Samantha St. Pierre 3 p.m., July 18
Canadian Firm Pulls Power Plant Vote, Vows Future "Public Engagement" Battle
A little more than two years ago, on June 23, 2010, we wrote about a stealthy plan by San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders to locate a power plant on land the city owns just east of I-805 near University Towne Center.
We noted then, "as is typical with the closed-mouth Sanders and his business backers — who like to work behind closed doors until they can engineer as close to a fait accompli as possible — the revelation comes not via news conference or neighborhood meeting.
"Instead it is to be found in a 'request for proposal' quietly issued by the City on May 21 that 'hereby invites power generation companies to submit proposals to develop and operate a natural gas–fired power plant' at an 80-acre site on Nobel Drive south of the water treatment plant.
"Under the mayor’s plan, the City would award a 50-year lease to build and operate a plant with 'no less than 200 megawatts' of 'electrical generating capacity.'"
Despite considerable community doubt about the vaguely described proposal, the project quietly made its way through city hall with little public attention.
Then, two months ago we reported on a March 18 advice letter from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission to Capital Power Corporation of Edmonton, Canada, which has a subsidiary in this country called U.S. Capital Holdings.
"US Holdings seeks to build a power generation plant in the City of San Diego," said the letter from FPPC general counsel Zackery P. Morazzini. "This new plant must first be approved by city voters through a ballot measure expected to be on the November 2012 ballot."
It's against the law for foreign corporations to directly fund campaigns in California, but Morazzini came up with a hand-tailored loophole for the Canadian firm:
"Because decisions to contribute or expend funds will not be made by an officer, director, or management employee of a foreign corporation who is neither a citizen of the United States nor a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the United States, neither US Investments nor US Operations qualifies as a 'foreign principal' under Section 85320(c)(4)."
Last month, as we reported, California Strategies, the big Sacramento-based influence peddling outfit founded by onetime San Diego mayoral aide Bob White entered the fray on Capital Power's behalf, dispatching staffer Craig Benedetto and a colleague--both contributors to the campaigns of various San Diego city council members--to lobby the project through city hall.
"Capital Power Corporation of Edmonton, Canada, paid the firm $7000 for Benedetto and fellow influence peddler Ben Haddad to push a 'long term lease enabling development of a power plant.'
"For that project, the pair lobbied mayoral staffers Jay Goldstone and David Graham and also contacted deputy city attorneys Brock Ladewig and Tom Zeleny; Russ Gibbon from the Economic Development division; Aimee Faucett of Community and Legislative Services; and Jim Barwick of Real Estate Assets."
The project was finally scheduled for a public hearing before the city council's Rules committee today, but, in the face of fierce opposition from the University Community Planning Group and others, the proposal was dropped from the agenda.
A June 25 letter to Sanders signed by Patrcio Fuenzalida, Capital Power's director of business development for the western United States, explained the situation from the company's point of view:
"While the agreements we have reached with the City provide a strong commercial foundation for a mutually successful project, we have not yet had the opportunity to conduct extensive community outreach, consistent with the values of our company.
"Rather than have this matter proposed to a city-wide vote in November 2012, our preference would be to begin the public engagement process now, in collaboration with the city, with a view to bringing this item foward in a future election once sufficient engagement has taken place."