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Deep cover Backers of moving San Diego International Airport out of Lindbergh Field insist that they are going about their business in full public view. But sources inside the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority accuse the agency's board majority of exploiting a gaping loophole in the Brown Act -- the state's open-meeting law -- to conduct its most sensitive business behind closed doors.

The scheme works this way: over the past two years, the airport board has been quietly setting up a series of "ad hoc" advisory committees, the meetings of which are exempt from public notice and disclosure under a little-known provision of the Brown Act. The latest such clandestine group is known as the Legislative Issues Ad Hoc Committee and was established on April 4 of last year. It was originally meant to last only through the end of the so-called BRAC period -- the military base-closing process that proponents of moving the airport had hoped would shutter Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Members of the authority engaged in a fierce behind-the-scenes battle, attempting to influence the administration and Congress to open up the coveted real estate, while in public saying they were remaining above the fray. Private discussions among some board members are said by one source to have included getting well-heeled local donors to pay for opposition research into the private lives of military brass and others who oppose booting the Marines out of Miramar.

After their failure to get the government to close Miramar, the ad hoc committee became moribund, but the board "reconvened" it this February 6 for another nine months -- just long enough to take it up to the November election in which voters will be presented with a measure on whether to move the airport. When asked to provide details about the committee's most recent meeting, on March 22, airport authority assistant general counsel Edward A. Cahill fired back with a letter that noted the group "is composed solely of four Board Members (five Board Members are required to constitute a quorum)."

Cahill added that the group was not a "standing committee" and thus also exempt from the Brown Act because "it was formed for the specific purpose of meeting with federal and state legislative officials and its term is short term, expiring before the November 2006 election. The Legislative Issues Ad Hoc Committee meets on an infrequent and irregular basis at the request of one or more of its members." All Cahill would disclose about the March 22 meeting was that it was called to "discuss issues related to recent communications with legislators."

The members of the group are Joe Craver, a defense-industry procurement consultant who works intimately with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce; Chula Vista developer Paul Nieto; ex-construction-labor-union official Xema Jacobson; and William Lynch, a wealthy Rancho Santa Fe resident and active speculator in county real estate who has close ties to the downtown development establishment. Many regard Lynch as a pivotal advocate of the Miramar move.

Chris, phone home A bill to strip California cities and counties of much of their control over cell phone antennas sailed out of the state senate's local government committee late last week on a 4-1 vote, causing rejoicing among the ranks of cell phone companies and the gnashing of teeth among local-control advocates. A key point of the bill is to allow the cellular industry to "co-locate" additional antennas on existing antenna towers -- adding radiation as well as physical bulk -- without having to get discretionary permits from local government. The senator carrying the measure is San Diego Democrat Christine Kehoe, and its sponsor is T-Mobile USA, Inc., the wireless giant owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom. Whether by coincidence or not, T-Mobile gave Kehoe's reelection fund $1000 on December 16 of last year. The bill was introduced this February 24. Other cell phone operators contributing to Kehoe have included Verizon Wireless, which kicked in $1000 last December 1, and the SBC California Employee Political Action Committee, which gave $1000 in April 2005. A lobbyist for the League of California Cities, which opposes the measure, still hopes to kill or amend it. Kehoe did not return calls.

Wino If nothing else, release of that school-district audit of Alan Bersin's "Superintendent's Fund for School Innovation" is casting yet more light on the ex-San Diego school chief's eating and dining habits. According to the document, Bersin spent $3925 from the charitable fund just on booze alone. Expenditures included $190.64 at the Wine Bank for "business dinner party at Bersin home."

The audit also provided more detail about the relationship between Bersin and George Mitrovich, onetime PR man for Del Mar swindler J. David Dominelli. Mitrovich took a leading role in promoting Bersin during his tumultuous tenure as superintendent.

In an April 16, 2001, memo, Bersin promised to pay Mitrovich $1000 a month for ten months. Only two "responsibilities" were listed in the memo, prepared on school district stationery: "You will work with our district in establishing a program involving ASB presidents and their participation in City Club of San Diego programs." In addition, "You will continue to offer a program that permits ten San Diego Unified School District high school students and their faculty advisers to attend City Club luncheons as your guests."

Mitrovich runs the City Club, a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that throws banquets with big-name speakers. The memo provided no explanation as to why the money went to Mitrovich and not the club. He was eventually paid a total of $12,000, the audit says.

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