September 8, 2006

Perspective:

National City Spotlight: A Tale of Treasure and Taxes

By Ted Godshalk

Avast there mateys, this much is for sure: With Dead Man’s Chest, the pirate ship known as the Disney Corporation will rake in lot more loot than National City will with its sales tax increase. While Pirates and their attending ghouls certainly bring in bags of doubloons for the Imagineers at Disney, piracy does not go over so well in the public arena. Taxes and land grabs don’t either. Nigh.

Most people agree that restoring the library hours is a good thing, and the hiring of a few more policemen might be OK, but the hiring of a consultant for $15,000 to study (or to promote) the idea of a Charger’s stadium seems poorly timed. The City Council and Mayor are back to spending money like they find it lying on the sandy beach. But there’s more, and like all good pirate tales, this story has intrigue and deceit, and maybe even some lost treasure.

Let’s first get to know some of the characters in this tale. The official campaign filing by the “Save National City” committee gives us a clue into who paid to Sell National City and why. First, on a job protection level, nine police officers and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) participated in the campaign by donating money. SEIU represents about 60 employees out of the entire municipal workforce and contributed $5000. The police officers each donated $100.

Second, the Constellation Group, those Aussie sailors of the high seas and builders of the Revolution high-rise development, paid in $2000 to the campaign. Is their high-rise plan a done deal at this point? Call their contribution, “insurance.” The same goes for Dr. Ben Camacho, who recently received City Council approval to sell hard liquor at his restaurant near the National City Golf Course. Are these people concerned for the public’s safety or just worried about their piece of the spoils?

Third, two businesses with city contracts also donated to the public relations program called Proposition “D.” American Medical Response ($1000), which provides paramedic services and JC Towing ($2500) each donated. Lastly, the lurking political galleon, the Sycuan band of the Kumeyaay Nation, kicked in a portion of its casino revenue ($5000). The tribe, as you remember, has locked up the building rights to the prime property near Old 24th Street and I-5.

These characters, as intriguing as they are, do not outweigh the plot of the story. One important piece of the plot is the claim made by supporters during the campaign that Nick Inzunza was not active in this second proposal. Voters were told that Inzunza was not going to participate in the campaign for fear that he would turn away voters. After the election, this claim was trumpeted as a reason for the passage of “D.” But was this true?

An answer might be found in the Save National City committee’s use of a professional political consultant. Art Castanares of Cornerstone Strategies found time in his busy schedule (campaigning in Chula Vista for Greg Sandoval and Cheryl Cox) to work for the business interests, the city staff members and the politicians who ran out in front of this issue. It is not such a big stretch to speculate that the privateer Castanares, an associate of Steve Peace (the famous electric companies’ friend and deregulator) and Juan Vargas (formerly of the State Assembly), may have been suggested by Inzunza as the go-to-guy to get this thing done. Castanares helped to push “D” over the 50% + 1 vote threshold, but with Var-gas’ loss to Bob Filner and Greg Sandoval’s defeat by Mary Salas, this one-time influential South Bay group’s effectiveness is slipping away. The next chapter in this script will revolve around two questions. Will Pearl Quinones sever her ties to the Vargas-Inzunza group as she runs to be National City’s next may-or? Will Ron Morrison put some distance between himself and Inzunza for that matter? Remember, it is believed Capitan Jack Sparrow is buried at sea, and come this November, mutinous voters may make several National City candidates walk the plank.

The last plot twist in this saga involves the search for a map to new riches. Close to the shallow, but nevertheless murky, waters of San Diego Bay lie fifty- two glorious acres under Port authority. The crew of the jolly boat “National City,” wants to look bigger and tougher to their adversaries, so they suggest that a stadium is their wish. Hence, the consultant. However, other people seem to own the land coveted by National City. In addition, the Teamsters working at PASHA (a bayfront auto importer and also a Save NC contributor) state that there should be no discussions about kicking them out to put in a stadium. The Working Waterfront Group (a business consortium) has echoed the same thing in front of the City Council and in the U-T. In the meantime, we have seen the Chargers organization gleefully dance around Chula Vista and other locations in San Diego County on the arms of various mayors and County Supervisors.

The posturing of National City is certainly designed to pull away some future financial swag out of the Port District, but the final development plan is clearly unsettled at this time. A map has been discovered, you might say, but is there a sports/entertainment treasure under the X? Anything new which ends up being built in the bayfront should be for all residents; the young and the old; the poor and the well-to-do, and not just for the lucky scalawags who can afford the many ducats required for an NFL ticket or for a Manchester hotel room.

So there you have it seadogs. A group of swashbucklers get a new tax passed, and the municipal ship narrowly averts running aground. The Mayor and City Council then earmark $15,000 for a consultant to find a map and a treasure chest and the key to open it all up. But is there really a treasure there at all or is it all just an old salt’s tale?

Ted Godshalk can be reached at paradisecreek@mac.com

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage