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San Diego mayor Pete Wilson's memos, finances, and his mark on our city's institutions

Lindbergh Field, sewage, trolley, North City West

The Copley papers were faithful editorial supporters of the mayor. - Image by John Workman
The Copley papers were faithful editorial supporters of the mayor.

Plotting Pete

During his first campaign for mayor, in 1971, Pete Wilson sent a letter to voters exhorting them to compare each mayoral aspirant, “and with each candidate look past the rhetoric to his record. See whether what he’s saying now squares with what he said and how he voted two, three, or five years ago.” That seems like a good idea, now that San Diego’s favorite son is running for office once again.

Pete Wilson's lasting marks

The map on this page is a kind of unauthorized atlas of Pete Wilson’s tenure as mayor of San Diego, between 1971 and 1982. You won’t find many of his proud accomplishments on this map, for this is not a paid political advertisement. Rather, the map notes a few of San Diego’s primary features and how Wilson affected them.

1.LINDBERGH FIELD

The airport problem existed long before Wilson was elected mayor. But 11 years later, when he left the city for the U.S. Senate, it was an even bigger problem. In the 1970s, San Diego’s population grew 24 percent, and the town became the eighth largest city in the U.S.

For all Wilson’s talk about managing growth, relocating the airport to accommodate San Diego’s expansion was never a priority for him, though most political leaders believed that the early 1970s provided the best opportunity to move the airport. But Wilson, who initially was an advocate for building a new airport on Otay Mesa, became strangely passive and pessimistic on the subject once he realized the scope of the task.

Local pundits have asserted that Wilson decided not to waste political capital on a cause he couldn’t win. He was stiff-armed by the local business establishment, which preferred to keep the airport where it was; without the businessmen’s will to move the airport, Wilson would not attempt to generate the political will. At the time, no one knew that Wilson would be the most influential mayor San Diego would see for many years, perhaps decades. The airport problem is the legacy of a man who placed his political future above the long-term needs of the community.

2.BALBOA NAVAL HOSPITAL

The biggest naval hospital in the country sprawls across almost 40 acres of land in Balboa Park, atop an earthquake ifaifrt and beneath Lindbergh Field’s flight path. Pete Wilson’s role in allowing such a thing to happen will not become part of his career highlight film.

Shortly after Wilson became mayor, the Navy made plans to build its new hospital in Murphy Canyon, at the southern end of Tierrasanta. This idea was nixed by U.S. Congressman Bob Wilson, who preferred that the Navy stay in the park; and besides, -developers were casting hungry eyes on the Murphy Canyon acreage. Pete Wilson voiced no opposition to this change in plans and eventually became a supporter of the hospital’s being built in Balboa Park’s Florida Canyon. Even though the city charter stated that such a use of dedicated park land required the approval of two-thirds of the voters,

Wilson helped work out an agreement between the Navy and the city for a swap of 39 acres in Florida Canyon for the adjacent 39-acre site of the Navy’s old hospital on Park Boulevard. After a public outcry, the city council decided to rescind this agreement. Wilson was the one vote against the council’s decision to urge the Navy to consider other sites.

Eventually, a public vote was held on the land swap that would give the Navy its Florida Canyon site, and Wilson campaigned in favor of it. But the measure failed to garner the needed two-thirds of the vote. The Navy started condemnation proceedings anyway. Nine months later, in another election, voters overwhelmingly favored a newly proposed site on Helix Heights, at I-15 and highway 94. Wilson then became a supporter of that site, but it was too late. The momentum within Congress and the Navy was already rolling toward Florida Canyon.

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the decision about where to build the hospital fell to his administration, which presumably would have been friendlier to the Republican Wilson than the Carter Administration had been.

But the mayor took no leadership role in lobbying for a site outside the park and in effect stood by and watched as a large and undeveloped chunk of Balboa Park was grabbed by the federal government.

3.SEWAGE TREATMENT

Another of the city’s dilemmas that is worse now because of Wilson’s approach to it is the question of sewage treatment. He ignored several warnings and allowed the sewer system around Mission Bay to deteriorate to the point that now tourists and residents must suffer constant quarantines on bay waters because of sewage overflows. And Wilson’s attempt to challenge federal government requirements on ocean dumping may have cost the city $1 billion.

Wilson had been a consistent critic of a section of the 1972 lederal Clean Water Act that requires cities dumping sewage into waterways to treat the sewage to secondary levels. He became convinced that this higher level of treatment was unnecessary for ocean dumping, and he led the city’s effort to obtain a waiver from this requirement. Part of his

argument was based on cost: in the mid-’70s, a secondary treatment system would have cost at least $250 million. But while the waiver was being pursued, Wilson failed to ensure that the city was taking steps to secure land and lay other plans for secondary treatment, just in case the waiver wasn’t granted. Although a tentative waiver was granted, the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew it in 1986 and ordered the city to upgrade to secondary treatment.

Wilson might have been right in questioning the need for secondary sewage treatment, but he tyas wrong in believing that the city would retain its exemption from federal clean-water laws. That misjudgment will be expensive. The cost of a secondary sewage system is now estimated to be close to $1.5 billion, before inflation.

4.NORTH CITY WEST

In 1975 Mayor Wilson called the proposal to build some 14,000 homes in North City West “a big mistake.” He urged his council colleagues not to open the city’s northern reaches to development, arguing that such a move would exacerbate city budget deficits and would touch off runaway growth in heretofore undeveloped areas. He declared that allowing homes to be built in Carmel Valley, just east of Del Mar, would violate city growth policies, that the resultant traffic increase would be intolerable, and finally, the price of homes to be built there would be exceedingly high. He was right about all of that, it turns out. But before his dire predictions came true, Wilson did an about-face and became an ardent supporter of the project.

Wilson and his handlers have stated that he flip-flopped on North City West only after he made sure that the development would contain enough schools, parks, and other built-in amenities ordinarily supplied by local government to pay for itself. But in retrospect, an equally logical explanation would seem to be that Wilson realized he needed to befriend the development industry in order to further his political career. The Baldwin Company and its officers and family members, the major developer of North City West, ended up contributing $4000 to Wilson’s senatorial campaign in 1982, to name one of many major developers who gave money to Wilson in his later years as mayor. To name another, Wilson in 1982 had to abstain from voting on developing the Fairbanks Country Club — just the sort of leapfrog development he had once opposed — because he had accepted a $12,000 senatorial campaign loan from Watt Industries, developer of the 314-unit luxury community to the north of North City West. The project won council approval by one vote.

5.TORREY PINES MESA

In his first mayoral campaign, in 1971, candidate Wilson declared his environmentalist convictions and at one point praised the city’s foresight in preserving the city-owned land at Torrey Pines Mesa. Shortly after he was elected, however,

Wilson was cutting deals to sell the land at Torrey Pines Mesa at far less than market rates, arguing that it was more important to attract corporate headquarters and create jobs. The land deals spurred a grand jury probe, which eventually cleared the city of wrongdoing; but the panel received a report that said at least one corporation, Signal Companies, purchased its eight acres of land on Torrey Pines Mesa for half the price of adjoining city land.

Signal’s president, Forrest Shumway, was a major financial backer of Wilson’s campaigns. Other corporations eventually sold their land on Torrey Pines Mesa at a profit, after obtaining it at a discount from the city. Many of the corporate headquarters brought into San Diego by the irresistible land deals have since departed.

6.SUNDESERT

In the days before the nuclear power disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the popular notion of deriving cheap and plentiful electricity from the friendly atom was endorsed by many politicians, including Wilson. In the mid-’70s, San Diego Gas & Electric sought to build a large nuclear power plant near Blythe, to be called Sundesert. In order to proceed, the utility would need an exemption from the state’s nuclear safety laws, and Wilson began a vigorous crusade in its behalf.

The campaign also offered Wilson the opportunity to score points against his favorite target, then-Governor Jerry Brown, who had set out to kill the nuke in the desert. In December of 1977, the mayor called a news conference to declare that Sundesert was “absolutely essential” to the economic well-being of San Diego and that “unless there is an expeditious development of nuclear generating capacity, we face an energy shortage in the mid-1980s.”

A reporter asked, “Are the possible safety problems with the plant overshadowed by need for jobs in this area?”

Wilson replied, “Well, I don’t really regard safety as, it’s a major consideration, don’t misunderstand me, but the safety record of nuclear power is excellent.” Addressing public fears of a nuclear meltdown, he added, “I guess it sells newspapers,” and “I will only tell you that I think that there is an infinitely greater hazard of having 40 to 50 percent unemployment,___ that’s a virtual certainty if we don’t have adequate power, than there is in the very remote possibility of some kind of nuclear accident.”

Despite Wilson’s words of support, Brown and his environmental allies canceled a state construction permit, and Sundesert faded quietly into history.

7.SAN DIEGO TROLLEY

When it was time to drive the first spike for the San Diego Trolley* Pete Wilson and Maureen O’Connor proudly posed, silver sledgehammers raised, in the middle of C Street, as a Dixieland band heralded the renewed age of track-borne public transportation. Ever since, Wilson has claimed credit for the trolley’s success. “We brought it in on time and under budget,” he crows in a TV commercial for his gubernatorial bid. But Wilson’s role in the trolley saga could hardly be called one of leadership.

For many years as mayor, Wilson freely proclaimed his doubts about whether any kind of rail system was practical for the city, and he often talked about calling an election in the event such a plan ever neared reality. The real force behind the trolley was then-state Senator James R. Mills, a stern-visaged former schoolteacher who used his powerful legislative position of president pro tern to get state money for his pet project. Mills and Wilson were both strong personalities, and they often clashed. At one point, Wilson accused Mills of having “visions of sugar plums dancing in his head.” Mills attacked Wilson in kind: “I think the real problem is, he is too busy running for governor.”

But Mills had more than words at his disposal; he had his hand firmly on the state till, and he threatened to yank transportation money out of San Diego if the trolley wasn’t built. “Almost everybody was in opposition,” Mills recalled recently. “But hanging out that money for them, telling them it was there if they spent it and they lost it if they didn’t spend it, I felt would be too much of a carrot for them to forgo.”

In late 1978, Wilson finally swung aboard the trolley for good with the announcement that he had personally negotiated the $18.1 million “bargain” purchase of an abandoned railroad right-of-way on which the trolley could be built. Although the deal had been engineered primarily by Metropolitan Transit Development Board chairwoman Maureen O’Connor and her staff, a political decision was made to allow Wilson to take most of the credit.

Trolley forces were well aware that, state money or not, Wilson was still powerful enough to wield effective veto power over the trolley line inside city limits. With Democrat Mills discreetly parked in Sacramento, O’Connor told reporters, “I can get the people on base, but Pete is the Reggie Jackson — he hits the home runs.”

