Pronouncing what is perhaps the most unsubtle explanation to date on the mess in the East Village is Deputy District Attorney Dave Stutz. “If Moores goes down, the ballpark goes down.” Because of that fact, he believes there were too few suspicions followed and too few inquiries made by local investigatory bodies. For Stutz, “the whole thing stinks.”
More conciliatory is Casey Gwinn. “If the Stallings gift-issue teaches us anything,” he said, “it is that you can have attempts at influence that don’t fall within your current statutes and ordinances.”
Into the chasm between gift-giving and gift-receiving swoops San Diego’s tireless fiscal hawk, J. Bruce Henderson. Henderson has for several years now been battling the City of San Diego and John Moores, the owner of the Padres and JMI Realty. JMI Realty is the real estate development and investment arm of JMI Inc., a John Moores company. JMI Realty is the master developer of property (hotels, office space, and retail space) adjacent to the new stadium. Moores’s exclusive right to develop the 26-block site south of Market, which includes the contract to build the ballpark itself, was secured by the Memorandum of Understanding. This is a legal agreement between the Padres, the Centre City Development Corporation, the Port Commission, the City of San Diego, and other entities. The agreement was passed by voters in November 1998, as Proposition C.
According to the San Diego Metropolitan, JMI Realty’s real estate in the ballpark district now exceeds “$600 million in assessed property values, more than doubling the firm’s obligation to the city of San Diego.” While other builders, bankers, and developers are putting up commercial buildings in the East Village, JMI’s slice of the downtown pie continues to grow — office space has risen from 600,000 square feet to 766,000; retail space, from 150,000 to 215,000 square feet; and hotel rooms from 850 to 1237. The more development of the district, the greater the profits for JMI.
In general, Henderson is critical of this exclusive right the city council negotiated with Moores and his companies in redeveloping downtown. In particular, Henderson believes Moores’s incessant lobbying of city councilmembers tainted the entire construction contract and real estate transaction between JMI Realty, the Padres, and the city council before Proposition C was passed.
Henderson, who represents several citizens’ lawsuits against the city, has been tagged by some San Diegans as the bogeyman of city hall. But lately that epithet is being rethought. The Moores-Stallings inquiry brought construction of the ballpark to a halt, not Henderson’s suits. What’s more, Patrick C. Shea, former chairman of the City of San Diego Task Force on Ballpark Planning, wrote recently in the Union-Tribune that “the ballpark project likely would have been interrupted for economic reasons regardless of the [Moores-Stallings] investigation.” On this note, Mayor Murphy has deleted the 1200-room Campbell Shipyard hotel from the once-certain list of ballpark-funding sources. Today it looks as though the Campbell hotel will not get built anytime soon and, thus, cannot pony up its share of the debt service. With none of Henderson’s seed, the little cloud over financing has become a thunderhead, casting a pall on the rebar-sprouting pillars of the stalled stadium.
In mid-February Henderson filed a Second Amended Complaint of his lawsuit against the City of San Diego. The amended complaint includes details of the gift-rich relationship Moores fostered with Stallings. In the suit’s revision, Henderson, who represents plaintiffs Bruce Skane and Jerry Mailhot in this complaint, alleges that Stallings and Moores conspired to mislead the people. The “Gift-by-Command Conspiracy,” as the complaint describes it, began in 1996. Stallings was “commanded” not to report the gifts Moores gave her and to use her “bought-and-paid-for” influence with other city officials to curry favor for the ballpark. But the chief deception is that the voters of San Diego were not fully informed of Moores and Stallings’s relationship. Had they been, according to Henderson, “they would have considered that information important” in voting on Prop C. Therefore, he argues, the vote on the agreement is “a nullity.” The vote is voidable, for undue influence existed at the heart of its formation.
Henderson says the plea has given him and the people the smoking gun. In prepping for his day in court, he squares the opposing sides like this: On one side, the city says, “ ‘Sure, Stallings has disclosed this relationship. And we’ve revoted’ ” — which the council did on March 7 — “ ‘so everything’s now OK, after we learned about it.’ ” To which Henderson will counter, “What about the people? This relationship that caused you to revote goes back prior to the vote of November 1998. If you got to revote, well, why don’t the voters of the City of San Diego get to have a fully informed vote?” He believes the city doesn’t want the voters to vote again because they might not approve the $453 million project. With Ralph Inzunza in District 8 voting yes and (perhaps) the newest councilmember in District 6 agreeing, the ballpark project will once again be affirmed at 9 to 0. But, Henderson asks, when do the people get their say?
Henderson has problems with the U.S. Attorney’s exonerating Moores. “He had limited his investigation to the question of whether or not John Moores had violated any laws by giving gifts. He didn’t look at the lobbying law; he obviously assumed that John Moores was not a lobbyist. He just looked at the question, is it a violation of law for a donor to give gifts in excess of the limit under the Political Reform Act?” That limit is set each year; this year it is $320. “By a very peculiar anomaly of Prop 208” — which is the Political Reform Act — “it’s not a crime. It was supposed to be a crime, but it’s not a crime. The U.S. Attorney put these gigantic blinders on. There is one thing we know isn’t a crime in California, and that’s for a donor to make a gift in excess of the limit, so let’s not look at anything regarding John Moores. Then we can stand up and say, ‘There’s absolutely no evidence that Moores violated the law.’ ”