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San Diego's richest man, Qualcomm billionaire Irwin Jacobs, says he is pulling out of his controversial Balboa Park traffic and parking plan. The move came a day after a Superior Court judge here ruled that the city council had acted illegally in approving the proposal.

In making his announcement today over KPBS, the San Diego State University owned and operated public broadcasting operation which named its newsroom after him after he gave it $2.9 million, Jacobs reportedly said in a statement: "It is a shame that this action could prevent us from having the pleasure of watching children happily playing in a car-free Plaza de Panama, or enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in the Plaza de California."

But quiet was not something enjoyed by Jacob and his plan, and that was the way he seemed to like it.

To promote the traffic and parking makeover plan, the combative cell phone magnate and mega-million dollar political campaign donor pulled out all the stops with city hall politicos and the San Diego non-profit media outlets he has funded. U-T San Diego, the daily news operation run by GOP mogul Douglas Manchester, also served as a willing stage for the plan, with critics the recipients of editorial dressing downs and negative cartoons.

As previously reported here, a non-profit organization he funded used a Denver design firm to hire MJE, a San Diego lobbying outfit to grease the wheels at the city.

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.

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.

Jacobs also was a key fundraiser for past campaigns of GOP mayor Jerry Sanders, who pushed the Balboa Park plan using his new strong mayor powers. Jacobs had backed Prop D, the strong mayor campaign.

Sanders did similar bidding for Qualcomm's so-called Snapdragon Stadium gambit, in which Sanders allowed the cell phone giant to rebrand the city-owned stadium for several weeks during the football bowl season. Sanders took the action knowing that the city attorney had called the deal illegal.

Though afraid to go on the record, more than one city staffer claims that Sanders and his people pay little attention to the city council’s prerogatives under the law, as exemplified by the Snapdragon tangle. The measure that ultimately tilted the City’s balance of power in favor of the mayor, June 2010’s Proposition D, was backed by a host of major business interests, including Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan. They gave a total of $10,000 to the campaign committee, which ironically called itself San Diegans for Accountability at City Hall. The couple had given maximum contributions to Sanders’s 2008 reelection bid.

But the key to the city council’s quiescence about the Snapdragon deal, some observers say, is the fact that Jacobs, his family members, and Qualcomm colleagues have backed many other city politicos. Even those whom Jacobs and the company haven’t supported in the past are looking for future money from the La Jolla billionaire and his friends, the sources say. Jacobs has been an Obama backer.

And then there was the story of California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who last year wrote a letter to State Historic Preservation Officer M. Wayne Donaldson, warning him not to oppose the plan.

Said Newsom's February 15 letter:

"This is a project with broad local political, philanthropic and community support so it may be more productive to work in collaboration with the project development team to achieve your goal of preserving this historical open-space.

"As the State Historic Preservation Officer I hope that you will consider these arguments, withdraw your comments, and begin to work in collaboration with the leaders of the Plaza de Panama project."

"Should you need help making contact with the project team I stand ready to assist."

A month after he wrote the letter for the Jacobs project, the La Jolla billionaire and his wife Joan gave the Democrat's re-election campaign $12,000.

As recently as two weeks ago, Public Policy Strategies, the lobbyist for the project’s contractor, Turner Construction, threw a fundraiser for new mayor Bob Filner.

A lot of city staff time has gone into the project, much of which has yet to be accounted for. For instance, as reported here in September, the lame-duck Sanders ordered bids for an elaborate transportation system envisioned by Jacobs for his plan. Much of the work was done on a hurry-up basis, which insiders believe may have added to the ultimate cost to be paid for by taxpayers:

According to a request for bids posted on the city's procurement website and dated September 19, the city is seeking a vendor to "Furnish the City of San Diego with Movers for the Pedestrian Trams for the Balboa Park Plaza de Panama Project."

Bidders on the project are asked to provide prices for three "power units" with "rain curtains" and nine "trailer units with rain curtains."

"Time is of the essence," the bid document says. "A delay would affect the public and the operation of the City of San Diego."

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monaghan Feb. 5, 2013 @ 7:42 p.m.

We appreciate Matt Potter's clear drawing of the complicated intersection of big money and politics in our town. (And it raises a question: what's the demarcation between self-interest and philanthropy?)

