Susan Luzzaro 6:30 p.m., July 31
Convention Center Embarrasses Self, San Diego Again
In today's Voice of San Diego, Steve Johnson, flack for the convention center, calls Heywood Sanders, professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, "a whack job." In my blog item yesterday (Aug. 28), and in today's (Aug. 29) Voice, Sanders is quoted saying that the draft of the final report of the convention center task force had completely misrepresented what he had told the committee when he appeared before it in May. As Steve Erie, professor of political science and director of the urban studies and planning program at UCSD, says, "Woody Sanders's national reputation is impeccable. He is one of the top urban scholars in the country and is the leading authority on convention centers." Indeed, Sanders's major study for the Brookings Institution several years ago was groundbreaking. It showed how convention centers were vastly overbuilt and a drain on municipal resources, yet cities kept building and expanding them.
In May, Sanders appeared before the task force and "said convention centers were in a bubble and would be overbuilt for five to ten years," says Erie, who attended. "He told them it was the wrong time to talk about expansion," particularly with the economy so weak. Yet the report made it sound like Sanders told the task force to go ahead with the expansion -- that San Diego could be the exception to the rule. But Sanders had said no such thing. Sanders had told the members that the center's statistics were unreliable. After the meeting, Erie and one of his graduate students listened while Sanders told Carol Wallace, head of the center, and Johnson how misleading numbers so often are reported in the center's published stats. For example, the center's consultant counted the Super Bowl and a rock'n roll marathon as conventions. "He [Sanders] told them how the numbers were inflated to make the convention center look good," says Erie. Wallace and Johnson "were devastated about what Woody had to say. It was one of the most embarrassing exchanges I have heard in my life. They didn't even know their consultant was cooking the books."
During the May meeting, one of the members of the committee even asked Sanders if he had ever been in a convention center, remembers Erie. "In San Diego, criticizing is a punishable offense. This is the mark of a second rate, insecure city that can't take constructive criticism." Erie goes on to say that "the whole proposed expansion is ludicrous." Already, the convention center can handle 93% of the kinds of conventions and meetings that are put on around the country. The committee that the mayor of San Diego appointed to study the convention center expansion was "a stacked deck," says Erie. "The results were preordained. This is Amateurville." (There was only one member of that committee who is not a cheerleader for corporate welfare.)
But this is how things are done in San Diego. Statistics are falsified, expert witness testimony is distorted. The establishment doesn't care, because the money for these projects will come from the taxpayers; private capital won't be put up.
After I talked with him Friday, Heywood Sanders agreed to go over the report carefully. I will interview him again Sunday and have a report here.