Good gravy

— With draconian staff cuts in the San Diego Unified School District, how much mad money could be floating around? Just two weeks ago, 616 jobs were axed and hours cut for another 2000 workers. Before that, 11 librarians were slashed from the budget. But according to district sources, the austerity doesn't apply to some of city schools chief Alan Bersin's pet projects. Take this week's scheduled visit by Dr. Donald Graves, a professor emeritus at the University of New Hampshire, billed by Bersin aides as a literacy expert. The one-day tab: $3500. For that, according to a memo from district reading honcho Mary Hopper, "Dr. Graves will provide 2 hours of professional development for the Principals in the Bass Learning Community that will [be] focusing on writing. Subsequent to that session, he will work with teachers, Peer Coaches, Early Literacy Teachers, and administrators at Central Elementary School." Hopper goes on to say "the opportunity to contract for the services of Dr. Grave[s] came about because he will be in San Diego speaking to the San Diego Council of Literary Professionals at the Mission Valley Marriott on May 4th. This is a unique opportunity because the work of Donald Graves is so tightly aligned to the reform work undertaken by the district over the past five years, particularly as it relates to literacy and language arts." Her memo asserts that one day of Graves is worth the high tariff because "his speaking presentations are witty, to the point, and packed with practical teaching techniques."

Starve a city, feed a developer On March 24, San Diego city councilmembers Donna Frye and Ralph Inzunza sent a memo to then-city manager Michael Uberuaga, pointing out that the city's redevelopment arm, the Centre City Development Corporation, owed "a debt of approximately $112 million in Community Development Block Grant funds to the City. [We] would request that the City require the repayment of $25 million of these funds by June 1, 2004." The memo said the money, representing principal and interest on funds originally obtained by the city through federal grants and then "lent" to CCDC to construct its vast downtown redevelopment empire, should be used for "Police Department fleet replacement" and "Public Safety Communications Project items." The grand total of the so-called unfunded police needs was put at $133 million. But in an April 22 memo, deputy city manager Bruce Herring told Frye and Inzunza that payback of the CCDC loans "is not recommended at this time." Why? Because, Herring went on to claim, the "loans" to CCDC were merely an accounting gimmick and "never intended to be repaid." Meanwhile, in a related move, Hank Cunningham, a city redevelopment staffer, wrote an April 13 memo to the council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee recommending changes in state redevelopment law to allow property tax money collected downtown to be used to pay for police and fire needs rather than being strictly earmarked to subsidize private development such as the Padres baseball stadium, as is the case under current law. But the matter has yet to be docketed before the committee or the full council, despite an e-mail dated April 16 from committee chairman Brian Maienschein to civic watchdog Mel Shapiro, which said, "We're trying to get this docketed for the next PS&NS meeting. We're trying to move on this quickly. Have a nice weekend." The latest word is contained in an internal memo dated April 27 from city Special Projects Manager Libby Coalson to committee staffer John Rivera: "As we discussed previously given your busy agendas and the need for Council approval on something such as this, I'm communicating with [mayoral aide] Bill Baber about taking it directly to council. However, CCDC is vehemently opposed to it."

Demolition derby Last November, downtown antique dealer Barbara Winton mounted a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful battle to stop city redevelopers from tearing down a big chunk of the old Santa Fe Depot and replacing it with a boxy, metal-clad addition -- labeled by some a "modernist mausoleum" -- to house the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. The usual suspects, all members of San Diego's elite power structure, lined up in front of the city council to beat down Winton's argument that the new building would be "an ugly, plain, very modern building that would go next to one of our city's finest historical treasures. I think it's an abortion." Arrayed against her was the Union-Tribune, whose publisher David Copley is on the museum's board, along with board president Pauline Foster, the wealthy mother-in-law of San Diego school superintendent Alan Bersin. After the council okayed the project, the historic structure was quickly torn down, leaving a gaping hole in the depot, which remains to this day. According to sources, back in November the museum really wasn't anywhere near ready to begin construction on the new building, but the city's redevelopment powers didn't want to take a chance that Winton and her supporters would carry their battle to the courts or enlist national preservation groups in their cause to preserve the 1915 depot's architectural integrity. So they ordered the demolition crews to move in on the old Mission-style structure as soon as possible. The city's downtown redevelopment agency now says the earliest construction can begin on the new museum is this July.

-- Matt Potter

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