8.HORTON PLAZA

If Pete Wilson could claim title to a single lasting monument in San Diego, the Horton Plaza shopping center would be it. That multicolored shoppers’ maze has drawn hyper-praise from architectural critics, newspaper editorialists, and legions of camera-laden Japanese tourists, for whom it’s now a prime San Diego must-see. Ernest Hahn, who developed the mall with a $40 million city subsidy, even paid two professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study its lessons for the future of mankind.

Wilson consistently sang the center’s praises — from the very beginning, when his simple aspiration was to clean up the underground bathrooms in Horton Plaza park, to the grandiose result, when thousands of balloons and hundreds of gushing local dignitaries filed in to witness the stucco-covered retail miracle.

But what they didn’t see was just as important to the Wilson legacy. For instance, the mayor had long promised a new public library for downtown and originally proposed to include it as part of the Horton redevelopment project. He never followed through, and downtown library patrons must now face dilapidation as they roam the stacks.

Wilson, in fact, hung his entire downtown agenda around the construction of Horton Plaza. When developer Hahn demanded that the city subsidize upscale condominiums and an elaborate convention center downtown in order to proceed with the mall, Wilson agreed to spend the money. And the mayor insisted that Horton Plaza was a panacea that would cure all manner of downtown ailments. Without Horton Plaza, proclaimed Wilson the city planner, ‘‘You really couldn’t have a viable Gaslamp revitalization. The market for the Gaslamp is going to be largely supplied by Horton and, frankly, the two projects will literally feed upon one another.”

9.GASLAMP QUARTER

If all the optimistic proclamations about the impending success of the Gaslamp Quarter were pumped into a balloon, the bulbous orb would float directly to the land of Oz.

But the sad fact is, after almost 15 years of hype and several million dollars in government loans, not to mention dozens of millions in private investment, the Gaslamp Quarter has never looked worse. Retail business has not developed symbiotically with Horton Plaza in the way that Pete Wilson predicted. Countless businesses have failed in the Gaslamp, and part of the blame has to go to Horton Plaza.

For all the talk about Horton Plaza saving the Gaslamp, when it came down to the design of the shopping center, developer Ernie Hahn had it his way. The Fourth Avenue side of the complex would be an ugly gray parking garage, not a row of shops and boutiques that would form a natural pedestrian bond between Horton Plaza and the Gaslamp Quarter. No one ensured that the city’s subsidy to the developer had a string attached that would tie it to benefits for the city’s aging core. Wilson certainly could have insisted on this point, but in his later years in San Diego, many of these seemingly small details went begging for attention. He had elections to attend to. When Pete Wilson was elected to his first term as mayor, the Gaslamp was a lively and interesting place, connected by history and sidewalk to the rest of downtown. Today the Gaslamp is walled off from the Horton Plaza bunker, and it’s withering. It is struggling with a 40 percent vacancy rate, about twice the commercial vacancy rate for the rest of downtown, and merchants are looking to the new convention center as their latest source of salvation.

10.KILLER TUNA

This year, Starkist announced that it would henceforth sell only “dolphin-safe” tuna, which is caught by nets that allow dolphins to escape unharmed. But when Wilson was mayor, most of the tunafishing industry was adamantly opposed to the idea of protecting dolphins, claiming that it threatened the jobs of fishermen, many who lived in San Diego. In 1977 Wilson predicted that 20,000 jobs would be lost in the city. Wilson took the issue up as a personal cause and reassured a constituent, “I have been working diligently with federal officials to lessen the impact of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Some progress has been made but the tuna industry is still severely hampered by federal regulations.”

11.PETE AND THE PRESS

Hiring your press secretaries from the newsroom of the city’s most important daily papers and building solid friendships with their editors is political good sense, as Pete Wilson learned well during his decade as mayor. A month after his 1971 election, Wilson hired his first press secretary, Larry Thomas, then a 24-year-old San Diego Union politics writer, who had covered the Wilson mayoral campaign. Thomas wasn’t just another Union hack. His father Ed had been editor of the Union from 1968 to ’70. And before joining the Union, the younger Thomas had worked at KPBS-TV with Peter Kaye, who had helped run Wilson’s successful mayoral campaign. Kaye later signed on as associate editor of the morning paper, and his son Loren is currently director of research for Wilson’s gubernatorial campaign against Diane Feinstein.

When Larry Thomas left the press secretary’s chair in 1977 to run Wilson’s losing gubernatorial campaign, he was replaced by Union politics reporter Otto Bos. The talent exchange worked the other way in 1982, when Bos’s replacement, Roy Schneider, took a reporting job at the Tribune, where he now works as an editorial writer.

Wilson and the newspapers benefited mutually from this inbreeding. When Tribune columnist Neil Morgan — also a personal friend of the mayor — went on an editorial rampage in 1978 over the decrepit state of downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter, Wilson brought additional attention to the problem by staging a walkthrough press conference at an X-rated bookstore. Wilson also nudged police chief Bill Kolender to order a vicesquad cleanup of the area.

Wilson was there to help again in 1981 when public opinion turned against the Union's effort to rename San Diego Stadium after its late sports editor Jack Murphy. With the apparent assistance of Union editors, Wilson plugged the name-change proposal on national TV, in an interview with Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. That boost helped overcome the opposition. The Copley papers were also faithful editorial supporters of the mayor. When Wilson’s income tax returns became an issue in his 1982 senate campaign, the hometown press was decidedly tardy in covering the story.

The inevitable disagreements sometimes ruptured the calm but were quickly soothed. In 1980, for example, Wilson angered publisher Helen Copley by publicly criticizing her controversial decision to ban birth control and abortion ads from the newspapers. Tribune editor Morgan helped patch things up by inviting Copley and Wilson to one of his monthly “round table” gatherings.

(Paul Krueger also contributed to this story.)

The Paper Trail

Florsheim shoes. Bob White: "I don’t want to hurt my parents feelings."

In 1971, the year Pete Wilson was elected mayor of San Diego, the town’s population was 696,492. Coyotes still claimed roaming rights to the scrub-covered foothills of Scripps Ranch. Tourists could ride a quaint glass elevator on the outside of the El Cortez Hotel to catch the view of the sunset over downtown. C. Arnholt Smith owned the Padres and the city’s biggest bank. The U.S. Navy was the largest employer and arguably the city’s most powerf

Tambo de Oro. Bob White re Wilson press secretary, Larry Thomas: "He spends a lot of money on worldly women."

ul institution. Uncongested new freeways ringed the city. Developer Ernest Hahn had recently opened the Fashion Valley shopping center. And bitter arguments raged about where to build a new international airport to replace overcrowded Lindbergh Field.

Eleven years later, when Wilson relinquished local power to take a seat in the United States Senate, San Diego’s population had grown to 925,000. New houses and other urban development sprawled across vast tracts named Mira Mesa, Scripps Ranch, Tierrasanta, and North City West. Freeways were no longer so uncrowded, but a new trolley line ran from downtown to the border. C. Arnholt Smith had long since retired in disgrace, to be replaced by new financial moguls like R.O. Peterson and Richard Silberman. The El Cortez Hotel was out of business, but Ernest Hahn’s Horton Plaza shopping mall was about to transform downtown’s seedy image. The Navy still held sufficient sway to bulldoze its new hospital into the heart of Balboa Park. And most people had given up on relocating Lindbergh Field.

Not all of the things that happened or didn’t happen during those 11 years can be attributed to Pete Wilson, of course. But the young mayor, elected as a reformer in the wake of a bribery scandal that shook city hall, was destined to become the most influential leader in the city’s modem history. When voters rejected his plans to augment his authority in 1973, he found a way to seize more power anyway. Backed by Helen Copley and the editors of her newspapers, the Union and Tribune, Wilson set off to build a record in San Diego he could use in his candid pursuit of higher office.

As Wilson runs for governor against former San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein this year, his performance here has attracted new scrutiny. And no doubt, musty newspaper clips are being hurriedly unearthed in both the Wilson and Feinstein camps, as the two foes strive to mold their respective records in ways intended to provide maximum benefit for their campaigns.

But some relics of Wilson’s tenure are to be found in rows of brown cardboard boxes still stacked neatly in the depths of city hall. These contain what is left of Mayor Pete Wilson’s official papers — bits and pieces inadvertently left for posterity when he departed for Washington. Some of it provides a frankly unadorned picture of Wilson as politician, his staff, and the people and issues he confronted back in the ’70s. Most of the rest is trivial detail. But it does offer a chance to rummage through bits of Wilson’s unvarnished legacy.

Bob White

Wilson’s top assistant, then as now, was Bob White, who was a traveling representative for his college fraternity when Wilson, a member of the state assembly, first hired him. Based on the correspondence he left behind in city files, White took time from a hectic schedule to write letters in behalf of a variety of non-city causes. To Jon Robertson, apparently a friend living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who needed a job, he wrote:

  • Since you enjoy film editing and have some background in the area, I think it would be a good idea to take a semester internship with a TV station. As we discussed, it is a hell-of-a hard problem to find a job in the medium of TV. I have talked with ... the news director at KGTV, the NBC affiliate in San Diego. He is a good friend and knows the job extraordinarily well. As in the areas of many jobs which would be a pushover, if you had been fortunate to be born black or brown (and he indicates that most whites are being discriminated against because of their color) there would be no problem.

When the Florsheim shoe store in Mission Valley refused to exchange a pair of shoes, White dashed off an indignant, full-page missive on his official city stationery:

  • It was traumatic enough turning 33. But as in all things, there was a good side and that was the fact that my beloved parents gave me a pair of black Florsheim Brougs as a birthday gift. I have worn this style shoe for 10 years. In fact, to make the point, I now own 23 pairs of Florsheims.
  • The problem is that just last week, I purchased a pair of the same shoes that my parents bought me and I do not need two pairs of the same shoes. I took the shoes to the Florsheim Shoe Store in Fashion Valley here in San Diego — a Company owned store, I was informed. I told them that I wanted a pair of black penny loafers. They did not have them and told me to try elsewhere. They also told me they would not take these shoes back because they were purchased in another store.
  • I don’t want to hurt my parents feelings by telling them that I must return the shoes. No other place in town will take them back — I have tried 3 stores....
  • I have spent over $1000 over the last 10 years on Florsheim shoes....
  • I would hate after 10 years of being a good customer to have this end our relationship!

To financier Richard Silberman, then a wealthy supporter of the mayor who was part-owner of the exclusive Tambo de Oro supper club, he wrote on behalf of Wilson press secretary Larry Thomas:

  • Dear Richard:
  • Would it be possible for you to arrange for Larry Thomas of our staff to receive a membership in the Tambo de Oro Club? I think you should know that he spends a lot of money on worldly women, etc. Sincerely,
  • Bob White
  • Executive Assistant.

