Matt Potter 2:08 p.m., Nov. 16
Irwin Jacobs Balboa Park tram operation proceeding full speed ahead
Fletcher versus Coons in San Diego mayoral showdown assures fireworks over Jacobs Plaza de Panama power play will be a virtual certainty.
Until yesterday, the smart money in San Diego politics was eyeballing a somewhat formulaic race between Republican Carl DeMaio and former Republican Nathan Fletcher to replace fallen Democrat Bob Filner as mayor of San Diego.
Though vastly different in personal lifestyle and political proclamations, the pair's similarity can be glimpsed in their respective putative backers: a wealthy La Jolla Republican with lots of ties to the city's business lobby, and a wealthy La Jolla Democrat with lots of ties to the city's business lobby.
Douglas Manchester owns U-T San Diego, the former Union-Tribune that he's been converting into a multi-media engine of mass political persuasion.
Irwin Jacobs contributes heavily to two non-profit media outfits that he's said share his own editorial philosophy: San Diego State University’s broadcasting operation KPBS, and the Voice of San Diego, co-founded by the now reportedly ailing Neil Morgan.
"KPBS is one of the better sources for news and information in our region," Jacobs has said. "Joan and I wanted to do something that would enhance their ability to cover local news.”
As reported here a year ago today, billionaire Jacobs, backed by the fierce editorial support of Manchester's U-T San Diego, was gunning for Balboa Park in the form of an ultimately ill-fated massive parking garage and road plan that he dumped several thousand dollars of his virtually inexhaustible Qualcomm fortune into lobbying through city hall.
MJE Marketing, the lobbying outfit that’s been helping to push the controversial Irwin Jacobs Balboa Park makeover through city hall, picked up another $31,000 for its services in the second quarter of the year, recent City lobbyist filings show.
That makes MJE’s gross income from the project a total of $105,000 so far. Approved by the city council this July in the face of fierce opposition from historical preservationists and others, Jacobs’s well-bankrolled parking and traffic plan is currently the target of a last-ditch lawsuit filed by the Save Our Heritage Organisation.
La Jolla billionaire and Qualcomm founder Jacobs set up and funded a nonprofit foundation to mount his pet project. That group, in turn, retained Civitas, Inc., a Colorado-based architecture and planning consultant that subsequently hired MJE to represent the project’s interests at the City.
MJE’s most recent disclosure shows that the firm’s Kristen Byrne and Lauren Bogart lobbied mayoral staffers Gerry Braun and Darren Pudgil for approval of the Jacobs park deal. In addition, Byrne gave $250 to the failed mayoral campaign of ex-GOP–turned–independent assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who backs the Jacobs project.
MJE went on to make far more money on the project, taking its cues directly from Jacobs, as email released by the city after a request under the state public records act showed:
Jacobs wasn't hesitant to share his strong opinions with the consultants he had hired and the staff of GOP then-mayor Jerry Sanders in pursuit of his desires.
Among other wishes, the high-tech magnate wanted to minimize future staff to operate his park remake - namely the mammoth garage proposed for the parking lot behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion - by employing robotics.
"Have you looked at further automation in the garage to decrease parking garage staff?" Jacobs asked in an email he fired off on February 5. 2011. "Should be almost human-free except for emergencies."
The Jacobs dream for low-wage parking and better limo access to the Old Globe Theatre died - at least for the time being - this past February when the authoritarian billionaire announced he was picking up his marbles and departing the game following an adverse court ruling.
But that hasn't stopped recent city hall developments that inside observers see aiding a possible resurrection for the Jacobs plan.
Last week, three days before Filner agreed to quit, the city issued a request for proposals regarding operation and maintenance of new "Metro Trams" in the park.
As previously reported, last September the lame duck administration of Republican mayor Jerry Sanders, who enjoyed major political funding from Jacobs and his Qualcomm staffers, issued a request for proposals for construction of the tram units for Jacobs's so-called Plaza de Panama project, about four months before the court ruled against the plan.
Even after the court's ruling ostensibly put the Jacobs deal on ice, arrangements for the billionaire's hoped-for trams kept chugging through city hall, and now, according to this month's request for proposals, are about to get an operator:
The new Metro Tram, which has three (3) power units (one completely enclosed) and nine (9) Metro Trailers, (three completely enclosed) has the capability of simultaneously shuttling up to one hundred passengers per power unit. Each power unit accommodates sixteen (16) passengers and each Trailer can carry twenty-eight (28) passengers.
The Metro Tram is financed by the City through its tax-exempt lease purchase funding program for government assets. The City will have full ownership of the Metro Tram in 2020 after all the lease payments are made to the lender and the lender releases its security interest in the vehicles at the end of the repayment term.
Insiders widely believe that the march towards reviving the Jacobs park plan won't stop there. Filner's pending resignation has given his opponents another chance at the mayor’s office and another possible bite at the gleaming apple of Jacobs's eye.
But things could get nasty.
Both Fletcher and DeMaio endorsed the Jacobs plan during their respective campaigns for mayor last year, making for a less than lively prospective debate this year.
Then came the surprise entrance yesterday into the race by Bruce Coons, president of Save Our Heritage Organisation, the group whose lawsuit stopped the Jacobs park makeover dead in its tracks.
Jacobs, an imperious entrepreneur known for getting his way at virtually any price, is known to harbor strong personal feelings about his pet project and its opponents - especially Coons - and political insiders are watching eagerly to see how the city's media, which some longtime political observers have accused of "play for pay," will cover the preservation champion and his candidacy.