The best laid plans of lobbyists and politicos may come to naught as next week's Major League Baseball All-Star game arrives, with an alleged serial homeless killer on the loose, and San Diego cops scrambling to catch the perpetrator before any more damage to the city's carefully cultivated fun-in-the-sun image is done.
Lots of big-money behind-the-scenes influence has reportedly been applied to politically ambitious Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer to keep the downtown homeless problem under the municipal rug until the end of the big game.
But the mayor’s largely secret scheme is showing signs of unravelling at the seams.
Back in December 2014, the San Diego City Council agreed to furnish $1.5 million worth of police and other services, free of charge to the baseball league, to take care of any trouble generated by next week's game.
Some of the cash is said to be going to fund riot-squad overtime and equipment, along with a newly implemented system for Twitter and other social media eavesdropping called Geofeedia.
"What makes Geofeedia interesting, and potentially terrifying, is its ability to monitor an area 24/7 and create searchable databases of any and all public posts within that boundary — and then to expand its collection of specific targets’ information beyond the geo-tagged posts," the website Inverse.com reported last fall.
"Does the public understand that tweeting from a protest subjects you to enrollment in a police database? As anti-refugee sentiment and Islamophobia trend upward, what’s to stop law enforcement from geofencing mosques, or predominantly Muslim neighborhoods? It’s true that the police would only be searching what’s public, but will selective attention result in discriminatory practices?"
The police state, however, is to be kept behind closed doors until needed, to protect the city's national vacation spot image.
"Imagine all those people in all those different places seeing San Diego with the proverbial hang glider shots and the bay and the bridge and the beaches and everything else," said GOP councilman Scott Sherman during the brief 2014 debate over whether Major League Baseball should be subsidized by local taxpayers.
"It's a great opportunity because it's a national event over multiple days," the mayor was quoted by the Union-Tribune as saying.
Chimed in termed-out Democrat Sherri Lightner, "Not only will we reap the economic benefit from thousands of people in San Diego who will stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants, but we get to showcase our city and beautiful Petco Park on an international scale."
Besides the hefty cash from the city for the game, the league quietly demanded that there be lots of off-the-record downtown housekeeping, with repeated attempts to sweep away the city's homeless legions by this summer.
In May of last year, boxing-gym owner Joel Rocco described the beginning of baseball’s below-the-radar anti-homeless operation.
“The Padres’ head of security and one of the big wigs on the Padres sits on the board with me — the East Village Association,” Rocco explained. “They were talking about how Bud Selig [Major League Baseball commissioner] was telling them, ‘Listen, the All-Star Game’s here next year (2016). You guys better clean up downtown.’”
This April, Michael McConnell's Homeless News San Diego Facebook page reported a bed of rocks being installed by the city to discourage the homeless from gathering under a bridge at Imperial and Interstate 5.
On June 27, an account by Tribune Broadcasting–owned Fox-5 TV in San Diego said that the homeless sweep was being further ramped up as the game day edged closer.
"Yellow ‘Notice of Cleanup and Property Removal’ signs were posted on light poles near the ballpark on June 23, giving the homeless until Monday to clean up and move out," according to the report. “'All property left unattended in this area on that day will be removed,' the signs state. Any debris left behind will be destroyed."
The city stuck to its cover story.
"Spokesman Jose Ysea says the city conducts sweeps periodically to maintain the cleanliness of the sidewalks and other public access routes," said the TV report. "He says the space is a public sidewalk, and he expects the homeless to move back to the area after the clean-up."
With this month's attacks, resulting in the death of two and critical injuries to two others, a perfect storm appeared to be growing just in time to spoil Faulconer's national public relations roll-out.
The All Star Game has been seen by many local political watchers as akin to the PR achievement of Republican mayor Susan Golding in getting the city to foot the mega-milliion-dollar bill for 1996’s GOP convention.
But instead of soaking in the limelight, on Wednesday the current GOP mayor ended up front-and-center on CNN pledging to guard downtown’s mean streets.
"There is no doubt that our city has been shaken by these gruesome attacks," he said. "Each of these victims has a story, just as every San Diegan does. I want to make it very clear that the San Diego Police Department is working around the clock to find this killer and bring justice for these victims. All resources are being brought to bear to capture this individual. And I want to underscore that, all resources are being brought to bear."
The Padres, who are officially playing host to the All Star Game, have been represented at city hall by Southwest Strategies, the high-powered lobbying shop run by Christopher Wahl and other family members with close ties to the city's power elite.
The firm was a key player in 2014's successful referendum drive by military contractors, including General Dynamics, to kill the Barrio Logan community plan that backers asserted would have been major step forward in dealing with the chronic homeless issues plaguing the area.
According to an April disclosure document on file at city hall, Southwest Strategies has been engaged by the Padres to lobby regarding "general infrastructure and transportation improvements" on behalf of the team. The company has also represented Fox Sports San Diego in a city hall controversy over free broadcasting of Padres games on cable TV.
City campaign disclosure records show that Southwest employees have given a combined total of $134,499 to city candidates and political causes since 2006, including $24,100 to Faulconer's 2016 reelection drive and $3000 to Scott Sherman's reelection bid this year.