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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.

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photog921 Aug. 29, 2013 @ 11:38 a.m.

Excellent piece. Many important points. Especially appreciated is the reminder of the "human-free" comment by Jacobs. Reminds me of when they wanted to privatize the Balboa Park gardeners. As if you could buy the dedication people had who worked in the Park. And the value of human beings to a City. I hope that "human-free" reference is used generously by opponents of Fletcher, as a reminder of "what" the City is dealing with working with Jacobs.


monaghan Aug. 29, 2013 @ 12:05 p.m.

Is Bruce Coons a registered Republican? Democrat? Decline-to-state Independent? (Please god, let him not be a registered Green Party person, so that he is not thus automatically discredited as being fringe-y.) In any event, Coons represents a formidable viable mayoral candidate who has personal integrity, truly understands land use and would appeal widely to voters of all persuasions, with a special appeal for so many who know and enjoy Balboa Park.

Coons could be the antidote breath of fresh air to our hyper-sexualized professional politicians, which includes the superficially glamorous and macho Nathan Fletcher.


jelula Aug. 29, 2013 @ 1:04 p.m.

Good article though I disagree that acceptance of the tram system is a step toward reactivating the Jacobs plan. Whatever future parking solutions may be implemented, the tram itself is a service that is needed both now and in the future. And opposition to the Jacobs plan will not go away. In fact, inserting Bruce Coons - a true Democrat vs. the Fletcher chameleon - will energize voters who may otherwise feel the candidates so far identified leave us with no good choice.

Bob Filner recognized that the tram system, ordered as an element of the Jacobs, is a much better solution for moving visitors from parking lots to the Plaza and, perhaps, from across the Cabrillo Bridge when the bridge is closed to cars. The new tram allows for ADA access, unlike the Old Town Trolley trollies; it has the ability to carry far more passengers than the existing trolley system; and it will run a much more useful route, from Inspiration Point parking and past the other parking lots en route to the Plaza, instead of being used solely to carry those who would be parking in the Organ Pavilion parking structure the very short distance between the parking structure and the Plaza de Panama.


monaghan Aug. 29, 2013 @ 11:19 p.m.

I think the green trams are nifty and assume that jelula is correct that they do not presage the return of the Jacobs Plan for destroying Cabrillo Bridge and installing a robot in the booth of the pay-to-park underground structure. (We wouldn't want to carry another public employee if we can help it.)


Hardcover Aug. 29, 2013 @ 1:13 p.m.

Monaghan: Coons is a Democrat, I don't know for how long, if not always, but considerably longer than Nathan Fletcher.


Founder Aug. 29, 2013 @ 5:18 p.m.

Also left unmentioned in the above recap is City Council President Todd Gloria's offer to change City code to get rid of troublesome regulations that allowed SOHO to demand a stop to the project.

I welcome Coons and anyone else to run for the Mayors Office, that will consider putting residents before Big Business!

Without them SD will just continue to be sold to the highest bidder!


monaghan Aug. 29, 2013 @ 11:24 p.m.

If the People decide they've had enough of selling out, they will again vote for someone who will represent them well at City Hall. It's just that simple.


Yankeedoodle Aug. 30, 2013 @ 7:54 a.m.

Monaghan: Only if that person is available as an option and the choice is clear.


Yankeedoodle Aug. 30, 2013 @ 7:57 a.m.

How can one person change City Code? I would like to know the process, for one assumes there is such a process.


patflannery Aug. 30, 2013 @ 7:40 a.m.

Can any of you see Bruce getting any further than third place in the primary as his image stands right now? I can't but I will still vote for him in the primary and vote for DeMaio as the lesser of two evils in the runoff. A good showing by Bruce would send a strong message that San Diegans care about their built heritage and their quality of life and build a strong lobby against whichever of the two developer-friendly career climbers would seize the mayor's office.

But if Bruce could extend his appeal to the Latino community, he could actually win! If Enrique Morones got behind him we would have a real chance. Exciting thought. The dark hats would have a tough time pinning a sex or corruption scandal on our Bruce.

This would be a truly grass roots campaign. Money vs. no money. What do you say Enrique?


Yankeedoodle Aug. 30, 2013 @ 7:52 a.m.

DeMaio as the lesser of two evils? Who's running against him -- Sauron?


patflannery Aug. 30, 2013 @ 8:01 a.m.

Yankeedoodle: No, much worse, the chief lieutenant of San Diego's own First Dark Lord, Count Jacobs: Nathan Fletcher of the angel face with satanic powers.


Yankeedoodle Aug. 30, 2013 @ 8:53 a.m.

Pat: ha ha. Well, I attended a debate last year between the winner of the subsequent election, Mayor Bob Filner, and the loser of the subsequent election, Carl DeMaio, and if ever a person presented a picture of the outraged feudal serf defending his lord, it was DeMaio.

The fellow actually brought up Mr. Jacobs' name as an example of how Mr. Filner, if elected, would fail to display the proper obeisance to our Protector. I do not recall his exact charge, but I think the gist was "how dare you?", and if the transcript is handy, those words might even be found. Of course Mr. Filner's usual direct response was a thoughtful smile, then without beating around the bush, he stated that Mr. Jacobs holds no elected office. At that moment I was certain that Mr. Filner would never be elected.

To rephrase President Coolidge's quote, his enemies made sure that if elected he would not serve. I have nothing against Mr. Jacobs...he's not the one who has given up his dignity and worships the Almighty Dollar. He makes proposals, and it is up to others to get a backbone and either accept, reject or modify Mr. Jacobs' proposals. I do not see either Mr. DeMaio or Mr. Fletcher doing that. They do not seem to be their own men.


patflannery Aug. 30, 2013 @ 9:49 a.m.

Yankeedoodle: DeMaio is a Manchester man while Fletcher is a Jacobs man.

San Diegans are lucky in that they actually get to vote for their version of the medieval Guelphs and Ghibellines. We may even see medieval gang towers sprout up around the city from where the Manchurians and Jocobites can shoot poison arrows at each other far above the great unwashed crowds.

We are not too far away from a new warlord era.


Yankeedoodle Aug. 30, 2013 @ 10:36 a.m.


Most amusing. So many masters, so little time!


monaghan Sept. 1, 2013 @ 11:17 a.m.

Pat Flannery, you are very amusing but you are alienating the masses with all this erudition and proper spelling, born of a rulers-across-knuckles Celtic education. Guelphs and Ghibellines indeed! (Who the heck is Sauron?)

I would put money on Money finding temporary common ground in the mayoral election with a concerted effort to put Nathan on top. After all, Nathan is the slipperiest, least principled, most vacuous and prettiest one of all -- easy to manipulate.

The People can thwart this, however, just as they did the last time. Bruce Coons for Mayor!


Yankeedoodle Sept. 1, 2013 @ 2:38 p.m.

monaghan: "Who the heck is Sauron?" Well, any of the erudite masses who thronged into theaters to see The Lord of the Rings movies could tell you that. Tall entity with a scary face mask who sends his giant eye around to check on various factions, personification of evil power, all-round bad guy whose ring destroys the goodness of all who hold it...


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