Say this about the upcoming showdown to fill two vacant seats on the San Diego Board of Port Commissioners: It should be a barnburner!
Much has been made in the mainstream press recently about Mike Najera, the now-resigned port representative for Chula Vista who, as he tells it, was ordered by Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox to give up his seat or she would go public with some never-again-mentioned bombshell that would presumably embarrass the heck out of him.
Najera, whose construction company is in bankruptcy, proceeded to march out of her office and into the loving arms of a ravenous media maelstrom himself, vowing to fight to keep his port post and forcing Cox to run for political cover into some deep bunker. But just when it seemed like all political winds were blowing Najera's way, he dropped a stunner late last week, deciding to resign.
“I have determined that a protracted legal battle against my beloved hometown is not in my best interests, and more importantly it's not in the best interests of Chula Vista's taxpayers, since they are the ones that would have to foot the legal bill,” he reasoned in his May 15 letter of resignation.
“An absolute shocker,” commented Sharon Cloward, head of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, which next month will honor Najera for his service. “He was very close to our tenants. It's a total mystery.”
Najera was known to be very close to former Commissioner Laurie Black, whose own recent resignation due to a serious illness in her family caused shockwaves in the port community. “You've got to pick your allies on that commission to get your voice heard, and they were definitely allies,” Cloward told Spin Cycle.
People like to point out that the commission job is a fairly thankless one that comes with no salary, only a small stipend and few perks. But when these jobs open up, it never ceases to amaze Spin Cycle how hot the frenzy becomes. The rumor mill starts to grind nearly 24/7. The whisper winds begin blowing more swiftly. All in all, it's a great time to be a journalist.
So, while Chula Vista begins its battle to replace the man who promised in one e-mail to friends “to blow the whistle on the poor management and possible illegal and unethical actions being taken against the best interest of our taxpayers,” it might do well to study the more advanced process under way to replace the well-regarded Black.
In San Diego, that fight will apparently pit three arguably qualified contestants, each with her or his own grouping of City Council backers. (Spin Cycle says “apparently” because the nominating period won't end until Thursday, and that darn rumor mill suggests that more names could be forthcoming.)
In one corner stands businessman and fine singer Marshall Merrifield, who will always hold a corner of CityBeat's heart for his one-drink campaign days when he ran against eventual winner and current Councilmember Sherri Lightner, who it turns out was the one who nominated Merrifield. Spin Cycle certainly applauds such political chivalry.
But, unfortunately, the political winds suggest that he doesn't stand a chance, despite his apparent enthusiasm for work performed along San Diego's waterfront and its importance to the regional economy, such as it is these days.
No, the betting odds seem laid at the feet of the remaining two prospects, environmentalist extraordinaire Diane Takvorian, head of the Environmental Health Coalition and no stranger to butting heads with the sometimes slow-evolving Port District, and Bill Evans, whose family runs some of the more notable hotels on Mission Bay, as well as the top-class Lodge at Torrey Pines to the north.
On the surface, it seems a classic duel between business and public interests, between labor and corporate desires, Park Avenue vs. Main Street. But it's not as simple as that.
Both Evans (supported by Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer and Marti Emerald) and Takvorian (backed by Donna Frye and Todd Gloria) sit on Mayor Jerry Sanders' specially crafted task force that has been given the job of determining whether the San Diego Convention Center should be expanded for a second time. While no decision has yet been made to do that, observers of the task force are certainly hearing different perspectives from the pair.
Lorena Gonzalez, head of the local labor council, also sits on the task force. She's made it abundantly clear that her organization supports Takvorian. Gonzalez, an admitted “pro-expansion” advocate for the local jobs she hopes it will create, said she's puzzled by a tone of “underlying quibbling” that has begun to infect task force discussions. And while not providing specifics publicly, she wonders whether someone like Evans, whose hotels like the Bahia and Catamaran are also on state tidelands and are non-union, might not have a conflict in future discussions the port may have about hotels on San Diego Bay.
“Even though he doesn't have property on the port, I would think his bottom line is affected if union hotels or any hotels are permitted on port property,” she argued. “It changes his financial position in the market.”
The port tenants' Cloward rejects that notion as a “hard stretch,” although she acknowledged, “It's a good question.” But she said she asked the port's attorney to size up the candidates for possible conflicts, and she said only Takvorian's positions on environmental issues facing the port raised the attorney's interest.
Takvorian, in her defense, said she's heard the whispers of conflict, but the only one she can think of is her organization's involvement in mediation talks with the port and local shipyards on how best to clean up the toxic sediments that litter portions of San Diego Bay. But, she points out, “there's no financial-conflict issue.”
Cloward seemed to suggest that any position the Environmental Health Coalition has taken regarding port matters “would have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis,” from truck pollution that affects asthma rates in some of the poorer communities near the port to “anything to do with energy issues.”
Balderdash, says Gonzalez. “Conflicts need to be financial,” she said. “Obviously, there's no financial interest usually in what activists do. Look at other ports—there are environmental activists on those. It's just San Diego is a little slow—they can't get past what I call the ‘San Diego 20,' the 20 names that you're sure to find on any list for any appointment to anything.”
As for Evans, who formerly served as president of the San Diego Convention Center Corp., he believes the port needs to be run more like a corporation. Asked why he wants to re-enter public service, he replied, “I don't know, but I'm brutally honest, and I have no hidden agenda.”