By any standards, 1998 was a seminal year for San Diego. In just one year, the city s one-time pro-environment, managed growth, fiscally conservative electorate heeded the calls by its establishment leaders — Susan Golding, Malin Burnham, Neil Morgan, Byron Wear — to break the bank, expanding its convention center at the cost of $300 million, build a new, $450 million downtown baseball-only stadium, and adopt a $1.5 billion school bond measure. Who would have believed it?
Of course, the city s corporate media lent a hand. Beloved TV sportscaster Ted Leitner became an all-out flack for the ballpark, upon which much of his multi-million dollar livilihood depends. Cox Cable, which has an exclusive, city council granted franchise to much of the city's cable-TV market, and which also has a broadcast deal with the Padres, ran seemingly ceaseless promotions for both the convention center and the baseball stadium, without providing opponents any time to rebut. Broadcast television stations did the same. Outspent 700-to-one, it wasn't much of a mystery why opponents lost big.
Backers of the projects claimed they would not require any tax increases, playing a shell game with various city funds, and voters went along. Only after the election was over was it revealed that a new one-half cent sales tax was needed to maintain libraries. Meantime, the multimillion dollar taxpayer subsidy to the Chargers continued unabated, and most of the Padres players who had endorsed the baseball stadium ballot measure abandoned ship for multimillion dollar contracts with teams in other cities.
But if voters seemed complacent about big-spending projects, they were not as tolerant of the politicos behind them. Chris Kehoe, the openly lesbian city councilwoman who was a die-hard supporter of the Chargers deal until pollsters for her congressional campaign told her voters didn't like it, was ultimately defeated by her support of the city council's plan to convert sewage into drinking water. Though it sounded bad on its face and had some unresolved technical problems, Kehoe and her fellow councilmembers allowed it to proceed with no oversight, ringing up millions of dollars in research and development costs to be passed on to sewer rate payers.
By a razor-thin margin, Kehoe's opponent, Republican Brian Bilbray, defeated her with a series of TV ads mocking Toilet-to-Tap. The election results led Kehoe and her council ally, Susan Golding, to hide the sewage treatment plan, at least for public consumption, though they did nothing to halt the millions of public dollars still being spent on the program.
For Golding, 1998 was without argument a terrible year. She started it by prematurely bowing out of the United States senate campaign she had been hoping to run since she had become mayor. Both the 1996 Republican convention and the 1998 Super Bowl, heavily subsidized by city hall, had been engineered by Golding to hype her political career and statewide profile, all for naught, it turned out, as she left the senate race only a week before the Super Bowl here. Then the mayor was forced onto the sidelines during the dual campaigns for the convention center expansion and the downtown baseball-only stadium. Instead of leading the campaigns, she watched as front people such as Monsignor Joe Carroll, a Roman Catholic priest recruited for his positive community image, appeared on millions of dollars' worth of television spots. As surprising as it might have seemed two years ago, there is little doubt that Golding will become even more politically marginalized during her last full year in office.
What else will 1999 bring? Below are some predictions, and since San Diego remains a predicable place, politics and media-wise, they might not be that farfetched:
John Moores, owner of the cellar-dwelling Padres, will announce he has formed a taxpayer-sponsored Formula One racing team, to be captained by his 30-year-old daughter Jennifer Ann, who was picked up in her red Mercedes Benz on February 23, 1998, by Glendale, Arizona, police for doing 67 mph in a 45 mph zone. Moores, himself a vintage car collector, sued the city of Glendale after it refused to allow Jennifer to attend defensive driving school instead of facing trial on charges that could net her a $500 fine and 30 days in jail upon conviction. A lower court ruled against him in November, but Moores vowed to appeal, and the trial is being held in abeyance. The story has never been reported by the Union-Tribune, though it made headlines in Phoenix.
"San Diego is not a world-class city without a Formula One team," Moores will tell a city hall news conference, flanked by the entire city council, along with the council's official political consultants, Tom Shepard and Ted Leitner. "As I said during last year's stadium campaign, it's good for all of us. Not only will the team create jobs for mechanics at every Mercedes dealership throughout our beautiful city, with Jennifer at the helm, I am sure we can develop a little work for some of the body shops. This is a team every San Diego taxpayer can get behind. Forget the library. Kids need to learn their ABCs the old fashioned way, in the back seat of a Mercedes."
In honor of the Moores announcement, Mayor Susan Golding will call for establishment of the $100 million Larry Lucchino Memorial Downtown Miata Run, to be paid for with hotel taxes paid by visiting Bavarian pastry shop owners. Rest assured, only new tax money generated by our visitors from Bavaria will be used to underwrite this fine event, the mayor will tell a packed news conference. Hotel taxes paid by visiting Japanese Maquiladora managers will still be available to fix those pesky pot holes you folks are always complaining about.
Cox Cable's Channel Four Padres broadcasting staff, led by Dennis I-never-saw-a-sports-star-or-team-owner-or-city-councilman-I-didn't-gush-over Morgino, will be admitted to Scripps Memorial Hospital after going into clinical depression when it is discovered there will be no Super Bowl, X-Games, World Series, Republican Convention, or other taxpayer-subsidized mega event for Cox to hype in 1999. Susan lied! Susan lied! The formerly debonair Morgino will scream as he is led off in a straight-jacket for his first Prozac cocktail. She said we were a shoo-in for the Little League World Series! Taking promotional advantage of the sudden Morgino disappearance, the Cox-owned Web page, San Diego Insider.Com, will tell anxious web surfers that Morgino has simply become disoriented at a party somewhere in the Gaslamp Quarter: To find Dennis, nifty gifts, shopping tips, photo advice, and other cool stuff, click here.