Developer Douglas Manchester's U-T San Diego has been all over the fate of the new fountain at the county administration center. Heavily used by inner-city families, the giant water feature has been singled out by some coastal environmentalists as a costly concession to the poor.
City officials say the fountain represents a recreational use of water for those with no other access to public pools — and thereby exempt from emergency water limits — because children are allowed to play in it.
The newspaper quoted Livia Borak, identified as a "legal adviser to the Coast Law Group’s environmental rights foundation" as throwing cold water on that contention.
“Anything that increases water use in a time of drought is a bad thing.”
Meanwhile, another key water move, this one involving one of the U-T publisher's major political allies, has quietly made its way through city hall.
According to a November 17 memorandum to the city council, mayor Kevin Faulconer has named Jimmy Ayala, the San Diego–based lobbyist for mega-residential developer Pardee Homes, to a vacant seat on the San Diego County Water Board, a center of much political and financial intrigue in these drought-plagued times.
Ayala "has over 15 years of real estate development and construction experience,” according to Faulconer's memo. "He advances projects from initial strategy and land acquisition to completion and manages the integration of residential, commercial, recreational and open space to maximize community investment….
"Mr. Ayala is an active member of the community and serves on the Board of Directors for the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce,” the document continues.
"I am confident that Mr. Jimmy Ayala will bring invaluable experience and expertise to the San Diego County Water Authority Board and I would like to thank him for his willingness to serve in this capacity."
Unmentioned are the big campaign contributions Ayala and his Pardee colleagues have come up with for an array of local politicos.
The firm's most recent lobbying disclosure report, filed with the San Diego city clerk's office on October 31, shows that Ayala's co-worker, Beth Fischer, gave $500 to the campaign of GOP city-council candidate Chris Cate, a lobbyist for the taxpayers association, a pro-development group, during the third quarter of the year.
In addition, according to the statement, Ayala and Fischer threw a July 22 "fundraising event" that netted a total of $10,700 for Cate, who takes his seat on the council next month.
The company also gave a total of $48,500 to the local Republican Party during the election cycle just concluded.
Throughout 2014, U-T publisher Manchester was also a major giver to the local Republicans, which paid for a large part of the Cate push.
Back in June 2009, when the then–San Diego Union-Tribune was under different ownership, reporter Craig Gustafson, now a Faulconer PR aide, wrote that Pardee was a heavy post-election contributor to the campaigns of three city-council Democrats: Marti Emerald, Sherri Lightner, and Todd Gloria.
"Lobbyists for Pardee Homes raised $3,195 for Emerald, $1,350 for Gloria and $2,609 for Lightner after the election," according to Gustafson's story. "Pardee won approval in February for a permit to build 1,578 condominiums on 46 acres in Otay Mesa. All three council members sided with the developer in a 7-1 vote, with five votes required for passage."
Water has always been a key limitation on development in the parched Southwest, but this year's prospect of a California mega-drought has had builders scrambling for water rights and engaging in much behind-the-scenes water board wheeling and dealing.
To keep the developer's manna of water coming, officials have approved a series of costly, ratepayer-financed treatment options, including desalinization of ocean water and so-called toilet-to-tap sewage-water purification. Building limits and redesign of sprawling subdivisions are infrequently considered.
In October of last year, Pardee battled with a planning advocacy group over whether there would be enough water to build a proposed 5387-house development in Banning, according to a story in the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
"Stephanie Osler Hastings, one of Pardee's attorneys, spent considerable time going over what is required and not required to be presented in an environmental document and how the city will consider water availability again at a later step when individual tract maps come up for review."