Matthew Lickona 2:29 p.m., May 24
San Diego U-T CEO Suggested Use of Paper's News Clout in Sign Dispute, City Emails Show
John Lynch, chief executive officer of the San Diego U-T, formerly known as the Union-Tribune, thought of ordering the paper to run a story about a threat by the city to fine the U-T for what officials said were illegal banner signs on its Mission Valley building, according to a series of emails released late yesterday by the city of San Diego following a request made under the California Public Records act.
But Lynch said in an email that he would not run such a the story because the U-T was in the midst of applying for a permit for a new electronic "news ticker" and video screen that the paper has proposed to mount on its building, facing the busy state Highway 163 and Interstate 8 interchange.
The first email in the exchange released by the city, dated February 29 of this year, is from Lynch to Second District city councilman Kevin Faulconer.
"Kevin," it begins. "Attached, please find a design of the news crawl and iconic LED video screen.
"John Hadaya and Mariana Buenrostro of San Diego's Ultrasigns will co-ordinate with your office to secure a quick approval.
"Please let me know if you need anything else in order to secure approval.
"Newspapers in general and the U-T specifically, truly need to expand to multi-media platforms if they are to survive.
"Papa Doug [Manchester] and I are excited regarding the potential of the U-T.
"As long time San Diegans we care about our City and want to retain significant employment and a vibrant business at the U-T.
"This signage is an essential part of our strategy.
"We appreciate your assistance in leading the way for approval. Thanks again , Kevin...John"
In a March 13 response to Lynch, Faulconer's chief of staff Katie Hansen wrote:
"Councilmember Faulconer asked me to follow up with you regarding the proposed news crawl and LED video screen for the UT.
"As the Councilmember's Chief of Staff, I will be handling this issue personally and am working directly with the Mayor's office to schedule a meeting to discuss the City approval process.
"I have spoken to your assistant and she is holding two dates and times on your calendar. As soon as the meeting is confirmed I will follow up with her.
"I have copied the Councilmember on this email so you can have his personal email address."
"Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions on my personal cell phone..."
The next email , from Lynch to Councilman Faulconer, is dated April 30 at 9:23 in the morning.
"The UT was sent a citation calling for a fine of $1000 for the banner we have hanging on our building," Lynch wrote.
"Per our meeting, I did not take it down while we are exploring the digital electronic sign.
"Please advise how we should respond.
"Should we proceed now? After the primary? After the fall election? Your counsel?
"What should we do?
"Further to our conversation, I want to proceed seeking approval on the sign. John"
Faulconer's chief of staff Hansen responded at 11:38 am the same day.
"Hi John, The Councilmember received your email and asked me to follow up with you regarding the banner citation you received.
"I have a call into the Mayor's office and Bob Vacchi at Code Compliance regarding the matter.
"Will follow up with you when I have more information about the citation.
"Thank you, Katie Hansen"
At 3:44 pm on May 1, Hansen sent another email to Lynch.
"I spoke with Bob Vacchi this morning regarding the issue with your banner.
"Code Compliance has received several complaints from the public about the banner on the UT building.
"A warning letter has been issued asking for the banner to be removed within a 10 day-time period.
"After the 10 day-time period expires, a citation letter will be issued with a fine if the banner is not removed.
"The City does not have a variance process in the sign ordinance that would allow the UT to display the banner while exploring the digital sign process.
"I would recommend removing the banner to avoid a fine being issued by Code Compliance.
"Councilmember Faulconer is out of town at the moment. He would like to set up a time to discuss the next steps for your digital electronic sign when he returns.
"Would you prefer to schedule an in person meeting or a phone call?"
On May 3, Lynch responded to Hansen.
"Katie, I have instructed that the banner to be taken down.
"If it weren't for the digital sign pending approval, I would instruct our folks to run a piece on how this is so reflective of this city being anti-business.
"We are fighting to keep this business vital and if it were ever to go away, there would be 700 San Diego jobs that go with it...John."
We will report further as we learn more.