By Doug Porter
Two seemingly unconnected stories popped up as I made my morning media rounds today, pointing out the underlying reality of a city governed by the few at the expense of the many.
An article in City Beat described the pressures being brought to bear to exclude elected officials from decisions on a taxpayer-funded development scheme… A former city councilman wrote an essay refuting a narrative published in the Union-Tribune denigrating local lifeguards…
These disparate tales are connected by a business ethos fostered by former and present elected officials claiming to have the public interest in mind. I’m talking about a Plantation Overlord Mentality as opposed to a backroom conspiracy. Business as usual in San Diego, in other words.
The Troubles They’ve Seen
The descriptor of San Diego as America’s Finest Tourist Plantation goes back a couple of decades to an art project calling attention to the connections between the hospitality industry and undocumented workers. The poster was a triptych of photographs, displayed on buses throughout the region in the weeks preceding our city’s one and only shot as a Super Bowl host.
Needless to say, the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau wasn’t happy, especially when it was discovered the project received partial funding from a city-backed program. These days the local transportation authority even considers get-out-the-vote advertising to be above its threshold for controversy.
Civic San Diego Lobbies to Save a Sham
Joshua Emerson Smith at City Beat has an insightful take on the all-out effort underway to protect Civic San Diego from accountability.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has introduced a bill allowing community groups an appeal process on larger development projects. San Diego is the only city in California that’s divorced permitting and planning functions for redevelopment from government.
The non-profit Civic San Diego receives taxpayer support and lives on fees that could otherwise be used for public services. Time after time, they’ve demonstrated a lack of sensitivity and/or awareness to the impact of their actions on others, especially typically disenfranchised residents. Were it not for the dedication of two board members appointed by former Mayor Bob Filner, it’s unlikely the public would have any insight into what’s going on with redevelopment schemes.
The City Beat story starts with a Sacramento committee hearing and follows the money being put up in opposition to AB504.
From May 15 to the end of June, the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown San Diego Partnership paid Mercury Public Affairs $21,250 to lobby specifically against AB 504, according to disclosure reports.
By comparison, from January through March, the chamber spent roughly $24,000 lobbying on 37 different bills and resolutions—or an average of $650 per item. In that same quarter, the Downtown San Diego Partnership spent nothing on Sacramento lobbyists.
“It’s a huge mistake to put up obstacles and create uncertainty in a development process that has worked exceptionally well for the downtown community, but that’s exactly what AB 504 will do,” said Kris Michell, the Downtown Partnership’s president and CEO.
Ah, the “uncertainty” defense. And “downtown community” is Republi-speak for business interests. It’s usually followed by some threatening reference to the thousands of jobs at stake. And CSD’s allies didn’t disappoint.
Critics of Civic San Diego have asked for a community benefits policy to be part of the process. The answer was “no.” Now, a move to have a mechanism public oversight has drawn an all-out campaign against the idea.
The idea behind AB504 (regardless of its fate in the legislature) and a community benefits policy for redevelopment projects should become a “litmus test” for candidates for city council in San Diego.
Chris Cate’s Tommy Bahama Caper
Freshman City Councilman Chris Cate penned a July 31st op-ed for the Union-Tribune, calling out the lifeguards’ union for a ‘tantrum’ over a corporate sponsorship with Tommy Bahama.
The misrepresentations incorporated into this piece were stunning, even to somebody who wasn’t familiar with the particulars.
To hear Cate tell it, the City of San Diego was making a sweet deal with a fashion designer clothing line that would make our lifeguards look sharp and provide income for the general fund. All that was required was a few placards on lifeguard towers.
The city’s sponsorship deal with Toyota was raised by Cate as an example the kind of deal these misguided union members (did I mention they were union?) were looking down their nose at.
This was supposed to be an innocent feel good moment, but instead turned into a political debate that left everyone on the losing end. Statements regarding the “image” of Tommy Bahama are merely a red herring that serves the sole purpose of making a political statement to gain leverage. It is a sad day when union leaders politicize a nonpolitical deal that is a win-win for all involved. The fallout is a broken deal that not only leaves money on the table for the city and lifeguards, but also tarnishes San Diego’s reputation for being a business-friendly city.
