It was an end run that would have made the discombobulated Chargers proud.
Only this maneuver didn't take place on the gridiron; rather, it was in the political minefield known as Sacramento. No uniforms, just Brooks Brothers suits and sensible shoes. But make no mistake-this was tackle football on a muddy field.
In the end, the players were tickled over their victory, but publicly they hung their heads at least momentarily for the dirty play they had employed to gain the upper hand. And, of course, in Sacramento there is no officiating that's worth a damn. But memories run deep.
This seemed light years away from just this past January, when San Diego's own political Knute Rockne, Mayor Jerry Sanders, stood before the city and proclaimed that "the giveaway mentality of past City Councils has been vanquished. So has the power of unelected city managers to hide the ball from the public and provide cover for elected officials.
"Accountability to the people is now placed squarely in the Mayor's office."
Much has been made of the 11th-hour statebudget wrangling that led to the dropping of a ripe plum into the laps of local redevelopment aficionados-the lifting of a pesky spending cap imposed 18 years ago that ceiling-busting proponents argued would only stifle the ongoing miracle story that is Downtown San Diego. You've heard the plotline, worthy of a B- grade movie: Ambitious member of the state Assembly (played by the ubiquitous Nathan Fletcher) is offered a gleaming-moment assignment by San Diego's top political mover (Kris Michell, played admirably by her boss, Sanders) to stick a shiv of a sweetheart deal into the state budget morass and come out smelling like the Savior of the Good Ship CCDC as it sails toward its intended destination of Sports Mecca U.S.A.
The protagonists, however, will swear up and down that this move-still awaiting the governator's signature at press time-is only about jobs and keeping San Diego tax dollars local. A football stadium for the Chargers? Oh, well, that's just a cherry on top of the redevelopment cake-nothing more.
And as for the official indoctrination of Fletcher as the fair-haired choice of the Downtown echo chamber to succeed Sanders, the mayor would have none of it.
"I don't think Mr. Fletcher was sitting in his office thinking, How can I get high profile on something that's going to get all screwed up?'" a clearly riled Sanders told a media gathering Monday that was hastily called to stem the criticism of the backroom deal that eliminat ed the cap on how much local redevelopment officials can spend on a variety of projects.
Fletcher smiled briefly at the mayor's comment, but no one seemed all that happy to be standing in front of the cameras. Certainly not Kevin Faulconer, whose City Council district includes Downtown, who was kept out of the loop of the state budget shenanigans. Nor Fred Maas, acting president and chairman of CCDC (Centre City Development Corp.), the city's Downtown redevelopment arm, who stood off camera as long as he could.
Same for county Supervisor Ron Roberts, whose own board was similarly left in the dark on the deal even though negotiations were ongoing with the city to determine the future of redevelopment Downtown. Ever the chipper optimist, Roberts assured those gathered that negotiations would continue. (Oh, to be a fly on the wall at that next meeting!) Really, the only one at Monday's media op seemingly comfortable in her own skin-no surprise-was City Councilmember Donna Frye, who portrayed something akin to a schoolmarm taking some of her misbehaving pupils to the woodshed.
"I was a little annoyed with the mayor," she said coyly.
If people know one thing about Frye, it's her abhorrence to deals cut in the dead of night devoid of public involvement. Couple that with her recent need to make nice with the mayor in selling the goods of Proposition D, she was clearly not a happy camper that her on-stage partner had wandered off into the darkness for a little legacy hunt.
Asked if the press conference was more a Save Prop. D event in light of the public pummeling over the secret redevelopment deal, Frye darted to the microphone as the mayor headed to the background.
"This is not a PR stunt to me," she boomed.
"This [state deal] was very, very disturbing and upsetting to me-and I was not alone."
Count among those outgoing state Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, who chose not to vote at all for the budget, despite it being her last before her term expires. [Correction: Saldaña voted for the budget bill, but not Fletcher's redevelopment bill.]
"It was awful," she said of the all-night horse-trading. "I knew exactly what they were trying to do. Marty Block was in on it, Mary Salas, Nathan-and they're all saying jobs, jobs, jobs!" But the idea of lifting the redevelopment spending cap was nothing new to Saldaña, former chair of the Assembly's Housing and Community Development Committee.
"They wanted to raise this cap a long time ago," she told Spin Cycle. "They came to me when I chaired that committee, and I told them to go through the process. Now they're doing an end run because Nathan needs to vote for a budget and can tell the Republican leadership that he'd be willing to put up a vote because he strong-armed the Assembly to get this sweetheart deal for a Republican mayor in San Diego."
The question now hanging over this deal is: What will former city attorney Mike Aguirre do? Recently re-emerging as an entertaining foil to the happenings at City Hall, Aguirre suggested that some legal action was likely- but not here in San Diego.
The assault, similar to court challenges to redevelopment efforts in the city of Glendora, would challenge the findings of blight- necessary in the redevelopment game-which Aguirre described as "wholly inadequate."
"The mistake the backroom folks made," he argued, "was to do it in Sacramento, where the courts are not going to give the deal hometown support."
Perhaps Aguirre can borrow a line from candidate Sanders in 2005: "It's just a culture of concealing things from the public, and this is just another sample of it."
Meanwhile, despite efforts Monday to regain public confidence by announcing a series of public meetings to, as Frye put it, "make this right," not everyone is ready to move on.
City Councilmember Marti Emerald, who publicly excoriated CCDC officials last week and seemed interested in seeing a few heads roll, told Spin Cycle, "Public trust must be restored. The sugarcoating of this backroom deal does not get us there."
Got a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.