The Public Should Be Eying Mark Nelson – Not Michael Zucchet
A mild controversy swirled around Michael Zucchet from Point Loma the other day because he was one of two people appointed to the San Diego Oversight Board.
Those who still are not convinced of Zucchet’s innocence in San Diego’s “stripper-gate” scandal of 2003 to 2005, and those who are bothered because he is currently the general manager of the the City’s largest public-employee union, the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, opposed his nomination and selection by Mayor Sanders and the City Council.
Yet, the real controversy should have swirled around the other appointee, Mark Nelson, but more on that in a moment.
Zucchet and Nelson were both nominated by our “strong” mayor, Jerry Sanders to serve on the San Diego Oversight Board, which will oversee and supervise the deconstruction of San Diego’s fourteen redevelopment projects, as mandated by State law.
Zucchet fills the slot on the 7-member Board – all unpaid positions – for a city employee rep. And on Tuesday, the City Council voted 7 to 1 to okay his appointment, with only DeMaio voting “no”. Even OB’s rep, Kevin Faulconer – once Zucchet’s opponent – backed him.
The controversy that surrounded Zucchet was fostered by some community activists from Grantville. Linda Wilson with the Grantville Action Group told 10News.com that his appointment was “unacceptable”; Wilson also threatened to appeal his appointment to the state Department of Finance.
“The nomination of Michael Zucchet is particularly troubling. In addition to the baggage of ‘stripper-gate’ and by the way, do your research… he was not exonerated.”
Over recent years, residents and property owners in Grantville have been upset with plans for redevelopment in their community.
The other pole of opposition to Zucchet’s appointment came from Councilman and mayor candidate, Carl DeMaio. DeMaio has never met a public employee union representative he did like. DeMaio’s extremist right-wing politics are grounded in a nearly complete theology of privatization of government services. So, his opposition could have been expected. He even told 10News that if he is elected mayor, he will remove Zucchet from this new position.
Zucchet – from Point Loma and a resident of District 2, was elected in 2002 to the City Council. He was forced to resign in 2005 when he and two other councilmen were charged by San Diego’s federal Attorney General in the campaign contribution scandal that was connected to a strip club owner. All three were Democrats, and the allegations initially appeared to be of suspicious origin, as Zucchet – the Anglo member of the Council was close to labor; also charged was Ralph Inzunza – the only Mexican-American on the Council -, and Charles Lewis – the only African-American on the Council.
Lewis died before any trial. But Zucchet and Inzunza were convicted. In Zucchet’s case, the judge threw out the jury’s findings and ordered a new trial that resulted in the dismissal of all charges against him in 2010. Inzunza was sentenced to 21 months in prison, and after an unsuccessful appeal, just entered custody.
Since his exoneration, Zucchet has had the very visible role of managing the public employee union. He also was involved more recently in trying to block the relocation of Ocean Beach’s VFW post into his pony neighborhood in Point Loma when it was evicted from its Newport Avenue clubsite.
The Real Controversy: Sempra’s Mark Nelson
The real controversy should be over the nomination and selection of Mark Nelson – his role virtually went under the established media radar – so no one spoke up against him.
Nelson is the former executive director of the San Diego Taxpayers Association and is currently Sempra Energy’s regional vice president for national government affairs. He still sits on the SDTA Board of Directors. The tax payers’ group is consistently opposed to taxes, is for privatization of public services, and lobbies for and against legislation based on its corporate slant.
For example, in 2010, the SDTA advised a “no” vote on Prop 21 – that would have established an $18 Annual Vehicle License Surcharge to help fund State Parks and wildlife programs; it opposed Prop 25 that would have allowed simple majority legislative votes to pass budget and related legislation; and locally, it opposed term limits on San Diego County supervisors.
But, larger than these past recommendations, the fact that Nelson is Sempra Energy’s VP for governmental affairs, means he is involved with Sempra’s efforts to outsource thousands of green jobs south due to its plans for building a cross-border 1250 megawatt energy transmission line to its energy facility in Mexico. Sempra and SDG&E are currently attempting to have San Diego and Southern California consumers pay for its mismanagement of its lines that caused the 2007 fire. Not to mention the controversial Sunrise Powerlink – also a project of Sempra/ SDG&E.
Having such a corporate manager on the Board is the real controversy. But since the major media in this community are tied to the corporations and establishment, no one bothered to discuss Nelson nor raise their eyebrows with his appointment.
At any rate, Nelson and Zucchet join the five other members of the Board: the business managers for the San Diego Unified School District and San Diego Community College District, the general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, Supervisor Ron Roberts and Peter Q. Davis, a former downtown redevelopment chairman, port commissioner and mayoral candidate.
As the U-T SD reported:
The seven will oversee the region’s largest redevelopment winddown — ordered under state legislation passed last year to help plug the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget hole. Similar boards will be handling redevelopment projects in 15 other cities in the region plus one in the county unincorporated area.
As long as the established media are able to define controversy in San Diego, we will continue to have to abide by their definitions. Plus, it shows clearly that this City and County need independent media more than ever.