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2004 San Diego City Mayoral race

POSC 140 Braunwarth

Read each of the following four articles about the issues and candidates in the 2004 San Diego City Mayoral race


What are the primary issues in this year's mayoral race?

Who do you think is best poised to meet the challenges facing San Diego?  Why?


Rivals say mayor fumbled Chargers issue

2000 campaign question replayed in current race

By Philip J. LaVelle 

February 12, 2004

After much posturing, name-calling and fighting in court, the San Diego Chargers get their stadium. Owner Alex Spanos is elated and says he hopes he's around for a lease that runs to 2020. The mayor is elated, too, and declares:

"The L.A. Chargers . . . I never want to hear that phrase again!"

A future happy ending to the Chargers stadium demand?

Actually, it's how the last stadium demand ended, in 1997, when a judge gave the green light to the city's expansion of Qualcomm Stadium.

But the Chargers are asking again for better digs, and threatening (again) to shop the team to another city.

And so the National Football League franchise – an issue in the 2000 mayor's race – is an issue in the 2004 election as well.

This time the Chargers want the city to give them the land around Qualcomm (valued at as much as $300 million); they propose to build a new stadium and up to 6,000 housing units.

Alleging inaction by City Hall, the Chargers also are suing the city, asserting they have met an economic provision of their lease allowing them to shop the team to other cities.

Relations between City Hall and the Chargers are in deep freeze. A defiant Mayor Dick Murphy vows to fight; his opponents say he has failed on this issue.

Voters, meanwhile, have little to go on. There are few details coming from any of the candidates on this one:


Peter Q. Davis

Davis is the chairman of the San Diego Unified Port Commission and the former head of the Centre City Development Corp., San Diego's downtown redevelopment arm. He said he doubts the Qualcomm site qualifies as a redevelopment zone, which is key to the Chargers' proposal.

Blight and poverty must be found before the site can qualify – tall orders for a land parcel valued at up to $300 million, and for a football team valued, Davis said, at $580 million – an 800 percent return on Spanos' initial investment.

Davis also said Mission Valley cannot sustain the strain of 6,000 new residential units.

If the Chargers want to stay in San Diego, he said, they should be persuaded to build a new stadium in one of two redevelopment areas: the Midway District – where the Sports Arena is – or downtown.

Davis said he has a downtown site in mind, but he declined to reveal it.

He also said his experience as a banker, and his redevelopment-agency work on the Padres ballpark project, make him uniquely qualified to resolve the Chargers issue.

"If I were mayor I could bring the parties together to make this thing happen, and I think there's a pretty good chance," he said. "I understand how this works, I understand the economics."

If the Chargers want to leave, Davis said, he would suggest a deal offered by a voter at one of his meet-the-candidate coffees: require the Chargers to pay the city the full value of the bonds used to expand Qualcomm – they're currently only obligated to pick up a portion if they leave – and leave the "Chargers" name behind for another team to pick up.

"We'd get a better team, because the Chargers have the worst record in the league, so we obviously improve our chances of having a better team by getting anybody else in," Davis said.


Ron Roberts

This member of the county Board of Supervisors said Murphy's approach, which involved creating a Chargers Task Force to study the issue last year, hasn't worked.

Instead of passing the issue off to a citizens' commission, Roberts said he would provide city bureaucrats with direction.

"The city should be doing its homework," said Roberts, a former architect. "The city should be looking at all the sites that are available, especially in the various redevelopment areas, to ask, 'What is the most advantageous site?'

"Let's assume that the Chargers would be willing to pay for 100 percent of the stadium. Where would we like them to put it?"

Roberts said the work has not been done to determine whether Qualcomm is the best site, or whether one of the city's existing redevelopment zones would work better.

He also said he would thaw the freeze with the Spanos family.

"I think you can work with them," he said. "I think that they do want to stay here, and that they're willing to contribute significant dollars."

He added that the Chargers need to "understand that the taxpayers aren't real happy with them or with the notion of putting any money into this."