The Stewardess and the Mayor

Wilson’s long-time campaign chieftan is George Gorton, who was once Nixon’s national college director, earning him an unflattering reference in Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men. In the summer of 1974, while director of the state Republican organization’s finance committee, Gorton wrote Bob White, asking that Wilson send a letter to Pan American airlines in behalf of Gorton’s then-fiancee, an airline stewardess who had been transferred to the East Coast. As a postscript to his typewritten request, Gorton scrawled: “Don’t feel that you have to send it if it is inappropriate. Whatever’s fair!!”

But Wilson followed through, addressing his letter to Pan Am president William Seawell:

  • I am pleased to call your attention to Miss Anneliis Keiv, one of Pan American’s stewardesses. She has been working as a volunteer in our city council office and has devoted many of her leisure hours to the city.
  • Her work has been outstanding....
  • In June, Anneliis was recalled to New York, but has applied for transfer [back] to the west coast. We in San Diego are looking forward to her return to the area.

Pan Am declined to transfer Gorton’s wife-to-be back to the West Coast. The two divorced in 1978.

Pornography

The late/Vincent Miranda controlled both the Pussycat chain of dirty movie houses and the rights to Deep Throat, but he laughed off frequent allegations that he was a mobster. The gruff entrepreneur,,also bankrolled semi-legitimate musicals in a downtown theater he called the Off-Broadway. Although Wilson later condemned Miranda’s pornography and voted to demolish his playhouse to make way for the Horton Plaza shopping mall, the mayor was once one of Miranda’s biggest fans and even gave him the key to the city.

  • Dear Vince:
  • Let me express my appreciation once again for a very enjoyable and entertaining evening. Betty and I both enjoyed the play, the party, and particularly the opportunity to meet you and your associates.
  • As I stated, you have made a great contribution to the cultural aspect of our city and we are very grateful.

That same year, the mayor adopted a surprisingly liberal stance on laws against pornography in a reply to a letter from a local resident angered by the sale of sexually explicit magazines. Argued Wilson:

  • Many citizens, prosecutors, and legislators concerned with the commercialization of pornography and its imposition on unwilling members of the public, are also concerned with protecting basic rights guaranteed to all of us under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Marijuana

Although the Wilson of today is adamantly opposed to anyone who wants to legalize drugs, the younger Pete wasn’t as absolute. He was quoted late in 1971 as saying, “I’ve been involved in finding solutions to the problems of drug abuse, such as the no-bust policy, which permits young users to seek treatment without fear of arrest.” In 1974, a federal commission headed by former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond P. Shafer, an extremely liberal Republican, called for decriminalizing marijuana. “We think this nation has overrelied on coercion to discourage people from using drugs,” proclaimed Shafer. Wilson once introduced Shafer to a local audience, and the mayor later wrote the former governor:

  • Dear Ray:
  • This is just a note to tell you how much I enjoyed being with you all too briefly at the Drug Symposium in Rancho Santa Fe.
  • I think ypu and the other members of the Commission have left a product of inestimable value to those whb are wise enough to make use of it.
  • It was quite a pleasure for me to introduce you to those attending the Symposium.
  • Your speech was delivered with the same forthrightness and clear good sense that marked the report of the Commission.
  • I specially enjoyed our little chat on things political and am grateful for your generous offer to stay in touch and give assistance. I would very | much value your friendship and wise counsel.

The Tippler’s Tax

Wilson, who as a senator has received generous campaign support from the state’s wine lobby, hasn’t yet taken a position on a measure on this November’s ballot to slap a ten percent “sin tax” on both wine and hard liquor. In 1975, however, he saw a proposed “tippler’s tax” as a way to avoid raising property taxes and telegraphed his support to local Democratic Assemblymen Larry Kapiloff and Wadie Deddeh:

  • Strongly urge you reconsider your position with respect to the Tipplers Tax....
  • The city of San Diego is presently contemplating substantial manpower additions to the police department and with it the necessity of a tax rate increase. Your support of the Tippler’s Tax would enable San Diego to deal with that added expense in a way that would greatly mitigate what would otherwise be a burden upon property taxpayers.

Other Taxing Opportunities

These days, Senator Wilson has been pointing out how he kept the property tax rate down during his time in San Diego. But Mayor Wilson often found balancing the city budget a frustrating task. A frequent target of his ire was the United States government, from which he and most other big-city mayors continually demanded more tax money in the form of federal “revenue sharing.” Wilson once even threatened to institute a city income tax if the feds didn’t come through with more cash. This earned him the enmity of many conservatives. In 1976 a frustrated citizen wrote the mayor: “I was stunned at your statement that the only way to solve not getting [more] revenue sharing was to RAISE PROPERTY TAXES?????? WHY DOES IT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE THAT????” To which the mayor replied in kind:

  • I must remind you that in the article I stated that the only alternative to not getting federal revenue sharing is to raise property taxes or (and this is the key word) to make cuts in essential public services. I invite you to re-read the article.

Abortion

Wilson has consistently favored legalized abortion. But as mayor, he usually managed to finesse this position, as shown by two letters he wrote on the same day, November 30, 1972, one to a supporter of legalized abortion and the other to an opponent. To the supporter, he said:

  • I don’t have any ready answers in regard to your question on the best way to convince people on the subject of abortion. I think time will be the best solution. Because it is no longer a criminal act, more and more abortions will take place. When it is no longer an isolated instance, I believe community acceptance will follow.

But to the abortion opponent, he wrote:

I certainly can understand your feelings and I respect the religious conviction you hold.

  • However, as you know, abortion laws are passed or amended by our State Legislature. I suggest that you convey your opinion to your State Assemblyman, Wadie P. Deddeh, State Capitol, Sacramento, California 95814. I’m certain he will be pleased to hear from you.

Gays and Lesbians

In 1977 Wilson declared that the police department should “use discretion in its hiring practices,” especially when homosexuals were involved. A barrage of mail quickly piled up in the office. Mayoral assistant Otto Bos wrote a memo suggesting that Wilson launch an aggressive defense:

  • [The mayor] does not feel it is his role or responsibility to exert leadership in any movement which seeks to advance any particular sexual preference.
  • He has supported the so-called consenting adult law of California, but he also feels that society has an obligation to protect children from overt activities by any sexually-oriented group, whether it be a homosexual or heterosexual one.

Bos concluded the memo by asking: “What do you think. Too bold?”

Apparently so, because Wilson’s standard reply to many of the letters was more reserved:

  • ... I do feel the city is entitled as an employer to screen applicants and exercise discretion in its hiring practices in order to avoid any problems that might occur within certain departments.
  • However, there are apt to be individuals already employed by the city who have shown that their personal conduct does not interfere with the performance of their duties.

A year later, in 1978, Wilson was running for governor in the Republican primary, and his campaign staff wrote a memo that somehow ended up in the mayor’s official mayoral files:

  • The Gay Community in San Francisco is on our backs again.... The community has also endorsed Ken Maddy because he is against the Briggs initiative — the only issue they find of interest. The membership of the Gay Rep. group is a magnificent 30, or possibly, 35, including 6 or 7 people rumored to be straight....
  • Frankly, the scan I get from the more astute observers is that their support will lose more in the south than could possibly be gained in S.F. for a primary.

The Coastal Commission

Wilson rightly claims to be an early supporter of 1972’s Proposition 20, a historic measure that set up the state’s first attempt to regulate development along its coast. But the newly formed coastal commission quickly became controversial. In some cases, it ordered wealthy owners of beachfront mansions to create public access trails through their property. Other commission actions restricted the ability of developers to build apartments along the coast, which bothered Wilson’s Republican constituency. In 1978 Wilson announced:

  • A number of people feel disappointed as I do that the functioning of the commissions has not been in the spirit of the measure that they supported.
  • In San Diego, we recently sought to exempt from coastal commission control a significant part of the existing urbanized area that is largely developed, but we found that to do so would require a greater expenditure of time and money than we think will be required simply to fight individual battles through the process. “

Care and Feeding of the Press

Wilson press secretary Larry Thomas frequently dined and drank with members of the press, with the city picking up the tab. Some reporters did better than others. For instance, Thomas took a Tribune reporter to a pizza parlor. But Jeanie Kasindorf, who wrote a flattering profile of Wilson for New West magazine in February of 1977, was taken to an expensive French restaurant, where Thomas racked up a $72 tab. Another out-of-town reporter merited $56 at the posh Lubach’s.

Some 1976 expenses claimed by Thomas included:

  • Ralph Bennett, Tribune, $13.30, Victoria Station
  • John Beatty, Channel 10, $11.35, Westgate
  • Johnny Apple, New York Times, $26.50, U.S. Grant
  • Peter Kaye and Al Jacoby, Union, $13.40, Bazaar del Mundo
  • Gerald Warren, Union, $8.99, Navajo Canyon Country Club
  • Steve Gibson, Sacramento Bee, $56.05, Lubachs
  • Gerald Warren, Union, $7.62, Navajo Canyon Country Club
  • Ron Hutchinson, UPI, $7.86, The Old Ox
  • B. Bayett, Los Angeles Times, and J. Warren, Union, $59.03, Black Whale
  • Don Learned, Tribune, $13.81, Filippis Pizza Grotto
  • J. Kasindorf, New West, $72.23, Thee Bungalow
  • Peter Kaye, Union, $13.25, Anthony’s Harborside
  • Tom Blair, Tribune, $12.75, Town & Country
  • C. Zite, UPI, $14.41, Smugglers Inn

Travels with Pete

As mayor, Wilson made frequent forays to the East Coast and Europe in search of money and publicity to fuel his political aspirations. According to newspaper reports at the time, the trips were paid for with campaign funds. In January 1978, when he departed for New York and Washington, his itinerary was full of meetings with national media stars and wealthy campaign donors. Wrote press secretary Larry Thomas in a memo to Wilson:

  • I am still seeking meetings, if possible, with William Buckley, George Will, Bob Abernethey, Lawrence Spivak, Richard Reeves, Bob Novak, Sander Vanocur ... and Dick Burgheim (of People).
  • Call Andre Kostelanetz (or I can do it) to confirm we are staying at the Essex and to provide him with a list of possible guests at the dinner party.
  • I suggest we include Dick Duncan, the deputy chief of correspondents for Time Magazine, who set up ypur meeting there. Beyond that, I have no particular suggestions. Some options include Lew Lapham, your friends at Harpers who we can see anytime on Monday or Tuesday; Tony Meyer, one of Pete’s classmates at Yale ... (Meyer is Bill Scranton’s nephew and has some access to the fortune).
  • Call Eli Jacobs and/or Bob Peterson regarding some businessmen or investment people we might meet with in New York to tell them the story of California with the hope that we can hit them later for dough.

