San Diego Proposition L, the quarter-percent increase in the sales tax that would have been earmarked for libraries, is dead and buried. And for the county's business, political, and newspaper establishment -- which until Prop L had gone three-for-three with successful election drives on behalf of the convention center expansion, a new Padres stadium, and the $1.5 billion school bond -- the pain and backbiting that always follow a failed campaign have been more excruciating than usual.
The second-guessing started hours after county voters delivered a bare 50.23 percent majority in favor of Prop L, far short of the two-thirds necessary for its passage. That despite a $650,000-plus campaign effort funded by five- and six-figure contributions from every blue-chip business in the county, including the multimillion-dollar real estate development lobby, whose well-funded pro-growth machine has of late become used to bulldozing its way past opposition.
The loss of face was severe. Blame was laid at the door of everyone from the out-of-town political consultant who oversaw the campaign to the decision to hold a $1.7 million special election in hopes a low turnout would benefit the pro-library cause. Others even claimed that the "L stands for Libraries" theme was too cutesy and turned voters off.
For their part, campaign insiders blamed the fact that they were forced to follow the budget-busting ballot propositions of the previous year. They also pointed out that their campaign budget, as rich as it was, was still far smaller than the millions spent by hotel owners and sports moguls to get approval of their own government subsidies.
Of course, with losers come winners, and the many conservative activists who for years have been the traditional butt of Union-Tribune editorial writers were grinning from ear to ear last week. Still, knowing who really won and lost will have to await future developments. The Union-Tribune, a force to be reckoned with, has officially declared open season on Prop L opponents and vowed a continued war to get the tax increase enacted. For the moment, however, here are some immediate results:
LOSER: Helen Copley and the Union-Tribune
Not only did U-T owner Copley personally contribute $10,000 to the pro-L campaign, her paper ran a pro-L editorial campaign, including personal attacks on those who opposed the measure. Copley's favorite charity, the nonprofit Literacy Council, for which she raises money through the annual Dr. Seuss marathon, poured big money into an independent "public awareness" campaign, including bumper stickers saying "Support your Library," which the San Diego city manager ordered affixed to all city-owned vehicles.
WINNER: Bernie Jones
The Union-Tribune letters to the editor page editor featured a stream of anti-Prop L letters, apparently reflecting public opinion, despite the overwhelmingly pro-L coverage that appeared in the rest of the paper.
LOSERS: Eleven U-T reporters whose bylines appeared above a series of unabashed Prop L campaign pieces disguised as news stories published in the weeks before the election. Headlines included:
-- Can't Judge a Library by Its Cover; Del Mar's Says It's Short of Books
-- Valley Center Library Aims to Mend Ragged Edges
-- Rancho Santa Fe Library Sees Need; Branch Seeks to Expand Hours if Initiative Passes
-- Coronado Library Expansion Is Dependent on Tax Proposal
-- Libraries Look to Prop. L for Help; National City Facility Has Run Out of Space
-- Fallbrook Is Aiming for Fresh Chapter; The Library Has Long Been a Cornerstone for the Community
-- New Poway Library Just Needs Books
-- San Marcos Library Is Caught in a Bind; It's Like Judging a Book by Its Cover
-- Prop. L Would Enhance Carlsbad's Planned Main Library
-- Space-short Library in a Bind; A Place to Stand Alone Is Goal in Solana Beach
-- Vista Library Would Enlarge Book Collection; Prop. L Money May Also Lengthen Operating Hours
-- For Chula Vistans, Prop. L Means More Services, Hours
-- Fiscal Fix for Libraries; Ballot Measure to Aid East County Facilities
-- El Cajon Library Now Outdated; Main Facility is Busiest in the County System
-- Prop. L Funding Would Let Oceanside Implement Its 5-year Library Strategy
-- Officials at Escondido's Libraries Say Tax Needed to Serve Growing Populace.
Only three of the stories included token paragraphs describing the views of Prop L naysayers: Libertarian party president Steve Green of Santee, and Chula Vistan Thomas Gibson, described as a "resident and library-card holder who has criticized the use of city money for posters and banners advertising the March 2 vote." Nowhere in any of the Prop L pieces was it disclosed that U-T owner Helen Copley had contributed $10,000 to the measure.
Post-election coverage continued the trend, with headlines such as:
-- Shock felt across South County After Prop. L's Defeat
-- Coastal Cities Say Libraries to Endure; but Prop. L Loss Dashes Hopes in Solana Beach
-- Library Backers Adjust to Defeat; Proposition L's Loss Shocks East County.
WINNER: Emily Dalnodar, a San Diego Daily Transcript writer, who covered both sides of the issue during the campaign. In one piece, headlined "Privatization vs. Public Funds: A Tale of Two Library Systems," Dalnodar wrote about Riverside County's decision to turn operational management of its library system over to a private company.
"Since entering into its management contract with Library Systems and Services Inc. (lssi), Riverside County Librarian Gary Christmas said his system has doubled its services for the same amount of money," Dalnodar reported. "Riverside County's library system operates with an annual budget of $6.5 million, $5 million of which goes to lssi. The 24 branches in 13 different cities serve about 800,000 to 900,000 people. That's about the same size as San Diego county's library system, which apparently can't get by on its $11.97 million budget."