Roberts said he would consider putting money into infrastructure as part of a deal that would create a revenue-producing enterprise in future years.


Dick Murphy

The mayor outlined his approach to the Chargers in his January State of the City address. It has three elements:

 Keeping the Chargers in San Diego.

 Using no taxpayer money for stadium construction (he did not say anything about public funding of infrastructure, common with stadium deals).

 Refusing to make another "bad deal" with the team, a reference to the city's controversial financial guarantee of Chargers attendance.

Murphy said the Chargers' lawsuit, which "has cast a pall over negotiations," might drive everything at this point.

"We may need to resolve that lawsuit before further meaningful negotiations can proceed," he said.

On the campaign trail, Roberts has said that Murphy broke a promise, made in the 2000 mayor's race, to sue the Chargers to get rid of the so-called ticket guarantee, which has cost the city millions of dollars.

"I don't recall ever promising to get rid of the ticket guarantee," Murphy said.

In the 2000 race, Murphy issued news releases saying the city should sue the Chargers if the team were found to have broken its promise to market its tickets to fans.

That lawsuit never came.

As for the current situation, Murphy said his experience as a former Superior Court judge is superior to Roberts' or Davis' qualifications.

"Court is an environment I feel comfortable in," he said. "You know, I have always believed that being an attorney is a very valuable background to be mayor of San Diego. . . . I think being an architect or a banker is a helpful background, but being a lawyer and a judge is more valuable."


Jim Bell

This environmental designer from Ocean Beach has little to say on this issue.

But he knows this much – if the Chargers build a new stadium, it should not be at the current Qualcomm site in Mission Valley, near the San Diego River.

"Definitely not in the floodplain," Bell said.

"That's such a dumb idea, I can't even believe it," he said. "It's continued dumbness. . . . Eventually, when we have a catastrophic flood, it'll bring our whole economy to its knees. Plus, the whole area's prone to liquefaction in an earthquake."


Pressing issues push environment off marquee

By Philip J. LaVelle 

February 13, 2004

Environmental issues – a driving force in the San Diego mayor's race in 2000 – are playing a supporting role in the 2004 contest, largely because of the city's financial crisis and underfunding of the fire and police departments.

But in environmentally conscious San Diego, issues of clean water, clean air and open space are never far from voters' hearts – or the politicians rhetoric.

Mayor Dick Murphy – on the defensive on finances and public safety – beams with pride when he talks of his environmental record and of gaining endorsements from the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters.

Murphy gained environmentalist support in the 2000 contest in part by promising to keep Sorrento Valley Road, near threatened wildlife habitat, closed to traffic.

He kept that promise, but has not won universal support from environmentalists.

Some Mission Bay Park preservationists say he is a too-enthusiastic advocate of development, such as SeaWorld's expansion, there.

And Jim Bell, an environmental designer who endorsed Murphy last time over county Supervisor Ron Roberts, is running for mayor again, claiming Murphy's commitment to renewable energy sources is weak.

Roberts also is running again and is devoting little effort to an environmental platform, focusing instead on finances and public safety.

Port Commission Chairman Peter Q. Davis, meantime, questions Murphy's environmental claims and has staked out turf on a controversial land-use initiative on the March 2 ballot.

Their stands on the environment:


Dick Murphy

The mayor boasts of having kept faith with environmentalists.

"No mayor of San Diego has ever done more for the environment than I have," Murphy said.

"San Diego is a special place because we have done a good job at protecting the quality of life here, and if I were to say there was one reason why I ran for mayor, it was to protect the quality of life during the first eight years of the 21st century."

Cleaning up San Diego's beaches and bays is one of his signature goals, and he says his efforts, which include upgrading the city's sewer system, have led to 50 percent reductions in spills and closures.

Murphy also touts his Community Forest Initiative, which calls for planting 100,000 trees by 2020, and his support for restoration of the San Diego River.

The mayor also promotes the City of Villages program, which aims to revitalize older neighborhoods with mixes of affordable housing and commercial development near public transit.

