Sunday, September 23, 2012

City government? we don't need no stinkin' government

This is the 3rd installment in the stinkin’ series.  It's called City government? we don’t need no stinkin’ government.  

Before we gird our collective loins to confront a scam called “Tourism Marketing District” I will pose this question: Why do we need city government?

Here’s a straightforward answer: to provide us with safe and pleasant surroundings so we can pursue our daily lives with a minimum of hassle – activities that include making a living, developing our talents, safeguarding the next generation, trying to be happy….

The answer hold true in Barrio Logan, Point Loma, and Mira Mesa.  Del Cerro, Pacific Beach, and Paradise Hills.  Up north in Carmel Valley and Rancho Bernardo.  City Heights and Linda Vista.  All of us want to come home to a stable, good neighborhood. 

It should come as no surprise that it costs a lot money to provide neighborhood basics like adequate police protection, parks and playgrounds, street lights that work, clean water from our taps, swept-up streets, librarians, sewer pipes that don’t burst, and smooth roads.  So how are our San Diego neighborhoods doing?

Outgoing Mayor Sanders tells us everything is A-ok.  But that’s not true.  Since Sanders took office seven years ago neighborhood maintenance, environmental services, and community planning have deteriorated.  The city remains paralyzed by chronic budget deficits and a staggering pension debt.  

Mayor Sanders finagled a budget ‘surplus’ to coincide with his final term in office but it was a fake.  It fizzled before he could duck out of office.  Our city and neighborhood ‘quality of life’ continue to sink in deep red ink.

The mayor didn’t directly cause the city’s financial crisis.  He simply added his name to the top of the list of San Diego city officials castigated in the investigative 2005 Kroll Report for “non-transparency, obfuscation, and denial of fiscal reality.”  In plain English: fudging the facts, juggling the numbers, evasion, cover-up...In other words, he didn't do his job.

The following information leads up to the "Tourism Marketing District" scam.  In dealing with individuals -- once they pile up debt, run out money and can’t pay their bills their options are limited.  They can come clean with family and/or creditors and create a long-term plan to whittle down the problem and eventually emerge intact.  Or they can deny their fiscal reality and attempt to bail themselves out through antisocial mechanisms (rob a bank? put the squeeze on a relative? skip town? invent a Ponzi scheme?).

In the case of the city -- San Diego has piled up debt, run out of money, and no longer pays the bills that keep our neighborhoods in good working order.   City departments have been hollowed out and it’s only a matter of time before the cracks will widen and deepen in Carmel Valley and Rancho Bernardo, just like in Barrio Logan and Linda Vista. 

The city has chosen not to come clean.  It’s chosen the other alternative -- the creation of antisocial mechanisms that keep fooling the public… obfuscating... juggling the numbers… betraying the voters.  Yes, that’s precisely why the Tourism Marketing District was invented.

The Tourism Marketing District is the latest maneuver by San Diego's self-serving, tunnel-visioned tourism hustlers to undercut the General Fund and line their own pockets.  Over its proposed lifetime the TMD would divert more than $1 billion from San Diego's General Fund and transfer those riches directly into the pockets of the city’s hotel and tourism industry.  Hoteliers with the biggest pockets -- foreign as well as local -- reap the biggest reward.

Let’s go through this once more.  The General Fund is San Diego’s most important pot of money for keeping the entire city operating at acceptable levels.  To maintain a healthy and desirable city, basic taxes and fees go into the General Fund and are spent on daily civic and personal necessities like police, fire, parks, and libraries – services that create safe and pleasant neighborhoods for people throughout the city.

It's antisocial to rob a bank.  It's criminal to rob the city's General Fund. 

This Tuesday at 2pm the City Council will be making crucial decisions about the antisocial scam called the Tourism Marketing District -- a DEAD END for San Diego.

(“Limited Government” Paul Noth, The New Yorker)

By email and phone you can remind your elected representatives that starving our General Fund will ultimately destroy the ability of city government to meet the needs of our neighborhoods and residents.  

Here's how to reach your City Council members.  Do it today.

D1 Sherri Lightner 619-236-6611
D2 Kevin Faulconer 619-236-6622
D3 Todd Gloria 619-236-6633
D4 Tony Young 619-236-6644
D5 Carl DeMaio 619-236-6655
D6 Lori Zapf 619-236-6616
D7 Marti Emerald 619-236-6677
D8 David Alvarez 619-236-6688

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Newspaper? we don't need no stinkin' newspaper

Here's today’s top pick in the don't need no stinkin' category.  It's called we don’t need no stinkin’ newspaper!

Doug Manchester’s high-flying plan to convert the entire San Diego region to a super-conservative privately-held corporation is highlighted by his latest acquisition of the North County Times (and affiliated Daily Californian).  Manchester makes no secret of his intention to capture the market of major news outlets -- newspapers, TV, radio, and electronic/online.  Given his deep pockets, political objectives, and close-to-the-bursting-point super-sized ego and ambitions, Manchester will undoubtedly do whatever it takes to get where he wants to be.

