Billionaire Democrat's Balboa Park plan revived by GOP mayor

Cash from Clinton-backing Jacobs family greases city hall wheels

June 30, 2016, in Balboa Park: Irwin Jacobs at the lectern, Faulconer applauding behind him, former mayor Jerry Sanders between (without the tie)
  • June 30, 2016, in Balboa Park: Irwin Jacobs at the lectern, Faulconer applauding behind him, former mayor Jerry Sanders between (without the tie)
  • cropped photo from a Rachel Laing tweet

Irwin Jacobs, master of the big-money art of acquiring political influence, is looking to have his best-ever year in 2016.

The billionaire La Jolla Democrat, cofounder of Qualcomm, was one of the first to fund the presidential bid of Hillary Clinton, kicking in $50,000 to the Ready for Hillary political action committee in June 2013.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

from Wikipedia

Then, last August, Jacobs and wife Joan threw a fundraiser for Clinton at their La Jolla estate with former Democratic congresswoman and Jerry Brown aide Lynne Schenk. “We didn’t want San Diego at the tail end," Schenk told Union-Tribune columnist Diane Bell.

Jacobs's primary national agenda is Qualcomm's push for more so-called H-1B visas for foreign engineers, as well as thwarting opposition to international trade treaties, which have proven immensely lucrative for the cell-phone technology giant.

Nathan Fletcher

Nathan Fletcher

In April 2013, the company was the power behind a lobbying group calling itself San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform, led by Nathan Fletcher, the onetime Republican assemblyman who turned independent during his first failed bid for mayor of San Diego in 2012.

Following that race, Fletcher was hired by Qualcomm and subsequently declared himself a Democrat, running against Faulconer and Democratic city councilman David Alvarez in 2013's special election to replace fallen mayor Bob Filner.

Despite heavy financial backing from Jacobs and his well-heeled Qualcomm contingent, Fletcher lost again and Republican Faulconer went on to beat Alvarez in a February 2014 run-off.

Paul Jacobs

Paul Jacobs

This year, Paul Jacobs and a raft of other Qualcomm executives threw their financial support to Faulconer’s June reelection bid, coming up with a total of $35,400 for the mayor's 2016 reelection committee, according to disclosure data on file with the city clerk's office.

One major payoff came this week when the safely reelected Faulconer appeared Thursday morning (June 30) alongside Irwin Jacobs in Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama to announce the mayor's revival of Jacobs's controversial road and parking-garage makeover.

Jerry Sanders

Jerry Sanders

Initiated under Republican mayor Jerry Sanders, another recipient of Jacobs and Qualcomm political money, the plan was widely opposed by park preservationists and others who claimed the plan, to be paid for by Jacobs, was an egotistical grab for power and recognition.

Email subsequently obtained under the California Public Records Act revealed the senior Jacobs to be obsessed by certain details of the project, including reducing staffing of the massive parking garage to be built behind the Organ Pavilion.

"Have you looked at further automation in the garage to decrease parking garage staff?" Jacobs asked in a February 5, 2011, email to a Sanders staffer. "Should be almost human-free except for emergencies."

As for the project's critics, the billionaire demanded of the mayor's staff, "We should comb through all of the various negative comments and letters and look for others that need a response."

Milford Wayne Donaldson

Milford Wayne Donaldson

One of the staunchest foes of the Jacobs scheme was then–California state historic preservation officer Milford Wayne Donaldson, who wrote in a February 3, 2012, memo to the National Park Service:

"At great risk is the Cabrillo Bridge, its setting, the spatial relationships and special elements which define the National Historic Landmark District of Balboa Park."

Donaldson, who began his architectural career in San Diego, called out a series of unfavorable impacts on the park resulting from the makeover, including "Demolition of 82 feet of the Cabrillo Bridge."

Another problem, according to Donaldson, was "the introduction of a new two-lane roadway that bisects the historic core into two spaces, something that has never existed and was never designed to be. This is achieved by excavating a very large ravine containing the road, bisecting the historic central mesa, which includes the addition of retaining walls and fills significant parts of Palm Canyon, altering the historic space and land forms irreversibly."

Equally as bad, he said, "The road continues into a three story partially underground parking lot that abuts directly against the historic Spreckels Organ Pavilion. This parking lot will then have numerous new buildings on top along with grass areas.”

Noted Donaldson, “It irreversibly changes the relationship of the organ pavilion to the landscape and severely diminishes its prominent setting."

Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom

Jacobs threw hundreds of thousands of dollars of lobbying money against his opponents and enlisted the backing of Democrat Lt. governor Gavin Newsom, who sent a February 2012 letter to Donaldson warning the chief preservation officer to get out of the way.