Needed: A Little Factual Support
I don’t know if former interim city councilman and union leader Ed Harris’ answer was submitted to the Union-Tribune, but they should have been asking him for a response.
His essay appeared yesterday as a blog post at the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council website, starting off with “Inaccuracies that you laid out in your UT editorial need some factual support.”
Harris takes Cate to task for his overall lack of respect for lifeguards. He points out that it was the lifeguards who had to beg and scream for the city to work out a deal with Toyota.
We had to bring the Toyota deal to the City, we scrambled and hoped existing equipment worked, during the 2.5 years it took to get the City to accept 34 free trucks. That deal did not need to be negotiated with the union because our efforts dropped it in the lap of the City who took credit for making it happen. The Toyota deal is in its fourth year and has saved the City a large part of the millions of dollars you credited to the success of the Corporate Partnership Program.
It turns out the Bahama deal was secretly negotiated behind closed doors. Apparently current council member Cate thinks it’s a good management process to exclude employees from decisions affecting their work place. And Cate fails to mention that the Bahama deal would open the door for other placarding efforts on city properties with no opportunity for public input.
And, oh, the deal was crappy, too.
The “great deal” cut by the City would sell beach advertising on over forty towers, numerous volleyball poles and naming rights to an organization that is in the media three to five days a week. TB would get exposure to millions of beach goers and others via the media. The total net for the city is at the most $120,000. As a former councilmember I am amazed at that we continue to virtually give away City assets for corporate identity. The Lifeguard Union looks forward to working with the City on deals that are fiscally prudent, transparent and have been publicly vetted. We have no intention of supporting proposals when we are not given the full details. The Lifeguards enjoy wide support and great working relationships with the local community groups, beach public and environmentalists. We cannot support a plan that uses our good reputation to crack the door on beach advertising.
“Egregious” Wage Theft Violations
NBC7 aired a piece about the owners of residential care facilities finally facing justice after eight years for paying people as little as $1.25 an hour to care for patients with Alzheimer’s or advanced stage dementia.
The owners of three San Diego residential care facilities will have to pay more than $2.2 million for “egregious” wage theft violations, forcing nine caregivers to work 24-hour shifts for less than $2 an hour, the California Labor Commission said Wednesday…
…During their investigation, Labor Commission officials found the owners would hire two people — typically a husband and wife team — to work at each of their three facilities, located on Fairhill Drive, Prather Place and San Diego Street in Spring Valley.
The employees were told to provide 24-hour care, six to seven days a week, to elderly residents who had Alzheimer’s or advanced stage dementia. Some were bedridden or receiving hospice care.
Wow. A victory for the forces of good, right?
Not so fast…
It turns out the Labor Board doesn’t track compliance. And exploited employees are often forced to hire lawyers if they want to see any back pay. Miscreant employers use bankruptcy and ownership shuffles to avoid claims.
The state legislature has been trying to resolve this obvious injustice for years now. But they’ve been blocked–even for compromise bills–by a furious lobbying campaign put up by the state’s Chamber of Commerce.
And the Fairhill Drive location cited above is now operated under a different name by the eldest daughter of the previous owners. She told NBC7 there was no connection with the past and present operations.
Adieu, Jon Stewart
Tonight is his last night on the air. His description of Fox News talking heads will live forever in my heart:
The biggest problem with the denizens of Bullshit Mountain is they act like their shit don’t stink. If they have success, they built it. If they failed, the government ruined it for them. If they get a break, they deserve it. If you get a break, it’s a “handout” and an “entitlement.” It’s a baffling, willfully-blind cognitive dissonance…
Tweet of the Day: Did Bill Pull a Fast One?
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) August 5, 2015
On This Day: 1945 – A B-29 bomber, known as the Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb on an inhabited area. The bomb named “Little Boy” was dropped over the center of Hiroshima, Japan. An estimated 140,000 people were killed. 1965 – The Voting Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 2011 – Some 45,000 CWA and IBEW-represented workers at Verizon began a two-week strike, refusing to accept more than 100 concession demands by the telecommunications giant.
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