Manchester didn't invent the quest for political control.  We all remember the Copley Press and the way they owned city politics -- they were kingmakers for decades.  But who thought it could possibly get worse?  Then it did.  Now it is.

As a matter of fact, it’s downright humiliating that the public face of our cherished San Diego hometown is now delivered to the rest of the world via a jingoistic 4th rate (stinkin’) newspaper that makes no pretense of adhering to routine journalistic standards.  The person doing his best to make a laughingstock of San Diego is none other than our local SDSU graduate Doug Manchester.

In his other life, Manchester is a developer who has spent years on the prowl in our inland, coastal, and downtown regions, leaving his mark like a trail of scat throughout the greater San Diego Metropolitan Area.   And like other predatory opportunists, this new owner of the San Diego Union-Tribune treads where he has no business treading (ethically speaking).

Now he’s ready for the kill.  Aside from ownership of prime properties, newspapers of record, and the airwaves, Manchester’s most strategic acquisition occurred this past season with his official and financial sponsorship (purchase?) of Carl DeMaio for mayor.  The terms of this contract are blunt: Manchester crowns DeMaio king and Manchester finally becomes…god.  Okay, not god with a capital G.  More like the kind they used to have in the glory days of ancient Greece. 

A god like Zeus, maybe.  Ruler of the sky.  Feared.  Powerful.  Erratic. Erotic. Infuriating to his wife.  Coupling, screwing, seducing whatever takes his fancy -- goddesses, queens, princesses, even the Trojan prince Ganymede.  Fathering babies.  Deflowering the young.  Coming on as a bull, swan, satyr, a shower of gold.

Doug Manchester is not the only modern-day would-be avatar of Zeus.  It appears that San Diego's Doug Manchester is linked in spirit to another notable (if foreign) personality through a set of common traits, professional interests, and hearty lust for the high life.  

I'm thinking of Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.  Yes, Manchester's lack of political credentials is a handicap but that's what makes Carl DeMaio so handy. 

Doug and Silvio also share strong Catholic principles deploring gay marriage.  Around the same time Manchester put $125,000 on the line to prevent same-sex marriage in California Berlusconi was explaining, “I have a grueling work schedule and if I happen to look pretty girls in the face now and then, well then, it’s better to be a fan of pretty women than to be gay.”   Of course when there are bigger fish to fry, religious scruples fly out the window.

If you’d like a better feel for the personality of Doug Manchester, you need go no further than the following fulsome description of the self-acclaimed Creator of modern-day San Diego -- the "Papa": 
Papa Doug is chairman of Manchester Financial Group. He is a true industrialist with accomplishments on a national and international scale in telecommunications, radio broadcast, medical instrumentation, publishing, and real estate development. Papa Doug is considered father of the San Diego Convention Center after his generous contribution of the property for its development. The completion of the second largest Marriott and Hyatt hotels in the world anchored its success and gave birth to the vast downtown redevelopment still continuing today. In addition to the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina and the Manchester Grand Hyatt, his investment and development projects include The Grand Del Mar Resort & Spa, Manchester Executive Center, Manchester Financial Building, and the Whitetail Lodge and Golf Club, and soon a convention center hotel in Austin, Texas. Papa Doug was the catalyst for the now famous Biotech cluster at Torrey Pines. Currently, Papa Doug is Chairman and Publisher of the San Diego Union Tribune.
For purposes of comparison take a look at the description of the other wannabe Zeus, Silvio Berlusconi:
Silvio Berlusconi an Italian politician and media tycoon who served three times as Prime Minister of Italy from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011. Berlusconi is also the controlling shareholder of Mediaset (an Italian-based mass media which is the largest commercial broadcaster) and owner of A.C.Milan (a professional Italian football club).  He has many nicknames, but the most commonly used are Silvio, Il Cavaliere: (The Knight) … Berlusconi was criticised for his dominance over the Italian media whilst he held political office.  His broadcasting company Mediaset is the largest in the country and one of the biggest in Europe.  Berlusconi never fulfilled his election promises to sell off his assets in the company to avoid a conflict of interest.  His leadership was also undermined by sex scandals. 
Mere mortals did not fare well under Zeus.  Sociopathic personalities (sociopath: a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience) when hooked up with delusions of grandeur are inevitably harmful to the public health.  

The DeMaio/Manchester duo is a toxic partnership and inevitably harmful to the public health.  Heed this warning: Carl DeMaio in office means Doug Manchester as mayor.  The only effective anti-venom lays in the hands of the voters.  

Equally toxic and harmful to the public health is a stinkin’ newspaper (more stinkin' than ever before) that distorts, manufactures, and hides the facts from the public and wantonly infuses editorial opinions into places that should be limited to strict objective reporting.  

How about this for the start of a good new myth: Once upon a time a beneficent philanthropist (looking for a tax shelter or a business loss, something like that) becomes a modern-day god(dess) of wisdom and enlightenment by raining down on San Diego a shower of gold to support a decent city newspaper, edited by fair-minded individuals and staffed by a crew of inquisitive, smart, and professional reporters.  

