How much does it cost for the care and feeding of about 600 local VIPs and various hangers-on invited to watch a power plant being blown to smithereens? In the case of the San Diego Unified Port District’s February 2 South Bay generating station implosion, the port’s out-of-pocket tab came to $11,667, including a news conference called the day before to hype the event. A “Trailer-Mounted Bleacher Unit Rental” was $1500; catering cost $4860; party rentals were $3414; security cost $285; and portable toilets were $142.
In a planning memo dated January 18, the port’s Tanya Castaneda wrote: “5 a.m.–8 a.m., Chula Vista Marina View Park: The private VIP event will take place here. There will be a tent with heaters, tables, chairs, coffee station, audiovisual equipment, displays and a podium where Chair Moore will give a 30-second welcome to those in attendance. There will be no speeches at this event. Park restrooms as well as portable toilets will be provided.”
Said the invitation subsequently dispatched to the dignitaries: “Conditions permitting, and from a safe distance, the Port of San Diego invites you to watch the implosion of the South Bay Power Plant, which has been a fixture of the Chula Vista bay front since the late 1950’s. We will celebrate the carefully executed implosion and enjoy newfound views of the horizon at Chula Vista Marina View Park. As a confirmed VIP guest, you will be issued a numbered parking pass and allowed access to the VIP area with refreshments and preferred viewing.”
To provide even more amenities for the occasion, Castaneda emailed Steve Miesen of Allied Waste Services on January 28 in search of cash donations, suggesting two options: “1. $1,000 to sponsor hot coffee stations for the 400 guests, 2. $300 for Dole bananas for the guest (sic). We could put up placards saying ‘Sponsored by Republic Services.’ This is going to be a great event!” Replied Miesen: “I will bite on the Banana. Need to keep the attendees healthy. Please send me an invoice and I will get it processed.”
So many VIPs confirmed their invitations that parking quickly became an issue. “Because we have such a large number of VIP’s that have RSVP’ed, we have decided to use the entire dirt lot for that group and park the public at Bayfront Park and curb side if necessary,” wrote port permits coordinator Sofi Bayardo to fellow staffers on January 28. “What we need to talk about is your suggestion as to how to best park the vehicles to get the most cars in as possible. Do you want to use both entrances? If only one entrance, which one? All the VIP’s will have placards on their dashboard.”
All the while, as word of the event circulated, big shots and their friends with connections were clamoring for even more tickets. Wrote ex–port commissioner Lee Burdick — now a top aide to San Diego mayor Bob Filner — on January 29: “I registered for this event for me only. Is there a chance I can bring a guest?” Diane Rose of the South County Career Center wrote port commissioner Dan Malcolm on January 15: “Hi Dan, Is there a VIP viewing area? If so — would love to be invited.” Former commissioner and San Diego mayoral candidate Peter Q. Davis emailed the port’s Donna Morales on January 27: “Is it possible to bring a grand son (age 12) to the Feb. 2nd event?”
In the end, the old electrical plant went down on schedule and the VIPs presumably went away happy. But at least one member of the general public who showed up to see the implosion was discontented. “Why the VIP viewing stands and parking for your elite associates and no provisions for the ‘common hoard,’ ie toilets?” Jon Skorepa emailed Castaneda after the event. “Nice to see once again that you-all are grateful for the money you receive from the we peon common tax payers.” She replied: “I checked with the team, and it turns out you were right — we did not end up having portable toilets at the public viewing areas. We did have the multi-stall bathrooms in both parks open at 5 a.m. that morning, and available for the public.
“In our initial planning for this event, we had decided to rent portable toilets. Unfortunately, due to an oversight, they were not ordered. I apologize for giving you wrong information earlier, which is why I wanted to call and speak with you personally.”