The story went on to quote San Diego County Librarian Marilyn Crouch as saying that lssi wasn't interested in handling the San Diego County system. "They didn't see it as an effort that was worthwhile to them." That was contradicted by lssi vice president Robert Windrow, whom Dalnodar quoted as saying, "There was a lot of interest at one time until a lot of money might be raised in this initiative (Prop L). The decision not to manage the county's system was not made by lssi, it was more the library, the county administration. We would welcome the opportunity to look at the San Diego County Library to see if it made sense to both the county and lssi to outsource some of the services."
Dalnodar reported that lssi "had recently submitted a preliminary proposal to operate the county library's technical services but has yet to receive a response." Then she quoted Crouch as saying "the library's major challenge is infrastructure, which is too big a problem to be solved by privatization. 'All those things are good, but they don't solve our infrastructure right now,' Crouch said. 'We need a jump start before we really move forward.' "
LOSER: Peter Rowe, Union-Tribune columnist, whose peculiar brand of up-close-and-personal insults and attacks diminished his own pro-library arguments and may have backfired to the benefit of anti-L campaigner Richard Rider, whom Rowe disparagingly called "a local Libertarian and chairman-for-life of the Vote No! on Prop. Whatever."
WINNER: Richard Rider
The unrepentant Libertarian, for years ground zero for ad hominem attacks launched by Union-Tribune editorial writers ("The cynical obstructionism peddled by Bruce Henderson, Richard Rider and others is a dead end"; "Libertarian activist Richard Rider, a gadfly who has made a name for himself by opposing major civic projects"; "Richard Rider, our local litigious Libertarian"), finally managed to find a time and issue that resonated with voters.
Long on the losing side of court battles and lopsided election campaigns like the convention center expansion, the Chargers ticket guarantee, and the Padres baseball stadium, Rider used his appearances at 25 community forums, various debates, TV news interviews, his e-mail distribution network, and radio appearances to sell his vision of privatization and counter the Prop L campaign's assertion that local libraries were underfunded compared to national averages.
LOSERS: Library backers, including various Friends of the Library groups across the county, who failed to get involved earlier in the political process of financial-priority setting that actually had begun in 1995 with the Charger ticket guarantee and stadium expansion. As the city council piled up a mountain of debt building the new stadium, convention center expansion, and Padres baseball stadium, many library advocates sat on their hands, failing to raise the mildest question as to whether those mammoth expenditures for sports and tourism were really going to be "free" to taxpayers, as the Union-Tribune contended. Instead, they stood by and watched the Padres get voter approval of a "taxless" stadium that will be supported by the city's general (read library) funds; when it came their turn on the ballot, library backers had to ask voters for two-thirds approval of a sales-tax hike, as it turned out, a losing proposition.
WINNERS: Padres owners John Moores and Larry Lucchino
Moores gave the pro-L forces more than $70,000. The team itself gave another $5000 and co-owner Larry Lucchino, $2500. Malin Burnham, whose namesake company, John Burnham, is now in partners with Moores on the downtown baseball stadium project, gave $25,000. Though Prop L lost, the two multi-millionaires are unlikely to blink an eye. With voter approval of their own project in November, and the Union-Tribune pledging to bring the library tax proposal back sometime soon, Moores and Lucchino are on the verge of harvesting hundreds of millions of dollars of public subsidy for their downtown baseball park and mega real estate development.
WINNERS and LOSERS: Big Money
More than $650,000, much of it from large corporations and individuals known to have an agenda not limited to libraries, poured into the Yes on L campaign in the months before the election. Helen Copley gave $10,000. Sol Price, $15,000, and his son Robert, $10,000. Cox Communications, which has a lucrative city-controlled cable TV franchise, kicked in $50,000. Lennar Homes of Irvine gave $24,800; Sempra Energy, $15,000; Solar Turbines, $15,000; and an outfit called Otay Project, llc out of Irvine, $5000.
Sea World and its parent, Busch Entertainment, which recently won its own electoral battle to exceed the city's coastal height limit, gave a total of $20,000. Catellus Development, which is seeking to have the city of San Diego build a central library on its downtown property near the Santa Fe Depot, kicked in $10,000.
Others whose motives in giving to Prop L might not have been all bookish included Donald Swortwood, the Yellow Cab owner, who gave $10,000. The City of San Diego controls the valuable cab medallions that allow his taxis to operate on city streets and has been considering pleas from other cabbies to issue more medallions and therefore create more competition. Many of Swortwood's cabs carried "Yes on L" bumper stickers, as they had earlier borne "Yes on C" and "Yes on A," for the baseball stadium and convention center expansion. The Chargers football company, still seeking to expand Super Bowl seating at the stadium and recipient of the generous ticket-guarantee subsidy, gave $10,000.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the donations came from EDS, the giant Texas computer company founded by H. Ross Perot. EDS, which is bidding on the county's mammoth data-processing privatization project, provided the pro-L forces $5400. SAIC, the giant high-tech consulting conglomerate from La Jolla, is also bidding on the contract and gave $50,000. The co-chairman of the Yes on L committee, county supervisor Pam Slater, who will provide one of five deciding votes on the contract, reportedly leaned hard on her financial angels to generate cash for the pro-L campaign.