Murphy also has pushed to convert city buildings to solar power.

"The longest journey begins with a single step," Murphy said, "and this is the biggest step in San Diego history with regard to utilization of renewable energy."

He added: "Incremental change is the only change that's feasible."

Murphy said critics who say he is pro-development in Mission Bay Park – the opposite of what he told voters in 2000 – have it wrong.

The mayor said the city has spent millions to clean up Mission Bay water, and that his vote in favor of SeaWorld expansion is in sync with his 2000 campaign pledge to oppose developing more than 25 percent of the park.

"The SeaWorld expansion was within the existing footprint of the SeaWorld lease," Murphy said. "I think my record as a defender of Mission Bay Park is clear."


Ron Roberts

Otherwise a tough Murphy critic, Roberts gives the mayor credit for pushing clean-water programs.

"But if I give him credit for that, he's got to give me credit for cleaning up all the air, too," said Roberts, who narrowly lost the 2000 general election to Murphy.

The county Board of Supervisors is the county air quality agency, Roberts said, adding that he's on the state Air Resources Board.

"There isn't anything (relating to clean air) in the last nine years now that has happened at the state, at the county, where I haven't had a direct involvement," he said.

Roberts said he has pushed clean air legislation, including "small things that we've had fun with," such as a county trade-in program that Roberts said helps gets rid of older gasoline-powered lawn mowers.

He also notes he has advocated having diesel declared a toxic contaminant at the state level. "It's a first step in making a major change in the way you look at diesel and the way you regulate diesel and the requirements for cleaning up the trucks and the buses," he said.

Roberts said by every scientific measurement, San Diego County's air quality has continued to improve in the face of population growth. "If you look at what has happened, it dramatically improved," he said.

If elected, Roberts said he would push for creating a statewide clean-water organization with the same regulatory authority as the state's clean-air board.

Roberts lists no environmental platform on his campaign Web site. He said that since any serious candidate for San Diego mayor is presumed not to be an anti-environment extremist, environmental concerns will not play a big role in the race.

He disagrees with Murphy's self-assessment as an environmentally important mayor. "I don't think in the public's mind that they look upon Dick as an environmental giant," he said.


Peter Q. Davis

This former banker questions Murphy's claim of reducing beach-bay pollution and sewer spills by 50 percent – a phenomena Davis attributes in part to lower rainfall.

Murphy "has been less candid with us when he takes credit," Davis said.

Davis said he would push for more measuring stations to identify pollution sources and track progress.

Hoping to appeal to Democrats and environmentalists, Davis has strongly endorsed the Rural Lands Initiative, Proposition A on the March 2 ballot, that would limit development across 694,000 acres in northern and eastern San Diego County.

The measure is backed by environmentalists, labor unions and advocates of affordable housing and is fiercely opposed by farmers and landowners. Murphy has taken no position on the measure, Roberts is opposed and Bell is in favor.

Davis, who has a second home in San Diego's backcountry, said the initiative would discourage sprawl by limiting residential development in areas far from job centers. He also says it would ensure clean drinking water in mountain lakes and contribute to clean air.

"Most importantly, we're leaving something for the next generation," he said.


Jim Bell

This environmental designer faced a quandary after finishing back in the pack in the 2000 mayoral primary: Which candidate to endorse?

He settled on Murphy and wound up disappointed.

Bell says Murphy has given short shrift to energy, water and food self-sufficiency – views that got Bell bounced from the mayor's environmental advisory committee.

The only Democrat in this technically nonpartisan contest, Bell said on his campaign Web site that "whatever other problems we have, they will surely get worse if there is any serious disruption in the supply or increase in the price of the energy, water and food we now import."

Bell said the up to 6 million residents of the San Diego-Tijuana region import 98 percent of their food, water and energy.

He said reducing this reliance would make the region more stable while boosting its economic prospects. If the region were self-sufficient, "the $20 billion a year we now export to pay for imported water, energy and food would be circulating locally, stimulating business and job creation," he said.



