Is anybody home?
Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring.
Hi, you've reached San Diego City Hall. Everyone is away from their desks right now and can't come to the phone. Please leave a message and we'll get back to you... A) when frostbite becomes the No. 1 killer in Las Vegas, or B) when we return from vacation, whichever comes first. Thank you and have an uninformed day.
Arrgh. Nothing like trying to get some work done, only to get stiffed by the people with the knowledge.
Now, mind you, this is not an uncommon occurrence during the month of August here in the Town that Ever Sleeps. It's recess time for the Gang of Nine, otherwise known as the San Diego City Council, and they need their beauty sleep. No argument here. But does the rest of the staff have to follow 'em out the door?
Perhaps our ignominious Chief Vacationer, President "I Don't Work in Months that Begin with A" Bush, has rubbed off on our little local leaders and their staffs. They certainly seem to be adopting a whole host of Bushian quirks, like the "with us or agin' us" attitude when it comes to public opposition to unimaginative or unworkable projects, or the penchant to chase after tiny bad guys rather than big fish.
This week, City Attorney Casey Gwinn actually wasted paper to send out a release saying his office had concluded the successful prosecution of two sad sacks in Ocean Beach who had stored several beat-up and decrepit buses off Voltaire Street for nearly 10 years. Great news for OBecians who hate staring at busted-up old buses, but come on. The release even notes that "an officer testified at trial that the buses had broken glass, vandalism, had syringes and smelled like urine inside." Ugh-not only to the sentence structure but the priorities of our lame-duck city attorney as well.
We're guessing he'll take any victory that comes along these days.
We also tried to take a closer look at how we here in California might learn from the disastrous blackout that plunged a quarter of the country into darkness last week. Are we sitting on an energy timebomb, as it were, with "Third World" transmission lines ready for their 15 minutes of TV time? We wanted to talk to the supposed energy expert on the council, Michael Zucchet, who seems to have more time to talk to sportswriters these days than political writers.
His press minion promised some answers to several-we believed-thought-provoking questions on the topic of San Diego's energy future, but she has not been heard from since.
Two weeks ago, the Union-Tribune published an op-ed piece penned by Mayor 1Goal, Zucchet and Councilmember Donna Frye titled "San Diego's bright solar future." In it, the trio noted that "each day, the sun generates enough energy to satisfy the needs of every citizen on the planet for 27 years."
We'll take that at face value, but then how come this city has set such a puny goal of generating just 50 megawatts of electricity from solar and landfill gases within a decade? That's enough energy, they cooed, to power more than 32,000 homes. That's it? Boy, talk about setting the bar low.
It would seem that in times of crisis-and who among us doesn't think that this country's energy funk is the greatest, most invasive challenge we face as a nation?-bold strokes are preferable to baby steps. Why spend hundreds of billions to prop up an energy-transmission system straight out of the Industrial Age, when for a fraction of that we could encourage residents to become their own energy generators and step bravely into a new world?
But that conversation, apparently, will have to wait until we have completely exhausted the topic of those bottom-feeding Chargers and whether they'll get their new stadium. Boooooring.
There are some folks, however, who don't ever seem to sleep, or goof off, or use their precious family time as an excuse not to return a call or two-the latter a favorite of Councilman Jim "MadDog" Madaffer's staffers during the August break from responsibility.
Councilmember Frye continues to brief us on interesting developments in town, such as the efforts currently under discussion to convert some of San Diego's prime industrial sites into greedholes for residential developers. So, the dot-com bubble burst. Guess we won't need those industrial parks anymore, so why not build what everyone's buying these days?
The practice even has its own buzz word-such conversions are called "collocations," which the dictionary defines as the act of "setting or placing" things together. What fun, eh? Who needs schools or parks when kids can run down the street and play in the local chemical lab left behind by some failed biotech company?
"Collocation is a fancy way of saying "get rid of the industrial end and put in housing because we can make a whole lot more money. In five years, we'd have people screaming about there being no industrial land left," Frye said. "Besides, I don't think people want to live near a big ol' silo where they're testing jet engines. No, call me silly, but I think it's probably not going to work."
And activist Mel Shapiro never seems to take a break, either, and for that we are grateful. He reports this week that he's been scouring the endless reams of campaign-contribution reports that were filed this month.
Some telling discoveries, courtesy of Shapiro:
Just how persuasive can sports teams be in this town? One of the bigger legal firms in the country with a presence in San Diego, the ubiquitous Latham & Watkins, not only represents the NFL but lobbies on behalf of Padres owner John Moores' real estate arm, JMI Realty.
From Shapiro's calculations, here's the breakdown of L&W attorneys contributing to local elected officials-Mayor 1Goal (14 contributions from their lawyers), Councilmember Toni Atkins (13), Madaffer (12), Councilman Scott Peters (10) and Zucchet (5).
"My examination is not complete yet," Shapiro says.
Ah, now that's dedication.