By Doug Porter
On Wednesday I included an item in my weekday column about a community rally and fundraiser for the North Park residents still hoping for a hearing on the lack of consequences for permit violations occurring remodeling of a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant.
In that story I made the following comment:
The bottom line here is that the City of San Diego (also being sued) chose to be sued by residents rather than take on a corporation. We can thank City Attorney Jan Goldsmith for that legal strategy.
One of my favorite phrases in writing about politics in San Diego is everybody knows. Based on reporting in City Beat (and elsewhere), I thought everybody knew that the construction was allowed to continue due to actions (or inaction) by the City Attorney.
Jan Goldsmith’s office now says that’s not true. So I’m asking for a little help from our readers to figure this out.
I was more than surprised on Wednesday when I received an email from the City Attorney’s office a few hours after hitting the “publish” button for my column:
I just wanted to reach out in regards to your latest post on the San Diego Free Press.
Mayor Filner and Walt Eckard decided that policy re: Jack in the box, not the City Attorney.
Office of the San DiegoCity Attorney
Given that my Mon-Fri column is mostly an analysis of the day’s news reports (Slogan: I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) So You Don’t Have To), it’s rare for official flack-types to reach out to me. Hubba, hubba! Maybe I struck a nerve… Or maybe I was w…r…o..n..g…
So I went digging. Maybe I’d misread the source material. Maybe I’d made a mistake. (That’s happened once or twice, I think) Maybe I didn’t know what I thought I knew. Maybe everybody knows was wrong.
But that didn’t appear to be the case.
So I responded to Mr. Mitchell:
From the article in San Diego City Beat that I linked to in the story:
Filner’s staff and neighborhood residents remained skeptical, and the former mayor directed Tomlinson to get an official opinion from the city attorney. Tomlinson sent a memo to Deputy City Attorney Heidi Vonblom on July 3 asking about the legality of the permit. At the same time, Filner held a press conference to announce he was asking the city attorney to sign off on a stop-work order on the project. In July, the City Attorney’s office issued the confidential opinion and warned that forcing Jack in the Box to stop construction could lead to a lawsuit.
Filner pushed the idea of the stop-work order, but the city attorney never signed off on it. In an Aug. 1 letter to neighborhood resident Vicky Heithaus, Lee Burdick, Filner’s chief of staff, wrote:
“The Mayor directed the issuance of a stop work order on this project precisely because the City Attorney had opined that the process used to issue the permits was inconsistent with the City’s Land Development Code (“LDC”). However, under the LDC, a stop-work order must be approved by the City Attorney’s office….”
Eventually, Filner’s sexual-harassment scandal distracted from the issue and construction was allowed to move forward.
In a last-ditch effort to block Jack in the Box from operating the drive-through, Filner on Aug. 29 issued a different kind of order, a stop-use order. However, upon taking over the Mayor’s office, Gloria immediately rescinded it, arguing that the move exposed the city to legal attack by the fast-food giant. The city had to choose whether it wanted to be sued by Jack in the Box or the neighborhood residents, and Filner sided with the residents, Perine said.
“The duly-elected mayor, under excruciatingly difficult circumstances, made the right decision and issued the stop-use order,” Perine said. “He chose to protect the neighborhoods and the community-planning process, to honor the rule of law and use the code properly for the benefit of the citizens of the city—not the bureaucracy, not the moneyed interests.”
A few hours later, Mr. Thomas responded:
Filner’s chief of staff was not truthful in her comments. We can back this statement up with evidence that is not privileged.
So he was saying that Lee Burdick, the Mayor’s chief of staff led us astray. Wow, so maybe there was a story here. Let’s face it, from a columnists point of view, the rise and fall of Mayor Bob has been the gift that keeps giving.
So I said, “Show me what you got.”
sorry it took a while to get back… i had multiple deadlines this am.
Since then I’ve checked around with a bunch of sources, looking for some truth in this matter. My “journo-sense” was telling me something was amiss here.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- That email on Thursday offering me ‘evidence’ was the end of my communication from the City Attorney’s office.
- I have learned the City Attorney’s Office is claiming in court vis-a-vis the lawsuit that everything surrounding the mayor-city attorney dispute over Jack-in-the-Box is privileged. The litigants in this case are challenging that claim.
- One reliable source says “good luck, there are no white hats in this case,” going on to say Filner, Lee Burdick, Jan Goldsmith, development services’ Tom Tomlinson, Walt Eckard, and even lawyer Cory Briggs have played both sides of this issue. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, but something certainly seems rotten here.
- City Beat has not yet responded to an email asking about their original story.
I don’t know what to think. So I’m kinda hoping to crowd source this one.
If you are in a position to shed some light on this “he said-she said” situation, shoot me an email. email@example.com
I’d like to get it right and if it just happens I can help out some of my neighbors here North Park in their quest for truth, that would be a real bonus.
The one thing I do know is that my neighbors got shafted by Jack-in-the-Box with help from somebody in the city government. And neither one of those entities seems to care about about what happened after the fact. Throwing up your hands and saying “oh, well” doesn’t cut it.
PS-Please don’t email me saying we have to ‘talk’ on the phone. I lack vocal chords and the prosthetic device I use to ‘speak’is virtually unintelligible over both landline and cell phones. For those of you who might be new to my posts, I write a column Monday-Friday. I have lots of opinions. Here’s the standard info:
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