, your question is excellent, and deserves an answer.

You're right. San Diego could be a lot worse.

It could also be a whole lot better. What cannot be seen, but surely is felt, is opportunity cost. What could we have gotten for the same money that was wasted, stolen, or misused?

  1. Public transit. Today San Diego's public transit is an embarrassment. Like many of the stupid things in San Diego, it's built on a hub and spoke model centered on downtown. But that's not where people live and work, except for government planners, bankers, and lawyers. The manufacturing, IT, and biotech jobs are remote from downtown. Service jobs, which dominate low-wage employment, are scattered across the city.

  2. Public services. You asked specifically to avoid this, since it's too "general", but it's still true that San Diego is "browning out" fire stations to save money. Little has been done to prepare for the next fire storm (even after the devastation from the last two), and less has been done to prepare for flooding, earthquakes or tsunamis. Police have a privileged position, where their political power is such that no one dares touch their pensions or generous benefits, even if crime has dropped by half in the last decade.

  3. Balboa Park. This is perhaps the biggest visible "loser" in San Diego's corruption. There's a quarter Billion dollars unfunded maintenance bill...this money was diverted to the ballpark instead. It won't be free and open for future generations, if the Mayor gets his way.

  4. Trust in government. If you ask the average San Diegan, they'll tell you that not only is the system corrupt, it's broken beyond repair and it makes little difference who is elected since the same corrupt CABAL continues to run the show. Redevelopment, as Paradise Plundered documents, has been the main force for this corruption and disruption of honest people's lives. So unless you are politically connected, it would be foolish to invest in San Diego...how many businesses have stayed away because of this ugly fact of life in America's Finest City?

If you look at opportunity costs, San Diego basically took a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be truly great, and squandered it on money-losing stadiums and ballparks, vacant high-rise condo boxes (that have also made our skyline, previously attractive, quite ugly), and closing the bay to any but those with plenty of money to pay for the view. Every paid for downtown, while other neighborhoods and basic infrastructure were neglected.

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Don Bauder Sept. 13, 2011 @ 11:18 a.m.

Fred, you are right on your major points: the transportation system is poor, public services are inadequate, Balboa Park has been ignored while money poured into facilities for billionaire pro sports owners, and trust in government is low. Actually, San Diego's history is full of rascals at the top of the pyramid: Spreckels, C. Arnholt Smith, John Alessio, ad nauseam. Paradise Plundered reveals a lot about Spreckels. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Sept. 14, 2011 @ 12:15 p.m.

Balboa Park has received plenty of attention when it was adding a tourist attraction that would bring more tourism dollars to the tourism/entertainment cabal. Various community activities were pushed out of the park to make way for attractions that would bring revenue to the "arts and cultural" organizations that now occupy the park. But the working poor who live closest to the park have little there that they can afford. If you are a well-heeled tourist from the Midwest, the park, the beaches, downtown, La Jolla, the restaurants, and the shopping can seem heavenly when set against the sun and moderate temperatures.

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Twister Sept. 13, 2011 @ 10:47 a.m.

  1. I compared the Paris Metro ("chaotic," relevance-based design) with the London Underground (theoretically appealing hub-and-spoke) several years ago. I could get within easy walking distance of any place I wanted to go in the city, including the outskirts, quickly and DIRECTLY. It took me forever in London. No comparison! Oh, I also could understand the graphics in Paris easier than those in London, and I speak only English.

  2. What little has been done to "prepare" for the next firestorm borders on the idiotic--like spending 7.2 million in "stimulus" funds to masticate and burn brush in remote locations rather than spending it to evaluate and demonstrate alternatives that would actually be effective but have the disadvantage of impeding the cash-flow into the pockets of the big contributors, ad nauseam. Profit, not efficiency, drives the system, and the biggest profits come from the perpetuation of problems, not their solution.

  3. Again, Balboa Park's whole management is an illogical mess in so many ways. Rumor has it that the mayor called all the museum directors warning them that the pitifully small funding they do get would be cut if they spoke out against his bridge and parking garage plan.

  4. Basically correct; the details are too numerous to mention.

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Don Bauder Sept. 13, 2011 @ 11:22 a.m.

San Diego didn't prepare for the most recent firestorms and is doing little about the next one. Meanwhile, leaders plan to spend more than $500 million on the convention center expansion and $700 million to $800 million subsidizing a stadium for the Chargers. Insanity rules. Best, Don Bauder

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realnews Sept. 13, 2011 @ 1:59 p.m.

