Payback time

— One of the most enthusiastic backers of 1998's Proposition MM, the San Diego school district's $1.51 billion mega-bond issue, was the Union-Tribune, repeatedly editorializing in favor of the measure, which had been packaged by district superintendent Alan Bersin, one of the paper's longtime political favorites. Now comes word that the school district has attempted to sell $200 million of the Prop MM bonds by the unprecedented use of banner advertising on the U-T's website. "The goal is to maximize our investor base," Mark Young, a senior vice president at Evensen Dodge, Inc., and the district's financial adviser, told the Bond Buyer, a financial trade magazine. "We think if we could get broader distribution in the San Diego region, maybe we could get a lower borrowing cost." The magazine reports that the district plans to "count the number of Web hits and phone calls" to 800 numbers and track zip codes for retail orders. "If we get significant participation in the region, we may modify the retail order period on the next sale to give first priority to the San Diego region," Young said. "Every time we do a deal with the district we tweak it to see if we can do better." The district has already sold $290 million of Prop MM debt and plans to issue another $175 to $200 million of debt in July 2002 ... Meantime, circulation figures at the newspaper version of the U-T have fallen 5.17 percent during the six months ending September 30, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. The L.A. Times was off 4.9 percent, and the Orange County Register tumbled 9.65 percent.

City daze San Diego's assistant city manager Lamont Ewell is being haunted by a small-business-loan scandal at city hall in Durham, North Carolina, where he used to be city manager, reports the Raleigh News and Observer. An audit ordered by Ewell's successor, Marcia Conner, discovered that some of the businesses receiving a total of $800,000 in loans didn't exist or used phony addresses and some signatures on cashed checks didn't match those on loan applications. The audit also found "significant internal control weaknesses, most of which can be classified as weakness in the city's control environment." The district attorney has begun a fraud investigation... Failed San Diego City Council candidate Peter Navarro reports he's doing better at his chosen profession of economics. The UC Irvine professor e-mails that he is out with a "major report on the economic costs of terrorism done by myself and a colleague" published in the Milken Institute Review ...Governor Gray Davis, who told CNN's Larry King that cows had contracted anthrax "in the San Diego area," had "misspoken," according to a state department of agriculture spokesman ... Retired Padres slugger Tony Gwynn has just opened his first Church's Chicken restaurant in Bakersfield. Two more are planned there ... The Federation of Korean Industries wants to set up an $8 million "Korea BioValley" research center in Carlsbad, reports the Korea Herald, to promote Korean biomedical research and development.

In the Navy There's been more trouble for the carrier U.S.S. Nimitz as it makes its way around Cape Horn and up the coast of South America to its new home in San Diego, reports the Washington Times. After nearly hitting a fishing boat on October 10 and almost losing a cargo plane due to a sloppy landing, the ship was "forced to shut down one of two nuclear reactors due to a 'de-energized' electrical component," the paper says. After the problem was fixed, the reactor was restarted at sea. Meanwhile, the Times also reports that Navy sources say suspicious diving activity has been sighted around U.S. ships in port "on both the East and West coasts." One diver was said to be spotted near the aircraft carrier George Washington in Norfolk, but checks under hulls and on local beaches turned up nothing ... The San Diego Software Industry Council's executive council breakfast this week was set to feature Larry Howe of Science Applications International Corp., the La Jolla-based defense contractor with close ties to the nation's clandestine services. A news release notes that "Larry is formerly with the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Marines."

Contributor: Matt Potter

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