Last week’s revelation that San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders proceeded with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Stadium promotion even though the office of city attorney Jan Goldsmith said the gambit was illegal has drawn little public comment from the city council. Goldsmith’s opinion held that an action as significant as the temporary renaming of Qualcomm Stadium, accompanied by enormous new signs on both the interior and exterior of the venue, needed city council approval. As it happened, Sanders ignored Goldsmith’s December 7 advice and joined Qualcomm chief Paul Jacobs and others at a dedication of the new signage a bit more than a week later. A few days after that, Qualcomm and the City signed a one-page understanding by which the cell phone giant agreed to pay $1000 for the advertising rights. (Other documents regarding the transaction, including evidence of payment, have yet to be released by the mayor’s office.)
More than a few city hall insiders note that Sanders has taken full advantage of the strong mayor system of government approved by voters a year and a half ago.
Though afraid to go on the record, more than one city staffer claims that Sanders and his people pay little attention to the city council’s prerogatives under the law, as exemplified by the Snapdragon tangle. The measure that ultimately tilted the City’s balance of power in favor of the mayor, June 2010’s Proposition D, was backed by a host of major business interests, including Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan. They gave a total of $10,000 to the campaign committee, which ironically called itself San Diegans for Accountability at City Hall. The couple had given maximum contributions to Sanders’s 2008 reelection bid.
But the key to the city council’s quiescence about the Snapdragon deal, some observers say, is the fact that Jacobs, his family members, and Qualcomm colleagues have backed many other city politicos. Even those whom Jacobs and the company haven’t supported in the past are looking for future money from the La Jolla billionaire and his friends, the sources say. Jacobs has been an Obama backer. The couple’s local political causes have included the election of Democrat Marti Emerald to the city council and a failed 2008 city attorney bid by GOP councilman Brian Maienschein. The couple also gave the maximum to Emerald’s failed Republican opponent, April Boling. Mrs. Jacobs has backed Democrat Todd Gloria and joined her husband in supporting Democrat Scott Peters for city attorney in 2008. They gave the maximum to Democratic city councilwoman Sherri Lightner in 2008 and are expected to do the same this year. The couple’s pick for mayor this year is GOP district attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Others with close ties to Qualcomm have also been major financial players in San Diego races. Including Jacobs, company employees gave a total of $4331 to Sanders in 2008.