The Washington itinerary also included a reference to San Diego Union editor Gerald Warren, a loyal Republican and Wilson stalwart who was “putting together a meeting of some key White House reporters” in Wilson’s behalf.

Pete’s Vacations

Occasionally, Wilson would relax with friends. In the mid- ’70s, he stopped over in Paris after a field trip to the Middle East, paid for by the Israeli government. His secretary advised him that San Diego financier Richard Silberman, then a Wilson backer and close associate, was setting up a special welcome for the mayor:

  • Dick Silberman called. He has been in contact w/his friend in Paris, Jean Louis Solal.
  • Solal will arrange for your arrival ... will meet you at the airport and his car and driver will be at your disposal while you are in Paris.
  • Solal has arranged a party at snazzy places both nights ... with snazzy, interesting people to meet.
  • Dick wanted me to remind you that Solal is pretty important... he’s no lightweight... and he is going out of his way to make your visit memorable. Dick hopes that others involved in planning this trip don’t screw up Solal’s plans by planning contradictory commitments. Solal, by the way, will be in New Orleans on March 4th and 5th.... He is doing that city’s redevelopment project.

Wilson’s secretary added a P.S.: “D.S. wants to know if you’d like to have quiet dinner tomorrow night?”

Another Wilson buddy was Leon Parma, a wealthy Republican fundraiser who owns Coast Distributing, a large beer-distributing franchise in San Diego. Wrote Parma to Wilson and the mayor’s then-wife Betty:

  • Betty & Pete-Get ready!
  • This is “our” place in PV [Puerto Vallarta, Mexico], I’m lining up a tennis court next door if you want to bring your gear.
  • We leave Sat. 11 Nov and return Sat. 18 Nov.
  • Talk to you later.
  • Leon.

He enclosed a 20-page manual describing a large beachfront estate:

  • Quinta Laura is situated south of the city on a cliff which slants down to the sea. The view is superb with palm trees and the bay to the west, and the village to the north.... The master bedroom and one other bedroom have air conditioning (installed at the time of President and Mrs. Nixon’s visit to Quinta Laura).

The booklet also explained such genteel technicalities as the correct way to order food from the household staff: “As language is sometimes a barrier to communication, we have made a special form to facilitate your preferences. At breakfast on your first morning, Jesus will give you a paper asking you to check what times you prefer your meals served.”

Tierrasanta Bombs

In 1973, Christiana Homes was building several thousand new houses on a large tract in Tierrasanta, which it had purchased from the U.S. government. During World War II, the land had been a firing range, and after searching the area, the Army wrote a letter to Wilson warning that there might still be live ammunition buried there:

  • I must emphasize once again that ours was a visual search and recommend that due caution still be taken in the area, as earth movement (either by heavy equipment or natural erosions) may possibly bring further ordnance to the surface ... The Army assumes no liability or responsibility either expressed or implied resulting from this operation.

Ellsworth Pryor, then a Wilson aide, attached a memo to the letter,

I advising the mayor that the Army told him “any further clearing of the area would be the responsibility of Christiana Homes.” There were, said Prior, “still a lot of metal fragments on the surface of the area, and some additional pieces of armament were uncovered in an area that Christiana is | currently working on.”

Tragically, two children later died when a bomb they had uncovered in their neighborhood exploded. Their parents sued the city, but during a deposition in that case, according to the Los Angeles Times, Wilson could remember few details about his role. Tierrasanta developer Christiana and employees were heavy contributors to Wilson’s first senatorial campaign.

Tierrasanta Prison

Today, a controversy rages about the building of a new state prison on the working-class east side of Los Angeles, an option opposed by the residents there. Asked by reporters if he would step in to help block construction, Wilson has said, “I’m not in favor of that particular spot. But the time is probably past where very much can be done about it. I’d prefer to build where people want them.” But when he was mayor, Wilson found the same issue a little closer to home, when he was opposing a youth correctional facility that the Nixon Administration wanted to build next to the middle-class neighborhood of Tierrasanta. After Gerald Ford became president, Wilson persuaded him to kill the project, and the mayor was welcomed back to San Diego like a returning war hero when he announced:

  • I think this really is a very happy thing because it is an instance of a President who appreciates the human dimension and is willing to place that ahead of bureaucratic convenience and simply proceeding with bureaucratic plans.

Better San Francisco than San Diego...

Although it seems inconceivable today, when every television news show in California seems to boast its own environment reporter and politicians are hugging more trees than babies, Wilson actually campaigned for a giant petrochemical plant near San Francisco Bay. In 1977 the Dow Chemical Company wanted to build the $500 million complex at the lower end of the Sacramento River delta, in Contra Costa County, but later pulled out of the deal, blaming then-Governor Jerry Brown and local officials for tying the project up in too much environmental red tape. Wilson took to the hustings, roundly condemning Brown and the state’s environmental regulators for driving Dow out of California:

  • Dow has been faced with a myriad of regional, state and federal regulatory agencies to gain approval for 65 permits needed before construction could begin. Now it would appear that Dow’s money and patience have run out.
  • This decision will probably cost California thousands more jobs once Dow’s decision becomes common knowledge around this country and other businesses and industries are further discouraged from relocating in our state.

Down the Toilet

A protracted argument about sewage occupied much of Wilson’s time as mayor. The federal government was trying to force the city to build secondary treatment facilities before it dumped its waste into the Pacific. The mayor maintained that secondary treatment was unneeded and thus a waste of money. Billions of dollars would be required to build the new system, and Wilson managed to hold off the federal regulators while the city sought relief in Congress.

But Wilson’s delaying strategy later backfired when he failed to get the law changed; city residents now face horrendous increases in their rates to pay for the secondary treatment program, now more expensive than ever. Sixteen years ago, in a letter that seems remarkably prophetic, a Pacific Beach resident wrote the mayor:

  • In the course of ten (10) years it has been determined that the Metropolitan Sewerage System is totally obsolete in view of the future ocean water quality discharge requirements.
  • Yet, you persist in using Grant-in-Aid Funds (taxpayers money without their consent) to purchase, so to speak, “hay for a dying horse.”

Wilson staffer Bob White referred the letter to the city manager, who noted, “No formal response should be necessary at this time.”

Watching a blind trust

How much is Pete Wilson worth, and where is his money invested? Only one person knows, and he isn’t supposed to tell anyone, not even Wilson himself. That is one of the conditions of a blind trust established by the senator and his wife in 1986. Under Senate rules, members may place their assets into the custody of an independent trustee, who has complete authority over how to invest the funds. By insulating the senator from his investments, the blind trust is supposed to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.

Such arrangements, however, are sometimes abused. Trust managers often turn out to be wealthy political supporters who can rustle up investment deals only dreamed about by the average taxpayer. An example is House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat, who selected as his trustee Daniel J. Shannon, an investment advisor with close ties to the Chicago Democratic political machine. That relationship ended after it become known that the congressman had quietly engineered a lucrative tax break for Shannon.

Wilson’s trustee is John Garfield Davies, and it isn’t difficult to imagine why. Their lives, both personal and political, have been intertwined for more than 30 years, ever since the two met while attending law school at U.C.-Berkeley’s prestigious Boalt Hall. Davies, the son of a successful and widely respected Chula Vista attorney, graduated third in his class and opened a law office of his own in San Diego in 1962. Wilson soon moved here and also set up a practice.

But the true passion of the future senator was politics. By 1966 he had been elected to the state assembly and became San Diego’s mayor five years later, in the wake of the Yellow Cab scandal. In the meantime, Davies linked up with a fledgling real estate developer named Christopher (Kit) Sickels. The two men became both business partners and close friends, living next door to each other on Bayside Walk in South Mission Beach, where it was often party time. “That was my interim bachelorhood,” Davies once recalled of the period between his second and third marriages, “We had fun.”

They also made money. Davies acted as attorney in a dazzling array of real estate transactions arranged by Sickels. As the San Diego real estate market roared on, the pair piled up enormous profits on everything from medical offices to industrial parks. Davies and Sickels also got in on the ground floor of a medical technology company called Imed and later enjoyed huge returns when the closely held Arm was purchased for $500 million by Warner Lambert, the pharmaceutical giant.

In 1979 Wilson appointed Davies to the city planning commission, a somewhat obscure body with considerable influence over financially important land-use decisions. Davies soon alienated Scripps Ranch residents by pushing for quick approval of an industrial park at the edge of Miramar Lake proposed by the DAON Corporation, a Canadian developer. It was later disclosed that during the approval process, Davies had been acting as attorney for his friend Sickels in an unrelated joint venture with DAON in Oceanside.

Davies denied any impropriety. “My client is Sickels, and we may have helped him get into a joint venture with DAON, but all of my compensation for it comes from Sickels. I never had anything to do with DAON at all.” Davies’s response was similar regarding his planning commission votes to approve design plans for the Horton Plaza shopping center, across the street from the Grant Hotel, which Sickels was remodeling. Davies said he was only voting on schematics, “just to pass it along to the redevelopment agency with conditions and suggestions as to how it can be revised — I don’t see that that is even an appearance of conflict because it happens I have a client who has property that is near the redevelopment area.”

In the spring of 1982, Davies told an interviewer that he had already raised “between 20 to 30 thousand dollars” for Pete Wilson’s fledgling campaign for the U.S. Senate. As a trusted confidant of the then-mayor, Davies said he had also been assigned to screen prospective campaign contributions for potential conflicts of interest. Later that year, he told the Los Angeles Times that he had arranged for Wilson to stay in rent-free apartments after the future senator separated from his wife and couldn’t afford to pay for his own quarters.

A year later, Davies acted as attorney for both Pete and Betty Wilson in their quiet divorce action. Once elected to the Senate, Wilson put his friend in charge of the influential job of screening candidates for federal judgeships in California. In addition to that assignment, Davies continues to exercise considerable influence over the local downtown redevelopment scene as chairman of the city-owned Centre City Development Corporation, a job conferred on him by erstwhile Wilson ally Maureen O’Connor.

Davies’s winning streak of personal investments also remains unbroken. Last year he and his old partner Kit Sickels came up with about $14 million in cash to buy out more than 20 other competitors, most of them minorities and women, for the license of jazz radio station KIFM. If the ratings hold up, some observers say the station may be worth as much as $30 million in a couple of years.

When Wilson placed his assets into the blind trust, he signed a statement (dated December 19, 1986) that declared, in part, that his trustee is “independent of and unassociated with” the senator. When contacted by phone last week, Davies took exception to the phrasing of a question about the apparent conflict between his long association with Wilson and the wording of the document Wilson signed. “No normal reporter would ask a question that way!” Davies snapped. “I don’t have time to talk to you. Thanks for the call.” Click.

