Word that a son of La Jolla billionaire Democrat Irwin Jacobs is behind the port district's controversial plan to demolish Seaport Village has come quickly on the heels of the elder Jacobs's own backroom deal with Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer to bulldoze a megamillion-dollar road and parking garage complex through Balboa Park.
The twin moves have spawned accusations regarding municipal corruption on a grand scale, and the use of big political money by San Diego's richest family to get its way, no matter the public consequences. Now additional questions have arisen about the troubled domestic lives of Jacobs's offspring, who have long basked in the local limelight as princes of charity.
On Wednesday (July 13), the board of the San Diego Unified Port District voted 6-1 to award exclusive negotiating rights for the Seaport Village teardown to a group headed by Yehudi Gaffen, a San Diego developer who has faced continued controversy over campaign contributions and alleged mismanagement of a massive public park development project in the Orange County city of Irvine.
Gaffen has denied any wrongdoing, telling KGTV/10News in September 2014, "We give money to organizations both politically and philanthropically that we feel aligned with — that are doing good things for our region, and I'm never gonna stop that — it's very much part of our DNA and part of what we do."
Following this week's award of the Seaport Village redevelopment deal, Gaffen told the Union-Tribune, "It's very surprising, I didn't expect to get it."
The $1.2 billion plan calls for construction of three hotels with a total of more than 1000 rooms, along with almost 400,000 square feet of retail and restaurant uses, dwarfing current site improvements.
A 480-foot "Spire" observation tower and an “OdySea” 178,490-square-foot aquarium are included to drive tourist traffic to the project.
The financial muscle behind Gaffen comes from Jeff Jacobs, one of Irwin Jacobs's four sons, who with Gaffen and longtime Jacobs associate Jeff Essakow, have set up Protea Waterfront Development to redevelop the bayfront property.
City campaign disclosure filings show that the three men have been longtime providers of major money to San Diego politicos, including $15,000 from Jeff Jacobs to the GOP Lincoln Club. For his part, Essakow and his wife have given over $20,000 to San Diego city campaigns and political causes, including $5050 to the 2016 reelection campaign of GOP mayor Faulconer and $2000 to Republican city councilwoman Lorie Zapf.
Gaffen, family members, and employees have come up with a grand total of $41,395 for city political campaigns since 2007, according to filings, with $6000 for the 2013 mayoral campaign of Democratic city councilman David Alvarez, $2000 for his opponent Faulconer, and $2500 for the Lincoln Club.
In addition to his hometown real estate ventures, Jeff Jacobs, a Qualcomm executive before becoming a developer, and two of his brothers, Qualcomm chairman Paul Jacobs and investor Harlan Jacobs, are among the owners of the Sacramento Kings, the professional basketball team that was the recipient of city largesse for its new $507 million downtown arena, opening this fall.
But there is a less happy side to the private lives of Jeff and Paul, both recently divorced. Each had previously funded charities with their wives, raising questions regarding the fate of their future philanthropy.
Paul's final split from wife Stacy came this May 26 in the San Diego courtroom of judge Patricia Guerrero. A brief memorandum of the marital settlement agreement reached by the couple this spring provides few details regarding how much Jacobs agreed to pay his ex-wife, other than to say, "the child support provisions set forth in the Marital Settlement Agreement are in the best interests of the minor children…. The needs of the minor children will be adequately met under the Agreement."
Court records show that Paul Jacobs commenced the divorce against Stacy in April of last year. Married in October 1991, the couple separated in September 2013, a month before their 22nd anniversary.
Nothing has yet come to light regarding the ultimate fate of the nonprofit Paul and Stacy Jacobs Foundation, which in 2013 pledged $20 million to an engineering "design innovation institute" at UC Berkeley, the pair's alma mater.
The institute’s flashy new building, named for the couple, has drawn protests for encroaching on a historic university neighborhood.
"About a dozen activists gathered at the construction site to protest the planned removal of trees...and the overall potential for environmental degradation," reported the Daily Californian in April 2014.
Paul's brother Jeff untied the knot with his wife Deni in January 2014, court documents show. She had initiated the divorce after the couple's separation in May 2012. They were married in 1994.
Like brother Paul, Jeff's spousal settlement is off the record, but a December 2013 agreement includes an elaborate "parenting plan" for the pair's offspring.
"The parents will cooperate in sharing time together with the children on Halloween, the children's birthdays, and gift giving at Christmas and Hanukkah," and "The above child sharing arrangement provides a time share of 57% to Mother and 43% to Father."
“In odd numbered years Mother shall have the children the first nights of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Father shall have the children the first night of Passover. In even numbered years this schedule shall reverse.”
Like Paul, Jeff and his now ex-wife put up cash for a building to be named after themselves, known as the Deni & Jeff Jacobs Challenged Athletes Foundation Center. Designed by Nathan Lee Colkitt Architects, it has been nominated for an orchid in this year’s American Institute of Architects Orchid and Onions contest, with winners to be announced in October.
Jeff and Deni have also backed a nonprofit known as Educational Enrichment Systems, to "provide child development services to low income families,” according to its IRS filing. Deni, a member of the board, has appeared with her children on a YouTube video promoting Thanksgiving dinners for the underprivileged.
But with family-named buildings lasting longer than marriages in the Jacobs clan, critics of Irwin Jacobs’s Balboa Park road and parking-garage makeover say the project lacks financial transparency and that future park development sponsored by the billionaire and his family’s foundations could end up being a burden on city taxpayers for years to come.
The family patriarch has told the Union-Tribune that he doesn't expect to be the only one to pay for the disputed megamillion-dollar undertaking. But hefty divorce settlements made by his children to unload their first wives might affect their ability to pick up their father's financial slack.