Byron Wear and Juan Vargas meet with Tijuana airport bidders

Culligan, the new sponsor of the Holiday Bowl

— Privatization of the Tijuana airport may come as soon as next year, and that's causing a big stir among insiders at San Diego's city hall. Last week, a consortium of French, Spanish, and Dutch airport operators won the bidding on Mexico's first package of airports to be privatized. The companies will own 20 percent of the operation, with the other 80 percent to be traded on the Mexican stock market. The so-called Pacific Airport Group, which includes Tijuana, Guadalajara, and Puerto Vallarta, is the next package set for auction. The pending sell-off is attracting the keen interest of San Diego politicos, two of whom, city councilmen Byron Wear and Juan Vargas, recently flew to Mexico City to meet with representatives from one of the would-be bidders, Servicios Aeroes Del Centro, a huge Mexican industrial group said to be controlled by the politically powerful Afif and Nader families, with giant holdings in everything from textiles to helicopters. The Tijuana airport is seen as a huge profit center, especially if local and federal officials can be convinced to open up a direct customs gateway between the terminal and the United States, turning the complex into a major threat to Lindbergh Field. Not coincidentally, certain Otay Mesa property owners on this side of the border, a key source of political contributions, would also benefit mightily ... The executive director of the county's Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board, John Parker, may be in line for a similar job in the state's capital. "I want to see what they're offering, what the job will entail," Parker told the Sacramento Bee last week. That city is preparing to spend up to $300,000 on an independent police-monitoring office, but the chief of police is lukewarm on the idea.

Hey, lobbying man

Insiders say it's no accident that Culligan has become the new sponsor of the Holiday Bowl. Culligan, famous for its friendly hard-water fix-it cartoon "Culligan Man," is owned by U.S. Filter, the giant water-technology outfit that owns lots of water rights in the Imperial Valley and stands to benefit hugely once legal obstacles are cleared for Imperial to sell water to ever-thirsty San Diego. U.S. Filter is part owned by the Bass Brothers of Texas, who accumulated the Imperial water rights, then sold them to U.S. Filter in exchange for stock in the company. A key Holiday Bowl board member has close political and professional ties to the deal between San Diego and Imperial. Meantime, Nebraska fans who'll be flying in for the game from Omaha are being offered a $999 package deal, including three nights in what the local newspaper calls the "Five Star Coronado Island Marriott Resort" ... You know things are bad on the world economic scene when maquiladoras in Mexico, where wages are just a fraction of what they pay in the States, begin laying off workers. But that's just what happened last week at the Eastman Kodak plant in Tijuana, where officials announced "a few hundred" workers would soon lose their jobs. It seems that Kodak is being dragged down by Danka, its Japanese partner in the copier business, according to the Rochester Business Journal.

Dung city

San Diego's William Warren, who wants to mine guano -- bird dung -- on a 3.2-square-mile island called Navassa 45 miles off the coast of Haiti, is running into resistance from U.S. scientists who claim that the rock outcropping is home to dozens of endangered species. "It's an odd island," Michael Smith, leader of an expedition sponsored by the Center for Marine Conservation, a Washington-based environmental group, told the London Times. "It has an unusually high number of endemic species -- way too many." As a result, American officials are vowing to protect the island with Coast Guard patrols if necessary. The U.S. claims Navassa under the 1856 Guano Islands Act ... The Army says it may conduct a "fly-off" this spring, pitting General Atomics against other makers of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for one of the biggest government contracts ever awarded in the field. The Army wants a new, short-range reconnaissance UAV. Others in the Pentagon say it should make do with the UAV already on the shelf, according to Defense News.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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