A battle over the fate of a new restaurant and night spot for Little Italy has taken a controversial new turn as two top friends and associates of Kevin Faulconer have been drawn into a bitter fray over unbridled building rights, usually held sacrosanct by San Diego's Republican mayor.
As first reported here this week, lawyer Michael Hansen, the mayor's chief of of land use and environmental policy, lives next to the proposed site of Born & Raised, the working title of a new two-story eatery and watering hole planned by Consortium Holdings, whose website is headlined "Polite as F**k" — with a strikeout through the last word.
(The company is the proprietor of Polite Provisions at 30th and Adams, which markets a pin with the motto.)
"We set out to create not restaurants and bars, but public gathering spaces that help cultivate our neighborhoods through the fostering of creativity, dialogue, questions and conversations," the firm's site says.
"More than houses for innovative menus and handcrafted drinks, our projects are meant to be incubators for meaningful interaction."
But this time the company — which already has a Little Italy hit on its hands with Ironside — may have gotten more interaction than it bargained for with local land-use regulators.
Hansen drew first blood with a lengthy letter to the city's Civic San Diego planning agency advocating changes to Born & Raised, to be located at the site of the former Nelson Photo building on the corner of Kettner and Fir streets.
“Few people would receive notice of an outdoor bar less than 20 feet from their bedroom window, proposing hours of 8am-1am, and not wish to provide input into that decision," said Hansen in an email responding to a request for comment.
"Public employees maintain the right to express their views as private citizens when they elect to work in public service.”
Hyla P. Wagner, a lawyer for the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, agreed that it was legal for Hansen to lobby regarding the project, with some restrictions.
"You must limit your comments to your personal interests and make clear that you are not speaking in the interest of any other person or group, or acting in your official capacity,” Wagner’s advice letter said.
"Similarly, you may not discuss the decision with other officials outside of public comments made at any public meetings.”
Hansen's roommate is free to go further, according to Wagner, who wrote, "assuming your boyfriend is not a public official, the conflict of interest rules would not apply to him.”
It is also okay for the pair to hire "noise experts or government affairs consultants" prior to the hearings.
"If public members can appear with experts, you may as well. Or you may consult experts outside of the public meeting in preparation of your comments.”
Before getting his gig with Faulconer in March of last year, Hansen was an attorney with the big downtown law and lobbying firm of Sheppard Mullin, famous for its close ties to local politicos and connections to judges.
Among his clients was Rancho Guejito Corporation, owner of a giant parcel the company has been attempting to develop in North County over the objections of environmentalists and others.
Sheppard Mullin has long heaped campaign contributions on an assortment of city officials, not always timely disclosed.
In addition to city regulators, the Little Italy restaurant proposal has also been running a regulatory gauntlet at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, which has adopted safety rules to limit the occupancy of new restaurants near the airport’s flight path.
“How does the Airport Authority come up with rules to lower density for retail and restaurants and residential when there are 50,000 people a day sitting in Terminals 1 and 2,” Little Italy Association honcho Marco LiMandri told the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this week. “If there’s any potential danger, that’s where it is."
That's also where another Faulconer friendship is currently involved, in the form of Tony Young, the former Democratic city councilman who quit in the midst of his term to briefly head up the local Red Cross before mysteriously resigning to start his own lobbying outfit.
In addition to influence peddling for well-heeled clients including SDG&E, Mission Valley's Sudberry Properties, and shopping-mall developer Westfield, Young is president of One San Diego, the nonprofit established by the mayor to promote his anti-poverty agenda.
The effort is largely funded by big money from donors with business at city hall, the latest reported giver being cell-phone giant AT&T, coming up with $22,500 last month.
Airport authority lobbying disclosure records show that Young's firm, Civic Link Strategies, was hired by Consortium Holdings on October 23 for advocacy work regarding "Land use determination by the Commission."