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Such Good Friends

A disturbing glimpse at the close relationship between the Padres and city council

Larry Lucchino invited city staffers "to join him for an inning in his box and have a bite to eat."
  • Larry Lucchino invited city staffers "to join him for an inning in his box and have a bite to eat."
  • Image by Joe Klein

It was the beginning of 1998, and John Moores, owner of the Padres, was ramping up his bid for a new baseball-only stadium downtown, to be paid for by San Diego taxpayers. His plan called for placing a measure on the November ballot that, if approved by voters, would not only give him a new stadium but also turn over to him and his associates exclusive development rights for a huge chunk of an old warehouse neighborhood on downtown's east side. It was a decidedly rich and lopsided proposal, but Moores was sure he could get it passed.

John Moores. By the summer of 1998, the council had readily given in to virtually all of his demands. Suddenly huge overruns in construction and land costs surfaced.

John Moores. By the summer of 1998, the council had readily given in to virtually all of his demands. Suddenly huge overruns in construction and land costs surfaced.

His ace in the hole was the San Diego City Council. By the summer of 1998, the council had readily given in to virtually all of his demands. That November, the measure was easily approved by voters, assured by a unanimous city council that the proposal was financially sound. But almost as soon as it had been adopted, the project faced mounting questions. Huge overruns in construction and land costs suddenly surfaced. The optimistic estimates of revenue that the project and its surrounding real estate development would generate were challenged by financial experts who noted that there were no guarantees attached to the measure. Cash shortfalls would have to come out of the city's general fund.

By the end of 1999, even the San Diego Taxpayers Association, an influential business group that had backed the original ballot measure, was warning of a dire fate if the city council did not change course. "The city manager is now recommending that the City Council authorize a sale of up to $299 million in bonds, clearly contrary to voter action," wrote Taxpayers Association executive director Scott Barnett in a December 14, 1999, op-ed piece published in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

"Does the city of San Diego know how much its total contribution to this project, including land acquisition, required infrastructure improvements, and bond expense, will actually cost taxpayers? Answer: No. Yet once the bonds are issued, the city will be required to pay for all of these redevelopment components, whatever the price.

"Does the city know how much revenue will be generated and when it will be available to pay off the estimated $20 million annual bond payments? Answer: No. But the city will have to pay all the debt service, no matter how much in new hotel-tax revenues is actually available.

"The council must now close the loopholes that put the taxpayers at risk. How long this will delay the project is not clear. What is clear is that if the City Council votes today to proceed with ballpark bond financing, it will be placing the city treasury at enormous risk."

Yet, despite the critics, the city council has proceeded with the Moores plan and has even advanced millions of dollars of cash from city reserves to make sure construction proceeds, while a federal grand jury looks into the Moores-related stock dealings of councilwoman Valerie Stallings.

What has kept the city council so loyal to the Moores plan? Recently released records show that councilmembers and their staff have frequently phoned and met privately with Moores, his partner Larry Lucchino, and their employees, including ex-city manager Jack McGrory and Kris Michell, an ex-aide to Susan Golding. According to the records, McGrory has discussed closed sessions and personally urged councilmembers to cast their votes in ways financially advantageous to the Padres.

In return, Padres boardmembers, such as financier Ted Roth and syndicated columnist George Will, have taken councilmembers out for meals. Staff members have received tickets to games and invitations to dine in Lucchino's stadium box. Lucchino gave $500 for cancer treatment of a council staffer. And Lucchino, Moores, his daughter Jennifer McLeod, and Padres executives including McGrory have been donors to political campaigns of the councilmembers; several of the contributions were made only days or weeks after the councilmember seeking the contribution met privately with McGrory and other Padres officials or cast crucial votes in favor of the team.

Below is an 18-month chronology of Padres' city council contacts and actions as gathered from public records act requests and other public sources.

1-12-98 Memo to Judy McCarty re:meeting with Larry Lucchino, John Moores, Nancy Chase re: library matters.

Christine Kehoe's name pops up in nearly 20 private meetings with Padres officials. Two Padres officials donate $1000 each to her congressional campaign.

Christine Kehoe's name pops up in nearly 20 private meetings with Padres officials. Two Padres officials donate $1000 each to her congressional campaign.

