San Diego Last summer's revelations about ex- port commissioner David Malcolm's conflicted relationship with Duke Energy should be instructive. It's no secret that developers have been in Chula Vista for a while; South Bay developers seem willing to build whether there we have adequate support services, have reached the threshold point of traffic, have enough water, or have enough schools to accommodate the influx of students. Developers are so eager to keep developing they are willing to build a private toll road, SR 125, which will enable them to expand further eastward.
How ideal: Residents in Chula Vista can live in McMillin Lomas Verdes, and children can attend Corky McMillin Elementary School. Corky McMillin has a public record that, like the tip of an iceberg, exemplifies the way developers are entwined with elected officials.
It was telling when Shirley Horton Grasser (currently Mayor Horton), appointed to fill a vacancy on the Chula Vista City Council in 1991, abstained from her first item of business. According to the Union-Tribune, "Grasser Horton, owner of Grasser Tate Real Estate Co.,...had to abstain from...a public hearing on a Rancho Del Rey development. [She] has stock in a company associated with the development, creating a potential conflict of interest." Corky McMillin was the developer of Rancho Del Rey, a 1584-acre residential and commercial project on East H Street. Moreover, when Horton first came to the city council, her husband worked for a law firm that represented EastLake, another major Chula Vista developer. On Horton's 1994 mayoral campaign-disclosure statements, you don't find contributions from Ma and Pa Chula Vista. It may be understandable why political allies David and Annie Malcolm each contributed the maximum, but what did the people from Bakersfield, Newport Beach, Salinas, Santa Barbara, Irvine, Half Moon Bay, and Laguna want from a future mayor?
Another example of this overlap happened in 1995, when Mayor Horton wanted to appoint John Moot to a vacancy on the city council. (Moot made campaign contributions to Horton's mayoral campaign.) The problem with appointing Moot? His law firm -- Sullivan, Cummins, Wertz, McDade & Wallace -- did legal work for McMillin Development, Inc. The Chula Vista city attorney at that time, Bruce Boogard, warned that a potential conflict of interest "could exist if Moot indirectly benefits as a shareholder in his law firm from McMillin's Chula Vista projects." Would Corky McMillin want to see Moot appointed if he had to recuse himself on issues pertaining to McMillin developments? According to the Union-Tribune, Horton met with McMillin on Horton's way to City Hall "to dispel talk that McMillin was trying to block Moot's possible appointment." The same article quotes McMillin as saying, "There was concern on our part about having a four-person council when we have a good 50 percent of our livelihood depending on what happens in Chula Vista. We weren't in favor of anybody getting appointed to anything if they couldn't vote on any of our stuff."
The Corky McMillin Company sends out a publication (advertisement) called McMillin Lomas Verdes. In the spring 2000 issue, Mayor Horton contributed a letter. "Transportation Enhancements Coming in 2002." No doubt Horton's letter was prompted by the mounting complaints about traffic aired in many public venues by Chula Vista residents. The letter/article was designed to dispel worries and entice prospective buyers. If the buyers were still not forthcoming, in June of this year, Chula Vista held an "informational fair" for potential homebuyers. Aside from realtors and mortgage lenders, representatives from master-planned communities were there to sell their wares. It was no surprise that the Union-Tribune article announcing the fair assured us that "Liz Barela, an assistant marketing director at the Corky McMillin Companies, said her firm will be promoting its newer communities."
In May of this year, an article in the Chula Vista Star-News, "CV candidates are not bought by developer money," quoted city attorney John Kaheny as saying, "Generally speaking, political contributions to a candidate do not constitute a conflict of interest unless you have a specific provision, much like we have, for exceeding $1000 in any four-year period." The article continued, "It's when an individual or principals from a company give a candidate more than $1000 in four years that a council member is required to recuse himself or herself from voting on projects associated with the contributor." Two hundred fifty dollars is also the maximum an individual can contribute.
When I phoned Chula Vista city attorney John Kaheny last July and asked him how long the $1000 limitation had been in effect, he told me since 1989. I verified with him that the word "principal" refers to CEOs, presidents, vice presidents, and managers of a company. When asked who is responsible for checking on possible violations, he said the answer was "complicated." The way the code was written, he explained, did not allow the city attorney to investigate violations because the city attorney is appointed by the council.
