Bird's-Eye Lowdown On Downtown

Do you think that the public should play a role in building stadiums and ballparks?

I know what she [Susan Golding] got for the sweetheart deal with Alex Spanos. He became the chair of the financial committee for her campaign for U.S. Senate. I think that the public will be sold a bill of goods. I think the public will be given a program that they will vote for which will be of enormous benefit to Alex Spanos.

Do you think it's inappropriate for tax dollars to be used for stadiums? Qualcomm initially was built with taxpayers' dollars after a public vote. Was that inappropriate?

Yes, that was inappropriate. I think that San Francisco showed the right way.

Because their baseball park was almost all privately financed?

Yeah, yeah.

The proponents argue that the redevelopment being spurred by the ballpark will more than cover the ballpark's cost. Do you think that's inaccurate?

I think it's false.

What about the convention center that the port and the city built on port tidelands? Do you think that's an appropriate subsidy?

Well, I don't think it's worked out very well. The people of San Diego were asked to vote for that, and they did. And they were given the understanding that it was going to create a great deal more of convention activity than it has. Because there's a lot of competition for convention business.

Do you have any thoughts on the pension underfunding and the current financial crisis that the city's going through? This seems to be happening in other municipalities, counties, and states, including California. Why does this occur?

I think some people ought to go to jail, wherever it's happened.

Meaning the elected officials, the union officials?

Yeah, certainly the union officials and probably some of the elected officials. This is criminal conduct on a major scale. This isn't small-time fraud; this is really big stuff!

Why do you think this has happened in the last few years as opposed to in the past? What's changed in the political dynamic in this country and the state to make this happen?

More people have been taking the easy way out. I was on the pension board for quite a long time on San Diego Transit. I'm happy to say that while I was there the fund was sound. And it doesn't take a lot of common sense to keep a pension fund sound.

Why wasn't it a problem in the past? Why all of a sudden did it start to turn up on a wide scale? It started to turn up on a wide scale because various politicians figured, "Oh, these people can help me politically."

Do you think elected officials have the skills and wherewithal to make these kinds of financial decisions?

I think there's been a state of decline in the quality of elected officials.

And why's that?

Various reasons. At the state level it's clearly term limits. Term limits [are] catastrophic. When people voted for term limits, people said, "We want to be governed by ignoramuses. We want to be governed by people who don't know what they're doing."

And you think that's been the major factor in the lessening of quality of elected officials?

Yeah, I think it has. You have term limits on the San Diego City Council. In times past, I think when you had people who had been around for ten years on the council and had begun to understand some of the issues, there was somebody there to say, "No, we shouldn't do that." Nowadays people on the state level, on the city level have no institutional memory; they don't know why things are the way they are.

The voters move them around, recycle them to other offices?

Yeah. The problem with Dick Murphy, obviously, from the start, was that he simply was not up to doing the job. He was not competent to be mayor of San Diego.

He was a Harvard MBA.

Yeah, I know.

Does educational background help with someone's view of these financial challenges?

Apparently not. I never had the feeling Dick Murphy understood -- watching him -- that he knew what he was doing. I served with him; he was on the MTDB board. I served with him, and he always gave the impression that he was so much more intelligent than anybody else there that we were hardly worth talking to.

And was that a misimpression?

I would say that it was.

Do you think either Jerry Sanders or Donna Frye can get the City of San Diego out of this financial mess?

It remains to be seen.

You're such a politician! [Laughs.]

I have no idea. I thought Dick Murphy was capable of being mayor of San Diego. I supported him against Roberts, which was the right thing to do when it was all said and done! [Laughs.]

But Ron maybe has more financial expertise?

I think Ron...yeah...I think Ron probably understood the issues better. But Ron had...his problems are all a matter of personal relationships. Ron upset people when he didn't need to.

Give a little background on why you pursued legislation to create the Port District. What was the reasoning behind it?

The Port of San Diego was created by legislation, and it was carried by state Senator Hugo Fisher and me in 1962. We did it in response to a request on the part of the director of the Harbor Department of San Diego. His name was John Bate.

John Bate had pioneered the development of additional maritime traffic for San Diego by developing the plan for the Tenth Avenue terminal and then persuading the city council to put on the ballot a bond issue to build the Tenth Avenue terminal. John wanted to expand the Port of San Diego's capacity to handle cargo, and the only place to do that was the waterfront of National City. But National City did not have the resources to build anything on the waterfront. The measure required of the San Diego Port to secure bonds to develop a freight terminal on the waterfront in National City.

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More from SDReader


Here's another article worth a second look.

James R. Mills tells it like it is. The history of the Port District, inside information about Steve Peace and other major players.

Please, San Diegans, let's remember our local history.

Mills, in addition to being a noted California legislator of the old school, is a historian. I highly recommend his "San Diego -- Where California Began". It's complete text is available online here:


Fred Williams

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