Off a cliff

— Word that ailing actor and favorite son Cliff Robertson has finally unloaded his historic La Jolla beachfront mansion is causing a minor stir among the city's upper crust. Originally listed for $25 million back in May 2003, then later marked down to $19 million, it finally moved for $14.5 million on May 27, according to county records. The lucky bargain hunters were Ron and Amie Baldwin, heirs to an Orange County development fortune. Laguna Beach-based Baldwin Company, run by Baldwin's father Al, was in bankruptcy during the real estate bust of the mid-1990s but managed to hang on and regain its footing just as the latest round of real estate mania started climbing into high gear. The deal for the historic Barber mansion was sweetened considerably by Robertson's agreement with the city, dated May 17, to turn the estate into a so-called Mills Act property. Under the program -- set up years ago under a law authored by then-San Diego state senator and history buff Jim Mills -- hundreds of historic house owners, many in La Jolla, have had their property taxes slashed by as much as half in exchange for agreeing to preserve "characteristics of historical significance" of their dwellings.

Political eats Local Native American gambling tribes have been keeping up their generous flow of freebies to state legislators and their staffs, according to recent lobbying filings. In March, Kerri Strand, staffer for Republican Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, got a "Barona Creek Golf Club Logo Garment" worth $63 and a meal valued at $23.17. Matt Reilly, chief of staff in the Assembly speaker's office of majority services, chowed down at the Westgate for $32.45, and Brandon Waters, chief staffer for GOP Assemblyman George Plescia, ate at Gordon Biersch for $24.30, both thanks to Barona. In February, Viejas threw a dinner at Sacramento's Firehouse Restaurant for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, and Assembly members Juan Vargas and Cindy Montanez, all Democrats. The quartet's tab: $1277. On the utility front, in March Sempra Energy lavished $193 on golf and drinks at Four Seasons Aviara for Democratic Assemblyman Ron Calderon, then later the same month forked over $320 for tickets and $31 for food and drink when Calderon and son Zach went to a rock concert at Coors Amphitheatre.

Lawyers getting richer The cost of defending all of those city workers under investigation by the feds and the DA's office has soared past $1,147,627.28, according to a June 27 memo from San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre. The report adds that the mayor and some councilmembers have declined Aguirre's offer to negotiate the best deal for their legal fees and instead "have retained legal counsel without the assistance of or negotiation by the city attorney's office." Law firm invoices processed by the city manager, "against the advice of the City Attorney," include those from the firms of McAteer & McAteer (ex-mayoral chief of staff John Kern), $13,640; Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, & Field LLP (Councilman Jim Madaffer), $42,263.42; Morrison & Foerster LLP (Councilwoman Toni Atkins, her staffer Jeff Gattas, Councilman Brian Maienschein, and his staffers Scott Crider and Client Carney), $117,242.56; and Sheppard Mullin (Mayor Murphy and Councilman Peters), $180,068.68. The memo warns that "the City Attorney's office is informed that additional employees and Councilmembers have been or will be subpoenaed and will request representation."

Post-traumatic stress Wal-Mart heir and part-time National City resident John Walton, 58, said by Forbes magazine to be the 11th-wealthiest man in the world, perished last week in an ultralight plane crash after takeoff from the airport at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Many locals found him eccentric, aloof, and a risk-taker -- and there may have been a reason. An obituary in the Union-Tribune gave Walton an odd send-off, touting his contributions to local charities and his role in helping to bankroll the failed 2000 effort to beat then-school board member Frances Zimmerman. But the paper largely skirted Walton's Vietnam War record, a graphic description of which appeared in Arkansas papers: "John was a Green Beret, part of a unit code-named the Studies and Observations Group, or SOG (cover for 'special operations group'), a secret, elite military unit whose operatives would be disavowed by the U.S. government if captured. SOG often conducted actions behind enemy lines and in Laos and Cambodia. John joined the unit in 1968, right after the Tet offensive. On almost every mission there was a firefight. A particularly horrifying battle occurred in the A Shau Valley in Laos. Walton's commanding officer, Wilbur 'Pete' Boggs, called in a napalm strike that landed yards away from John. Soon the six-man team was surrounded. One was dead and three were wounded. John tended to casualties, including Boggs, who was knocked semiconscious by shrapnel, and Tom Cunningham, who was badly hurt. John called in two choppers for extraction. As the first Kingbee dropped in and lifted off with some of the men, the NVA intensified its assault. A second chopper was needed to get all the men out, but the landing zone was too hot to make it in. Walton and his team thought they were doomed, but suddenly the first chopper came back down, even though their added weight might make it too heavy to take off again." Walton was later awarded a Silver Star.

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