Mayor Takes Office Crew to Washington

This week Mayor Jerry Sanders traveled to Washington, D.C., for the third time since becoming San Diego's mayor. The trip was less extensive than the mayor's second visit to the capital, at the end of March.

That three-day visit began in the office of Duncan Hunter early on Wednesday, March 29. The mayor's communications director Fred Sainz and two police officers, brought along for security, had come with Sanders from a previous day of meetings in New York. Also scheduled to fly into Washington were San Diego government relations director Andrew Poat, public safety director Jill Olen, and community and legislative services director Kris Michell.

Briefing notes for the Sanders meeting with Hunter, obtained under a Public Records Act request, called for discussion of homeland security, federal community development block grants, and other primary topics. Under "Other Issues," the notes mentioned the Navy Broadway Complex. "Hunter is very interested in this project," suggested the notes. "You [Sanders] may wish to highlight that you will be with the Navy on Friday [March 31] as they unveil the next step in awarding development rights." The briefing then brought up the "Veterans Cross." "Congressman Hunter," it said, "authored the legislation that authorized transfer of the La Jolla Cross to the federal government."

Another crucial player would attend the Sanders/Hunter tête-à-tête. Marek Gootman of the public relations firm Patton Boggs had assisted the city's Andrew Poat in planning the capital visit. A July 13 item in the online newspaper the Hill says that San Diego pays Patton Boggs $200,000 a year to make political connections in Washington.

According to a March 1 e-mail, Poat had hoped to get Sanders "a 'wow' event" at the White House. It turned out, however, that during the late-March visit, President Bush would be in Cancún for immigration talks with Mexican president Vicente Fox and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. So the mayor had made a one-day trip to the capital the previous Thursday, March 23, meeting on homeland security funding with Bush, Vice President Cheney, and others.

San Diego's role in homeland security still drove planning for the mayor's second trip to Washington. In early January, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff released a list of 35 metropolitan areas thought to be at "high risk for terrorist attack or natural disaster." But San Diego did not make the list. Governor Schwarzenegger and local San Diego officials have protested the decision. Last year the city received $14.7 million under the Urban Area Security Initiative.

In a February 22 e-mail to Gootman, Andrew Poat wrote, "We have four weeks to identify the assurances we want, find an 'in' at [the Department of Homeland Security] with whom to discuss and close out and, ideally, be able to 'announce' something acceptable to all when the Mayor visits."

Gootman wrote back on February 23 saying that a homeland security briefing had been secured at 3:00 p.m. on March 30 at "a Hill location to be determined. The briefing will be classified as secret. They will be able to go into specifics about the San Diego area and how the [funding] formula was applied. [The Department of Homeland Security] will take specific questions ahead of time...if submitted by March 24. FBI agreed to expedited clearance review for Mayor and Jill [Olen], so we will be forwarding that paperwork for fast turnaround."

The next day Gootman e-mailed Poat, Olen, and other city officials: "Discussed with staff what formal assurances we might extract." He continued with a suggestion that San Diego's "border proximity" and "military presence" may have been left out in the Homeland Security funding calculation. "But," wrote Gootman, "we also discussed the most recent tunnel incident as an opportunity to give [Homeland Security] cover for some discretionary adjustment this year, and they would focus a lot of attention in these next briefings on taking the tunnels into account."

Duncan Hunter was not the only local Congressional representative Sanders would see. Before the trip was over, he would meet with Congresswoman Susan Davis and Congressmen Bob Filner and Darrell Issa. He was scheduled in between those and other meetings to give live interviews to KNSD, KUSI, and CNN.

Highlights of the Davis and Filner briefing notes, virtually identical, included directions for Sanders to bring up political threats to community development block grants. "We need to make sure that cuts proposed by President are not implemented," said the notes. "Cut could reduce San Diego spending by $4 million -- and impact important projects like City Heights."

On Thursday, March 30, Sanders was to have breakfast with California senator Barbara Boxer. Only staffer Kris Michell would accompany him to the meeting. The briefing notes identify Boxer as "an important player in environmental issues due to her committee positions. She may be interested in developments in San Diego's consideration of full secondary waste water treatment. Status: significant water reuse and treatment studies are currently under way at the Water and Wastewater departments. Recommendations are expected later this year."

Another major reason for the mayor's visit to the capital was to meet with senior military officials. To prepare, Poat sought help from a local source. Vice Admiral Peter Hekman, U.S. Navy Retired, is a member of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Advisory Council. He formerly served as board chairman for the local chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association.

On February 22, more than a month before the Sanders Washington, D.C., trip, Hekman e-mailed Poat, "I believe it would be beneficial if the Mayor were to call on the Secretary of the Navy and on B.J. Penn, [Assistant Secretary] for Installations and Environment. My choice would be Penn if it comes to a choice. I strongly recommend a call in the Pentagon. There are a great number of issues where Penn would like to be reassured."

Hekman went on to suggest several items that Sanders ought to stress in a visit with Penn. Among them were the mayor's "active support for the continuation of the Broadway redevelopment plan between the Navy and the City, his support for the Secretary's stand on the high military value of Miramar, North Island, and MCRD (without directly mentioning an airport)...[and] how our community is equipped to be the best location nationally for tying national defense and homeland security into a coherent, cooperative package."

