Feb. 6 2013 09:01 AM

The good, the ugly and the mixed feelings

Irwin Jacobs
Photo by David Rolland

Voice of San Diego published the most incendiary piece of local news this week with its wild interview with Stan Dobbs, the new chief financial officer of the San Diego Unified School District. Among Dobbs' comments were two crazy-sounding assertions—that, on average, the district's teachers get $92,000 a year, plus $20,000 in benefits, and that there's no literature to support the notion that higher class sizes decrease the quality of education. "As a matter of fact," he said, "just the opposite." So, he's saying that cramming more kids into classrooms will improve the education experience.

We didn't have salary information in front of us when we read that, and Voice had vowed to factcheck Dobbs. So, we waited. We were hardly surprised when Voice posted a response by Dobbs' boss, Superintendent Bill Kowba, correcting several of Dobbs' false statements, including those two whoppers. The average teacher earns between $65,000 and $70,000, Kowba said, and (in addition to common sense) there's plenty of studies that say lower class sizes are better than higher class sizes. He also put into context something that Dobbs was bent out of shape over—that 92 percent of the district's budget is spent on labor. That high figure is a result of huge non-teacher budget cuts caused by reduced state funding.

We wouldn't shed a tear if Dobbs were canned— not because he embarrassed the district or because he shouldn't speak his mind, but because if he speaks his mind, he should speak the truth. He is, after all, representing an educational institution. Informational accuracy should be a high priority. But we're forgiving people, so we'll settle for a serious reprimand.

In happier news, we were pleased to see that the California Coastal Commission has sued the Navy over its plans to redevelop the Navy Broadway Complex on the Downtown waterfront. As you'll recall, the Navy chose Doug Manchester, who's since become the owner of what's now called U-T San Diego, to build a sparkly new Navy headquarters for free; in exchange, Manchester gets to build a wall of hotel and office buildings on prime real estate.

We long ago made our opinion of this project clear: If the Navy doesn't need most the land for military purposes, it should revert to public use. As we said more than four years ago, we'd like to see a grand public park there, maybe even a new City Hall. We think, as does the Coastal Commission, that the Navy should study alternative locations for a new headquarters.

It all used to be public property and was handed over to the Navy, which could hang on to it as long as it was used for military purposes. Wouldn't it be awesome if that stipulation were still in effect? Sadly, it's not; the Navy sued awhile back and got that phrase removed from the deed, and the state and city didn't put up a fight.

Our hope is that the Navy and Manchester eventually grow weary of the delay-causing lawsuits and give up. Maybe someday that land can be something San Diegans can be proud of.

Speaking of pride-inducing property, a judge reluctantly sided this week with opponents of the Balboa Park overhaul aimed at removing cars from the Plazas de Panama and California. As happened when the City Council approved the project, we have mixed feelings. While the ruling may kill the return of the plazas to pedestrianonly use—a plan we like a lot—at least we won't be saddled with the bypass ramp off the east end of the Cabrillo Bridge and the parking garage south of the Organ Pavilion, which we didn't like.

Philanthropist Irwin Jacobs, who was going to fund much of the project, told KPBS's Maureen Cavanaugh on Tuesday that he'll be taking his money and going home, even if negotiations on an alternative proceed, proving what critics have been saying—he's interested in the project only insofar as it's precisely the one he dreamed up.

Yes, Jacobs should be appreciated for his willingness to spend his own money, and, yes, if he doesn't want to spend it anymore, that's his prerogative. But it's too bad he can't just acknowledge that he got beat in court, dust himself off and rejoin the effort. 

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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