No sympathy from me. Because who continues to elect these people? We do. As with the earlier, "Under a Perfect Sun - the San Diego Tourists Never See" you can't blame greedy people for continuing to act so greedy when the government continues condoning San Diego's corporate of greed, culture.

As for Dumanis - see how she continues to not prosecute county attorneys who admit to stealing client funds. A vote for Bonnie Dumanis is a vote for a Continuation greed.

http://www.examiner.com/public-policy-in-san-diego/san-diego-da-jeff-dort-snubs-family-court-crime-victims

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Don Bauder Sept. 13, 2011 @ 3:27 p.m.

Dumanis looks the other way in any case involving someone who might donate some money to her campaign. She is the most political person who has ever occupied that office. It's true that San Diegans keep electing politicians who steal from the poor and give to the rich, but those politicians have the most money, by far, to promote their campaigns. Similarly, pro sports team owners who want a multi-million dollar handout for a new facility outspend opponents by 100 to 1 or more. How do you beat that? Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 13, 2011 @ 5:55 p.m.

You beat it by not buying it.

That candidate which has the most ads, TV coverage, and the most money is the worst candidate. Unless he or she got it all in small donations.

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Don Bauder Sept. 13, 2011 @ 7:24 p.m.

You know that, Twister, but does the public? Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 13, 2011 @ 8:47 p.m.

When they asked Jody Williams how she got the Nobel Prize, she said "email."

SPREAD THE WORD!

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Don Bauder Sept. 13, 2011 @ 10 p.m.

Getting a Nobel Prize and getting political office both involve a lot of politicking. But it takes really big money to get elected to office. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 13, 2011 @ 8:49 p.m.

. . . and speaking of politics and media, what about blackouts? (e.g. Ross Perot)

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Don Bauder Sept. 13, 2011 @ 10:01 p.m.

I think Perot got a lot of media attention when he ran. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 14, 2011 @ 7:42 a.m.

Perot dropped out of sight. There may be health problems. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 13, 2011 @ 11:05 p.m.

With respect to the Nobel Prize, it came as a complete surprise to Richard Feynman; he even wanted to turn it down, but decided that would cause even more of a fuss.

Williams did no politicking, as far as I know.

But screw holding office. Organize and put their feet to the fire. We need an alternative to money, so we need an alternative to egocentrism.

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Don Bauder Sept. 14, 2011 @ 7:59 a.m.

The idea of a Nobel Prize coming as a surprise to a winner, who wanted to turn it down, is something I find hard to swallow. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 14, 2011 @ 12:07 p.m.

See: Feynman's "Perfectly Reasonable Deviations (From the Beaten Track)" edited by Michelle Feynman. Go to the index under Nobel Prize, then revise your ideas if you wish.

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Don Bauder Sept. 14, 2011 @ 1:39 p.m.

I'll eat humble pie if I'm too cynical, but I won't have time to read the piece. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 14, 2011 @ 12:29 p.m.

If I recall correctly, the last thing I heard Perot say was that his family had been threatened.

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Don Bauder Sept. 14, 2011 @ 1:40 p.m.

Nothing new about that. I've had several death threats and I'm just a journalist. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 14, 2011 @ 9:59 p.m.

Stay skeptical, Don. But cynicism should be resisted. A cynical gentleman took umbrage with Feynman; this entry, if it is to be believed (I know of no reason why Feynman's word should be doubted, do you?)

From "Perfectly Reasonable Deviations (From the Beaten Track)" (p. 365-6), this transcript of a letter:

RICHARD P. FEYNMAN TO JACK M. RICE, JR., NOVEMBER 11, 1983

After reading the Los Angeles Times article, “Nobel Prize: Another Side of the Medal,” in which Feynman expressed a certain ambivalence about having received the award, Mr. Rice wrote a blistering letter to Feynman. He concluded: “You may wish, in saying ‘to Hell’ with Nobel and his prize, to come across as a curmudgeon. You succeeded instead at demonstrating what a jerk you are.” . . . Dear Mr. Rice,

Thank you for your letter concerning my remarks in the L.A. Times. You are right, I am a jerk for telling the reporter of my personal feelings and reactions to the Nobel Prize. I realized this after I spoke to him and tried to call him back to ask him not to print the interview—but couldn’t reach him.

