San Diego Ann Jarmusch, architecture critic of the San Diego Union-Tribune, calls the proposed convention center expansion "a disaster that robs the public of access to the waterfront. If Proposition A passes and the $216 million expansion project is built as planned by the San Diego Unified Port District, residents can wave farewell to most of the city's waterfront south of G Street.
"We won't be able to see San Diego Bay, smell it, or feel its breezes because of all the buildings between the downtown and the bay. Nor would we be proud of the expensive new building that would alarmingly contribute to a trend to wall off the bay.
"We are going to have to live with a monumental hulk of uninspired architecture and major design mistakes, many of them impeding public access to the waterfront.
"The architectural message we get from the proposed expansion is that San Diego doesn't care about design quality in its public works nor the impact of huge tourist facilities on a relatively small downtown and a ravaged urban waterfront."
San Diego television stations tell another story. In a series of commercials, the smiling faces of a much-beloved Catholic monsignor and a studious-looking, bearded young man identified as head of a "taxpayers association" assure the public that the proposal is "good for all of us" and will be built "without a penny to taxpayers."
Other than the paid spots and their glowing reviews, no word, either pro or con, about the proposal that has appeared up until the week before the election on local TV news broadcasts, except for an appearance two weeks ago by fallen ex-mayor Roger Hedgecock, a proponent of the expansion, on kusi, which gave $25,000 to the pro-Proposition A campaign war chest.
Nor have any of the five San Diego TV stations, which hold federal licenses that are supposed to require them to operate in the "public interest," offered any time to debate the only local proposition on the June ballot, a measure that if passed would obligate city taxpayers to make at least $400 million of debt payments over the next 30 years.
Instead, the nbc-owned station ran hours' worth of coverage promoting Seinfeld, the network's lucrative sitcom, and one station, owned by the powerful Tribune Co. in Chicago, doesn't even have a newscast.
To the question of whether it is fair to allow one side of a campaign to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars of commercial air time and not provide at least some form of information from other perspectives, knsd general manager Neil Derrough says he's not required to provide any sort of coverage. "If people aren't able to raise any money to buy their own spots, then that usually says something," Derrough said in an interview two weeks ago. "At this point I don't feel that there's any reason to do anything. We're not in the business of giving free time away."
Thus, in San Diego, as elsewhere in today's American politics, money buys power. And if the Union-Tribune's Jarmusch is to be believed, it may soon buy what remains of the downtown waterfront -- if Proposition A passes. According to the campaign statements filed by both sides on the convention center issue, the haves have way more money than the have-nots. For the record, it is noted that the anti-Prop A forces have enjoyed the financial support of James Holman, this newspaper's editor and publisher. He has contributed $20,500 over the past seven weeks. Total contributions to the No on A group, Citizens Against Corporate Welfare, total $21,062. The balance was given in small amounts by retirees throughout the city.
Proponents of Prop A, on the other hand, have raised $782,239.88 on their way to their promised goal of $800,000 and perhaps well beyond. Three hundred seven thousand dollars has come from outside of San Diego, from a variety of corporations and industry groups, ranging from the $3 billion Alliant Food Service distributor of Santa Ana to Anheuser-Busch, owner of Sea World, to ges Exposition Services of Las Vegas, to the Newport Meat Company of Irvine, to Pacific Telesis of San Francisco, to Pardee Construction Co. of Los Angeles, to Promus Hotel Corp. of Memphis, to Southern Wine and Spirits of Cerritos.
Local corporations behind the pro-A forces include kusi, the television station owned by Michael McKinnon, which gave $25,000; San Diego Gas & Electric, which gave $25,500; Cox Cable, which holds a city-sanctioned cable TV monopoly; the Excel Legacy Corporation, a local real estate investment trust; and Coast Distributing Co., the local Budweiser distributor owned by one-time Republican congressional aide and politico Leon Parma.
None of these corporations, nor those on the list that follows, have before been identified with the convention center financing plan. Many have motives and agendas well beyond that of simple passage of the convention center expansion. None appear on the glitzy television spots or full-color brochures of the Yes-on-A campaign. But together they form a network of power so strong that they have achieved a stranglehold on local airwaves and opinion-makers. Whether or not it succeeds next Tuesday -- the same bunch of special interests can be counted on soon to be back for more.
Special Interests Line Up Behind Proposition A
Below are some of the special interests who are bankrolling the
Yes-on-A campaign and the amount each has contributed as of May 16.
San Diego Padres
Owned by John Moores and Larry Lucchino, two relatively recent San Diego transplants, the Padres are lobbying hard for a new $400 million stadium near the would-be site of the convention center expansion. A long-time friend of Bill Clinton and large political giver who was forced to testify to the Whitewater grand jury regarding his employment of Webb Hubbell (the former Clinton insider convicted of defrauding his former law partners), Moores has threatened to take his team to another city if a sufficient subsidy to build a new stadium can't be worked out. Although Moores is still in secret negotiations with the city council over the terms of the deal, one key is use property taxes paid by hoped-for construction of downtown hotels and office buildings near the proposed ballpark. Room taxes paid by those staying in the hotels would also provide part of the city's subsidy to Moores. Of course, if used to pay for a baseball stadium, the taxes wouldn't go into the city's general fund to pay for libraries, roads, parks, and other services for ordinary citizens. Defeat of the convention center proposal would thus deal a direct blow to Moores's financial interests.