We were spared a Balboa Park disaster by the Plaza de Panama decision of a courageous judge. (I'll bet when he runs for re-election, he won't be getting any $12,000 contributions from Irwin and Joan Jacobs.)

There is apparently no place that Irwin Jacobs' money hasn't gone to make friends and influence people to push through his personal pet projects. The list is long and stunning: KPBS; VoiceofSanDiego; former Mayor Jerry Sanders; lobbyists for P de P who hustled staffers at City Hall; failed mayoral candidate (and new Qualcomm employee) Nathan Fletcher; ambitious Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome; even new Mayor Bob Filner, who got a fundraiser from the lobbyist for the P de P construction company!

Finally, maybe less is more. Less money, less muscle, less hubris, more collaboration. And always, more courage. Thanks again, Judge.


Visduh Feb. 5, 2013 @ 9:11 p.m.

When I saw the headline for this post, I looked up, expecting to see it listed under the "ALMOST FACTUAL NEWS" heading. Even with this ruling that was announced yesterday, I'd have expected Jacobs to want to stay the course. Mencken has come up with usual tongue-in-cheek pieces that were less outrageous than this one. As I've commented so many times before, the truth is often stranger than satire.

My guess is that Jacobs, wanting to leave a "legacy" to the city, in the form of some memorial to himself, sees that this is not the avenue. So, let's all await his next move to build some monument. Try on renaming Cowles Mountain for ol' Irwin, or Mission Bay Park (that one really could use some expensive refurbishing), or Mount Soledad, or some other major geographic feature.

Expect it to happen fast. At his age, Jacobs is running out of time, and needs to move quickly. Perhaps he will learn that buying friends, especially if they are politicians, is very costly, and not guaranteed.


Fred Williams Feb. 5, 2013 @ 9:12 p.m.

It gets even worse the further back in time you go with Irwin Jacobs...

Remember that midnight stadium demolition, which Golding and McGrory orchestrated to make the change to football only a fait accompli?

This avoided Henderson and Rider's efforts to have a public vote on this awful deal.

A little while later, it turned out that the re-configuration went over budget. As a result, there was a second chance to have a public vote.

In rode Jacobs...he paid the difference, got the politicians off the hook from having a vote, and got the naming rights that converted Jack Murphy into Qualcomm stadium. This is one of the cheapest naming rights deals in all of professional sports, and the city lost a huge amount of potential income through this last minute behind closed doors deal.

We could also talk about how Qualcomm stiffs its American engineers by replacing them with low-paid and under-qualified H1B visa holders, who are little more than indentured servants...modern slavery.

Or we could go further back and talk about how we the taxpayers funded the research and development of Qualcomm's technology, taking all the risk, but he then turned that into his private profit...which he uses today to buy political power.

Matt, there's a great expose waiting to be written about this misanthropic "philanthropist"...


Visduh Feb. 5, 2013 @ 9:45 p.m.

Agreed. Only a few of those philanthropists gave their largess without some sort of benefit, psychic or otherwise, accruing to them. Some years ago, Jacobs was giving money with few strings attached to cultural groups, such as the symphony. Now all of this giving of his is politically tinged or worse, has no underlying philosophy, and smacks of personal gratification.


SDparkingCzar Feb. 6, 2013 @ 9:25 a.m.

This plan was a racket from the start in my opinion and shows how a few cronies and there paid for politics work. How about this: Malin Burnham’s grandson runs ACE Parking. Keith Jones who’s wife is in Human Resources at QUALCOMM . Just hired Nathan Fletcher a Jones crony. So an ACE PARKING connection for the planned parking lot! find the truth about ACE Parking and others @ www.StopAceParking.com Oh yah one more tid bit Doug Manchester was (may still be) an ACE PARKING client.


GlennS1 Feb. 6, 2013 @ 9:54 a.m.

Did Jacob's lawyers fail him by not investigating that the plan would violate city law, or knew of this and did not tell him, or tell him and he brushed that point of information aside?

The City Attorney advised the City Council. Just how far did the City Attorney investigate and proceed in advising the Council about the project's conflict with law.

Did the City Council know of, or coy past such legal issues. ?

Inquiring minds want to know.