The mayor ought to say to Penn that the city is willing to help the Navy with "leaking oil tanks at the Point Loma Fuel Storage Facility," Hekman continued. He then wrote parenthetically, "This is serious and is gaining tree-hugger attention -- those that always need an anti-Navy issue in order to survive."

Hekman also recommended that Sanders meet with Marine Lieutenant General Jan Huly. "Things seem to be going negative here. I am detecting an undercurrent of discontent...about our region's attitude toward the Marines. [The Commanding General of the Marine Corps Installations West, Major General Michael] Lehnert believes our attitude to be negative. He is of course more familiar with North Carolina and tends to make comparisons with a different civic culture. [It would be good to inform] General Huly that...[the] Mayor is alert to the encroachment pressures being felt by the Marines and will work to protect the interest of the Corps."

By phone, Hekman is more upbeat. "I've been to places where the relationship between the city and the military is bad," he tells me. "But that relationship here is excellent and has been that way for a long time." Hekman does question, however, those on the local airport commission who want to recommend a military installation as the new civilian airport site. That would require shared military and civilian use, a solution military leaders call dangerous. "How many of you guys [on the commission]," asks Hekman, "have flown jets in a pattern?" Besides, he says, the military owns and needs the properties, and that ends the discussion.

As Admiral Hekman had suggested, Sanders would meet later on Thursday, March 30, with Marine Lieutenant General Jan Huly. The itinerary had Sanders and the city's safety chief, Jill Olen, getting their classified homeland security briefing. Afterward the other staff members would join them for talks with Mississippi congressman Bennie Thompson, the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security. (Earlier in the trip the mayor had called on another member of the committee, New York congressman Peter King.) That evening Sanders was scheduled to attend a San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau sales promotion dinner.

Early on Friday, his last day in Washington, Sanders was scheduled to "walk to [the] White House." There he would attend a meeting of the president's Homeland Security Council. In Andrew Poat's earliest planning, Karl Rove had been identified as a White House "target." When that didn't happen, Poat sought Frances Townsend, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. On the last edition of the mayor's itinerary, penned mid-trip on March 30, there is no indication that Townsend would attend the executive mansion meeting.

Afterward, it would be off to the Pentagon for appointments with Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Mullen and Assistant Secretary of the Navy B.J. Penn. According to "talking points" for both meetings, Sanders was to acknowledge the Navy's possible "further asset movement to the Pacific. San Diego stands ready and willing to receive those assets where the national interests are served." That afternoon the Navy also announced that San Diego's Manchester Financial Group had been chosen to develop the Navy Broadway Complex.

The same talking points suggest discussion of a new San Diego civilian airport. Sanders would say that the "Regional Airport Authority is fulfilling state law by its evaluation of all civilian and military airport locations." But the "Mayor will not support alternatives that the military does not support -- once that evaluation is completed."

The mayor and staffer Michell also were scheduled on the trip's last day to meet with Senator Dianne Feinstein. The same topics for the San Diego congressional delegation came up in the briefing notes. An eye-catcher not yet mentioned, however, was the direction to Sanders to bring up "redevelopment/eminent domain" legislation. "Downtown and City Heights show what redevelopment can do for our city," said the notes. "Appreciate the need for responsible reforms of eminent domain -- but let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Please let me know how we can help you evaluate how congressional proposals will impact San Diego redevelopment projects." City hall views legislation that aggressively limits eminent domain as a threat to its redevelopment plans.

That evening Sanders and his delegation flew back to San Diego. Subsequently the mayor wrote thank-you notes to the officials and many of their assistants with whom he visited. In a letter to Duncan Hunter, the Washington politician with whom he seems to have the most rapport, the mayor wrote, "What better way to start any day, much less my day on Capitol Hill last week, than with a visit to our distinguished Armed Services Committee Chairman." Someday soon the two may break ground together at the new Navy Broadway Complex site.

In a thank-you letter to Assistant Secretary of the Navy B.J. Penn, Sanders for his part repeated a commitment he already made in Washington. "I want to emphasize my strong position that San Diego's search for an airport location will not come at the expense of our historic relationship with the Navy. I remain committed to finding a solution that is acceptable to all parties, including the military."

On May 12, the Union-Tribune noted a special alliance between Sanders and Duncan Hunter. The mayor was supporting Hunter's call the day before for President Bush to save the Mount Soledad cross by condemning the federal property on which it sits. "Sanders said he's going [back] to Washington, D.C., in a couple of weeks," according to the newspaper, "and that preserving the cross is one of the most important topics he will be addressing." That trip has now taken place.

Was the latest trip as costly to taxpayers as the previous trip? At the end of March, the San Diego delegation stayed at the Hyatt Regency Washington. Expense reports submitted afterwards detail travel and hotel bills: For Mayor Sanders and Fred Sainz, $1766.93 each; Kris Michell, $1253.93; Jill Olen, $1118.93; and Andrew Poat, $1084.47. The delegation also spent money on food, telephone, car rental, and taxi fares. And the city picked up the full bill for the mayor's two security police officers.

Last but hardly the least, the city used the services of public relations firm Patton Boggs. Among other questions, I wanted to know if those services were covered under the $200,000 contract with the firm. None of the city staffers who accompanied the mayor, however, would speak with me about the trip.

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