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by Bob McPhail

Politics in Imperial Beach is like a football game without a clock: the game is never over, there are lots of injuries, and no one ever wins. The apparent losers of a 1985 political battle over the future of oceanfront development in the city have not only refused to give up, they have moved the game to a different arena where the referees wear block robes instead of striped shirts.

Former I.B. planning director James D. Sandoval, now planning director for the city of Del Mar, has complained in San Diego Superior Court that he was illegally removed from the game by the new, anti-redevelopment majority elected to the city council in 1986. He names Mayor Henry Smith, Councilman John Mahoney, and Councilwoman Tommie Schuette as defendants, as well as private citizen Thomas Lindley, an anti-redevelopment leader and beachfront property owner whose financial backing helped scuttle redevelopment and install the new team leaders. Sandoval alleges the defendants conspired to fire him for political reasons.

Four months after Sandoval filed his lawsuit, former city attorney Clifton Reed also appealed to the black-robed referees over his removal from I.B.’s first string. Reed named Smith, Mahoney and Lindley as defendants also but added Councilman J.M. “Bud” Harbin and another private citizen and redevelopment foe, Don Cash, who also owns beachfront property. Reed also claims politics was behind his firing.

In March Lindley filed a cross-complaint to Sandoval’s suit, claiming he had been pulled from the stands as a wildly cheering fan and roughed up by an offensive line composed of Sandoval, Harbin and former Imperial Beach Mayor Brian Bilbray. Lindley asserts that the defendants in his cross-complaint punished him for his participation in the political process.

In the meantime, the county grand jury has been throwing yellow flags all over the playing field. The grand jury issued a 1987 report critical of the city’s political gamesmanship, and the current grand jury began an investigation in April to see how team owners plan to pay for the endless game.

The coaches and their assistants on the city council also have asked for help from the judicial whistleblowers. They want the courts to help them recoup losses of more than $580,000 stemming from some bad 1986 investments with E.F. Hutton.

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