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The Copley papers were faithful editorial supporters of the mayor. - Image by John Workman
The Copley papers were faithful editorial supporters of the mayor.

Plotting Pete

During his first campaign for mayor, in 1971, Pete Wilson sent a letter to voters exhorting them to compare each mayoral aspirant, “and with each candidate look past the rhetoric to his record. See whether what he’s saying now squares with what he said and how he voted two, three, or five years ago.” That seems like a good idea, now that San Diego’s favorite son is running for office once again.

Pete Wilson's lasting marks

The map on this page is a kind of unauthorized atlas of Pete Wilson’s tenure as mayor of San Diego, between 1971 and 1982. You won’t find many of his proud accomplishments on this map, for this is not a paid political advertisement. Rather, the map notes a few of San Diego’s primary features and how Wilson affected them.

1.LINDBERGH FIELD

The airport problem existed long before Wilson was elected mayor. But 11 years later, when he left the city for the U.S. Senate, it was an even bigger problem. In the 1970s, San Diego’s population grew 24 percent, and the town became the eighth largest city in the U.S.

For all Wilson’s talk about managing growth, relocating the airport to accommodate San Diego’s expansion was never a priority for him, though most political leaders believed that the early 1970s provided the best opportunity to move the airport. But Wilson, who initially was an advocate for building a new airport on Otay Mesa, became strangely passive and pessimistic on the subject once he realized the scope of the task.

Local pundits have asserted that Wilson decided not to waste political capital on a cause he couldn’t win. He was stiff-armed by the local business establishment, which preferred to keep the airport where it was; without the businessmen’s will to move the airport, Wilson would not attempt to generate the political will. At the time, no one knew that Wilson would be the most influential mayor San Diego would see for many years, perhaps decades. The airport problem is the legacy of a man who placed his political future above the long-term needs of the community.

2.BALBOA NAVAL HOSPITAL

The biggest naval hospital in the country sprawls across almost 40 acres of land in Balboa Park, atop an earthquake ifaifrt and beneath Lindbergh Field’s flight path. Pete Wilson’s role in allowing such a thing to happen will not become part of his career highlight film.

Shortly after Wilson became mayor, the Navy made plans to build its new hospital in Murphy Canyon, at the southern end of Tierrasanta. This idea was nixed by U.S. Congressman Bob Wilson, who preferred that the Navy stay in the park; and besides, -developers were casting hungry eyes on the Murphy Canyon acreage. Pete Wilson voiced no opposition to this change in plans and eventually became a supporter of the hospital’s being built in Balboa Park’s Florida Canyon. Even though the city charter stated that such a use of dedicated park land required the approval of two-thirds of the voters,

Wilson helped work out an agreement between the Navy and the city for a swap of 39 acres in Florida Canyon for the adjacent 39-acre site of the Navy’s old hospital on Park Boulevard. After a public outcry, the city council decided to rescind this agreement. Wilson was the one vote against the council’s decision to urge the Navy to consider other sites.

Eventually, a public vote was held on the land swap that would give the Navy its Florida Canyon site, and Wilson campaigned in favor of it. But the measure failed to garner the needed two-thirds of the vote. The Navy started condemnation proceedings anyway. Nine months later, in another election, voters overwhelmingly favored a newly proposed site on Helix Heights, at I-15 and highway 94. Wilson then became a supporter of that site, but it was too late. The momentum within Congress and the Navy was already rolling toward Florida Canyon.

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the decision about where to build the hospital fell to his administration, which presumably would have been friendlier to the Republican Wilson than the Carter Administration had been.

But the mayor took no leadership role in lobbying for a site outside the park and in effect stood by and watched as a large and undeveloped chunk of Balboa Park was grabbed by the federal government.

3.SEWAGE TREATMENT

Another of the city’s dilemmas that is worse now because of Wilson’s approach to it is the question of sewage treatment. He ignored several warnings and allowed the sewer system around Mission Bay to deteriorate to the point that now tourists and residents must suffer constant quarantines on bay waters because of sewage overflows. And Wilson’s attempt to challenge federal government requirements on ocean dumping may have cost the city $1 billion.

Wilson had been a consistent critic of a section of the 1972 lederal Clean Water Act that requires cities dumping sewage into waterways to treat the sewage to secondary levels. He became convinced that this higher level of treatment was unnecessary for ocean dumping, and he led the city’s effort to obtain a waiver from this requirement. Part of his

argument was based on cost: in the mid-’70s, a secondary treatment system would have cost at least $250 million. But while the waiver was being pursued, Wilson failed to ensure that the city was taking steps to secure land and lay other plans for secondary treatment, just in case the waiver wasn’t granted. Although a tentative waiver was granted, the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew it in 1986 and ordered the city to upgrade to secondary treatment.

Wilson might have been right in questioning the need for secondary sewage treatment, but he tyas wrong in believing that the city would retain its exemption from federal clean-water laws. That misjudgment will be expensive. The cost of a secondary sewage system is now estimated to be close to $1.5 billion, before inflation.

4.NORTH CITY WEST

In 1975 Mayor Wilson called the proposal to build some 14,000 homes in North City West “a big mistake.” He urged his council colleagues not to open the city’s northern reaches to development, arguing that such a move would exacerbate city budget deficits and would touch off runaway growth in heretofore undeveloped areas. He declared that allowing homes to be built in Carmel Valley, just east of Del Mar, would violate city growth policies, that the resultant traffic increase would be intolerable, and finally, the price of homes to be built there would be exceedingly high. He was right about all of that, it turns out. But before his dire predictions came true, Wilson did an about-face and became an ardent supporter of the project.

Wilson and his handlers have stated that he flip-flopped on North City West only after he made sure that the development would contain enough schools, parks, and other built-in amenities ordinarily supplied by local government to pay for itself. But in retrospect, an equally logical explanation would seem to be that Wilson realized he needed to befriend the development industry in order to further his political career. The Baldwin Company and its officers and family members, the major developer of North City West, ended up contributing $4000 to Wilson’s senatorial campaign in 1982, to name one of many major developers who gave money to Wilson in his later years as mayor. To name another, Wilson in 1982 had to abstain from voting on developing the Fairbanks Country Club — just the sort of leapfrog development he had once opposed — because he had accepted a $12,000 senatorial campaign loan from Watt Industries, developer of the 314-unit luxury community to the north of North City West. The project won council approval by one vote.

5.TORREY PINES MESA

In his first mayoral campaign, in 1971, candidate Wilson declared his environmentalist convictions and at one point praised the city’s foresight in preserving the city-owned land at Torrey Pines Mesa. Shortly after he was elected, however,

Wilson was cutting deals to sell the land at Torrey Pines Mesa at far less than market rates, arguing that it was more important to attract corporate headquarters and create jobs. The land deals spurred a grand jury probe, which eventually cleared the city of wrongdoing; but the panel received a report that said at least one corporation, Signal Companies, purchased its eight acres of land on Torrey Pines Mesa for half the price of adjoining city land.

Signal’s president, Forrest Shumway, was a major financial backer of Wilson’s campaigns. Other corporations eventually sold their land on Torrey Pines Mesa at a profit, after obtaining it at a discount from the city. Many of the corporate headquarters brought into San Diego by the irresistible land deals have since departed.

6.SUNDESERT

In the days before the nuclear power disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the popular notion of deriving cheap and plentiful electricity from the friendly atom was endorsed by many politicians, including Wilson. In the mid-’70s, San Diego Gas & Electric sought to build a large nuclear power plant near Blythe, to be called Sundesert. In order to proceed, the utility would need an exemption from the state’s nuclear safety laws, and Wilson began a vigorous crusade in its behalf.

The campaign also offered Wilson the opportunity to score points against his favorite target, then-Governor Jerry Brown, who had set out to kill the nuke in the desert. In December of 1977, the mayor called a news conference to declare that Sundesert was “absolutely essential” to the economic well-being of San Diego and that “unless there is an expeditious development of nuclear generating capacity, we face an energy shortage in the mid-1980s.”

A reporter asked, “Are the possible safety problems with the plant overshadowed by need for jobs in this area?”

Wilson replied, “Well, I don’t really regard safety as, it’s a major consideration, don’t misunderstand me, but the safety record of nuclear power is excellent.” Addressing public fears of a nuclear meltdown, he added, “I guess it sells newspapers,” and “I will only tell you that I think that there is an infinitely greater hazard of having 40 to 50 percent unemployment,___ that’s a virtual certainty if we don’t have adequate power, than there is in the very remote possibility of some kind of nuclear accident.”

Despite Wilson’s words of support, Brown and his environmental allies canceled a state construction permit, and Sundesert faded quietly into history.

7.SAN DIEGO TROLLEY

When it was time to drive the first spike for the San Diego Trolley* Pete Wilson and Maureen O’Connor proudly posed, silver sledgehammers raised, in the middle of C Street, as a Dixieland band heralded the renewed age of track-borne public transportation. Ever since, Wilson has claimed credit for the trolley’s success. “We brought it in on time and under budget,” he crows in a TV commercial for his gubernatorial bid. But Wilson’s role in the trolley saga could hardly be called one of leadership.

For many years as mayor, Wilson freely proclaimed his doubts about whether any kind of rail system was practical for the city, and he often talked about calling an election in the event such a plan ever neared reality. The real force behind the trolley was then-state Senator James R. Mills, a stern-visaged former schoolteacher who used his powerful legislative position of president pro tern to get state money for his pet project. Mills and Wilson were both strong personalities, and they often clashed. At one point, Wilson accused Mills of having “visions of sugar plums dancing in his head.” Mills attacked Wilson in kind: “I think the real problem is, he is too busy running for governor.”

But Mills had more than words at his disposal; he had his hand firmly on the state till, and he threatened to yank transportation money out of San Diego if the trolley wasn’t built. “Almost everybody was in opposition,” Mills recalled recently. “But hanging out that money for them, telling them it was there if they spent it and they lost it if they didn’t spend it, I felt would be too much of a carrot for them to forgo.”

In late 1978, Wilson finally swung aboard the trolley for good with the announcement that he had personally negotiated the $18.1 million “bargain” purchase of an abandoned railroad right-of-way on which the trolley could be built. Although the deal had been engineered primarily by Metropolitan Transit Development Board chairwoman Maureen O’Connor and her staff, a political decision was made to allow Wilson to take most of the credit.

Trolley forces were well aware that, state money or not, Wilson was still powerful enough to wield effective veto power over the trolley line inside city limits. With Democrat Mills discreetly parked in Sacramento, O’Connor told reporters, “I can get the people on base, but Pete is the Reggie Jackson — he hits the home runs.”

