Nothing gets a populist's blood boiling like stories of political favors being doled out to people with money and power. And Mayor Bob Filner told a good one at a Hillcrest Town Council meeting on Jan. 8.
"So, I get a call a couple weeks ago that Papa Doug, publisher of our paper, and his wonderful assistant, John Lynch, want to see me," he told attendees. Papa Doug is Doug Manchester, the real-estate developer who purchased the San Diego Union-Tribune in late 2011; Lynch is the newspaper's CEO.
Not only did Lynch show up on a different day than was scheduled—a day Filner wasn't in the office—but in a meeting with two members of Filner's staff, he asked the Mayor's office to intervene in code-enforcement proceedings against Manchester's Grand Del Mar hotel in Carmel Valley.
"Now, I wouldn't interfere with code enforcement for a friend, let alone the U-T," Filner told the standing-room-only crowd. "But the incredible arrogance that they just have to call up the mayor, and [we're] going to stop enforcement of a law which everybody has to abide by? ...
"Oh, and here's the reason they gave that I should intervene," Filner added, "the lady who is running the stables is a Hispanic woman who has no other job... Not only do they have billions of dollars that they can give her a job—so, find her a place to do something—but why are you using that on me? So, we called code enforcement and said, 'Go to work faster.'"
Filner's been in office since Dec. 3; when he's well into his four-year term as mayor of San Diego, folks will look back at last week as either an anomaly or harbinger. In addition to the Manchester-Lynch brouhaha, Filner grappled publicly and fiercely with City Council President Todd Gloria and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
While opponents have derided his behavior as reckless bullying and grandstanding, supporters hail Filner's actions as the end of business-as-usual at City Hall. But in rallying the masses, is Filner sacrificing truth for a good tale? It's hard to know.
Let's take a closer look at the Grand Del Mar case: Indeed, there were code-compliance violations—a helipad, three parking lots, an equestrian center, a stable and horse trails had been added to the property without proper permits, and environmentally sensitive land had been damaged in the process. In early 2012, the city's code-enforcement division handed the case off to the City Attorney's office, and a lawsuit was filed against the Grand Del Mar on Jan. 4, 2013.
The lawsuit appears to have been procedural. Both sides had agreed to a settlement before the case was filed. Manchester and a Grand Del Mar representative signed the settlement on Dec. 19, 2012, and Paul Robinson, who represented the Grand Del Mar in the case, signed the agreement on Dec. 18. Deputy City Attorney Danna Nicholas signed the agreement on Dec. 31.
The settlement says the Grand Del Mar must pay the city $87,456.39 and obtain permits for the equestrian center, horse trails, corral and helipad—all of which much cease operations until the permits are secured. Until settlement terms are met, there's to be no further development on the property, and the Grand Del Mar must fix any environmental damage that the clandestine construction caused.
The meeting between Lynch and Filner's staff took place on Dec. 24—after the settlement had been drawn up.
Lynch said Filner misrepresented how the meeting came about. He also disputed Filner's claim that he showed up on the wrong day.
"He approached us first," Lynch told CityBeat. "He wanted to bury the hatchet." The U-T had editorialized against Filner in the run-up to the November election.
Manchester had been called out of town, Lynch said, so he brought along Perry Dealy, Manchester's development consultant. Lynch said he and Dealy met with two Filner staffers—Deputy Chief of Staff Allen Jones and Director of Bi-National Affairs Mario Lopez. The only request related to the Grand Del Mar, Lynch said, is that the equestrian center be allowed to remain open during the permitting process.
"I think [Dealy] asked if they would allow the lady who runs the private business at the stables... to keep running until the final resolution of the entire thing. So, it wasn't a very big deal, and that was only part of the reason why we were there. We were to talk about how we could work together to support [Filner's] efforts."
Filner's communications director, Irene McCormack, confirmed that a meeting took place on Dec. 24. She wouldn't say who was there or what was discussed.
"I would go with what the mayor said," at the Hillcrest Town Council meeting, McCormack said. "This is his office. That's what the mayor said."
Dealy deferred to Lynch on what exactly happened in the meeting. "The only thing I can tell you is I worked with the city to come up with the [settlement] agreement," he said. "The agreement's been signed; we're now processing the permits with the city."
As for the Grand Del Mar's equestrian center, a woman who answered the phone said it's currently closed—"they're working on a few things"—but will re-open on Jan. 22.