1-22-98 Meeting, Christine Kehoe and Ted Roth, Padres board of directors, at Westgate Hotel.

1-30-98 Two phone calls from Valerie Stallings to John Moores's home in Carmel, CA.

3-27-98 Memo to Judy McCarty re: meeting with Larry Lucchino and John Moores -- review prelim. Site plans and discuss branch libraries. Their office.

3-27-98 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino, and John Moores re: preliminary site plan.

3-31-98 Contribution of $1000 by Jennifer McLeod, San Diego Padres, to Christine Kehoe 1998 campaign for U.S. Congress

3-31-98 Contribution of $1000 by Robert Jason McLeod, San Diego Padres, to Christine Kehoe 1998 campaign for U.S. Congress

5-5-98 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, John Moores and Larry Lucchino

5-6-98 Memo to Judy McCarty, meeting with Larry Lucchino and John Moores re: update on site plan. Your office.

5-19-98 Reelection campaign fundraiser for Byron Wear hosted by Jennifer McLeod, daughter of John Moores. Goal: $5000.

6-3-98 Memo from Kaye, "assistant to L. Lucchino" to Denise (Lara, an aide to George Stevens)

"Here are two sets of tickets: 10 txs in field for you and your group. 6 txs in Larry's Box -- Press Level Box 26A. Larry would like you to join him for an inning in his box and have a bite to eat. See you there."

6-5-98 Memo to Judy McCarty, meeting with Larry Lucchino, Kris Michell re: new

ballpark renderings. Meeting requested by Donna Legrand. Apologized for short notice.

6-5-98 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino and Kris Michell re: ballpark.

7-13-98 Breakfast, Christine Kehoe and George Will, Padres boardmember, La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.

8-7-98 Letter from Judy McCarty to John Moores and Larry Lucchino.

"Dear John & Larry,

"The roses are beautiful! There's too much said for the sake of argument and too little said for the sake of agreement. Please accept my gratitude on behalf of the citizens of San Diego."

8-19-98 Memo: "Padres have requested Judy [McCarty] to attend the Padres game and pre-game introduction on Tuesday, Sept. 1st. Need to arrive at Press Gate H at 6:15 pm. Member of the Pad squad will escort Judy from the Press Gate H onto the field. Leslie has Judy's tickets for the game."

9-28-98 Phone call from Valerie Stallings to Houston hotel.

10-5-98 Letter from Harry Mathis to Charles Steinberg, San Diego Padres.

"Due to a comedy of errors related to attending the gala before the Saturday night [Padres] game, I was charged for two $32 tickets to the game on my Visa when I thought I was simply being charged for a ticket to the gala for my wife since my invitation covered only myself. The fault was probably mine for not questioning one of your young staff members more closely when she stopped me at gate C and took my Visa to 'get my tickets.' I thought she understood that I needed a ticket for my wife to the gala, and she apparently thought we needed tickets to the game (I had tickets to the City Box).

"It wasn't until afterward that I looked at the enclosed contents of the envelope she handed me and realized that a mistake had apparently been made. I felt like I parked my brain with my car. I don't know whether it's possible to correct the error, but rather than take it up with some unknown person in the Organization, I decided to ask you to help. Thanks for anything you can do."

11-20-98 Phone call from Valerie Stallings to Neon Systems, Houston, TX.

11-20-98 Phone call from Valerie Stallings to John Moores home in Carmel, CA.

11-20-98 Phone call to Judy McCarty, Jim Madaffer (McCarty aide) from Larry Lucchino.

For the following Harry Mathis meetings, only the year of the appointments were furnished by Mathis in response to a public records act request; specific dates were blacked out:

1998

Larry Lucchino and Kris Michell re: Ballpark

Becky and John Moores, Moores's condominium; Meridian, downtown

Kris Michell re: Prop C

Larry Lucchino, Kris Michell, and Moores

1-28-99 Private reception 5 p.m. for Judy McCarty, "Yes on L" event, at John Moores's home, Rancho Santa Fe.

1-28-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas, Larry Lucchino, and Jose Mireles (Latino Builders), Padres office.