8.HORTON PLAZA

If Pete Wilson could claim title to a single lasting monument in San Diego, the Horton Plaza shopping center would be it. That multicolored shoppers’ maze has drawn hyper-praise from architectural critics, newspaper editorialists, and legions of camera-laden Japanese tourists, for whom it’s now a prime San Diego must-see. Ernest Hahn, who developed the mall with a $40 million city subsidy, even paid two professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study its lessons for the future of mankind.

Wilson consistently sang the center’s praises — from the very beginning, when his simple aspiration was to clean up the underground bathrooms in Horton Plaza park, to the grandiose result, when thousands of balloons and hundreds of gushing local dignitaries filed in to witness the stucco-covered retail miracle.

But what they didn’t see was just as important to the Wilson legacy. For instance, the mayor had long promised a new public library for downtown and originally proposed to include it as part of the Horton redevelopment project. He never followed through, and downtown library patrons must now face dilapidation as they roam the stacks.

Wilson, in fact, hung his entire downtown agenda around the construction of Horton Plaza. When developer Hahn demanded that the city subsidize upscale condominiums and an elaborate convention center downtown in order to proceed with the mall, Wilson agreed to spend the money. And the mayor insisted that Horton Plaza was a panacea that would cure all manner of downtown ailments. Without Horton Plaza, proclaimed Wilson the city planner, ‘‘You really couldn’t have a viable Gaslamp revitalization. The market for the Gaslamp is going to be largely supplied by Horton and, frankly, the two projects will literally feed upon one another.”

9.GASLAMP QUARTER

If all the optimistic proclamations about the impending success of the Gaslamp Quarter were pumped into a balloon, the bulbous orb would float directly to the land of Oz.

But the sad fact is, after almost 15 years of hype and several million dollars in government loans, not to mention dozens of millions in private investment, the Gaslamp Quarter has never looked worse. Retail business has not developed symbiotically with Horton Plaza in the way that Pete Wilson predicted. Countless businesses have failed in the Gaslamp, and part of the blame has to go to Horton Plaza.

For all the talk about Horton Plaza saving the Gaslamp, when it came down to the design of the shopping center, developer Ernie Hahn had it his way. The Fourth Avenue side of the complex would be an ugly gray parking garage, not a row of shops and boutiques that would form a natural pedestrian bond between Horton Plaza and the Gaslamp Quarter. No one ensured that the city’s subsidy to the developer had a string attached that would tie it to benefits for the city’s aging core. Wilson certainly could have insisted on this point, but in his later years in San Diego, many of these seemingly small details went begging for attention. He had elections to attend to. When Pete Wilson was elected to his first term as mayor, the Gaslamp was a lively and interesting place, connected by history and sidewalk to the rest of downtown. Today the Gaslamp is walled off from the Horton Plaza bunker, and it’s withering. It is struggling with a 40 percent vacancy rate, about twice the commercial vacancy rate for the rest of downtown, and merchants are looking to the new convention center as their latest source of salvation.

10.KILLER TUNA

This year, Starkist announced that it would henceforth sell only “dolphin-safe” tuna, which is caught by nets that allow dolphins to escape unharmed. But when Wilson was mayor, most of the tunafishing industry was adamantly opposed to the idea of protecting dolphins, claiming that it threatened the jobs of fishermen, many who lived in San Diego. In 1977 Wilson predicted that 20,000 jobs would be lost in the city. Wilson took the issue up as a personal cause and reassured a constituent, “I have been working diligently with federal officials to lessen the impact of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Some progress has been made but the tuna industry is still severely hampered by federal regulations.”

11.PETE AND THE PRESS

Hiring your press secretaries from the newsroom of the city’s most important daily papers and building solid friendships with their editors is political good sense, as Pete Wilson learned well during his decade as mayor. A month after his 1971 election, Wilson hired his first press secretary, Larry Thomas, then a 24-year-old San Diego Union politics writer, who had covered the Wilson mayoral campaign. Thomas wasn’t just another Union hack. His father Ed had been editor of the Union from 1968 to ’70. And before joining the Union, the younger Thomas had worked at KPBS-TV with Peter Kaye, who had helped run Wilson’s successful mayoral campaign. Kaye later signed on as associate editor of the morning paper, and his son Loren is currently director of research for Wilson’s gubernatorial campaign against Diane Feinstein.

When Larry Thomas left the press secretary’s chair in 1977 to run Wilson’s losing gubernatorial campaign, he was replaced by Union politics reporter Otto Bos. The talent exchange worked the other way in 1982, when Bos’s replacement, Roy Schneider, took a reporting job at the Tribune, where he now works as an editorial writer.

Wilson and the newspapers benefited mutually from this inbreeding. When Tribune columnist Neil Morgan — also a personal friend of the mayor — went on an editorial rampage in 1978 over the decrepit state of downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter, Wilson brought additional attention to the problem by staging a walkthrough press conference at an X-rated bookstore. Wilson also nudged police chief Bill Kolender to order a vicesquad cleanup of the area.

Wilson was there to help again in 1981 when public opinion turned against the Union's effort to rename San Diego Stadium after its late sports editor Jack Murphy. With the apparent assistance of Union editors, Wilson plugged the name-change proposal on national TV, in an interview with Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. That boost helped overcome the opposition. The Copley papers were also faithful editorial supporters of the mayor. When Wilson’s income tax returns became an issue in his 1982 senate campaign, the hometown press was decidedly tardy in covering the story.

The inevitable disagreements sometimes ruptured the calm but were quickly soothed. In 1980, for example, Wilson angered publisher Helen Copley by publicly criticizing her controversial decision to ban birth control and abortion ads from the newspapers. Tribune editor Morgan helped patch things up by inviting Copley and Wilson to one of his monthly “round table” gatherings.

(Paul Krueger also contributed to this story.)

The Paper Trail

Florsheim shoes. Bob White: "I don’t want to hurt my parents feelings."

In 1971, the year Pete Wilson was elected mayor of San Diego, the town’s population was 696,492. Coyotes still claimed roaming rights to the scrub-covered foothills of Scripps Ranch. Tourists could ride a quaint glass elevator on the outside of the El Cortez Hotel to catch the view of the sunset over downtown. C. Arnholt Smith owned the Padres and the city’s biggest bank. The U.S. Navy was the largest employer and arguably the city’s most powerf

Tambo de Oro. Bob White re Wilson press secretary, Larry Thomas: "He spends a lot of money on worldly women."

ul institution. Uncongested new freeways ringed the city. Developer Ernest Hahn had recently opened the Fashion Valley shopping center. And bitter arguments raged about where to build a new international airport to replace overcrowded Lindbergh Field.

Eleven years later, when Wilson relinquished local power to take a seat in the United States Senate, San Diego’s population had grown to 925,000. New houses and other urban development sprawled across vast tracts named Mira Mesa, Scripps Ranch, Tierrasanta, and North City West. Freeways were no longer so uncrowded, but a new trolley line ran from downtown to the border. C. Arnholt Smith had long since retired in disgrace, to be replaced by new financial moguls like R.O. Peterson and Richard Silberman. The El Cortez Hotel was out of business, but Ernest Hahn’s Horton Plaza shopping mall was about to transform downtown’s seedy image. The Navy still held sufficient sway to bulldoze its new hospital into the heart of Balboa Park. And most people had given up on relocating Lindbergh Field.

Not all of the things that happened or didn’t happen during those 11 years can be attributed to Pete Wilson, of course. But the young mayor, elected as a reformer in the wake of a bribery scandal that shook city hall, was destined to become the most influential leader in the city’s modem history. When voters rejected his plans to augment his authority in 1973, he found a way to seize more power anyway. Backed by Helen Copley and the editors of her newspapers, the Union and Tribune, Wilson set off to build a record in San Diego he could use in his candid pursuit of higher office.

As Wilson runs for governor against former San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein this year, his performance here has attracted new scrutiny. And no doubt, musty newspaper clips are being hurriedly unearthed in both the Wilson and Feinstein camps, as the two foes strive to mold their respective records in ways intended to provide maximum benefit for their campaigns.

But some relics of Wilson’s tenure are to be found in rows of brown cardboard boxes still stacked neatly in the depths of city hall. These contain what is left of Mayor Pete Wilson’s official papers — bits and pieces inadvertently left for posterity when he departed for Washington. Some of it provides a frankly unadorned picture of Wilson as politician, his staff, and the people and issues he confronted back in the ’70s. Most of the rest is trivial detail. But it does offer a chance to rummage through bits of Wilson’s unvarnished legacy.

Bob White

Wilson’s top assistant, then as now, was Bob White, who was a traveling representative for his college fraternity when Wilson, a member of the state assembly, first hired him. Based on the correspondence he left behind in city files, White took time from a hectic schedule to write letters in behalf of a variety of non-city causes. To Jon Robertson, apparently a friend living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who needed a job, he wrote:

  • Since you enjoy film editing and have some background in the area, I think it would be a good idea to take a semester internship with a TV station. As we discussed, it is a hell-of-a hard problem to find a job in the medium of TV. I have talked with ... the news director at KGTV, the NBC affiliate in San Diego. He is a good friend and knows the job extraordinarily well. As in the areas of many jobs which would be a pushover, if you had been fortunate to be born black or brown (and he indicates that most whites are being discriminated against because of their color) there would be no problem.

When the Florsheim shoe store in Mission Valley refused to exchange a pair of shoes, White dashed off an indignant, full-page missive on his official city stationery:

  • It was traumatic enough turning 33. But as in all things, there was a good side and that was the fact that my beloved parents gave me a pair of black Florsheim Brougs as a birthday gift. I have worn this style shoe for 10 years. In fact, to make the point, I now own 23 pairs of Florsheims.
  • The problem is that just last week, I purchased a pair of the same shoes that my parents bought me and I do not need two pairs of the same shoes. I took the shoes to the Florsheim Shoe Store in Fashion Valley here in San Diego — a Company owned store, I was informed. I told them that I wanted a pair of black penny loafers. They did not have them and told me to try elsewhere. They also told me they would not take these shoes back because they were purchased in another store.
  • I don’t want to hurt my parents feelings by telling them that I must return the shoes. No other place in town will take them back — I have tried 3 stores....
  • I have spent over $1000 over the last 10 years on Florsheim shoes....
  • I would hate after 10 years of being a good customer to have this end our relationship!

To financier Richard Silberman, then a wealthy supporter of the mayor who was part-owner of the exclusive Tambo de Oro supper club, he wrote on behalf of Wilson press secretary Larry Thomas:

  • Dear Richard:
  • Would it be possible for you to arrange for Larry Thomas of our staff to receive a membership in the Tambo de Oro Club? I think you should know that he spends a lot of money on worldly women, etc. Sincerely,
  • Bob White
  • Executive Assistant.

