Signs of corruption

— With San Diego City Council elections coming up in the fall, city officials continue in secret settlement negotiations with two billboard companies that have filed a federal lawsuit to void a municipal ordinance restricting liquor advertisements near schools and parks. Charles Lewis, who is running for the Fourth District council seat of his boss, incumbent George Stevens, is widely believed to have the most to lose or gain from any final decision. Although Stevens championed the ordinance, and Lewis has said he supports it, the Lewis campaign accepted thousands of dollars from employees, attorneys, their spouses, and others connected to Clear Channel Outdoor, which, along with Viacom Outdoor, filed the lawsuit in federal court here last October. Lewis's campaign also benefited from an independent expenditure in the form of a large Clear Channel billboard on state highway 94. Lewis has said he doesn't know who paid for the sign, and nobody has come forward to report the contribution, as required by city law. The city's new ethics commission has reportedly been investigating the nondisclosure for months but has yet to reveal any enforcement action. As the secret settlement talks continue, some anti-liquor ad forces worry that city negotiators, who may be about to bargain away the ordinance's toughest anti-alcohol restrictions, have been compromised by the billboard companies' political largesse ... Will talk of a new stadium for the Chargers hinder the city's grand plans for raising funds for a new downtown library? For months, library boosters have been waiting for the results of a consultant's study, said to lay out a plan to put the bite on local philanthropists for millions of dollars in private funding -- to be supplemented by state grant money -- for a posh new library next to the downtown Padres ballpark. But high-profile talk that city tax dollars might be spent on a new football stadium is worrying some who fear that budget-minded charities might refuse to make up the gap for the library.

Killer fund-raiser New United Way chief Fred Baranowski's attack-dog style is causing tongues to wag in local charity circles. Baranowski, onetime head of the local Bank of America operation, is best known for his op-ed piece in the Union-Tribune, back in January, lambasting Bruce Henderson for his opposition to the taxpayer-subsidized Chargers ticket guarantee and stadium-expansion deal. Calling Henderson a "chronic obstructionist," Baranowski, then head of the partially tax-funded Downtown San Diego Partnership, claimed the ex-city councilman "and a handful of equally misguided cohorts" had "delayed the expansion of the stadium, nearly costing San Diego a Super Bowl." Baranowski's new job pays $150,000 a year, plus an annual $10,000 "longevity" bonus payable at the end of each year he completes during his three-year contract, along with a $9600 yearly car allowance ... It's arguably the biggest domestic story of the year: the scandal in the Catholic Church. And some of America's most distinguished newspapers are on top of it, most notably the Boston Globe, which back in January broke the news about alleged child molester Father Paul Shanley and his residence in San Diego. The Union-Tribune followed that story by more than two months, after Boston TV stations picked it up and dispatched video crews to town, tipping local TV. Last week, the Globe was first again, this time reporting that San Diego bishop Robert Brom -- who had declared in a widely covered news conference two weeks earlier that the local diocese had made "no large financial settlements" for sexual misconduct during his tenure -- actually presided over at least one such arrangement worth $250,000. This time the U-T was quicker to chase. After the story made local TV the night of July 3, the paper ran it the next day.

Bacchus worship Multimillionaire developer and Chargers owner Alex Spanos, who's been looking around for handouts to fund construction of a new stadium, has managed to scrape together enough money to buy an "ultra premium" Napa Valley winery with son-in-law Ron Berberian. The pair recently paid an undisclosed sum for Bell Wine Cellars of Yountville, including a 40-acre vineyard planted with "disease-resistant" cabernet sauvignon grapes, reports the Recorder of San Francisco. Said seller and new Spanos partner Anthony Bell: "Wine is grown in the vineyard. We are merely stewards of nature while the wine is in our cellar." ... Broadcasting and Cable magazine is out with a note about that new vice president's job at the Walt Disney Company for ex-San Diegan John Spelich, calling him "director, investor communications, Gateway Inc., San Diego." No mention of Spelich's last two previous employers: defunct public relations agency Stoorza Communications and Alan Bersin, controversial superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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