October 6, 2000
David Schlesinger, who supervised the decade-long multibillion-dollar upgrade of San Diego's sewer system has suddenly quit. "This has been an engineer's dream job," Schlesinger was quoted by the U-T as saying. "You don't get a chance to build nearly $2 billion worth of projects very often." Said Mayor Susan Golding, "He's going to be greatly missed by all citizens, even if they don't know it."
October 18, 2000
The city council has decided to appeal a $3.47 million fine levied by the state for the massive February sewage spill. Deliberating in closed session, the council voted 6-1 to reject a compromise plan that called for deferral of $2 million of the fine if the city had completed a series of environmental projects. "The city is showing its true colors," Nicole Capretz of the Environmental Health Coalition told the U-T.
In rejecting the compromise settlement, city council members called the spill an "act of nature."
The Valerie Stallings Affair
April 6, 2000
The day Neon Systems, a Houston-based software maker, went public on March 5, 1999, its price shot from $15 to almost $27 a share, according to news accounts. And San Diego City Council member Valerie Stallings was along for the ride, to the tune of between $10,000 and $100,000, according to the 1999 financial-disclosure statement she's just filed. Stallings reported she sold off the stock three weeks later, on March 31, 1999, right around the time the price spiked at about $50 a share. The man behind Neon? None other than Padres owner John Moores, whose JMI Equity fund was a founding investor in Neon, and in a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission in March, Moores reported personally controlling 2,366,842 shares in the company. He was involved for years in a nasty lawsuit with the new owners BMC -- another software outfit he founded -- over whether Neon had lifted some trade secrets that belonged to BMC. The case was settled last November, giving Neon shares a boost. Stallings's disclosure shows she bought another lot of the Neon stock, also valued at between $10,000 and $100,000, on November 26, 1999, when the shares were trading in the mid-20s. Lately, they've rebounded to the mid-30s. Stallings is one of Moores's biggest supporters in his effort to build a taxpayer-subsidized baseball stadium downtown.
April 21, 2000
Two weeks later, on April 21, the Union-Tribune followed up:
"San Diego City Councilwoman Valerie Stallings made a killing last year on the initial public offering of stock in a software company headed by Padres owner John Moores, generating a huge profit during the same period the council weighed the future of the Padres' ballpark project.
"The legality of Stallings's investment -- her only reported foray into stocks in nine years of public life -- is unclear, because key facts remain unknown and Stallings refused several requests for an interview. Legal and financial professionals say her investments raise troubling ethical issues."
October 13, 2000
Six months later, on October 13, the U-T reported it had won a San Diego Press Club award for its April 21 story:
"Union-Tribune staff writer Philip J. LaVelle won a Best of Show award for 'Stallings Profited in Moores Firm IPO,' a story about how San Diego City Councilwoman Valerie Stallings made money on the initial public offering of stock in a company headed by Padres owner John Moores during a time the council was weighing the Padres' ballpark project."
Meets the Internet
April 13, 2000
Timing is everything. For self-employed journalist Evan Weiner, it was good. For Chargers football team owner Alex Spanos, it was bad.
Their chance encounter and brief conversation in the luxurious Breakers' hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, in April resulted in a scoop for Weiner and a public-relations snafu for Spanos and his staff. Spanos expressed his desire for a new stadium to replace the recently remodeled Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and Weiner parlayed that into a news story for TodaysSports.com, an Internet news service.
Caught off guard, sportswriters for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the North County Times scrambled to catch up. They speculated whether Spanos would take the Chargers to another city and noted the awkward timing of his remarks. The City of San Diego is on the brink of issuing $299 million in bonds to finance a new baseball stadium despite cost overruns of $74 million and a shortfall in hotel taxes that are supposed to support the project. Only three years ago, the city spent $78 million to upgrade Qualcomm Stadium for the Chargers. The city's commitment to buy unsold Chargers tickets exceeded $5 million this past football season.
That Spanos would say he wants a new stadium when the city appears overextended financially had at least one radio announcer wondering whether the 76-year-old multimillionaire was having "an elderly moment." A television broadcast suggested Spanos's comments to TodaysSports.com were "off the record," meaning not intended for publication. In a subsequent interview with the North County Times, Spanos said, "I was not taken in the right context." Chargers publicist Bill Johnston told the Union-Tribune, "Mr. Spanos feels bad about what happened. It didn't come out the way he meant it." Johnston did not return telephone calls from the Reader.
Weiner is annoyed by the notion that Spanos didn't realize he was being interviewed by a journalist. "The National Football League and the San Diego Chargers tried to put a spin on this later," Weiner said. "I don't want to be in a position of defending Alex Spanos, but he's a very smart man. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was quite clear, quite firm, quite direct. He's not being spoon-fed at this age of his life.
"What got to me was Spanos was almost jealous of the Padres getting a ballpark," Weiner said. "When an owner says he wants a stadium, it's a story. It's up to the local media whether the story has legs. In my mind, the bigger story is Spanos saying, 'The Padres got a new stadium, and we didn't.' "