Combined with a responsible mayor in office, San Diego would stand a chance of becoming a coastal Olympus.

We already have an excellent choice for mayor.  It's Bob Filner.  Transforming the rest of the story into reality is still in the offing.  Anyone out there up for the challenge? 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Audits? we don't need no stinkin' audits!

I’ve been working on a new informal series called WHAT SAN DIEGO DOESN'T NEED.  Here's the first installment, to be followed by short pieces on other things our city doesn’t need, like Newspaper? we don't need no stinkin’ newspaper…no stinkin’ pensions…stinkin’ lawsuits...scandals…moral terpitude...and so on.
Today it's audits.

My mother introduced me to audits when I was a child by way of specific instructions on how to deal with the outside world.  It was the ordinary dose of Be careful crossing the street and Don’t talk to strangers -- until one day she catapulted me into a grey zone of 'little white lies' with a new caveat: Honey, whenever anyone asks what daddy does for a living don’t say bookie. Say he’s an auditor…just say he does hotel audits.

Now it’s your turn for confession.  Raise your hand if you know what an audit actually is.  Double points if you can name San Diego’s City Auditor.  Jackpot if you have any idea how much trouble our city can/did get into when the City Auditor doesn't/didn't do his job.

To start you off here’s a quick definition of the term audit: an official examination and verification of accounts and records, especially of financial accounts.  Big and small businesses, brokerage firms, banks, individual taxpayers, educational institutions, private and public corporations and, they are all subject to routine and/or special audits.  Cities are no exception.

Eduardo Luna has been San Diego’s City Auditor for the past five years.  You may have seen his name in the news recently when one of his audit reports was challenged by the mayor.  You may have read that he was chastised by mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio for bringing a negative report to public attention.  Maybe you came across his dissent from the city’s positive fiscal analysis on last June's “pension reform” measure (Proposition B).  Luna claimed that financial savings touted by the proposition were exaggerated and misleading.

But even if you’ve never noticed San Diego’s soft-spoken, non-confrontational City Auditor, you should be aware that his job responsibilities are crucial and far-reaching.

Here’s what the City Auditor is supposed to do for the city: 
  • conduct performance audits, management audits, compliance audits, and special investigations to determine how well the city is doing its job and how it could improve
  •  eliminate waste and fraud
  •  assess and report on city operations, services, and contracts
  •  examine and verify the city’s financial accounts and records
  •  open the city’s books to public view
  • be the taxpayers' watchdog, the people's advocate
It is painfully clear that many past City Auditors fell down on the job.  An objective assessment of San Diego history reveals a longstanding political culture that exalts the art of ‘little white lies’ and routinely squashes internal controls and public disclosure.  

The truth does and should matter in local politics.  But the San Diego complex has traditionally stifled attempts at open good government and excommunicated the occasional individual who ventures forward to challenge the status quo.  To this day, political fiction still trumps the truth.

You need look no further than the pass Mayor Sanders received when he announced that the city's financial problems were over.  Who would be so petty as to criticize a genial, termed-out mayor for falsifying financial information and deceiving the public?  After eight years of sweeping truth under the rug, a fella's entitled to a whopper before the door gets shut behind him, isn't he?

And you need look no further than the ease with which the person who wants to be the next mayor, Carl DeMaio, has mastered the art of misinformation and falsehoods from his seat at the city council to the campaign trail.  

Even when -- in a stunning betrayal of the public trust -- Carl DeMaio undermines public accountability, transparency, and open government by 'encouraging' the City Auditor to hide critical or negative information from the public and deliver only positive assessments in future audits, his hypocrisy goes unchallenged.  A fella running for mayor is entitled to be two-faced, isn't he?

Let me refresh your memory about what can happen when a City Auditor is coerced into hiding facts and deceiving the public.  In a 2006 report by a team of financial experts investigating corrupt practices surrounding San Diego’s pension debacle, former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt laid the blame for the financial crisis that continues to destabilize our city on “San Diego officials (including a previous City Auditor, who) fell prey to the same type of corruption of financial management and reporting that afflicted municipalities such as Orange County, and such private sector companies as Enron...(and) demonstrated willful intent to deceive the public…”  Six years later, DeMaio is proposing to go down the same corrupt road.

You’ll be relieved to know that regulations governing our present-day City Auditor have been tightened with some new safeguards.  But the City Auditor remains an appointed position, subject to manipulation, pressure, and retribution from the mayor and city council and even from the city’s audit committee, to which the City Auditor now reports.  (Perhaps the public will consider transforming the City Auditor into an elected position answerable, accountable, and available to San Diego voters.  But that’s a conversation for another day.)

To conclude: we don’t need no stinkin’ audits!  What we do need are thorough, honest, and untainted reports from a respectable City Auditor like Eduardo Luna.  And public willingness to demand them.

What we do need is a strong and honest new mayor who demands thoroughness and integrity at all levels of city government.  And a public-minded city council to demand the same.

What we do need is a ban on political hypocrisy, simple-minded solutions, lies, and the liars who are so good at telling them.  And informed voters to demand a different future for San Diego.