Public safety debate focuses on helicopter

By Philip J. LaVelle 

February 14, 2004

There's a fifth player in the San Diego mayor's race that can charitably be described as loud, heavy and a little on the homely side.

It's a Bell 212 helicopter, and while it's not on the ballot, it has come to symbolize the debate over public safety.

This was the region's only firefighting helicopter, and its lease expired a few days before the Cedar wildfire broke out last fall.

As the lease was expiring, Port Commissioner Peter Q. Davis held a news conference at Seaport Village, where the chopper landed and took off during a high-rise rescue drill, to urge Mayor Dick Murphy to keep the aircraft here.

Murphy declined. San Diego was left without any aerial protection when the fire broke out, although fire officials say its usefulness would have been limited by the magnitude of the fires.

The mayor ordered its return after the fires broke out and says he is committed to keeping it through the end of June.

Davis and Murphy's other major challenger in the March 2 primary, county Supervisor Ron Roberts, both point to the helicopter episode – and a previous Murphy vote against paying for the chopper – as they seek to make the broader case that Murphy, a former judge, has been bad, across the board, for public safety in San Diego.

The city's fire and police chiefs have publicly sounded alarms over low staffing levels and dangerously worn-out equipment, and Murphy is on the defensive over his fiscal priorities. The mayor now says public safety is his top priority. He also points to a still-low crime rate and has promised to beef up the Fire-Rescue Department.

Here's what the four mayoral candidates say on public safety:


Ron Roberts

The man who narrowly lost the 2000 mayor's race to Murphy says the mayor's public safety record is "a crime."

Roberts is endorsed by former San Diego Police Chief Jerry Sanders and two major law enforcement labor unions – the San Diego Police Officers Association and the county Deputy Sheriffs Association.

Roberts noted that the only cop hired by San Diego last year was Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, and that the department ranks 29th in the nation in the ratio of police officers to residents.

The Fire-Rescue Department, he added, is 800 firefighters shy of the national staffing median.

Roberts said he would make police and fire safety his top priority.

He said he would scour other city agencies for cash that could go to financing public safety. Roberts has proposed a five-year plan to buy new police and fire vehicles with hotel-room tax money and would upgrade run-down fire houses and police stations.

After the fires, Roberts proposed a countywide property tax hike to pay for a firefighting helicopter fleet. He dropped the bid, saying there was insufficient public support. Murphy accused him of being ineffectual.

On Tuesday, Roberts and a unanimous Board of Supervisors voted to spend $3.5 million on a fire rescue helicopter and to hire consultants to help the county purchase two more aircraft for a permanent fleet.

"We all know from our own experience we need this badly," Roberts said after the vote.


Peter Q. Davis

Davis said public safety will be his top priority if elected.

He has hammered Murphy on public safety, accusing him of failed leadership that has contributed, he said, to rising rape and murder rates and longer response times in fire emergencies.

His Web page features a photo of him with the fire rescue helicopter flying in the background, and his broadcast ads seek to portray Murphy as asleep at the switch.

One ad focuses exclusively on fire protection, with various voices asking a series of questions related to the Cedar fire.

The last question comes from a young child, who asks: "Daddy, why did our house burn down?"

In a closing voice-over, Davis says: "There can be no higher priority than the public's safety. This is not about a lack of money. This is about a lack of decisive leadership in the mayor's office."

In an interview, the former banker said: "We have been playing the odds and they caught up with us with the fires last year, and they'll catch up with us with police being unfunded.

"Whether we have civil unrest or the continuation of crime or gangs out of control, underfunding and understaffing the Police Department is a risky situation that eventually comes home."

Davis said he would push "creative" solutions, including offering city assistance to help police officers buy homes in San Diego city limits. This, he said, would create a 24-hour police presence in various communities.

He said if elected he also would use the prestige of office to encourage wealthy donors, other mayors and public officials to chip in for a helicopter fleet.


