Back on April 10, a report here about ten free tickets given to a group of San Diego Unified Port District staffers to attend the “Sustainable Seafood Gala 2013” thrown by the San Diego Oceans Foundation in March set off alarm at the towering concrete fortress on Pacific Highway that is commission headquarters. The free admissions, with a retail value of $150 each, covered drinks, dinner, and other forms of merriment, according to the foundation’s website, which listed the port as a sponsor, along with Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits and the Snake Oil Cocktail Company, among others.
“Each year, [the oceans foundation] seeks to host this event at a unique location, with attractions and music, a cocktail hour and a sumptuous dinner,” but, “unlike most seated dinners, our guests roam to several different celebrity chef stations where they interact with the chefs, learn about the protein and understand its role in sustainability.
“The evening is filled with entertainments of all sorts and is always fun and enjoyable, never ‘stuffy’ or dull! This is the culinary event you won’t want to miss!” Noted our caption: “The San Diego Oceans Foundation fed some free gala tickets to the sharks at the Port of San Diego.”
That attempt at humor apparently didn’t go down well with port assistant environmental specialist Alicia Glassco, who the next day fired off an email to the agency’s public information officer Tanya Castaneda, according to documents obtained following a request to the district under the California Public Records Act.
“In regards to the short Reader article which refers to us as ‘sharks,’ you may want to consider posting a short response noting that we were sponsors of the event (which typically includes a certain number of tickets) and our [Environmental and Land Use] department was actually awarded an Ocean Leadership Award for Business of the Year, which also warrants at least a few free tickets. I’m sure you have bigger tasks at hand, so feel free to disregard my suggestion:)”
Castaneda soon responded: “We are actually on it. I’m trying to find out how much money we paid to sponsor the event. I will be calling him about the award, and to share some other thoughts on the article.” Replied Glassco: “Good, glad to hear it. Should be a fun call! Thanks for doing such a great job.”
Castaneda then emailed Paula Digerness and Becky Shute, two other port staffers, asking for more details about the freebies. “Can either of you tell me what the arrangement was for this event before I call the reporter? How much did we pay to sponsor the event? How many seats did we get free?” Responded Shute: “Per Bonnie Russell, admin. assistant in [Environmental and Land Use Management], we had a contract with San Diego Oceans Foundation (expired 8/31/12, not renewed) in the amount of $100K. The contract was funded by the Environmental Fund and approved to be paid out of the fund by the Board. It’s more of a business partnership for the white sea bass restocking. We may be listed as a sponsor because of our partnership with them.” (Russell herself got into the gala with “boyfriend” Daniel Legaspi, according to the port documents. In a February 22 email to the port’s protocol office, she wrote: “If you are short on attendance I will be happy to attend.”)
Thus briefed, Castaneda called us to discuss the definition of sponsorship and to plug the award the port had received. According to records subsequently provided by the district, the port employees who attended the event got an email the day after the gala requesting them to fill out an online survey: “Your input will help us determine the value of the sponsorship. Please complete this survey within a week of receiving this request.” Assistant environmental specialist Glassco went with “fiancé” Carlos Appel, according to the port’s records. Under “Port-Significant Information Learned,” she wrote: “sustainable local seafood- restaurants and chefs and donors. Also, that penguins are one of the only type of bird that does a ‘catastrophic molt’ once a year (because they can’t swim when they are molting). :)” The port documents show that the district currently has a $15,220 contract with the Oceans Foundation through June 30 of next year “to continue to recruit and oversee volunteers to assist with the watering, weeding, and planting of native plants.”