WINNER: Little Money
Disclosure statements show the opponents of Prop L raised less than $5000, which was spent on a last-minute radio advertising campaign. Funds came from Assemblymen Howard Kaloogian and Steve Baldwin and from Reader publisher James Holman, who gave $1000.
WINNER: Roger Hedgecock
The ex-mayor, a rabid supporter of the convention center expansion and downtown baseball stadium, said no to the library tax, though not as vehemently as he had pushed the two earlier measures. Hedgecock can claim he was consistently against new taxes, in that the baseball stadium and convention center measures were said to be "tax free." Now his predictions will be tested: will taxes from tourists and downtown real estate development generated by the baseball stadium will be adequate to fund those projects?
LOSER: Christine Kehoe
The San Diego city councilwoman who nearly beat Republican congressman Brian Bilbray last year hasn't been doing as well lately. She suddenly found herself nudged out of next year's race for Bilbray's seat by Democratic kingmakers who told her instead to run for the assembly seat now occupied by Susan Davis. Then she dodged (and then denied dodging) questions about her position on the city's practice of putting pro-library bumper stickers on city-owned vehicles in the middle of the Prop L campaign. A mixed message at best.
WINNERS: Howard Kaloogian and Steve Baldwin
The two right-wing assemblymembers were about the only elected officials in San Diego county to oppose Prop L. Their endorsement of the anti-L side was played down by the Union-Tribune.
WINNER: John Wertz
The former stadium board chairman and attorney for the pro-L forces picked up a cool $8500 from the Yes on L campaign treasury for getting a superior court judge to ban a paragraph in the ballot statement of the anti-L campaign, asserting that the American Library Association did not have standards for rating libraries.
LOSER: Bill Sannwald
The former city librarian, who was promoted to head of library planning and construction and who campaigned hard for Prop L, may find himself with not so much to do anymore.
WINNER: Robert Magness
The former library commissioner, a longtime thorn in the side of Sannwald, has been arguing for better library efficiencies and against an expensive downtown master library for years.
LOSER: Paul Strand
Dean of San Diego State University's College of Arts and Letters, Strand also runs the SDSU Social Science Research Laboratory, which conducted a poll for the Union-Tribune claiming that 63 percent of likely voters said they would vote yes on Prop L. "Strand said even if the turnout were as low as 11 percent, the measure would likely gain 58 percent approval," the U-T reported. The measure picked up a little more than 50 percent, with a turnout of 25.16 percent.
LOSER: George Mitrovich, Hedgecock's one-time campaign aide and the mercurial veteran of 1983's J. David Dominelli political money-laundering scandal, went on the warpath against the loyal Prop L opposition, questioning its motives and intelligence in less than polite fashion.
"As we proved last year with the adoption of the convention center, ballpark, and school bond measures, people opposed to progress here are in serious decline," Mitrovich said in a February Union-Tribune op-ed piece he co-authored with Malin Burnham, the downtown real estate magnate.
WINNER: Susan Golding for inserting the downtown library into the debate.
Though technically a Prop L supporter, many observers believe she was happy to settle scores with its defeat. Golding's injection of the central library into the debate was telling. The confusion resulting from the argument over whether to use tobacco tax money for the downtown library raised questions about library financing that Prop L proponents didn't want aired.
LOSERS: Fred Register and Jim Madaffer
Register, the highly touted consultant from Altadena who claimed to have won more library bond issues than anybody in California, fell flat in San Diego. And Jim Madaffer, aide to Councilwoman Judy McCarty, reportedly had hoped to launch his campaign to succeed her next year with a solid Prop L win.
WINNERS: John Kern and Larry Remer
The two political consultants who handled the first library tax try back in 1996, getting a 59 percent vote of approval, also made a bid to run this year's campaign and were spurned in favor of Fred Register.
LOSER: Councilwoman Judy McCarty
On the day after the election, the self-styled library champion and leader of the Prop L forces, who also backed the Padres and Chargers deals, declared, Nixon-like: "I would say this is my last big project." Then she offered: "I still think [libraries are] very important, and I'll be thinking of something."
LOSER: San Diego County Taxpayers Association
The Taxpayers Association, which endorsed Prop L, had also supported the stadium expansion, convention center expansion, downtown baseball stadium, and the school bond issue. Board members of the group include Jeanne Bonk, San Diego Chargers; Cherry Dimeff, Sea World of San Diego; Peter Litrenta, Manchester Resorts; Alan Randle, Hyatt Regency; Mary Ball, Cox Communications; and Jon Walz, John Burnham & Company.
WINNER: Richard Gann
Grandson of the late Paul Gann (of Prop 13 fame) and general counsel to Paul Gann's Citizen Committee, the San Diego County attorney signed the anti-L ballot statement.