My feelings are perhaps childish or foolish but they are sincere. I was first notified of the prize a 4 A.M. by a New York newspaper. I was not asked by the Nobel committee whether I wanted to receive it. I wanted to quietly demur the honor, but it was already too late to be possible. It would have been an even greater publicity annoyance if I said no in public after newspapers knew I’d won it. It would be a worldwide sensation.

[He goes on with an extensive and more specific apology.]

Twister

PS: I don't think Williams "politicked" for the prize either, but I also don't have time to research that one . . . I don't doubt that others may have politicked for the prize, but since I have no evidence for it either way, I am reserving judgment on the matter.

Re: By dbauder 1:39 p.m., Sep 14, 2011

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Don Bauder Sept. 15, 2011 @ 6:36 a.m.

Interesting story. A guy relates his actual feelings to a newspaper and then tries to retract his statement. What did he do? Say, "Look, I am sorry I told the truth. Please erase it." Best, Don Bauder

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psyflyjohn Sept. 15, 2011 @ 7:14 a.m.

I've lived in San Diego for twenty-some years. It was immediately apparent when arriving here that things were reversed in this city - the citizens exist to serve their city govt. This sad state of affairs has continued as the city spins towards being bankrupt. Keep on voting Republican, you fools.

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SurfPuppy619 Sept. 15, 2011 @ 9:37 p.m.

Keep on voting Republican, you fools.

== I hate to break the news to you, but the republicans in this city and state have as much blame in this public empoloyee pay and pension scam as the dems do.

This scam could NEVER have gone down without BOTH parties up to their eyeballs in bribe money.....

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Don Bauder Sept. 16, 2011 @ 3:38 p.m.

True: Both political parties created the pension mess. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 16, 2011 @ 3:37 p.m.

Most San Diegans haven't figured this out. Congratulations for realizing this truth as soon as you arrived. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 15, 2011 @ 12:40 p.m.

Feynman was refreshing candid about his shortcomings. Maybe if he had gone to Temple, he would have been perfect?

But you missed the point; he really didn't want the Nobel Prize.

Re: By dbauder 6:36 a.m., Sep 15, 2011

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Don Bauder Sept. 16, 2011 @ 3:41 p.m.

I don't want a Nobel either. I can't afford to hire the lobbyists to buy it. Best, Don Bauder

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David Dodd Sept. 18, 2011 @ 4:04 a.m.

You may wish to reconsider your stance on the Nobel, I hear it's a dynamite award.

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Twister Sept. 16, 2011 @ 4:50 p.m.

Well, Don, I think you deserve several Pulitzers, but I guess virtue is its own reward.

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Don Bauder Sept. 16, 2011 @ 9:54 p.m.

If after 47 years in financial journalism I have won no Pulitzers -- and I don't believe any of my work was ever submitted -- I would have to say it's getting a little late. Best, Don Bauder

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nan shartel Sept. 17, 2011 @ 12:58 p.m.

well u've won the mind and hearts of many READER fans here Don...hope that counts for something

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Don Bauder Sept. 17, 2011 @ 3:10 p.m.

From a journalistic perspective, the Reader is all that matters to me now. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 17, 2011 @ 7:39 p.m.

But don't say that in polite company, Nan. The establishment may mark you for extinction. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 17, 2011 @ 9:24 p.m.

I won't say I'm a fan of fan clubs, but . . .

ALTOGETHER NOW!

Repeat after me,

"I swear eternal vigilance over every form of tyranny over the mind of man (T. Jefferson), and what's more I shall write the Pulitzer committee and advise them of their oversight."

But what we need is a vitae, and other stuff about which to brag (since Don would never do that) and point to in our politicking . . .

And further, duly vesting myself with unlimited powers, do hereby appoint and anoint SurfPuppy Chair and CEO of this here Committee to Get Don Bauder an Overdue Pulitzer, and Nan as Sexytary-in-Chief.

Attesteth:

Twister

Y.O.L. 2011, the seventeenth Day of September. Y.

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Don Bauder Sept. 17, 2011 @ 9:49 p.m.

With SurfPuppy and Nan behind me, I can't miss. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 17, 2011 @ 9:51 p.m.

To win a Pulitzer, you have to have the editors of your paper lobbying hard on your behalf. Had some outsider nominated me while I was at the U-T, the editors would have lobbied hard to make sure I wouldn't get it. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 18, 2011 @ 8:32 a.m.

