Wagering the future

— News that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to shoehorn legalized gambling into every corner of the state doesn't come as a surprise to ex-San Diego city councilman Bruce Henderson. For years he's been predicting to anyone who'd listen that the new Padres baseball stadium would serve as an anchor for a huge downtown casino and pleasure dome, to be run by Native American allies of Padres owner John Moores. The baseball team has for several years been sponsored by the Sycuan tribe, which is in the final stages of angling for a resort hotel minutes away in National City. Meanwhile, local tribes have hired some big Sacramento lobbying guns to help them expand their gambling empires and cut the sweetest financial deals they can with the governor. Last week, Sycuan obtained the services of law firm Foley & Lardner after letting go of Pane & Pane Associates last November, according to state lobbyist-disclosure filings. Barona uses Richie Ross, onetime political guru to ex-assembly speaker Willie Brown. The tribe paid his firm $15,000. It also spent $36,150 for the services of J.K. Pedrotti. Viejas, which spent about $46,000 on lobbying, also used Pedrotti until the tribe let him go and picked up Ross. The tiny Jamul Indian village, which has been fighting with the county over whether it can build a new casino, paid $10,000 to the Washington firm of Spencer Roberts & Associates during the first three months of this year. Many of the tribes have also been wining and dining powerful legislators and their staffs. On March 10, Viejas treated Democratic assembly speaker Fabian Nuñez and staffer George Wiley to $73 dinners at the Grove Steakhouse in Alpine. Two days earlier, Democratic assemblywoman Cindy Montañez and two staffers went golfing at Singing Hills Country Club, which cost the tribe $441. In February, state Republican senator Jeff Denham of Merced stayed for free at the Barona tribe's Lakeside hotel and ate dinner -- a gift worth about $200. Also in February, Republican assemblyman Mark Wyland of Del Mar was treated by Barona to a $67 dinner at Rainwaters downtown. In January, assembly aide Matt Reilly had dinner at Morton's, another ritzy downtown steakhouse, for $81. In March, speaker Nuñez and assemblyman Juan Vargas each got a $51 Rainwaters meal and Vargas aide Colin Rice got a $180 "golf outing" from Barona. The tribes have also been handing out campaign money. On March 1, Sycuan kicked in $3200 for the campaign war chest of Democratic state senator Denise Ducheny.

Donors who couldn't shoot straight The San Diego City Council is infamous for accepting laundered campaign contributions. Some of the biggest fines ever levied by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission have been against outfits such as giant Cox Communications, which used to get around the city's ban against corporate contributions by telling its employees to make out personal $250 checks to council candidates with the promise that the workers would be secretly be reimbursed by the company. And then there is the Cheetahs scandal, in which strippers from Las Vegas were allegedly used as fronts for the club's donations to its chosen candidates. Now comes the tall tale of Equity Residential Properties Management Corp., a big real estate outfit out of Chicago. According to a settlement agreement reached last week between the company and the city's Ethics Commission, the firm filed a "major donor" statement with the city clerk in January of this year, saying that it had made a $150 contribution to the campaign of Mayor Dick Murphy the previous November. That, of course, would be a violation of the city's ban on corporate contributions. Then, in March, Equity Residential submitted an amended statement, saying it had made a mistake and that the Murphy money had instead come from one of its employees. That, and a subsequent citizen's complaint, aroused the suspicions of Ethics Commission staffers, who snooped around and discovered that "Bruce Salter, an individual employed by [Equity Residential], (a) made the subject $150 contribution with a personal check on November 12, 2003; (b) made the contribution at the behest of [Equity Residential]; and (c) was subsequently reimbursed by [Equity Residential] for the contribution." In addition, Equity Residential "failed to exercise due diligence to determine whether or not it had reimbursed its employee for the contribution to the Friends of Dick Murphy committee." Last week the company agreed to pay a $1500 fine and promised never to launder money to Murphy or any other city candidate again. According to its stipulation with the Ethics Commission, the firm's transgression "was an isolated instance and was not part of a broader scheme to undermine the contribution source prohibitions."

Locked in cells Neighbors in Point Loma are complaining that the city may soon allow cell-phone companies to mount transmission antennas in increasingly creative locations, including their pricey residential neighborhood. Planning group chair Cynthia Conger is demanding that the city release a map of all cell-antenna locales. "In commercial locations, often, such as at Sports Arena, the Water Tower at the end of Catalina, the Hotel on the Southeast corner of Rosecrans & Nimitz, new antennas are going up, constantly, to meet demand -- nearly 50 on each bldg! What will occur when 'Sports Arena' is gone? How many Cell Antenna Panels are there now, that will be totally undesirable for anyone to live under in 'mixed use' situations?"

-- Matt Potter

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