By the end of our conversation, it was unclear whose job it was to monitor the contributions. I told him I was inquiring about the limitations because Councilmember Patricia Davis seemed to be in violation of this ruling both in her 1998 campaign and in her recent 2001 campaign for reelection: principals of McMillin had contributed in excess of $1000. I said that I was not aware of a time when Davis had recused herself in regard to a McMillin project. Kaheny agreed that he could not remember such a time. (When later asked by phone if she had ever in her term on city council recused herself from voting on a McMillin project, Davis said, "I cannot recall, but I remember recusing myself on McMillin projects when I was working on the planning commission.")
Davis, who became a city council member in 1998, worked for McMillin Realty for several years before starting her own real estate business in 1995. Her opponent, Dr. Al Salganick, was worrisome to developers; he favored controlled growth and opposed the construction of SR 125. Salganick picked up 32 percent of the votes in the primary; Davis received only 27 percent. Though nearly every developer in town contributed heavily to Davis's campaign, when it looked as if Salganick might win, the McMillin Company outdid itself. For the November runoff, contributions ran as follows:
Shirley Babbitt, manager, McMillin Co., $250; Gary Beason, CEO, McMillin Co., $100; Vince Balanger, developer, McMillin Co., $250; Michael Brekka, architect, McMillin Co., $100; Kimberly Cherry, loan officer, McMillin Mortgage, $250; Sandy Fish, realtor, McMillin Realty, $100; Isabel Hall, realtor, McMillin Co. $250; Teresa Hamm, realtor, McMillin Co., $250; Richard Jarrett, sales vice president, McMillin Co., $200; Joe Kaelin, estimator, McMillin Co., $100; Jean Lewis, broker, McMillin Co., $250; Philip Martin, sales counselor, McMillin Co., $100; Melissa Mohr, vice president, marketing, McMillin Co., $100; Charles Smith, sales manager, McMillin Co., $100; Richard Teichman, loan officer, McMillin Mortgage, $150; Kenneth Baumgartner, president, McMillin Co., $100; Thom Fuller, vice president, McMillin Land Development, $150; Macey McMillin (again), CEO, McMillin Co., $125; Scott McMillin, vice chairman, McMillin Co., $250.
McMillin principals also contributed heavily to Davis in the 2001 elections:
Barbara Brown, manager, McMillin Realty, $100; Isabel Hall, manager, McMillin Realty, $250; Scott McMillin, president, McMillin Realty, $250; Kenneth Baumgartner, president, McMillin Co., $150; Barbara Brown, manager, McMillin Realty, $100; Loren Gibbs, developer, McMillin Co., $200; Erich Goodbody, vice president, McMillin Co., $150; Chris Lewis, broker, McMillin Realty; Macey McMillin, CEO, McMillin Co., $250; Marc McMillin, president, McMillin Co., $250; Scott McMillin (again), vice chairman, McMillin Co., $250; Rick Ray, vice president, McMillin Co., $250; and Vonnie McMillin, who lists her occupation as homemaker but her address as that of the McMillin Realty office in National City.
(Note that Scott McMillin's donations exceeded the $250-per-election-cycle limit.)
Within minutes after hanging up the phone with Kaheny, the city attorney phoned me back and said he remembered that the code regarding the $1000 limit had changed. A phone call later, he had located an article, though not the code itself. The article, which I retrieved from the archive, dated November 24, 2001, indicates that although the residents of Chula Vista were not clamoring for a change of this reasonable safeguard, in November of 2001 the city council "deleted" the law, which "limited the combined contributions from any one organization to any single candidate to $1000 over four years. The law further required that any council member receiving more than $1000 from any particular organization would be prohibited from voting on any matter involving that organization." According to that same article, David Malcolm, perhaps predictably, was the first person to question "the part of the ordinance that called for candidates to keep track of how much was contributed to their campaigns from all people affiliated with any one organization or company." Former Councilmember John Moot and Councilmember Davis were appointed to the newly created committee to review and revise the contribution ordinance.
This deletion lets Councilmember Davis off the hook for the most recent election; however, her 1998 contribution disclosure indicates that she should have recused herself on issues pertaining to McMillin projects.
Following the scandal surrounding former port commissioner David Malcolm and his resignation, the Chula Vista City Council was obliged to choose a new port commissioner. They chose William Hall. William and Isabel Hall, of the same mailing address, both donated the maximum of $250 to Davis's first run for city council, the runoff election, and her most recent campaign. Isabel Hall lists her occupation as real estate manager for McMillin Realty.
