Steve Erie uses the oedipal theories Sigmund Freud (right) to describe San Diego boosters’ “edifice complex.”

Freud’s colleague Alfred Adler (left) might say that San Diego has a “civic inferiority complex.”
  • Steve Erie uses the oedipal theories Sigmund Freud (right) to describe San Diego boosters’ “edifice complex.” Freud’s colleague Alfred Adler (left) might say that San Diego has a “civic inferiority complex.”

San Diego needs counseling. If you could bring back a great name from the past to give advice, who would it be? Real estate wizards Alonzo Horton or John Spreckels? Civic activist George Marston, who was instrumental in the creation of Balboa Park and the public library system?

None of the above. To understand San Diego’s current woes, you would have to consult Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. That’s because Freud articulated the concept that people forget what they want to forget. They have an aversion to remembering something associated with disagreeable feelings. Today’s psychiatrists call it “opportune forgetfulness.”

Former councilmember Bruce Henderson points out that ex-mayor Dick Murphy, through a book and interviews with the compliant mainstream media, is trying to explain the decisions and nondecisions that brought about his abrupt resignation. This is happening while the downtown establishment is trying to keep the Chargers football team in San Diego.

But Murphy somehow can’t remember that he greased the skids for the team to depart. In getting the Chargers to give up the reviled 60,000-seat ticket guarantee, Murphy and his minions granted the team a three-month window every year in which it can break its lease and skip town, and each year the fee for doing so diminishes. This deal cost the City $90 million to $100 million. Remember?

Steve Erie, University of California San Diego political scientist and coauthor of the new book Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failures in San Diego, picks up a concept that made Alfred Adler, Freud’s onetime colleague, famous. “San Diego has a civic inferiority complex,” pronounces Erie.

The proposed Chargers football stadium downtown will have no ancillary benefits, particularly since the team’s attempt to make it part of the convention center expansion is dead on arrival. The $600 million to $700 million that the City would pay to build the stadium “is a pure subsidy, and the era of public subsidies is over. That doesn’t seem to have dawned on the public of San Diego.”

Erie coauthored a study on how the Petco Park project resulted in construction of some buildings in East Village and certainly benefited some moneybags in the private sector but did not pay off for the citizenry. The project is still a drain, but downtown overlords are pushing for a football stadium that would be a larger drain.

The City will have to spend $550 million or more to expand the convention center just to retain Comic-Con. “We will lose Comic-Con in a couple of years, anyway; the nature of the industry has changed, and Comic-Con will have to be closer to Hollywood,” he says. “The convention center expansion doesn’t pencil out, no matter how they plan to do it.”

Another example of faulty memory is the partially built downtown library: “We are $26 million short of capital and have no operating budget, no plan of how to staff it,” says Erie. “We are cutting back on hours of the outlying libraries.”

Erie reverts to psychological lingo again — with a one-word substitution. “The boosters of this town have an enormous edifice complex,” he says. (Freud came up with the term “Oedipus complex.”) The establishment continues to pour money into downtown structures while the neighborhoods and the infrastructure rot. “Downtown is the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz while the provinces deteriorate.”

Says Norma Damashek, civic activist and former president of the San Diego League of Women Voters, “There is a term in psychiatry to describe how one keeps repeating the same thing over and over. It’s a compulsive disorder that keeps us making these bad decisions over and over again, saying that this time it will work.” The City has poured billions into downtown redevelopment, but other than in the Gaslamp Quarter, there are not many people enjoying entertainment or dining downtown. The condo glut reveals that not many people are living in the central city.

The last three seasons, Petco Park attendance has averaged 25,491. The last three years at Qualcomm, the average was 27,279. Prior to the subsidization and construction of Petco Park, former majority owner John Moores claimed the team could not be economically competitive if it remained at Qualcomm, and the Task Force on Ballpark Planning, made up greatly of handpicked business executives, agreed. Hmmm…

“The downtown is filled with buildings and not with people using the streets and the stores,” says Damashek. The Gaslamp Quarter is loaded with often-loaded people in their 20s, but that’s not sufficient to spark a renaissance. “The ballpark didn’t give us a neighborhood. It hasn’t given us cohesiveness.” So the downtown potentates want to try again.

Dr. Freud! Come save us!

Damashek cites another classic example of Freud’s psychic flight from unpleasant memories. The financially ailing school district is openly talking about the possibility of being taken over by the state.

But is anybody talking about the Downtown Charter High School to be located on the sixth and seventh floor of the new San Diego Central Library? The San Diego Unified School District pledged $20 million toward the library so the school could be placed there. That’s the same San Diego Unified School District that could be headed for insolvency. But people aren’t talking about that $20 million, says Damashek. Nor are they noting that the library was located in the ballpark district “as a favor to Moores — taking the property off his hands.”

Local politicians “are not dealing with reality,” says Damashek. They talk about more and more legacy buildings downtown, but San Diego has an infrastructure deficit of around $1 billion. Nor do people talk about the expensive training facility built for the Chargers when the stadium now named Qualcomm was converted to football-only. And then there is the $300 million subsidy for Petco Park. “Nobody ever looks back and says, ‘Was that a good idea?’”


Visduh Dec. 7, 2011 @ 11:57 a.m.

It is a shame that four decades of money spent, political capital invested and just out-and-out positive thinking have not brought downtown back as a cohesive neighborhood. The Horton Plaza mall is, like most malls, in decline already with scads of vacant space and few anchor stores. Even when it was in its heyday, it was an island of activity in a dead zone. The east village developments and Petco Park have gained little or no traction. Whole buildings of condos stand vacant or nearly so. I suspect that the $20 million pledged by SDUSD to the library to house a charter high school was intended to make living in the area more attractive to those with kids. (Why they said it would be a charter school is not clear to me, except that the district's own high schools don't generally look so hot. The district isn't required to make outlays of such size to house charter schools.) The whole picture is one of massive shortfall vs. expectations and hopes.

But, hey, let's not be so down. It will be different this time, you just wait and see!


Don Bauder Dec. 7, 2011 @ 12:44 p.m.

Excellent points. Horton Plaza has not been a successful shopping center for about 15 to 20 years. Big retailers started moving out quickly. Pretty soon it was candy stores, restaurants and the like. Then to cap it off, the owners decided they wanted to tear down a big part of the center. They got the City to pay for it, supposedly in return for the owners maintaining the property as a park. Preposterous. The reason I based this column on psychological concepts is that when I discuss with people what's going on -- boosters of a bankrupt city wanting to spend $700-$800 million on a Chargers subsidy and $750 million on convention center expansion and hotel -- I so often hear one word: "Crazy!" Best, Don Bauder


Visduh Dec. 7, 2011 @ 6:06 p.m.

It was obvious that you were thinking of the whole picture of the "edifice complex" in terms of craziness. None of this makes any sense unless you accept the notion of sports being the highest form of human activity. Many among us do just that. There is a huge difference between true sports and these career gladiators who hurl balls and earn millions. As long as a vocal group of locals think that professional sports are the end-all, this will persist. Sad.


Don Bauder Dec. 7, 2011 @ 7:51 p.m.

Yes, sports are so worshipped by the fanatics -- about 20% of the population -- that sportin' houses should be able to get a big government subsidy by threatening to move the ladies, madam, and piano player to another city. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Dec. 8, 2011 @ 7:31 p.m.

There are, after all, two kinds of professional--one kind puts the work first, the other the buck.


Don Bauder Dec. 8, 2011 @ 10:17 p.m.

Unfortunately, those putting the buck first tend to get the promotions. Best, Don Bauder


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