Permits for the rich and famous

Rich? Want to build a mansion in La Jolla?  Matthew Peterson knows who to schmooze down at the building department.
  • Rich? Want to build a mansion in La Jolla? Matthew Peterson knows who to schmooze down at the building department.

How much does it cost to get a permit to demolish or remodel a house in La Jolla? Plenty, to judge from a recent second-quarter disclosure filed by Peterson and Price, the longtime law and lobbying firm that specializes in schmoozing city regulators regarding the issuance of building and demolition permits in wealthy parts of town. For instance, Anton and Julie Woolf forked over $7556 to the Peterson outfit to gain approval of a city permit “to demolish an existing residence located at 6353 Camino de la Costa, and construct a new 5,467 square foot single family residence with basement and swimming pool.” Woolf is CEO of San Diego–based Argen Corporation, “the largest dental gold producer in the United States and the largest in the world,” according to the company’s website. Peterson and Price’s Matthew Peterson lobbied Paul Godwin and John Fisher of the City’s Development Services Department for the approval.

Then there was Darwin Deason of Dallas, Texas, who paid Peterson $3284 to get development permits for a residential property near the water at 1912 Spindrift Drive. Deason is number 397 on Forbes magazine’s list of 400 richest Americans, with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion. The Texan made the bulk of his fortune in computer-service outsourcing, selling his company, Affiliated Computer Services, to Xerox in 2009. “His windfall came only after a legal dispute: Xerox agreed to pay him a hefty premium for his Class B shares, and shareholders sued,” says Forbes. “Once claims were resolved, the former Arkansas farmhand pocketed $800 million, mostly in stock.” Lobbyist Peterson got in touch with city development official Myra Herrmann about the arrangements for Deason’s posh new California digs.

Dave and Lois Butterfield paid Peterson $1062 for permits to “demo 1 home and remodel second home at 5238 and 5334 Calumet Ave.” Peterson reached out to Development Service’s John Fisher on that case. Murray and Robin Sinclaire came up with $3200 to get Peterson to lobby for approval of a “New House and Boundary Line Adjustment at 2078 Soledad Ave.” Sinclaire made his bundle as an investment banker in Cincinnati, Ohio. Peterson talked to Greg Hopkins and Jeff Peterson of Development Services on behalf of the Sinclaires.

Among Peterson’s big-money clients is De Soto Sport founder Emilio De Soto.

Among Peterson’s big-money clients is De Soto Sport founder Emilio De Soto.

The lobbyist collected $4168 from Tracy and Emilio De Soto to resolve a “notice of corrections” about a permit at an unspecified address. De Soto founded De Soto Sport, an athletic clothing company, in 1990. “He credits his apparel knowledge in part to his education, to an affinity toward textiles and to his career as a professional triathlete,” according to Triathlon Business International. “He lives with his wife Tracy, son Emilio, and two cats in a beach house at Windansea Beach in La Jolla.” Peterson went right to the top for De Soto, lobbying Development Services director Kelly Broughton and assistant city attorney Donald Worley.

Interestingly, Peterson’s disclosure says he made “no lobbying contacts” for and got no fees during the second quarter of this year from his most famous client, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Emails recovered from city hall show that he did handle a matter of overdue permit processing fees on Romney’s now-dormant La Jolla beach house project during the period. Also on Peterson’s no-contact list: client John Miller, Romney’s close friend and a Utah mega-millionaire, who is remodeling the former Cliff Robertson estate next door to Romney’s property in La Jolla’s Barber Tract.

On the political side, Peterson — son of the law firm’s founder Paul Peterson, who was a onetime associate of late Price Club founder and Democrat Sol Price — reported giving $200 to the city council campaign of Republican Ray Ellis, battling first district Democratic incumbent Sherri Lightner. The lobbyist gave $300 to the seventh district council bid of insurance man Scott Sherman, another Republican, who won outright in the June primary. Peterson did not return a call seeking comment.

Comments

Super disappointing article. This article seems like just more of the machine cranking out drivel under a deadline. "What are we going to write about this week for the sheep? I know, cheap swipe hack work at the usual easy target; rich/successful is bad. Yep, that'll work. Send it to press."

The cheap swipe aside, it demonstrates a total lack of understanding with regard to how difficult it is to get a project, any project, through San Diego City government. If you want the real story, ask any small business owner, from the local dog sitting business to a restaurateur about how absolutely infuriating it is to work with the various city department to get permits. Completely conflicting requirements, apathy and sometime well meaning but misguided interpretations of building codes create absolute gridlock that kill many businesses before they even open.

Now imagine you're not opening a business in a friendly neighborhood, but rather building a home in that shark tank called La Jolla where every neighbor with a McMansion is concerned about "bulk and mass" and how it might encroach on their view or privacy. And these neighbors all know someone who knows someone on the architectural committee, building department, etc. to whom they can complain to try to stop construction of a neighboring house. This is all in addition to the usual difficulties of winding one's way through the labyrinthine building approval process.

While "lobbyist" is a loaded word, here it means someone with the knowledge to navigate this otherwise overwhelming morass to get something done. Architects, engineers have to do this everyday for their clients on normal projects and their fees for doing so make Mr. Peterson's look paltry. Hiring a professional to deal with the roadblocks thrown up by sophisticated yet petty neighbors, various community committees and city government doesn't, in and of itself, indicate corruption.

If you want to do something meaningful, go talk to an architect or general contractor for one of these projects and get the whole story as to why a "lobbyist" was necessary rather than just slinging mud.

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