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Ken Leighton 2:37 p.m., Jan. 28
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.
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."
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."