Criticism should not be querulous and wasting, all knife and rootpuller, but guiding, instructive, inspiring.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
By Trumpian terms, the shade thrown by San Diego Chargers special adviser Fred Maas last week at Central Library architect and Measure C opponent Rob Quigley would barely register on the shock meter.
Nary a claim of drug use, rigged elections or Tic-Tac tactics can be found amid the dozen paragraphs Maas submitted to Voice of San Diego in response to Quigley’s earlier screed that questioned the civic sanity of plopping a massive football stadium mixed with convention space in the middle of tech-future-dreaming East Village.
But when historians parse the anticipated demise of Measure C on the Nov. 8 ballot (Nov. 28 on the Trump calendar), they could very likely point to the Maas Personal Massacre Memo of Oct. 13, 2016, as the initiative’s jump-the-snark moment.
Nothing plays worse in San Diegans’ minds, Spin has found, than reminders of their city’s reputation for small-mindedness. It’s probably as effective as a last-place team with a combined 6-16 record over the last two seasons threatening to pull up stakes and blow town if it doesn’t get its way—in this case more than a billion dollars in new hotel-tax revenues.
But that’s the loop de loop Maas attempted in his takedown of Quigley’s stadium objections, lumping the architect San Diegans might actually be familiar with and not despise into his own special basket of deplorables.
“Amazing things” occurred downtown with Maas at the redevelopment helm under two mayors and an “imayor,” the Chargers hired gun boasted. Petco Park. The Balboa Theatre renovation. Permanent homeless shelter. North Embarcadero. Iconic pedestrian bridge. Even, ahem, a new Central Library shepherded by Quigley over decades of political indecision.
But these things only happened, in the view of Maas, because visionaries—apparently like Quigley—were willing “to take on the naysayers and small town undertakers that have inhabited our city since the days of John Spreckles [sic]. Small town undertakers like Quigley.”
So Maas misspelled the name of one of San Diego’s preeminent civic founders. So he slayed Quigley while simultaneously praising the new library. It’s election season in the Time of Trump, so imprecision and name-calling rule, right?
Quigley said he was “surprised at the personal nature” of the Maas attack, which portrayed the architect as a self-interested, money-grubbing NIMBY who focused on projects outside city borders while downtown San Diego got great in the Maas Era. And while the lattice-domed library affords a “Welcome to San Diego” view, Maas wrote, “it was never to be at the cost of festooning Quigley’s calling card and website.”
The architect said “although we don’t know each other well,” his relationship with Maas over the years “has been very cordial,” adding to the curiosity of the slam. Quigley is a visible member of the “No on C” contingent, but so are establishment friendlies like April Boling, campaign treasurer for most Republican office holders, and Tony Manolatos, who has called recent Measure C backer Mayor Kevin Faulconer a “client for life.” Yet they escape Maas scorn.
The game of “attack the architect” is not new. Quigley noted that Irving Gill—the current subject of a countywide celebration of his iconic work—suffered the slings and arrows in his time as well.
“Gill did run into self-serving politics,” Quigley told Spin Cycle. “Power brokers and bankers wanted the Panama Exhibition buildings in the center of Balboa Park so people would have to buy a trolley ticket to get there instead of following Gill’s and [Frederick] Olmsted’s advice of locating them on the edge of the park adjacent to downtown and leaving the park space free. Some things never change!”
Quigley called it “an honor” to be “called a NIMBY for defending the urban and economic health of our downtown.”
“After all,” he added, “downtown is every San Diegan’s second neighborhood. If it is unhealthy, or less desirable, then the more suburban neighborhoods are negatively impacted. A stadium that displaces 4 million square feet of development (which the East Village South Focus Plan proposes) will send that development into the suburbs where it is and should be unwelcomed.”
That would be a reference to the proposed IDEA District that has been in the works for the area that is intended to bring new design and technology businesses downtown in a setting amenable to the desires of young workers, many of whom now live downtown but commute northward for employment opportunities.
Maas chided the developing proposal as a “utopian plan to build a futuristic urban oasis on one of the most distressed pieces of real estate in all of San Diego.” He mocked even the name of the district, suggesting that in Quigley’s “parallel universe” the letters in IDEA stand for “I Don’t Envision Anything” because “that is exactly what will happen if we pursue Quigley’s distorted view.”
Maas suggested the replacement of the Metropolitan Transit Service bus yard and parking at Tailgate Park alone would exceed $150 million. That prompted an oh-so-San Diego observation from the former redevelopment chief: “But Quigley and his fellow undertakers want to build an urban oasis. I don’t think so.”
Maas ended his diatribe with an oft-heard threat that is beginning to take on comical overtones—“do not let the small town undertakers send the Chargers packing and deny this once-ina-lifetime opportunity to build a multi-use convention center and stadium for Super Bowls, X Games, NCAA Final Fours, World Cup soccer and so much more.”
Quigley’s “parallel universe” thinks otherwise. If Measure C fails to garner even 50 percent (two-thirds is required for passage), Quigley figures it puts Faulconer in prime negotiating position to push a stadium/riverfront park combo with an academic campus in Mission Valley “where it makes sense.”
“Ironically,” he added, “a no vote on C is probably the best way to keep the team in San Diego.”