Humphrey's owner voted to sue San Diego mayor

Wealthy hotelier who runs internationally famous Shelter Island concert venue is vice-chairman of hotel tax district at center of Filner storm

San Diego's famed Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay, where musical acts all the way from Tony Bennett to the Goo Goo Dolls have plied their trade for 31 seasons to sold-out crowds, has been getting some off-stage attention of late.

Last month, as reported here by Ken Leighton, the talent buyer/manager of Humphrey's Backstage lounge, Jeremiah Smith, was arrested for felony drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter after Smith’s GMC truck reportedly struck and killed a man on Interstate 8 near Lakeside:

The L.A. Times reported that a 42-year-old Mexicali man was standing on the freeway shoulder next to a vehicle speaking to his wife following mechanical problems to one of their cars. The accident, which occurred at 4:10 a.m. on Saturday, January 26, threw the man hundreds of feet. He died at the scene.

Smith was arrested and held on $100,000 bail.

An insider close to Humphreys’ staff reported that there was an immediate reaction to the fatal accident from Humphrey’s management: two bartenders and one bar-back were fired. The insider says that the three employees were terminated because they engaged in after-hours drinking with Smith.

“That is complete bullshit,” says the insider. “They were there having their shift drink after the bar was closed, just like they have done for years and years. They have cameras up the ass all around Humphreys [Lounge].

"Now they want to fire the underlings because their boss got too drunk and killed somebody. That guy [Smith] was the boss of these guys who were fired. He could just go around the bar and help himself to as much booze as he wants. It wasn’t like these bartenders over served him. He was their boss. One of these bartenders who got fired had been there for 28 years.”

Sergio Davies, general manager of Humphreys, responded this way about Smith’s arrest: “This is not a story. It is too early, and the facts are not all in.” But what about the three fired employees? “What happens to employees on our property, we don’t divulge that information.”

The Humphrey's operation is owned by Bartell Hotels, Inc., according to that firm's website.

President and CEO Richard Bartell joined the company in 1980 alongside his father, Lee, who transitioned the family to the lodging arena after a long and successful tenure as radio station owners.

In addition to the concert venue, Bartell, according to its website, runs the Pacific Terrace Hotel; the Dana Inn on Mission Bay; Humphrey's Half Moon Inn and Suites; Holiday Inn San Diego Bayside; Days Hotel Circle/Seaworld; and Sheraton La Jolla.

Bartell, family and employees have long been big contributors to city campaigns. According to a 2011 major donor report on file with the San Diego county Registrar of Voters, Richard and Lizabeth Bartell and their affiliated entity Bartell Hotels gave a total of $16,320 to city political causes both Democratic and Republican, including $1,000 to Democratic councilman David Alvarez and the $2,000 to the GOP's Lorie Zapf. Democrat Tony Young, who has since left the council to run the Red Cross here, got $500.

$2500 went to San Diegans for Accountability at City Hall, Yes on D, the so-called strong mayor measure backed by the Republicans and GOP then-mayor Jerry Sanders.

The Bartells and employees have also been heavy funders of the San Diego Restaurant and Beverage PAC and the GOP Lincoln Club. The group was a big backer of the failed mayoral campaign of GOP ex-city councilman Carl DeMaio.

Last year's electoral duel between DeMaio and Filner hinged in no small part on the ongoing war between unions and the major hotel owners over worker wages and conditions, with the Democrat heavily funded by big labor. Labor boss Lorena Gonzalez co-hosted Filner's November post-election fundraising bash.

As first reported here Tuesday, the San Diego Tourism Marketing District, an entity set up by big local hotel conglomerates and ex-mayor Sanders, is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether to sue Filner and city taxpayers over his refusal to honor an unsigned contract to fund the hotelier-run district negotiated by Sanders, the longtime beneficiary of hotel owners' political cash.

The marketing district's attorney Michael Colantuono of Grass Valley, told us Tuesday that the board had provisionally voted during a February 8 closed session to sue Filner and the taxpayers for the approximately $30 million in annual revenue brought in by a two-percent levy on room stays.

Because the district is a creature of state law, it is supposed to comply with the Brown Act, the California law requiring its meetings to be publically noticed in advance. The act also mandates that actions in closed session be reported immediately after they are approved.

In the case of the proposed action against Filner, that did not occur.

Colantuono maintained to us that a provision of the law allowed the board to withhold notice of its intention to sue because it was still "negotiating" with the mayor, a situation that the lawyer said ended Monday evening.

A few hours after Colantuono was requested to produce the legally required documentation of the February 8 closed session vote to sue the mayor, the marketing district's public relations representative Tom Blair emailed a copy of what is identified as a "Closed Session Report" of the meeting action that "authorized filing suit against mayor to provide [his] signature" on the disputed contract.

The report, signed by John Lambeth, a Colantuono associate, is dated the same day we requested it, February 19.

The date and provenance of such documents can be crucial to the legality of actions taken by public boards; if legal discrepancies in the authorization for preparation of lawsuits by such agencies are subsequently determined to have occurred, the work might have to be reauthorized, or might even be subsequently ruled invalid by a state court.

According to the document's vote tally, marketing district vice-chairman Richard Bartell joined seven of his fellow members, including Atlas hotel magnate C. Terry Brown; Luis Barrios, General Manager of Best Western Hacienda Hotel Old Town; Patrick Duffy, General Manager Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines; Mohsen Khaleghi, General Manager Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine; Robert A. Rauch, General Manager/Partner, Hilton Garden Inn-San Diego/Del Mar; Keri A. Robinson, Area Managing Director, Starwood Hotels & Resorts – San Diego; and John Schafer Vice President Managing Director Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, in approving the action.

William L. Evans, Vice President and Managing Director of Hotel Operations, was listed as absent and not voting.

Another vote by the board on whether to actually file the controversial suit against Filner and city taxpayers is scheduled at the board's 9 am meeting tomorrow, to be held at the Evans-owned Bahia Hotel, 998 West Mission Bay Drive.

As required by law the meeting will be public, though discussion of the lawsuit issue is docketed for closed session. Any action must be subsequently reported to the public.

We've called Richard Bartell of Bartell Hotels for more details on the status of the controversy and his role on the board, as well as the drunk driving case, but have not received a response.

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Comments

"The report, signed by John Lambeth, a Colantuono associate, is dated the same day we requested it, February 19." What a coincidence.

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