The Stewardess and the Mayor

Wilson’s long-time campaign chieftan is George Gorton, who was once Nixon’s national college director, earning him an unflattering reference in Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men. In the summer of 1974, while director of the state Republican organization’s finance committee, Gorton wrote Bob White, asking that Wilson send a letter to Pan American airlines in behalf of Gorton’s then-fiancee, an airline stewardess who had been transferred to the East Coast. As a postscript to his typewritten request, Gorton scrawled: “Don’t feel that you have to send it if it is inappropriate. Whatever’s fair!!”

But Wilson followed through, addressing his letter to Pan Am president William Seawell:

  • I am pleased to call your attention to Miss Anneliis Keiv, one of Pan American’s stewardesses. She has been working as a volunteer in our city council office and has devoted many of her leisure hours to the city.
  • Her work has been outstanding....
  • In June, Anneliis was recalled to New York, but has applied for transfer [back] to the west coast. We in San Diego are looking forward to her return to the area.

Pan Am declined to transfer Gorton’s wife-to-be back to the West Coast. The two divorced in 1978.

Pornography

The late/Vincent Miranda controlled both the Pussycat chain of dirty movie houses and the rights to Deep Throat, but he laughed off frequent allegations that he was a mobster. The gruff entrepreneur,,also bankrolled semi-legitimate musicals in a downtown theater he called the Off-Broadway. Although Wilson later condemned Miranda’s pornography and voted to demolish his playhouse to make way for the Horton Plaza shopping mall, the mayor was once one of Miranda’s biggest fans and even gave him the key to the city.

  • Dear Vince:
  • Let me express my appreciation once again for a very enjoyable and entertaining evening. Betty and I both enjoyed the play, the party, and particularly the opportunity to meet you and your associates.
  • As I stated, you have made a great contribution to the cultural aspect of our city and we are very grateful.

That same year, the mayor adopted a surprisingly liberal stance on laws against pornography in a reply to a letter from a local resident angered by the sale of sexually explicit magazines. Argued Wilson:

  • Many citizens, prosecutors, and legislators concerned with the commercialization of pornography and its imposition on unwilling members of the public, are also concerned with protecting basic rights guaranteed to all of us under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Marijuana

Although the Wilson of today is adamantly opposed to anyone who wants to legalize drugs, the younger Pete wasn’t as absolute. He was quoted late in 1971 as saying, “I’ve been involved in finding solutions to the problems of drug abuse, such as the no-bust policy, which permits young users to seek treatment without fear of arrest.” In 1974, a federal commission headed by former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond P. Shafer, an extremely liberal Republican, called for decriminalizing marijuana. “We think this nation has overrelied on coercion to discourage people from using drugs,” proclaimed Shafer. Wilson once introduced Shafer to a local audience, and the mayor later wrote the former governor:

  • Dear Ray:
  • This is just a note to tell you how much I enjoyed being with you all too briefly at the Drug Symposium in Rancho Santa Fe.
  • I think ypu and the other members of the Commission have left a product of inestimable value to those whb are wise enough to make use of it.
  • It was quite a pleasure for me to introduce you to those attending the Symposium.
  • Your speech was delivered with the same forthrightness and clear good sense that marked the report of the Commission.
  • I specially enjoyed our little chat on things political and am grateful for your generous offer to stay in touch and give assistance. I would very | much value your friendship and wise counsel.

The Tippler’s Tax

Wilson, who as a senator has received generous campaign support from the state’s wine lobby, hasn’t yet taken a position on a measure on this November’s ballot to slap a ten percent “sin tax” on both wine and hard liquor. In 1975, however, he saw a proposed “tippler’s tax” as a way to avoid raising property taxes and telegraphed his support to local Democratic Assemblymen Larry Kapiloff and Wadie Deddeh:

  • Strongly urge you reconsider your position with respect to the Tipplers Tax....
  • The city of San Diego is presently contemplating substantial manpower additions to the police department and with it the necessity of a tax rate increase. Your support of the Tippler’s Tax would enable San Diego to deal with that added expense in a way that would greatly mitigate what would otherwise be a burden upon property taxpayers.

Other Taxing Opportunities

These days, Senator Wilson has been pointing out how he kept the property tax rate down during his time in San Diego. But Mayor Wilson often found balancing the city budget a frustrating task. A frequent target of his ire was the United States government, from which he and most other big-city mayors continually demanded more tax money in the form of federal “revenue sharing.” Wilson once even threatened to institute a city income tax if the feds didn’t come through with more cash. This earned him the enmity of many conservatives. In 1976 a frustrated citizen wrote the mayor: “I was stunned at your statement that the only way to solve not getting [more] revenue sharing was to RAISE PROPERTY TAXES?????? WHY DOES IT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE THAT????” To which the mayor replied in kind:

  • I must remind you that in the article I stated that the only alternative to not getting federal revenue sharing is to raise property taxes or (and this is the key word) to make cuts in essential public services. I invite you to re-read the article.

Abortion

Wilson has consistently favored legalized abortion. But as mayor, he usually managed to finesse this position, as shown by two letters he wrote on the same day, November 30, 1972, one to a supporter of legalized abortion and the other to an opponent. To the supporter, he said:

  • I don’t have any ready answers in regard to your question on the best way to convince people on the subject of abortion. I think time will be the best solution. Because it is no longer a criminal act, more and more abortions will take place. When it is no longer an isolated instance, I believe community acceptance will follow.

But to the abortion opponent, he wrote:

I certainly can understand your feelings and I respect the religious conviction you hold.

  • However, as you know, abortion laws are passed or amended by our State Legislature. I suggest that you convey your opinion to your State Assemblyman, Wadie P. Deddeh, State Capitol, Sacramento, California 95814. I’m certain he will be pleased to hear from you.

Gays and Lesbians

In 1977 Wilson declared that the police department should “use discretion in its hiring practices,” especially when homosexuals were involved. A barrage of mail quickly piled up in the office. Mayoral assistant Otto Bos wrote a memo suggesting that Wilson launch an aggressive defense:

  • [The mayor] does not feel it is his role or responsibility to exert leadership in any movement which seeks to advance any particular sexual preference.
  • He has supported the so-called consenting adult law of California, but he also feels that society has an obligation to protect children from overt activities by any sexually-oriented group, whether it be a homosexual or heterosexual one.

Bos concluded the memo by asking: “What do you think. Too bold?”

Apparently so, because Wilson’s standard reply to many of the letters was more reserved:

  • ... I do feel the city is entitled as an employer to screen applicants and exercise discretion in its hiring practices in order to avoid any problems that might occur within certain departments.
  • However, there are apt to be individuals already employed by the city who have shown that their personal conduct does not interfere with the performance of their duties.

A year later, in 1978, Wilson was running for governor in the Republican primary, and his campaign staff wrote a memo that somehow ended up in the mayor’s official mayoral files:

  • The Gay Community in San Francisco is on our backs again.... The community has also endorsed Ken Maddy because he is against the Briggs initiative — the only issue they find of interest. The membership of the Gay Rep. group is a magnificent 30, or possibly, 35, including 6 or 7 people rumored to be straight....
  • Frankly, the scan I get from the more astute observers is that their support will lose more in the south than could possibly be gained in S.F. for a primary.

The Coastal Commission

Wilson rightly claims to be an early supporter of 1972’s Proposition 20, a historic measure that set up the state’s first attempt to regulate development along its coast. But the newly formed coastal commission quickly became controversial. In some cases, it ordered wealthy owners of beachfront mansions to create public access trails through their property. Other commission actions restricted the ability of developers to build apartments along the coast, which bothered Wilson’s Republican constituency. In 1978 Wilson announced:

  • A number of people feel disappointed as I do that the functioning of the commissions has not been in the spirit of the measure that they supported.
  • In San Diego, we recently sought to exempt from coastal commission control a significant part of the existing urbanized area that is largely developed, but we found that to do so would require a greater expenditure of time and money than we think will be required simply to fight individual battles through the process. “

Care and Feeding of the Press

Wilson press secretary Larry Thomas frequently dined and drank with members of the press, with the city picking up the tab. Some reporters did better than others. For instance, Thomas took a Tribune reporter to a pizza parlor. But Jeanie Kasindorf, who wrote a flattering profile of Wilson for New West magazine in February of 1977, was taken to an expensive French restaurant, where Thomas racked up a $72 tab. Another out-of-town reporter merited $56 at the posh Lubach’s.

Some 1976 expenses claimed by Thomas included:

  • Ralph Bennett, Tribune, $13.30, Victoria Station
  • John Beatty, Channel 10, $11.35, Westgate
  • Johnny Apple, New York Times, $26.50, U.S. Grant
  • Peter Kaye and Al Jacoby, Union, $13.40, Bazaar del Mundo
  • Gerald Warren, Union, $8.99, Navajo Canyon Country Club
  • Steve Gibson, Sacramento Bee, $56.05, Lubachs
  • Gerald Warren, Union, $7.62, Navajo Canyon Country Club
  • Ron Hutchinson, UPI, $7.86, The Old Ox
  • B. Bayett, Los Angeles Times, and J. Warren, Union, $59.03, Black Whale
  • Don Learned, Tribune, $13.81, Filippis Pizza Grotto
  • J. Kasindorf, New West, $72.23, Thee Bungalow
  • Peter Kaye, Union, $13.25, Anthony’s Harborside
  • Tom Blair, Tribune, $12.75, Town & Country
  • C. Zite, UPI, $14.41, Smugglers Inn

Travels with Pete

As mayor, Wilson made frequent forays to the East Coast and Europe in search of money and publicity to fuel his political aspirations. According to newspaper reports at the time, the trips were paid for with campaign funds. In January 1978, when he departed for New York and Washington, his itinerary was full of meetings with national media stars and wealthy campaign donors. Wrote press secretary Larry Thomas in a memo to Wilson:

  • I am still seeking meetings, if possible, with William Buckley, George Will, Bob Abernethey, Lawrence Spivak, Richard Reeves, Bob Novak, Sander Vanocur ... and Dick Burgheim (of People).
  • Call Andre Kostelanetz (or I can do it) to confirm we are staying at the Essex and to provide him with a list of possible guests at the dinner party.
  • I suggest we include Dick Duncan, the deputy chief of correspondents for Time Magazine, who set up ypur meeting there. Beyond that, I have no particular suggestions. Some options include Lew Lapham, your friends at Harpers who we can see anytime on Monday or Tuesday; Tony Meyer, one of Pete’s classmates at Yale ... (Meyer is Bill Scranton’s nephew and has some access to the fortune).
  • Call Eli Jacobs and/or Bob Peterson regarding some businessmen or investment people we might meet with in New York to tell them the story of California with the hope that we can hit them later for dough.

