David Dodd 2:33 a.m., May 19
Confidential email reveals Irwin Jacobs's powerful hand in Balboa Park project
Qualcomm billionaire wanted mammoth parking garage to be "almost human-free," spurned idea his money could be used to fix potholes
San Diego's richest man, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, always said that since he was putting up the money for his now-defunct Balboa Park traffic and parking makeover plan, there should be no arguments about how he wanted to spend it.
Emails released last week by the city of San Diego following a request under the state's public records act reveal that Jacobs wasn't hesitant to share his strong opinions with the consultants he had hired and the staff of GOP then-mayor Jerry Sanders in pursuit of his desires.
Among other wishes, the high-tech magnate wanted to minimize future staff to operate his park remake - namely the mammoth garage proposed for the parking lot behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion - by employing robotics.
"Have you looked at further automation in the garage to decrease parking garage staff," Jacobs asked in an email he fired off on February 5. 2011. "Should be almost human-free except for emergencies."
For that matter, the La Jolla billionaire didn't want to waste money on consultants for the project:
"I do not have any details on the consultant work ongoing and planned and the cost estimates for the proposed schedule," he wrote in the confidential email. "I need more details - we need to avoid a blank check approach."
A key target of Jacobs's wrath was California state Historic Preservation Officer M. Wayne Donaldson, who deigned to criticize the billionaire's radical park makeover:
In the sentence on the SPHO (sic), it should be noted that he stated he did not read the submitted proposal. The last paragraph in this There is a Rumor section should go first. The answer sounds much too weak as presently presented and needs to be strengthened.
"We do not believe that A Statement of Overriding Consideration will be needed, but if so, then ... " Also, it is not a rumor but a claim by some. We are saying it is wrong.
Jacobs and his wife Joan subsequently contributed $12,000 to the re-election campaign of Gavin Newsom after the California Lieutenant Governor sent Donaldson a letter warning him to stop criticizing the project.
Added the billionaire:
We should comb through all of the various negative comments and letters and look for others that need response in FAQ.
Jacobs dismissed critics' calls for greater consideration of public transportation to handle park visitors:
New street car and bus routes and transportation continue to be desirable but no near term solution to feasibility nor cost and project does not interfere.
As for alternative uses of his money suggested by some, Jacobs had this to say:
Since no public funds being used, stopping project does not fix pot holes.
Recipients of the Jacobs email included Gerry Braun, an ex-Union-Tribune reporter and former top Sanders aide who now is a $6,000 a month staffer for the Balboa Park centennial committee.