Mayor Sanders calls state attorney general to investigate Mike Aguirre

Why did City let Sunroad off the hook?

— A beggar comes to the door and asks for food. The housewife says he can have dinner if he will whitewash the porch. Ten minutes later he is back, claiming the job is done. The housewife is incredulous. "I covered every inch with thick white paint," he boasts. "But it isn't a Porsche. It's a Mercedes-Benz."

A similarly blunderheaded whitewash attempt is going on in San Diego. The city hall gang that can't shoot straight is trying to pull off a whitewash with purple paint. Just wait until Jay Leno and David Letterman get wind of this. The Sanders administration, with the enthusiastic backing of the Union-Tribune, is trying to bring back the Sedition Act of 1798. That act made it illegal to "write, print, utter, or publish" anything critical of the president or Congress. You could go to jail for two years for casting aspersions on a public official. Understandably, people raised hell, and the act was gone in three years.

Now Sanders and his minions want to bring it back. In a letter to the editor of the U-T on June 15, City Attorney Mike Aguirre, responding to a prior attack on him by former Copley Press official Herb Klein, pointed out that when Sanders took office last year, he had noted that government had become a "corrupt impediment to progress" under his predecessors. Sanders had promised to "tell the whole truth." But now, Aguirre wrote accurately, Sanders has been engaging in an "embarrassing and corrupt course of action" by doing a multimillion-dollar favor for a campaign contributor -- Aaron Feldman, owner of Sunroad, who not only gave the mayor money but also held a big fund-raiser for him. Sanders allowed Sunroad to construct a building in defiance of federal and state flight-safety regulations. Then, noted Aguirre -- again, accurately -- Sanders borrowed an official from the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority to lobby the federal government to change flight patterns near Montgomery Field, so Sunroad could keep its illegal building.

Then the comedy really got going. Sanders, indignant that anybody would write a letter critical of him, called upon the attorney general's office to investigate Aguirre's charges. Sanders quickly penned a letter to California Attorney General Jerry Brown -- yeah, the guy who used to be called Governor Moonbeam -- and requested an investigation into the charges in the June 15 letter. "Because of the serious nature of these allegations, it is necessary that a fully independent and skilled agency [italics mine] such as the Attorney General's Office look into these charges," wrote a supposedly wounded mayor.

Remember those words: a fully independent and skilled agency.

Almost immediately, one Dane R. Gillette, chief assistant attorney general, came right back -- in time for a quickie press conference -- and stated, "In light of the serious allegations and the importance of maintaining public confidence in its elected officials, the Attorney General's office will, as you requested, investigate the charges of public corruption." (Just try getting a lightning-fast response to your request to the attorney general.) Gillette said he would turn the matter over to the attorney general's San Diego office.

Now, who is Dane R. Gillette? Well, back in March, the chief of police, William Lansdowne, refused to carry out a judge-approved search warrant of a Sunroad official. Lansdowne's refusal -- which now should be investigated thoroughly, given Sanders's admissions about Sunroad's dubious character -- was publicly supported by none other than Dane R. Gillette of the attorney general's office. Hmmm.

And the attorney general's office is going to do an independent investigation? Come now. In an editorial June 22, the day after Sanders's letter, the Union-Tribune opined rapturously that "an independent probe" by the attorney general's office "will demonstrate Aguirre's claims to be utterly baseless."

Folks, there ain't gonna be no independent probe. This whole thing was rigged quickly for Sanders, and the results of any so-called probe were transparently foreordained, San Diego style. That's why the U-T so confidently predicted that Sanders would be exonerated and Aguirre anathematized.

To make things even more hilarious, when he announced that he was contacting the attorney general's office, Sanders was flanked by local law enforcement officials such as District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Sheriff Bill Kolender, and Lansdowne, as if their presence somehow imparted a divine spark of public virtue. Quite the contrary. Kolender and Dumanis, both in the pocket of the establishment, supported Lansdowne's refusal to carry out the search warrant in the Sunroad case, among many other dubious things. That photo of former and present law enforcement officials standing by Sanders may go down as visual proof of San Diego's essential corruption.

It's reminiscent of Sanders's admission in mid-May that the Sunroad deal had been botched. He said he would put his key aide, Ronne Froman, in charge of an honest investigation that would be completed in a few short weeks. People hooted. Froman investigating her boss? In less than a month, Froman had announced her resignation.

Corruption is defined as "lack of integrity or honesty." Paul Spiegelman, adjunct professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, says, "Sanders is following a strategy of trying to distract from the fact that he has made false statements, deceived, and engaged in backroom dealings by trying to reframe the issue as to whether he has done anything criminal." Aguirre did not charge Sanders with criminality in his letter, which Spiegelman calls a "measured statement," given Sanders's double-dealing proclivities. Sanders was "deliberately misleading" by stating that he would require Sunroad to lower its building by 20 feet, but four days later Ted Sexton, whom he had borrowed from the airport authority, was lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration to change flight paths at Montgomery Field so the building could remain, notes Spiegelman, who has run up against Sanders's spinmeisters in other contexts. Then Sanders lied on June 7 when he denied Sexton was detailed to the City to handle Sunroad issues when it was clear he was.

"I find it bizarre and totally unprofessional for the district attorney, chief of police, and other officials who purport to be in law enforcement to appear at Sanders's press conference and vouch for a man who has blatantly deceived the public," says Spiegelman, adding, "It appears that the state attorney general is allowing itself to be used to help provide political cover to Sanders."

San Diego attorney Stan Zubel recalls listening to a public radio roundtable in which Sanders apologists were saying the mayor was guilty of favoritism but not corruption. "Our culture in San Diego is one that rewards friendships and relationships to such an extreme that we have lost our ethical compass," Zubel says. When announcing his letter to the attorney general, Sanders "lined up criminal justice people; in their eyes nothing is corrupt unless something that is criminal has been done. As long as you haven't committed a crime, everything is fine. They have lost sight of the fact that when you favor your friends -- if you would not have done it for the other guy on the street -- then you have corrupted democracy. In San Diego, these people don't understand the political, ethical, moral impact of what they have done. They have been favoring their friends so long it has become part of the culture."

Actually, there is lots to investigate. Exactly what transpired in the meetings between Sanders and Feldman that led to the City letting Sunroad off the hook? Did anyone take notes? What happened inside Sunroad and inside the City when the company promised to build the structure to 160 feet, then went ahead and built it to 180 feet? Who leaked the contents of the search warrant to Sunroad? In a January 19 letter to the City, the California Department of Transportation said that in permitting Sunroad to finish the building "under the pretense of weather proofing," San Diego was attempting to "undermine state law." After receiving that letter, why did the Sanders team continue its quest to help Sunroad evade the law? If you believe the attorney general will honestly look at such questions, you haven't lived in San Diego long or you have an IQ below 80.

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