"From a journalistic perspective, the Reader is all that matters to me now. Best, Don Bauder By dbauder 3:10 p.m., Sep 17, 2011"

So, what has the Reader done for you lately?

How do we hammer the editors to get them to hammer out a Pulitzer for you? Seems like a conflict of interest system to me . . .

Where's the beef?

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nan shartel Sept. 18, 2011 @ 1:07 p.m.

i could wear very short skirts and sic my feminine wiles on em

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Don Bauder Sept. 18, 2011 @ 1:19 p.m.

It won't do any good. The judges are too old. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 18, 2011 @ 1:18 p.m.

The kinds of things I write would never get past the Pulitzer judges. I'm too close to the truth. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 18, 2011 @ 1:23 p.m.

Excellent review. I am utterly astonished that the U-T printed it. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Sept. 19, 2011 @ 9:59 a.m.

Note that the reviewer pulled his punches, and except for a single phrase in a single sentence "the ineffectiveness of civic watchdogs", made no mention of the role of the U-T in this mess. It is worse, because rather than being a watchdog, the U-T was an enabler of those who failed to deliver, and promoted this malfeasance.

But the fact that such a review appeared at all is a milestone in the history of the U-T. Too bad that it came when few read the paper, and fewer pay any attention to what they do see in its pages.

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nan shartel Sept. 18, 2011 @ 1:04 p.m.

for those who don't want to go read it at the UT here it is

Skeptics sometimes ask, what is the value of ivory tower analysis regarding the concrete and practical problems of public policy? Steven Erie and his colleagues at the University of California San Diego provide a clear and compelling answer. “Paradise Plundered” is a work of probing investigation, rigorous attention to data and carefully developed findings.

As an examination of contemporary politics and policy in San Diego, the book takes us beyond partisan rhetoric and ideological myopia. It reveals that, beneath the image of “America’s Finest City” is decaying infrastructure and little current capacity for remedy. The conclusions might be disturbing to many. Regardless, “Paradise Plundered” should be required reading for all who love our city.

The story highlights San Diego’s weak and opportunistic political leadership, the narrow self-interest of its current business elite, the ineffectiveness of civic watchdogs and the fragmentation of its governing institutions. Critical to policy failure, however, has been the persistence of a popular political culture in which we citizens yearn for high-quality public services but abhor both the taxes needed to pay for them and the government necessary to provide them. It is an ironic political culture for San Diego, given that the city largely has been built upon government spending, including the U.S. military and two large public universities.

According to the authors, our attitudes have spawned a style of public official whom they term “New Fiscal Populists.” They win office by promising management efficiency and low taxation without sacrifice of essential services. In essence, it is the promise of something for nothing. As a consequence, the city’s leaders have failed to confront hard choices and trade-offs.

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nan shartel Sept. 18, 2011 @ 1:05 p.m.

here's the rest

In this context, the UCSD team analyzes in depth the city’s dire fiscal crisis. When the stock market was booming yet revenues were constrained following Proposition 13, windfall investment returns to the pension fund were a tempting source of dollars that could be diverted to ease the stress on the city’s day-to-day budget. When the bubble burst, frightened public officials found manipulative ways to defer required payments and derail attempts at accounting review.

The tragedy continues in political efforts to hesitantly muddle through our burgeoning fiscal crisis. As a result, unfunded debt obligations accumulate in the weak economic climate despite the hundreds of millions the city is forced to contribute annually. The authors again note the irony, that a financial gimmick intended to spare San Diegans from having to choose between fewer services and higher taxes has made the gap far more ominous and the possibility of permanent solution far more difficult.

San Diego has never been exorbitant in its public expenditures. “Paradise Plundered” shows that the city systematically spends less, controlling for population size, than the average large city in California. Contrary to popular impression, this pattern has existed since the 1970s and the distance has widened in recent years. San Diego has, per 100,000 residents, fewer government employees and a lower annual public payroll. It is no wonder that, as the authors document extensively, police and fire protection is insufficient, libraries are underfunded, and the sewer system fails to meet legal standards.

Issues would not be controversial if solutions were easy and agreement transparent. It has always been the responsibility of concerned intellectuals to insist that we confront difficult problems with honesty and dedication, that we understand their inherent complexity, that we avoid the temptation toward convenient answers, and that we demand from our leaders accountability and responsibility. Whether we agree with their analysis or not, the authors of “Paradise Plundered” have given to our city a valuable service. Their book should be a starting point as together we contemplate the future direction for San Diego.