The eastern development in Chula Vista has been mired in the SR 125 battle for at least ten years now. The toll road has been touted by developers and city officials as the answer to Chula Vista's traffic problems -- although the ten-lane private toll road will also provide the necessary infrastructure for further sprawl. Thousands of houses have been preapproved pending the construction of SR 125, and a good portion of those are McMillin's. Campaigning for reelection, Davis told the Union-Tribune that "her main focus will be traffic congestion and making sure planned roadways such as Route 125 are completed."
In the letter that Horton wrote for the McMillin publication, she assured prospective buyers that "SR 125 -- a vital north/south highway...has received federal and state environmental approval." Actually, what the Environmental Protection Agency said about SR 125 in its report is, "We envision that a variety of adverse effects are reasonably expected to accompany such growth, including air pollution; increased congestion; loss or degradation of wetlands, vernal pools and other habitats; increased water pollution; groundwater depletion/ degradations; loss of biological productivity; habitat fragmentation; and increased generation of hazardous wastes."
Further, the tollway will impact "252 plant species, 18 invertebrate species, 3 amphibian species, 15 reptile species, 94 bird species, and 23 mammal species." It will also obliterate "49,000 square feet of the critically endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly's habitat."
Horton's statement was also misleading because the Audubon Society, Preserve South Bay, Center for Biodiversity, Sierra Club, and Preserve Wild Santee have filed a suit to challenge the Endangered Species Permit and the Clean Water Act permit and the Environmental Impact Report. They have also filed a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order to halt all building until the suit is settled.
"It's a huge case," said Allison Rolfe, executive director for the San Diego Audubon Society, "involving so many different violations. There is no way we would have taken this case unless we thought we had a good chance of winning it."
The citizens of Chula Vista are going to pay $140 million for a bridge-connector to the toll road that will be 150 feet up in the air and will run just west of the Sweetwater Reservoir. Several years ago, upon hearing of the predicted traffic traveling SR 125, the Sweetwater Authority (the body that governs the Sweetwater Reservoir, which provides water for Chula Vista, Sunnyside, and Bonita) approved a study to measure two chemicals, acetaldehyde and acrolein, which might enter the reservoir from auto emissions. In a 1998 Star-News article, the general manager of the Sweetwater Authority said, "According to the study, 2.6 million people could get cancer each year from deposits of these two chemicals." Rolfe says that this will "result in another unfair fiscal impact: $20 million in new costs to treat the local drinking water."
McMillin Companies have not sat idle during the protracted SR 125 battle. In the summer of 2000, McMillin homeowners were mailed a letter that asserted the necessity of the private toll road. McMillin also enclosed a postcard to be returned to the political action committee Citizens for 125. Unpersuaded, Arthur K. Warstler, a McMillin homeowner, wrote a letter to the Star-News editor. "This is developer money used to influence our mayor and city council to vote for bonds to build this toll road at taxpayer expense." As it happens, SANDAG has just given another $8 million to the connector, and according to SANDAG minutes, the president of California Transportation Ventures, Inc., the private-tollway developer, is going to go to the Chula Vista City Council and ask for $2 million.
Is this floundering for money because CTA doesn't have its financial packet put together? At one point, according to the Audubon Society's Rolfe, the City of Chula Vista even had David Malcolm researching a public/private joint powers package.
In the book The Ecology of Fear, Mike Davis analyzes how Los Angeles became a sprawling dystopia. Much of what he writes fits San Diego like a death mask. In a chapter called "How Eden Lost its Garden," Davis writes, "County government in Southern California is so hopelessly captive to the land-development industry that sweeping electoral reforms, comparable to California's progressive revolution of 1911, are probably the prerequisite for overthrowing the 'new octopus' and transforming land-use priorities."
Mayor Horton is leaving office and will run for the 78th District seat in the state assembly November 5. So far, it looks like more of the same. Her campaign is "backed heavily by developers," the Union-Tribune reported October 5, 2002. Her Democratic opponent observed, "There is hardly a hillside or canyon left in Chula Vista which has not been graded, paved, altered or compromised by her land-use policies." Horton is being termed out of office, although two measures had been placed on the November 2000 ballot that would have created the possibility for her to run again. According to the Union-Tribune in August of 2000, "Mayor Shirley Horton and councilmembers Patty Davis and John Moot pushed to allow voters to take another look at term limits." (Calls made to Horton's office were not returned by press time.)
In November 2000, Proposition E, which would have done away with any term limits for the mayor or the city council, was voted down by 76.4 percent of the electorate; 59.3 percent of the electorate voted No on Proposition F, which would have increased the term limits from two consecutive terms to three.