SOHO has said that it endorses removing cars and parking from Plaza de Panama. SOHO sued because their attorney's determined that the plan violated city law. Jacobs, the City Attorney, the City Council have wasted precious unrecoverable time, a lot of money in their pursuit of what should not have been pursued because it was illegal. That's the point : law. Thankfully, via law, SOHO was able to prevent power, money, influence, and reluctance to confront them, from usurping Balboa Park.


Visduh Feb. 6, 2013 @ 10:28 a.m.

Glenn, you don't understand how things have worked in the city of SD for a long time. Legalities have had little effect on many decisions made and projects undertaken. The local superior court judges have obediently ruled in favor of the developer crowd and the corporate welfare hogs for far too long. This judge did just what few judges have done in recent memory, that is, he ruled on the merits of the case and the applicable law, and found in favor of SOHO.


GlennS1 Feb. 6, 2013 @ 3:56 p.m.

Sadly, and alas, I, and most anyone who pays attention to government affairs at the local, regional, or national level "know' how things work; not on merit or with regard to law, but to $, power, influence, position. I just got back from Argentina and if you think it is bad here................ And when deeds afoul do occur they may never come to light or receive the justice they deserve, until someone steps out of line. In particular this time it is the City Attorney's office that put their neck on the line in my viewpoint, and they lost. The City Council, except for Sheri Lightner, simply caved into a classic daddy warbucks scenario. Thus it is that I ask the obvious questions in a not so veiled attempt to make obvious glaring points without making blatant accusations. We know. They know. Everybody knows. We need to support those who stood up for what was right in the event that they suffer future indignities for their bravery.


Twister Feb. 6, 2013 @ 5:09 p.m.

Balboa Park was never perfect, and it never will be. The functioning of Balboa Park, integrating all forms of access, needs not just more study, it needs better study. Such a study need not necessarily be done at huge expense by a huge consulting firm; we have local talent that could, with the right approach, get the job done. They could hardly ignore more details that overpaid consulting firms do anyway. Good riddance to the almost insanely illogical plan that came close to being stuffed down our throats, but FAIR WARNING, an even worse one could probably be done. Pretty pictures, computer graphics, lovely models, and other "greenwash" can bamboozle enough voters to find and even more expensive boondoggle to foist upon us.

Just for grins, let's imagine what the pretty pictures for this project would have looked like had just one detail not been ignored--what the traffic REALLY would have looked like had the illustration of the Cabrillo Bridge and the right and left turns just west of the Museum of Man (MOM) been data-driven rather than fantasy-driven. There would have been a traffic jam to end all traffic jams endlessly loading the 100 year-old Cabrillo Bridge (a structure of unknowable structural integrity, not to mention gridlock on Laurel Street and Sixth Avenue and perhaps the freeway as well. Pedestrians would further slow vehicle movement, particularly because savvy drivers would clog the streets west of the park and walk, possibly in a solid stream, across the bridge. Even smarter ones would use the parking on and off Park Boulevard. Deliveries and staff ingress and egress to Balboa Park institutions would be a nightmare . . .

Yes, there's more. What about the 1915 Centennial? Closures and intra-park transportation that really works? Too cheap. No big contracts to let there. Follow the money. The BIG MONEY!


dwbat Feb. 7, 2013 @ 10:25 p.m.

Cabrillo Bridge is getting a seismic retrofit, because we DO know about its structural integrity. See: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...


Frederick Simson Feb. 6, 2013 @ 7:24 p.m.

My $250 donation to SOHO's legal fund was the best investment I ever made!


jelula Feb. 6, 2013 @ 10:25 p.m.

Matt Potter's article, in combination with all of the comments above, has done a superb job of delineating the complex power interrelationships and why, even when it should have been evident that the DEIR Finding #1 was a clear violation of the city's municipal code, the Mayor & Council pushed it through. They're too accustomed to getting away with it (whatever "it" might be at the time). There couldn't be a better illustration of the ways that our elected City officials have manipulated just about every element of city government to the benefit of a limited group of "citizens" when City Attorney Jan Goldsmith asked the judge if he couldn't take a more flexible interpretation of the city code element on which the judge's decision was based. The judge, admirably, responded by suggesting in that case, why have laws at all.