2-8-99 Phone call, Valerie Stallings to home of John Moores, Carmel, CA.

2-8-99 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino, and Kris Michell.

2-12-99 Meeting, Judy McCarty and John Moores and Larry Lucchino re: ballpark.

2-17-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas, John Moores, and Larry Lucchino.

2-23-99 Phone call, Valerie Stallings to offices of Neon Systems, Sugar Land, Texas.

2-23-99 Phone call, Valerie Stallings to offices of Neon Systems.

2-28-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas and Larry Lucchino, Padres offices.

3-1-99 Phone call, Valerie Stallings to offices of Neon Systems, Sugar Land, Texas.

3-5-99 Neon System stock purchase, Valerie Stallings ($10,000 to $100,000).

3-24-99 Phone call to Harry Mathis from Larry Lucchino.

3-29-99 Phone call to Judy McCarty from Larry Lucchino, re: wanted to discuss the progress of this weekend. Urges you to vote today for "sufficient assurances."

3-30-99 Phone call to Judy McCarty from Larry Lucchino.

3-31-99 Valerie Stallings sells Neon Systems stock ($10,000 to $100,000).

4-19-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas John Moores, Larry Lucchino, Tom Sullivan, and Kris Michell on downtown library.

4-23-99 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino, John Moores, Kris Michell, and Tom Sullivan, re: Library.

7-6-99 2 p.m. meeting, Juan Vargas, Larry Lucchino, Kris Michell, re: ballpark update.

7-6-99 3 p.m. meeting, Juan Vargas and Herb Klein (Union-Tribune editor-in-chief), his office.

7-21-99 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Kris Michell, Larry Lucchino.

8-6-99 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Jack McGrory, and Sol Price re: their project in CH (City Heights).

9-13-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas, John Moores, and Kris Michell.

9-13-99 Meeting, Christine Kehoe and John Moores.

9-20-99 Breakfast: Juan Vargas, John Moores, and Frank Urtazan (University Club).

9-21-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas, Kris Michell, John Kratzer, and Dennis Cruzan (Padres) re: hotels.

9-23-99 Juan Vargas, Dinner Tribute to Larry Lucchino, La Jolla Hyatt Regency. Check-in at the door. They will show you to your table.

9-25-99 Letter, Kris Michell to George Stevens.

"Once again, I find it appropriate to express my appreciation for taking time to allow our development team to continuously update you on the progress of the Ballpark District."

9-28-99 $1000 contribution made by Larry Lucchino to Juan Vargas 2000 Assembly campaign.

9-29-99 $1500 contribution made by Latino Builders to Juan Vargas 2000 Assembly campaign.

10-21-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas, Kris Michell, Charles Black, Dave Nielsen, and Allan Hynie, re: EIR update.

11-5-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas, Kris Michell, and Jose Mireles. Getting Latino Builders involved in downtown/ballpark contracting.

11-22-99 Meeting, Juan Vargas, Jack McGrory, Kris Michell, re: Qualcomm (Stadium) Lease Extension.

11-26-99 Valerie Stallings purchases Neon Systems stock ($10,000 to $100,000).

12-13-99 Memo to Judy McCarty, meeting with Larry Lucchino re: ballpark, your office.

For the following Harry Mathis meetings, only the year of the appointments were furnished by Mathis in response to a public records act request; specific dates were blacked out:

1999

Kris Michell, Jack McGrory re: Qualcomm lease extension

John Moores, Larry Lucchino, Ballpark update

John Moores, Tom Sullivan, re: Library update

Larry Lucchino, Kris Michell re: Ballpark update

Ballpark update with Kris Michell, John Kratzer, JMI, Dennis Cruzan, Burnham re: ancillary development.

Private baseball model preview, Padres Mission Valley office

1-7-00 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino, Jack McGrory and Kris Michell re: Ballpark Permanent Financing.

1-11-00 Meeting, Juan Vargas, Larry Lucchino, Jack McGrory, and Kris Michell, update you on ballpark.

1-21-00 Meeting, Christine Kehoe and John Moores.

1-24-00 Phone call to Harry Mathis from Jack McGrory.

1-25-00 Phone call to Harry Mathis from Larry Lucchino.

