Harmony Ron

— What do a Santa Monica developer, a ritzy new subdivision proposed for North County's formerly sleepy Harmony Grove, and the San Diego mayor's race have in common? The answer is county supervisor Ron Roberts, who's running against Mayor Dick Murphy and needs all the campaign cash he can scrape together for his longshot drive to unseat his well-funded incumbent. The developer in question is an outfit called New Urban West, which wants to build "Harmony Grove Village," described in company literature as "a totally unique community with an authentic rural village, an integrated trail system, and single-family detached homes that reflect the rural character of the community" on 468 acres in the unincorporated area north of the intersection of Harmony Grove Road and Country Club Drive. Seven hundred forty-two mini-mansions and a dolled-up shopping center would go up on land currently occupied by the Harmony and Ward Egg Ranches, the DeRaadt Dairy, and other once-rustic real estate. Trouble is, neighbors and environmentalists including the Escondido Creek Conservancy have been putting up a sizable fuss, especially about Urban West's various plans to build its own sewage-treatment plant as part of the project. All of that flak has required intensive lobbying and the spreading around of plenty of money, as described by the company in a dispatch on its website: "New Urban West has donated to over 30 organizations, giving a total of nearly $35,000 in the last 4 years." The developer "was also proud to contribute $1000 to the Elfin Forest Garden Festival for 2004. NUWI was contacted by Patti Newton on behalf of the American Cancer Society and gave $150. NUWI also contributed to the Charity Fair Horse Show for the last two years." New Urban West also notes that it has been "actively meeting with each member of the Board of Supervisors and their staff," which is perhaps how five of their top executives -- all residents of L.A. County -- came to contribute the maximum $250 each to Roberts's mayoral campaign fund during the first six months of this year, the very time that the Harmony Grove project -- which still needs its environmental impact report and other county processing -- was facing intense scrutiny. It's legal for individuals to give to city campaigns, but they can't be reimbursed by their corporate employers; in 1996, a San Bernardino law firm and San Diego's Gatlin Development paid a record $420,000 fine to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission for laundering a total of $11,750 in contributions to the San Diego City Council, including Roberts. He denied he was aware of the scheme.

Mucho moolah Another cluster of contributors to the Ron Roberts campaign consisted of people associated with the sports radio station known as the Mighty 1090 AM. John Lynch, along with five other station executives and sales and production personnel, kicked in maximum contributions. According to state records, the station is owned by a limited liability company whose "Members, Managers, Partners" consist of Lynch, Dick Gibbons, and Doug Manchester, the bucks-up developer and downtown-hotel magnate who has been adamantly opposed to Mayor Murphy's repeated attempts to raise the city's tax on hotel guests. (Gibbons works for Manchester.) Other local sports figures on the Roberts campaign list included Dan Shea, the Donovan's steakhouse proprietor who has been leading the drive to get taxpayers to finance a new Chargers stadium, and Miller beer distributor and Chargers booster Ron Fowler. Two local media figures also reportedly contributed $250 each on the same day, May 24: Graham Ledger of Rancho Santa Fe, and KFMB president Ed Trimble, whose station fired Ledger in February, telling the Union-Tribune that Ledger "failed to return from leave without excuse. Under company policy, he abandoned his position." Ledger was quoted by the paper as saying he was "mystified."

Nowhere man It seemed like true love in February 2003 when megabucks Rancho Santa Fe investment tycoon Ralph Whitworth paid ex-Beatle Paul McCartney a cool $1 million to sing at a surprise 50th birthday party for his wife Wendy at Delicias restaurant. Wendy was then busy producing the Larry King show from a remote studio in the Whitworths' sprawling mansion, and party guests included King and Wendy's close chum, NBC Today star Katie Couric. But that was then. Less than a year later, on January 6 of this year, Wendy sued Ralph for divorce in North County Superior Court. McCartney later told a Spanish newspaper about the split, saying, "An American with money asked me to play one night for his wife, for $1 million. You see the things people ask you to do? The thing is, I recently found out that the couple had split up." According to an account this June in London's Sunday Telegraph, Ralph went ballistic over McCartney's revelation. (The singer said he'd already given the $1 million to charity.)

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