Canadian Firm Pulls Power Plant Vote, Vows Future "Public Engagement" Battle

A little more than two years ago, on June 23, 2010, we wrote about a stealthy plan by San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders to locate a power plant on land the city owns just east of I-805 near University Towne Center.

We noted then, "as is typical with the closed-mouth Sanders and his business backers — who like to work behind closed doors until they can engineer as close to a fait accompli as possible — the revelation comes not via news conference or neighborhood meeting.

"Instead it is to be found in a 'request for proposal' quietly issued by the City on May 21 that 'hereby invites power generation companies to submit proposals to develop and operate a natural gas–fired power plant' at an 80-acre site on Nobel Drive south of the water treatment plant.

"Under the mayor’s plan, the City would award a 50-year lease to build and operate a plant with 'no less than 200 megawatts' of 'electrical generating capacity.'"

Despite considerable community doubt about the vaguely described proposal, the project quietly made its way through city hall with little public attention.

Then, two months ago we reported on a March 18 advice letter from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission to Capital Power Corporation of Edmonton, Canada, which has a subsidiary in this country called U.S. Capital Holdings.

"US Holdings seeks to build a power generation plant in the City of San Diego," said the letter from FPPC general counsel Zackery P. Morazzini. "This new plant must first be approved by city voters through a ballot measure expected to be on the November 2012 ballot."

It's against the law for foreign corporations to directly fund campaigns in California, but Morazzini came up with a hand-tailored loophole for the Canadian firm:

"Because decisions to contribute or expend funds will not be made by an officer, director, or management employee of a foreign corporation who is neither a citizen of the United States nor a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the United States, neither US Investments nor US Operations qualifies as a 'foreign principal' under Section 85320(c)(4)."

Last month, as we reported, California Strategies, the big Sacramento-based influence peddling outfit founded by onetime San Diego mayoral aide Bob White entered the fray on Capital Power's behalf, dispatching staffer Craig Benedetto and a colleague--both contributors to the campaigns of various San Diego city council members--to lobby the project through city hall.

"Capital Power Corporation of Edmonton, Canada, paid the firm $7000 for Benedetto and fellow influence peddler Ben Haddad to push a 'long term lease enabling development of a power plant.'

"For that project, the pair lobbied mayoral staffers Jay Goldstone and David Graham and also contacted deputy city attorneys Brock Ladewig and Tom Zeleny; Russ Gibbon from the Economic Development division; Aimee Faucett of Community and Legislative Services; and Jim Barwick of Real Estate Assets."

The project was finally scheduled for a public hearing before the city council's Rules committee today, but, in the face of fierce opposition from the University Community Planning Group and others, the proposal was dropped from the agenda.

A June 25 letter to Sanders signed by Patrcio Fuenzalida, Capital Power's director of business development for the western United States, explained the situation from the company's point of view:

"While the agreements we have reached with the City provide a strong commercial foundation for a mutually successful project, we have not yet had the opportunity to conduct extensive community outreach, consistent with the values of our company.

"Rather than have this matter proposed to a city-wide vote in November 2012, our preference would be to begin the public engagement process now, in collaboration with the city, with a view to bringing this item foward in a future election once sufficient engagement has taken place."

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Comments

A good outcome for the community. An outrageous plan thwarted for the time-being.

But it was complicated and hard to track over time, especially since secrecy is preferred over openness at Mayor Sanders' City Hall. We have serendipitous public discovery because Readerwriter Matt Potter regularly follows contracts and lobbying in places ordinary citizens wouldn't begin to know where to look, and then he connects the dots.

Nice going, well done and many thanks.

Will someone please explain why the South Bay power generation plant, the one on the waterfront in Chula Vista, is no longer "needed?" There are two proposals to build gas-fired plants in San Diego, this one and the other on the edge of Santee. If that older and existing plant, gas fired, is no longer needed, why is there ANY consideration of new plants? (We already have a pair of "peaker" plants in the county, one in Escondido and the other on Otay Mesa.)

Add to that the fact that we are told the Sunrise Power Link, now in operation, will insure no lack of electric power in SD. Folks, take a look at this and see the many inconsistencies between explanations and actions. Something just doesn't add up here.

Bad project, bad location, bad process - this whole thing should be scrapped. This site is close to a high-density residential area. This fifty acres is part of greenbelt of MHPA protected land in Rose Canyon, stretching from just east of I-805 to the 52. As an urban nature preserve, this greenbelt is actually THE most valuable land in the Golden Triangle, part of the last remaining vestiges of what the entire area was like a mere 30-40 years ago. This land is part of the Rose Creek watershed, which drains into Mission Bay - protecting the watershed helps protect the water quality of Mission Bay. We don't need another fossil fuel burning power plant in San Diego. Yet the Mayor's staff spent years secretly working on a deal to turn this 50 acres of MHPA protected land over to a profit-making company to build a massive 850 MW plant. Neither the public nor the city council knew this fiasco was going on.

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