Dick Murphy

The mayor bristles at Roberts' criticism, calling him a hypocrite for throwing stones at City Hall while crime has jumped in the county.

Citing FBI crime statistics, Murphy said from 1999 to 2003, crime in the city was unchanged while crime in unincorporated San Diego County – the territory governed by the Board of Supervisors – jumped 14 percent.

He also said his previous career, as a Superior Court judge, makes him better qualified to be mayor.

"I know a lot more about how the (criminal justice) system works than my opponents do," he said.

Murphy vowed in his State of the City speech to make public safety his top priority. In later interviews, he said the costs, and how to pay for it, would have to wait for further study.

In that January speech, Murphy also promised to beef up the Fire-Safety Department but two weeks ago said that objective might be threatened by the city's budget crisis. He also called for tougher building code standards, brush clearing and finding a way to finance a regional helicopter fleet.

Some of the building code standards have been tightened, and the brush clearing matter is working its way through the council.

Davis this month took aim, in radio ads, at Murphy's vote last year against paying for a police academy class.

The same week the Davis ads began airing, Murphy and city officials announced a plan to hire 20 new officers.

Five would be hired from other departments, with 15 recruits to be trained at the police academy. Funding would come from several sources, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and asset forfeitures related to drug prosecutions.

Davis called the move a "knee-jerk response to our radio ads," while Roberts said 20 new officers would do little to bolster the force.

Murphy called it "a good step in the right direction."


Jim Bell

An environmental designer from Ocean Beach, Bell has had little to say about public safety. As with most issues, he says his core theme – making the region self-sufficient – would boost the economy and increase tax receipts.

"Becoming energy, water and food self-sufficient would allow us to have gold-plated fire trucks," he said.

Bell also said the city would be able to purchase the latest police gear and boost officer pay and training. "Plus, because of more employment there would be less crime. There'd be less for the police to do," he said.



A debate framed by financial recovery

Mayor hopefuls prescribe varied fiscal remedies

By Philip J. LaVelle 

February 15, 2004

When he ran for mayor four years ago, Dick Murphy promised San Diegans that he would "put the city's fiscal house in order."

Since then, several powerful forces – some within Murphy's control, some not – have thrown California's second-largest city into its toughest fiscal spot in years.

Federal investigators are looking into errors and omissions in city financial statements used to sell more than $2.3 billion in city bonds. They also are examining the city pension system, which is straining under a $1.1 billion deficit and more than $1 billion in other liabilities.

A bailout of the pension system threatens to cripple general city operations, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2004-05 budget could drain $15 million from San Diego's treasury, creating even more pressure for service cuts.

The city's costs of borrowing may go up as well. In September, city officials tabled an effort to sell $505 million of sewer bonds and later admitted to serious flaws in documents provided to investors in this and other bond issues.

In the wake of this admission, a major Wall Street credit-rating agency expressed "diminished" faith in the city's financial management and lowered the city's fiscal outlook from "stable" to "negative."

Since then, city officials have pulled back efforts to refinance up to $195 million in bonds used to finance the city's share of Petco Park and $36 million in park bonds.

A credit-rating downgrade may be next, which would add untold millions to the city's borrowing costs – money that would come out of the general fund, which pays for services such police and fire protection, libraries and park maintenance.

All this has emboldened Murphy's major challengers – county Supervisor Ron Roberts and Port Commission Chairman Peter Q. Davis – while forcing the mayor to change his rhetoric from generally sunny to something a bit cloudier.

Here are the candidates' records and positions on city finances:


Dick Murphy

San Diego's 33rd mayor has been slow to acknowledge publicly the depth of the city's financial ills and reluctant, until recently, to say what he would do about it.

In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune on Jan. 26, Murphy said a published report that said the sewer-bond pullback was related to the pension system's troubles was not accurate. He said city officials wanted to have the latest financial statements done before going to the bond market.

A fuller story emerged the next day, when city officials, in documents prepared after the sewer bonds were tabled, disclosed there were errors and omissions – many of them related to the pension system – in previous reports for bond investors.