On to the final topic of the article, we can still use the tram system for which the city has posted bids. We'll need them come 2015 (we hope) and this time, the trams can run from Inspiration Point to the Plaza (or even across to Balboa Dr., west of the bridge) instead of the absurdly short run the recently deceased project envisioned from the parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion to the Plaza.

Of course, we would need to raise funds to pay for the tram system and its continued operation. Now there's a perfect undertaking for the Balboa Park Conservancy - a project that will benefit the 2015 celebration and remain an enduring benefit for visitors to the park for many years beyond. Do you think Dr. Jacobs could be persuaded to kick in a few dollars?


Twister Feb. 7, 2013 @ 2:28 p.m.

While the present transportation "system" isn't perfect (in fact, it works pretty well considering the serious defects in overall design and limitations of topography), any replacement should have to demonstrate clear functional superiority. Facility capacity and scheduling are two relatively simple factors that continue to be ignored.

Some kind of intra-park transportation system is definitely needed, especially for the infirm and considering the need for remote parking for private vehicles come 2015, but facility management needs still must be met, and that means roadways, albeit perhaps restricted.

"The more you generalize about a population, the less you know about any individual in that population." --Henry Geiger


Visduh Feb. 10, 2013 @ 8:55 a.m.

Today's Manchester Mill (aka UT San Diego) has not one but TWO pieces about this rejection, one on the front page. Since I just finished breakfast, I'll not want to read either just yet, lest I hurl. But it is guaranteed that both will be uber-sympathetic to Jacobs and the notion that anything the city can do to pick the pockets of the rich is good. The first piece is written by Roger Showley, and of late he's been merely parroting what people tell him in a most uncritical way. If there's any candor in either piece, it will be sharply limited.


Visduh Feb. 10, 2013 @ 11:02 p.m.

Maybe those pieces in the Mill were short of uber-sympathetic, but neither at any point raised questions about the pattern of Jacobs largess in the past year or two. I'd think that his support of disparate candidates, especially at the local level, and his $2 million funneled into an Obama PAC would have rated some mention. Showley spent the first three or four paragraphs describing Jacobs in positive terms, such as "public spirited" and his motives as generally altruistic. The other piece by Craig Gustafson was a more technical legal analysis that had Jacobs "surprised" by the outcome of the lawsuit. But the Showley piece did mention that Jacobs came up with this scheme on his own and only then went out and assembled allies to help do the selling job. He may know electronics, but does that qualify him to design city parks? Showley doesn't say anything about that. He does, however, fret that other philanthropy will shrink and fade because these SOHO opponents thwarted Jacobs. He runs a thread through his "analysis" that assumes that money will come with strings, and that is to be expected. But the last step is his willingness to accept the strings in order to get the loot. Since the rag came out with a scathing editorial that condemned the ruling and was all in favor of the makeover, one should not expect any balanced reporting in the UT. Oh, has there ever been any "balanced reporting" in that paper when local matters were involved? With Dougie in charge, don't expect anything that he doesn't like. But you can expect editorial comment masquerading as news, and more likely when this sort of "analysis" is written.


Twister Feb. 11, 2013 @ 2:15 p.m.

Thanks. I have written elsewhere on this site about park design and transportation issues. The City tends to outsource park design to professional aestheticians who know little about the nuts and bolts of park design. It has long been thus, and most of our parks are poorly-designed.


Twister Feb. 11, 2013 @ 6:23 p.m.

A lot of work gets done well beneath the radar too. All of the directors of all of the Balboa Park institutions (Museums etc.) were warned, reputedly by one or more of Mayor Sanders' key staff members that any opposition to the Plaza de Panama project and the Cabrillo Bridge/parking garage design, might jeopardize their City funding. At least one director appears to have been a "plant," with ties to one of the mayor's key staff members.

What is needed here is a complete cast of characters and their associates, along with all of their complex connections that make up this tangled web.

Don't think for a minute that these people give up easily. Watch for an end-run around the court decision.


Visduh Feb. 11, 2013 @ 8:11 p.m.

It is already coming, sponsored by Todd Gloria.


Twister Feb. 12, 2013 @ 7:36 p.m.

Details? Links? Other intelligence?


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