With his Balboa Park plans resuscitated, will Irwin Jacobs pull back from his global transformation work?
What is Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs up to next?
That is the question making the rounds at San Diego’s city hall in the wake of a state appellate court ruling against superior court judge Tim Taylor's decision to kill the La Jolla billionaire's mammoth Balboa Park road and parking garage plan.
Back in 2010 Jacobs began spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get his way with the city, including paying lobbying firm MJE Marketing Services at least $40,000 to map strategy in private meetings with then-mayoral staffers Gerry Braun and Rachel Laing.
Emails obtained under the state's public record act in March 2013, after Taylor's ruling and Jacobs's subsequent decision to abandon the $45 million project, revealed that the Qualcomm co-founder and electrical engineer had a direct line to Republican mayor Jerry Sanders to impart detailed instructions on how his project would be implemented.
"Have you looked at further automation in the garage to decrease parking garage staff?" Jacobs asked staffers in a February 5, 2011, communication. "Should be almost human-free except for emergencies."
In the same email, Jacobs demanded to be kept in the loop about the mayor's extensive public relations campaign on behalf of the controversial project.
"I do not have any details on the consultant work ongoing and planned and the cost estimates for the proposed schedule," he wrote of the massive building and grading project. "I need more details — we need to avoid a blank check approach."
The hands-on cell-phone mogul then asked, "Have the circulation models been run yet under the same load assumptions but for the existing park layout? Do we have the artist sketches of the bypass and bridge as seen from Cabrillo Bridge to better show the appearance with landscaped slopes, etc.?"
Added Jacobs, "We should comb through all of the various negative comments and letters and look for others that need response."
Democratic lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, a Jacobs political ally, joined the fray a year later, in February 2012, attacking California Historic Preservation Officer Milford Wayne Donaldson for questioning the project.
A month later, Newsom's reelection campaign received a $12,000 donation from Jacobs and his wife.
Jacobs walked away from the project after Taylor's ruling that the city council had acted illegally, saying, "It is a shame that this action could prevent us from having the pleasure of watching children happily playing in a car-free Plaza de Panama, or enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in the Plaza de California."
So far, there has been no word from Jacobs about the project's future, but a little-known foundation he controls is causing conversation in San Diego's closely knit world of political charity.
Irwin and Joan Jacobs
Until last year, federal disclosure filings show, the Dunaway Foundation, run by Jacobs and wife Joan, was a virtual shell in his big-money operation, with assets of $59,975 at the end of 2012. Its only contribution that year was $5000 to San Diego's Jewish Community Foundation.
Then, in 2013, the couple gave the nonprofit a total of $27,763,918 in Qualcomm stock, according to a federal disclosure report dated September 25 of last year.
That filing says the Dunaway Foundation contributed a total of $4.8 million to Cornell University and the American Society for Technion for the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Technion Cornell Innovation Institute. Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, is based in Haifa.
Artist's rendering of Cornell campus project
The campus for the Cornell project, being built on Roosevelt Island in the East River off Manhattan, was conceived by ex–New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime Jacobs associate who in May 2012 endorsed Nathan Fletcher, Jacobs's ultimate pick for San Diego mayor.
According to Cornell's website, the wealthy San Diego Democrat announced a $133 million gift to the project two years ago in April.
"With Israel’s reputation as the ‘Startup Nation’ and the Technion’s history of producing the country’s leading tech entrepreneurs," the university’s website says, "Cornell knew there was a common vision when the university initiated their partnership in 2010."
The project has its critics, including Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, who have singled out Technion for its role in the development of drone technology and related work for Israel's weapons industry.
Meanwhile, back in San Diego, the Jacobs-funded Dunaway Foundation has also hooked up with UCSD, coming up with $4 million for the university’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, formerly known as the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.
“Joan and I are thrilled with the visionary direction of the School of Global Policy and Strategy and its mission to address the great challenges of our time,” said Jacobs in a May 7 university news release.
“The Center for Global Transformation will lead inquiry on global economic and technological transformation, two areas that are of particular interest to us. This gift is designed to help the center continue to grow as a powerful platform for understanding these fundamental shifts.”