The Washington itinerary also included a reference to San Diego Union editor Gerald Warren, a loyal Republican and Wilson stalwart who was “putting together a meeting of some key White House reporters” in Wilson’s behalf.

Pete’s Vacations

Occasionally, Wilson would relax with friends. In the mid- ’70s, he stopped over in Paris after a field trip to the Middle East, paid for by the Israeli government. His secretary advised him that San Diego financier Richard Silberman, then a Wilson backer and close associate, was setting up a special welcome for the mayor:

  • Dick Silberman called. He has been in contact w/his friend in Paris, Jean Louis Solal.
  • Solal will arrange for your arrival ... will meet you at the airport and his car and driver will be at your disposal while you are in Paris.
  • Solal has arranged a party at snazzy places both nights ... with snazzy, interesting people to meet.
  • Dick wanted me to remind you that Solal is pretty important... he’s no lightweight... and he is going out of his way to make your visit memorable. Dick hopes that others involved in planning this trip don’t screw up Solal’s plans by planning contradictory commitments. Solal, by the way, will be in New Orleans on March 4th and 5th.... He is doing that city’s redevelopment project.

Wilson’s secretary added a P.S.: “D.S. wants to know if you’d like to have quiet dinner tomorrow night?”

Another Wilson buddy was Leon Parma, a wealthy Republican fundraiser who owns Coast Distributing, a large beer-distributing franchise in San Diego. Wrote Parma to Wilson and the mayor’s then-wife Betty:

  • Betty & Pete-Get ready!
  • This is “our” place in PV [Puerto Vallarta, Mexico], I’m lining up a tennis court next door if you want to bring your gear.
  • We leave Sat. 11 Nov and return Sat. 18 Nov.
  • Talk to you later.
  • Leon.

He enclosed a 20-page manual describing a large beachfront estate:

  • Quinta Laura is situated south of the city on a cliff which slants down to the sea. The view is superb with palm trees and the bay to the west, and the village to the north.... The master bedroom and one other bedroom have air conditioning (installed at the time of President and Mrs. Nixon’s visit to Quinta Laura).

The booklet also explained such genteel technicalities as the correct way to order food from the household staff: “As language is sometimes a barrier to communication, we have made a special form to facilitate your preferences. At breakfast on your first morning, Jesus will give you a paper asking you to check what times you prefer your meals served.”

Tierrasanta Bombs

In 1973, Christiana Homes was building several thousand new houses on a large tract in Tierrasanta, which it had purchased from the U.S. government. During World War II, the land had been a firing range, and after searching the area, the Army wrote a letter to Wilson warning that there might still be live ammunition buried there:

  • I must emphasize once again that ours was a visual search and recommend that due caution still be taken in the area, as earth movement (either by heavy equipment or natural erosions) may possibly bring further ordnance to the surface ... The Army assumes no liability or responsibility either expressed or implied resulting from this operation.

Ellsworth Pryor, then a Wilson aide, attached a memo to the letter,

I advising the mayor that the Army told him “any further clearing of the area would be the responsibility of Christiana Homes.” There were, said Prior, “still a lot of metal fragments on the surface of the area, and some additional pieces of armament were uncovered in an area that Christiana is | currently working on.”

Tragically, two children later died when a bomb they had uncovered in their neighborhood exploded. Their parents sued the city, but during a deposition in that case, according to the Los Angeles Times, Wilson could remember few details about his role. Tierrasanta developer Christiana and employees were heavy contributors to Wilson’s first senatorial campaign.

Tierrasanta Prison

Today, a controversy rages about the building of a new state prison on the working-class east side of Los Angeles, an option opposed by the residents there. Asked by reporters if he would step in to help block construction, Wilson has said, “I’m not in favor of that particular spot. But the time is probably past where very much can be done about it. I’d prefer to build where people want them.” But when he was mayor, Wilson found the same issue a little closer to home, when he was opposing a youth correctional facility that the Nixon Administration wanted to build next to the middle-class neighborhood of Tierrasanta. After Gerald Ford became president, Wilson persuaded him to kill the project, and the mayor was welcomed back to San Diego like a returning war hero when he announced:

  • I think this really is a very happy thing because it is an instance of a President who appreciates the human dimension and is willing to place that ahead of bureaucratic convenience and simply proceeding with bureaucratic plans.

Better San Francisco than San Diego...

Although it seems inconceivable today, when every television news show in California seems to boast its own environment reporter and politicians are hugging more trees than babies, Wilson actually campaigned for a giant petrochemical plant near San Francisco Bay. In 1977 the Dow Chemical Company wanted to build the $500 million complex at the lower end of the Sacramento River delta, in Contra Costa County, but later pulled out of the deal, blaming then-Governor Jerry Brown and local officials for tying the project up in too much environmental red tape. Wilson took to the hustings, roundly condemning Brown and the state’s environmental regulators for driving Dow out of California:

  • Dow has been faced with a myriad of regional, state and federal regulatory agencies to gain approval for 65 permits needed before construction could begin. Now it would appear that Dow’s money and patience have run out.
  • This decision will probably cost California thousands more jobs once Dow’s decision becomes common knowledge around this country and other businesses and industries are further discouraged from relocating in our state.

Down the Toilet

A protracted argument about sewage occupied much of Wilson’s time as mayor. The federal government was trying to force the city to build secondary treatment facilities before it dumped its waste into the Pacific. The mayor maintained that secondary treatment was unneeded and thus a waste of money. Billions of dollars would be required to build the new system, and Wilson managed to hold off the federal regulators while the city sought relief in Congress.

But Wilson’s delaying strategy later backfired when he failed to get the law changed; city residents now face horrendous increases in their rates to pay for the secondary treatment program, now more expensive than ever. Sixteen years ago, in a letter that seems remarkably prophetic, a Pacific Beach resident wrote the mayor:

  • In the course of ten (10) years it has been determined that the Metropolitan Sewerage System is totally obsolete in view of the future ocean water quality discharge requirements.
  • Yet, you persist in using Grant-in-Aid Funds (taxpayers money without their consent) to purchase, so to speak, “hay for a dying horse.”

Wilson staffer Bob White referred the letter to the city manager, who noted, “No formal response should be necessary at this time.”

Watching a blind trust

How much is Pete Wilson worth, and where is his money invested? Only one person knows, and he isn’t supposed to tell anyone, not even Wilson himself. That is one of the conditions of a blind trust established by the senator and his wife in 1986. Under Senate rules, members may place their assets into the custody of an independent trustee, who has complete authority over how to invest the funds. By insulating the senator from his investments, the blind trust is supposed to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.

Such arrangements, however, are sometimes abused. Trust managers often turn out to be wealthy political supporters who can rustle up investment deals only dreamed about by the average taxpayer. An example is House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat, who selected as his trustee Daniel J. Shannon, an investment advisor with close ties to the Chicago Democratic political machine. That relationship ended after it become known that the congressman had quietly engineered a lucrative tax break for Shannon.

Wilson’s trustee is John Garfield Davies, and it isn’t difficult to imagine why. Their lives, both personal and political, have been intertwined for more than 30 years, ever since the two met while attending law school at U.C.-Berkeley’s prestigious Boalt Hall. Davies, the son of a successful and widely respected Chula Vista attorney, graduated third in his class and opened a law office of his own in San Diego in 1962. Wilson soon moved here and also set up a practice.

But the true passion of the future senator was politics. By 1966 he had been elected to the state assembly and became San Diego’s mayor five years later, in the wake of the Yellow Cab scandal. In the meantime, Davies linked up with a fledgling real estate developer named Christopher (Kit) Sickels. The two men became both business partners and close friends, living next door to each other on Bayside Walk in South Mission Beach, where it was often party time. “That was my interim bachelorhood,” Davies once recalled of the period between his second and third marriages, “We had fun.”

They also made money. Davies acted as attorney in a dazzling array of real estate transactions arranged by Sickels. As the San Diego real estate market roared on, the pair piled up enormous profits on everything from medical offices to industrial parks. Davies and Sickels also got in on the ground floor of a medical technology company called Imed and later enjoyed huge returns when the closely held Arm was purchased for $500 million by Warner Lambert, the pharmaceutical giant.

In 1979 Wilson appointed Davies to the city planning commission, a somewhat obscure body with considerable influence over financially important land-use decisions. Davies soon alienated Scripps Ranch residents by pushing for quick approval of an industrial park at the edge of Miramar Lake proposed by the DAON Corporation, a Canadian developer. It was later disclosed that during the approval process, Davies had been acting as attorney for his friend Sickels in an unrelated joint venture with DAON in Oceanside.

Davies denied any impropriety. “My client is Sickels, and we may have helped him get into a joint venture with DAON, but all of my compensation for it comes from Sickels. I never had anything to do with DAON at all.” Davies’s response was similar regarding his planning commission votes to approve design plans for the Horton Plaza shopping center, across the street from the Grant Hotel, which Sickels was remodeling. Davies said he was only voting on schematics, “just to pass it along to the redevelopment agency with conditions and suggestions as to how it can be revised — I don’t see that that is even an appearance of conflict because it happens I have a client who has property that is near the redevelopment area.”

In the spring of 1982, Davies told an interviewer that he had already raised “between 20 to 30 thousand dollars” for Pete Wilson’s fledgling campaign for the U.S. Senate. As a trusted confidant of the then-mayor, Davies said he had also been assigned to screen prospective campaign contributions for potential conflicts of interest. Later that year, he told the Los Angeles Times that he had arranged for Wilson to stay in rent-free apartments after the future senator separated from his wife and couldn’t afford to pay for his own quarters.

A year later, Davies acted as attorney for both Pete and Betty Wilson in their quiet divorce action. Once elected to the Senate, Wilson put his friend in charge of the influential job of screening candidates for federal judgeships in California. In addition to that assignment, Davies continues to exercise considerable influence over the local downtown redevelopment scene as chairman of the city-owned Centre City Development Corporation, a job conferred on him by erstwhile Wilson ally Maureen O’Connor.

Davies’s winning streak of personal investments also remains unbroken. Last year he and his old partner Kit Sickels came up with about $14 million in cash to buy out more than 20 other competitors, most of them minorities and women, for the license of jazz radio station KIFM. If the ratings hold up, some observers say the station may be worth as much as $30 million in a couple of years.

When Wilson placed his assets into the blind trust, he signed a statement (dated December 19, 1986) that declared, in part, that his trustee is “independent of and unassociated with” the senator. When contacted by phone last week, Davies took exception to the phrasing of a question about the apparent conflict between his long association with Wilson and the wording of the document Wilson signed. “No normal reporter would ask a question that way!” Davies snapped. “I don’t have time to talk to you. Thanks for the call.” Click.

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