By Doug Porter
The City Auditor’s office has released its report on the failed Balboa Park Centennial Celebration. Despite spending more than $3 million dollars between 2012 and 2014 and having nothing to show for it in the way of actual results, there was no actual wrong-doing involved. Really.
There were two substantive reports in local media. UT-San Diego’s Jeff McDonald (who did some terrific reporting on this story early on) had a terse but tough account. Voice of San Diego’s Andrew Keatts went all gonzo on it, with much more detail and a dash of irreverence thrown it.
The “no-fault” determination was reached because the terms and conditions leading up the creation of Balboa Park Celebration, Inc (BPCI) were broad and ill-defined, we’re told. The 55 page review of the group’s activities did note a failure to follow city contracting rules in hiring most of its highly paid consultants and a lack of compliance with the terms of the 2011 agreement with the city. No problema.
This was all apparently okay because the City Attorney said so. At least that was the understanding BPCI was operating under following an email exchange in March 2013.
The bottom line is that the money is gone and San Diego has nothing to show for it. Business as usual, it seems.
From Voice of San Diego:
In an interview, audit manager Matt Helm said the email exchange occurred many months into BPCI’s life, and the nonprofit wasn’t the city attorney’s client in the first place.
“We didn’t want to come down on either side because there clearly was a misunderstanding,” said Matt Helm, the audit manager. “When we run into a he-said, she-said, we just try to document it.”
Here’s a snippet from the UT-San Diego report:
City Auditor Eduardo Luna stopped short of stating that money was misspent. Rather, he said the scope of work was so wide it could not be established that money was improperly spent.
“The allowable expenses set forth in the funding agreement were very broad,” the report states.
Balboa Park Celebration Inc. received more than $3 million between 2012 and 2014, including $1.6 million in city funds, the audit said. It also received more than $900,000 in hotel-tax dollars over the same period.
Most of the money paid for communications experts, video production and executive salaries while the nonprofit attempted to gain corporate sponsorships to donate tens of millions more.
There was no fraud regarding contracts entered into by BPCI with its consultants because the terms of the agreements were so broad in scope as to make a determination impossible.
The group failed to attract any sponsors or provide specific plans for what was supposed to be a 100-year party to mark the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. They failed to make progress reports to the City Council’s Natural Resources and Culture Committee five times out of ten times they were supposed to appear.
The Dog Ate Their Homework
As to be expected there’s plenty of finger pointing going on coming out of this report.
The city staff, working under the deputy director for economic development, failed to demand more information after reviewing quarterly financial packets from BPCI, including invoices, checks and other financial documents.
City Council members on the Natural Resources and Culture Committee failed to ask substantive questions and didn’t ask for details about BCPI’s progress.
Former Mayor Bob Filner gets blamed. A lot.
From Voice of San Diego:
The audit devotes an entire section to “other factors” that played into the burning bag of dog poo that was the Balboa Park Centennial.
One big one was the mayoral transition between Sanders and Filner. Specifically, the audit points the finger at Filner’s influence.
The section on outside factors mentions Filner’s name 29 times.
The court decision ending the Plan de Panama traffic/parking scheme also gets blamed.
The grey squirrel who lives near the Organ Pavilion escaped unscathed. So did former Mayor Jerry Sanders, whose administration birthed this monumental failure. He’s still running the city, having eliminated one middleman by moving over to head the Chamber of Commerce.
A People-Powered Balboa Park 2015 Party
A Balboa Park “Spring to the Past” celebration is in the works. It’s all volunteer (and not getting any love–much less money– from the city government from what I hear) and has been meeting for several months now.
Here’s an excerpt about their plans from Facebook:
***** 1915 – Panama – California Exposition – 2015™ *****
*********** SPRING TO THE PAST **************
A Community- conceived, planned and organized long weekend event April 11 & 12, 2015 to both celebrate the Park’s past and work to secure its future.
Turn the clock back to 1915 for this one very special weekend. Come in period costume, or to see those who do. Enjoy events, tours and exhibits featuring the look and feel of the original 1915 Panama-California Exposition that created the core of the Park we all know, love and treasure.
Walk about the Park with a knowledgeable docent in period costume. Ride in a reproduction of the wicker Electriquettes used in 1915. Enjoy free -performances by talents from the San Diego Opera. Celebrate the Centennial and the Park !
The group is crowd-funding the event. For more information see their GoFundMe page.
Cate’s County Tax Conundrum
Did city council candidate Chris Cate get a homeowner’s (primary residence) tax break from the county for a property in Carlsbad while being registered to vote in the City of San Diego’s District 6?
That was the question being asked by his opponents in the Carol Kim campaign yesterday after they uncovered tax documents pointing to either tax fraud or voter fraud.
But never mind! It was all just a big mistake by the county government. Cate, who says he updated his information in June 2013, produced a letter from the county that appears to clear the matter up later in the day. The letter was dated October 1st. (Yesterday)
Okay. Glad we cleared that matter up. Cate still owes the seventy five bucks or so for each of the past two years that he avoided paying as a result of getting the credit on his bill.
Now, about that carpetbagger thing…
And why are his press releases now downplaying his past involvement (“a taxpayer advocate at a local non-profit”) with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association?
Maybe it was a little embarrassment on Cate’s part.
From UT-San Diego:
“The bottom line is Chris Cate has now admitted he received a tax break for a property in which he doesn’t live,” a Kim spokeswoman said. “Are we to believe that the vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association doesn’t know how to read his own property tax bill.”
Jeff Olson, chief of assessment services for the county assessor, said Cate won’t be fined because it was the county’s mistake. He said Cate will pay back the discount he erroneously received on future tax bills.
Olson characterized the county’s mistake as “unusual” and said county officials would apologize to Cate.
Meanwhile, since we mentioned Chris Cate’s press releases, today’s volley from his side includes the improbable conclusion that Carol Kim must oppose pension reform because she didn’t apparently vote in the June 2012 election.
Trouble in Republicanland
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin has really pissed off her fellow Republicans. She’s running for State Controller against Democrat Betty Yee. She’s also been running from the GOP’s top of the ticket candidate Neel Kashkari, having told the media she was declining to endorse the gubernatorial candidate shortly after making the keynote address at the recent State Republican convention.
Now the right-leaning CalNewsroom.com is taking Swearengin to task for daring to talk about one of the GOP’s favored electoral strategies.
Earlier this week, Swearengin celebrated the low turnout expected in November.
“The good news is this election will have very low turnout,” Swearengin wrote in an email to her supporters. “And, the expected lower turnout will consist largely of voters who are tired of the status quo. I feel confident about the race if we can reach targeted voters.”
In addition to the email, a campaign memo claims that Swearengin makes up substantial ground by getting fewer people to the polls .
Funny, I thought that strategy was already enshrined in the party platform/
On This Day: 1920 – The Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates played the only triple-header in baseball history. The Reds won 2 of the 3 games. 1949 – Joining with 400,000 coal miners already on strike, 500,000 CIO steel workers closed down the nation’s foundries, steel and iron mills, demanding pensions and better wages and working conditions 1959 – “The Twilight Zone” debuted on CBS-TV. The show ran for 5 years for a total of 154 episodes.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@