1-26-00 Meeting between Judy McCarty and Larry Lucchino, Jack McGrory, Kris

Michell re: brief on next hearing on ballpark.

1-28-00 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Ted Roth, Jerry Butkiewicz re: ballpark.

1-28-00 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino, Jack McGrory, Kris Michell.

2-26-00 Juan Vargas: attend Ireland Fund Dinner, Hyatt Downtown. Jack McGrory

invited you.

3-3-00 Campaign contribution of $500 by Jack McGrory to Juan Vargas 2000 campaign for state assembly.

4-19-00 Meeting, Judy McCarty and Larry Lucchino and Jack McGrory re: Ballpark update.

4-20-00 Meeting, Juan Vargas, Larry Lucchino, and Jack McGrory (Grant Grill -- gift $20.58) Update you on ballpark.

4-20-00 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino, and Jack McGrory re: Ballpark update.

5-11-00 Phone call from Jack McGrory to Christine Kehoe re: ballpark closed session on Monday.

5-22-00 Phone call to Harry Mathis from Jack McGrory re: FYI Today there will be a press conference at 11:30 at Hall of Justice re the Ballpark lawsuit.

5-25-00 Memo to Judy McCarty re: Jack McGrory interim financing update. Jack will call Judy at home.

5-25-00 Meeting, Christine Kehoe and Jack McGrory.

6-23-00 Memo, Jack McGrory to San Diego City Council.

"We are requesting that Supplemental Item 2403 authorizing the expenditure of $3.8 million from the Ballpark Major Facility Fund...be trailed from Monday, June 26, to Tuesday, June 27, so that we can adequately prepare for this important discussion."

6-23-00 Meeting, Christine Kehoe, Larry Lucchino, and Jack McGrory.

6-28-00 Letter from Julie Meier Wright, President, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, to George Stevens:

"June 27 was a great day for San Diego! Thank you for your gutsy vote to continue the partnership on the ballpark and redevelopment district. I believe that it was a sound decision to continue the project as it passes its latest 'bump in the road.' In the litigious, adversarial environment that confronts political leaders everywhere, the willingness of public officials to stay the course is important to keeping important projects on schedule and on budget."

6-28-00 Letter from Byron Wear to Mike Dee, San Diego Padres re: Baseball Museum Americana at the Ballpark:

"I had an opportunity to talk with Garth Kinsell from Power Play Sports regarding the new Baseball Museum Americana that they will be setting up at the Park of the Park area. After reviewing the proposal I think that the idea would be very successful for San Diego and especially the Padres.

"The quality of the museum and the exhibits that PowerPlay Sports has set up in the past throughout the country have all been highly successful. The Baseball Museum would draw tourists and locals to the Park of the Park area in large quantities, as well as enhance the new ballpark, bringing all of these benefits to the Padres as well. They have had a few meetings with Al Corti to date, but I think it would be advisable for you to give Garth Kinsell a phone call...and possibly set a meeting with them as well."

7-14-00 Phone call to Harry Mathis from Jack McGrory re: Environmental lawsuit against ballpark to be heard in (city council) closed session.

8-15-00 Memo from Luis Natividad, aide to Councilman George Stevens, to Stevens. Subject: Reporting donation from Mr. Larry Lucchino.

"Councilman, this is to informed [sic] that Mr. Larry Lucchino to help pay personal expenses while on medical leave in the hospital, recuperating from cancer surgery. The check No. is 1075 Glendale Federal Bank, La Jolla Branch, dated 5-28-98 for the amount of $500."

For the following Harry Mathis meetings, only the year of the appointments were furnished by Mathis in response to a public records act request; specific dates were blacked out:

2000

Ballpark update, new model, Padres Mission Valley office

Fred Bernowsk and Doug Wilson, re: ballpark

SD Padres Opening Day VIP reception, Club Lounge, Club Level 1-A

Larry Lucchino, Jack McGrory, Ballpark update

Tour of ballpark, downtown

4-23 (no year provided) Phone call for Byron Wear from Jack McGrory re: Ballpark.

6-23 (no year provided) Phone call for Byron Wear from Larry Lucchino re: Ballpark.

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