In those Jan. 27 documents, city officials also disclosed that the pension system deficit could soar to $2.4 billion by 2011.

Six days after these admissions, Moody's Investor Service lowered the city's fiscal outlook. Two days after that, Murphy acknowledged in an interview that the pension system poses a serious threat to city finances – and that the bailout will be "politically painful."

Previously, Murphy had put the issue off for study to his Pension Reform Committee, due to report back after the March 2 primary election.

Unlike the upbeat depiction of city operations in his January State of the City Speech, Murphy now says the City Council must consider tax hikes, service cuts, issuing bonds to close the pension system gap, cutting benefits and selling off city land.

"If we do these things, the city will remain fiscally sound," Murphy said.

Some of his biggest promises – including a $150 million new downtown library and beefing up the fire department – may be casualties.


Ron Roberts

Roberts, a member of the county Board of Supervisors, has a 12-point financial plan and frequently touts his service for the county as evidence of his ability to turn around a financially strapped government.

"The first step to get out of a hole is to stop digging it," Roberts often says, asserting that city officials have yet to recognize the city's difficult financial position.

He points to actions during his tenure at the county government dating to the mid-1990s – when the county was close to bankruptcy – including replacing the county administrator, selling off a hemorrhaging trash system and enacting a management system that he says encourages accountability.

Meanwhile, the county has lowered its pension system gap and costs by issuing roughly $1 billion in pension-obligation bonds.

All is not entirely rosy on that front, however: In the past year, the county Board of Supervisors granted large benefit increases, pushing their pension system deficit to roughly $900 million.

Murphy calls Roberts "hypocritical" for criticizing the city's pension system troubles and notes that the county's pension costs will soar this year.

Roberts says the comparison is misleading. The county makes full payments to its pension fund, he said. And county officials note that the system is far larger than the city's, which means its deficit is smaller in terms of percentage. There are more than 32,000 participants in the county's $4 billion plan, compared with more than 17,000 participants in the city plan.

Independent experts say the county's growing pension obligations will lead to a huge bill in the coming year.

Roberts' 12-point financial plan includes auditing city finances and operations, using bonds to close the pension system deficit, putting the downtown library on hold, and firing City Manager Michael Uberuaga, a step Murphy opposes.

Roberts also supports Proposition C, the March 2 ballot measure to increase the city's hotel room tax, which Murphy voted against putting on the ballot.


Peter Q. Davis

An ex-banker, Davis is the former head of the Centre City Development Corp., the city's downtown redevelopment arm – experience that he says makes him qualified to get San Diego out of its fiscal mess.

His first act if elected: tackling the pension system's problems. He said he would freeze benefits and consider rolling them back to reduce the city's liabilities.

Davis also would consider pension bonds.

Davis backs Proposition C. In the 2000 mayor's race, Davis advocated a hotel room tax hike. He said if it had gone through, City Hall would have a $100 million surplus today.

He also calls for a possible rental-car fee, which he said would primarily affect visitors.

The core of his financial program entails dividing programs into "wants," such as the downtown library, which can wait, and "needs," including public safety.

Davis said he would force tough choices, such as telling individual communities to reach into their own pockets for some amenities.

"We need to have somebody at the City Council saying, 'We know you guys want to have a park, but trust me, the rest of the city doesn't care whether you get one or not, so tax yourself,' " Davis said.

Davis said that's how he and his neighbors created Stanley Park roughly 30 years ago in his old University City neighborhood.


Jim Bell

An environmental designer from Ocean Beach, Bell said city finances would improve if his core theme – making the San Diego-Tijuana region self-sufficient – becomes a reality.

"If we follow my plan to become energy, water and food self-sufficient, we'd eventually be bringing $20 billion a year back into our local economy," he said.

"We're 3 million people buying imported energy, food and water. If we develop our own resources, all of that money that we currently export would be brought back into our economy in the form of business and employment opportunities."

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