Ronald King is a professor of political science at San Diego State University, with specialization in U.S. politics and public policy.

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Don Bauder Sept. 18, 2011 @ 1:25 p.m.

The book rightly criticizes the Union-Tribune for constantly backing wrongheaded policies cooked up by the downtown overlords. Yet the review was printed. Kudos to the U-T. Best, Don Bauder

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nan shartel Sept. 18, 2011 @ 3:37 p.m.

something other then yellow journalism eh...lolol

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Don Bauder Sept. 18, 2011 @ 11:21 p.m.

That review would never have been printed under the previous management. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Sept. 19, 2011 @ 9:37 a.m.

Worse yet, when SD city government is austerely staffed, it utterly fails to get its money's worth out of those overpaid employees it does have. The city hall has, for as long as I've lived in the area (a long time), been inaccessible and unwilling to serve the citizens. Try calling a city department: if you do get through, your report, request or complaint will be ignored. The best you can hope for is some sort of reply that says they've scheduled something for years hence that might take care of it.

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Don Bauder Sept. 19, 2011 @ 11:13 a.m.

Yes, the City bureaucracy gives poor service. But it makes up for it with outrageous retirement pay. Best, Don Bauder

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nostalgic Sept. 19, 2011 @ 5:30 a.m.

Can you get this book at Costco? Or anywhere in San Diego? There is always Amazon, of course. Still it would be nice to just be able to buy it.

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Don Bauder Sept. 19, 2011 @ 7:20 a.m.

Sorry. I don't know the answer to that question. Best, Don Bauder

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Dennis Sept. 20, 2011 @ 1:12 p.m.

The book is available on Amazon, I just finished reading it yesterday. The documentation of SD's long history of robbing Peter to pay Paul (Peter being the pension fund, Paul being the developers) is worth the price of the book by itself. As early as the mid 1960's the city was taking money from the pension fund to build the Civic Concourse downtown and they haven't stopped since.
The book may upset those that still believe that Pete Wilson was the best mayor ever.

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Don Bauder Sept. 20, 2011 @ 2:07 p.m.

Yes, Pete Wilson doesn't come off so well. The book has many other revelations. Best, Don Bauder

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Dennis Sept. 20, 2011 @ 5:18 p.m.

Carl DeMaio is exposed as a carpetbagger who made all of his money through government contracts and now wants to demonize government and it's employees.

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Don Bauder Sept. 20, 2011 @ 6:17 p.m.

DeMaio does not come over well in the book. Best, Don Bauder

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Twister Sept. 21, 2011 @ 3:18 p.m.

There are two kinds of professional; one puts the work first, the other the buck. There's more of the latter than the former.

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Don Bauder Sept. 21, 2011 @ 4:40 p.m.

Many more of the latter than the former, unfortunately. Best, Don Bauder

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InOmbra Sept. 29, 2011 @ 7:07 p.m.

Wow! Just checked the SD library website: I'm # 78 in line for the 34 copies defunded SD library ordered. That is hot! More copies and more interested readers than Stephen King gets... The book is available on Kindle for $9.99, for those who cannot wait. Go Erie, Kogan, MacKenzie AND Bauder!

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Don Bauder Oct. 1, 2011 @ 12:35 p.m.

Glad to see the book is in demand. Every San Diego voter should read it. Best, Don Bauder

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ThePalmcityite Nov. 29, 2011 @ 7:13 a.m.

Great column, and sounds like a good book. As a born and raised 3rd generation San Diegan (who now lives abroad, in Wisconsin), I always felt like the trolley was stupid. It seems designed and implemented by people who have never used and will never use public transportation.

The first things connected should have been the airport, Balboa Park, the universities, beaches, shopping centers, and the border. These are more important than sporting venues and downtown, although it would make sense to connect them too. And yet there's still no airport connection, and isn't one to UTC or UCSD yet.

(I always suspected that SD's rich and the powerful were in no hurry to allow the unwashed masses easy access to where they live, in places like La Jolla and other beach communities, which is why I am surprised that a line to UCSD will ever be built.)

In cities where public transportation works and serves the people in general everything connects. High speed rail and municipal light rail come to the same station, not blocks away as in SD. One or the other will also connect one with air travel, etc., in ways that don't require people to walk long distances and make many transfers to different forms of transportation, such as from busses to taxis to trains.

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