Wrote Newsom to Donaldson, "this is a project with broad local political, philanthropic and community support so it may be more productive to work in collaboration with the project development team to achieve your goal of preserving this historical open-space."

He continued, "As the State Historic Preservation Officer I hope that you will consider these arguments, withdraw your comments, and begin to work in collaboration with the leaders of the Plaza de Panama project. Should you need help making contact with the project team I stand ready to assist."

A link to Newsom's letter was subsequently tweeted by Rachel Laing, a longtime city-hall influence peddler who was then a Sanders spokeswoman.

A month after his attack on Donaldson, Newsom received $12,000 for his 2014 reelection campaign fund from Irwin Jacobs and his wife. Donaldson subsequently lost his job.

The Plaza de Panama project was ultimately brought down in February 2013 by an environmental lawsuit by Save Our Heritage Organisation, and Jacobs proclaimed his surrender to KPBS, the San Diego State–operated public radio operation he bankrolls.

But the ruling by San Diego Superior Court judge Timothy Taylor was subsequently overturned on appeal, opening the way to this week's comeback by Jacobs.

"Mayor Faulconer, who supported the project as a Councilmember, has brought elected, business, community and Balboa Park leaders together to revive the dormant project and finally transform the Plaza de Panama into one of the city’s great public spaces for generations of San Diegans to enjoy," said a news release timed to Faulconer's appearance with Jacobs.

Jan Goldsmith

Jan Goldsmith

Chimed in lame-duck GOP city attorney Jan Goldsmith — widely expected to join the city’s corps of lobbyists and corporate attorneys after his departure from office, and himself the recipient of sizable campaign cash from Paul Jacobs and Qualcomm associates — “The judicial system erroneously delayed these park improvements, but ultimately justice was done. Now the project can move forward and we can reclaim these plazas and promenades for future generations to enjoy.”

Added the mayor's press release, "The original 2012 cost estimate of $45 million for the project will need to be revised to reflect updated state development regulations, the applicability of prevailing wage and a less competitive bidding market."

How much cash Jacobs is prepared to put up this round remains a tightly guarded secret. "The project would be financed through a combination of paid parking revenues, City funds earmarked for major capital projects and private philanthropy, led by the Plaza de Panama Committee," according to the release.

"More details will be presented in July when Mayor Faulconer asks the City Council to vote on the final actions to move forward with the project."

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$50 million, that's chump change to a billionaire like Jacobs.

If he really wants this as a legacy item for future San Diegans to remember him, then he should just pay for the damn thing himself. That way revenue generated by the project can go to the expense of operating it and, if there are funds left over, they should remain in and be dedicated to, Balboa Park for maintenance and improvements.

This way Jacobs actually does philanthropy work for the citizens, creates a true world class pedestrian plaza, AND gets it paid for it in perpetuity. Not only a WIN for today AND tomorrow, but a project that doesn't burden San Diego's "general fund" in the future.

Not everything is about the money, Just Wondering, even though Irwin Jacobs, Jerry Sanders and Kevin Faulconer think it is.

The legacy of this project will be the destruction of graceful historic Cabrillo Bridge, a filled-in Palm Canyon beneath, and a skewed orientation of the lovely Spreckels Organ Pavilion to the landscape of the mesa on which it sits. (Not to mention establishing paid-parking in Balboa Park -- something that is explicitly forbidden.)

The story of Gavin Newsom's threat to critical architect and state historic preservation officer Wayne Donaldson, Donaldson's job loss, and Newsome's acceptance of a five-figure campaign contribution from Big Daddy Irwin Jacobs and wife Joan is just disgusting. Jacobs should be ashamed. (People often say to me, "Whatever happened to Irwin? He used to be such a lovely guy." I answer, "That was then; this is now.)

Maybe Jacob can lend some of his H-1B's to the new Balboa Park parking garage. Is Jacobs also going to help Seaport Village? Why not make this a two-fer and destroy two San Diego icons at once.

If this happens, and I fear it might, it will be just another srewing-over of the city and its residents by a bi-partisan alliance. For those who call themselves Dems, this has to be galling. After all, isn't it the GOP who has all the fat cats who strew their ill-gotten gains around, getting their way? In local matters, those party labels really tell and mean little when politicians and big money get together.

Jacobs is not a nice guy, if he ever was. And now, with time running short to leave a legacy, he's getting ruthless. And wasn't he the one who said that he had given up on the plan? I'd swear I read that he said just that.

The FY-2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report documents that the City of San Diego has $1,747,256,000 = $1.7 Billion in Cash Reserve Fund Balances (see Pages 174-175). With approximately +$700 million available for CIP Infrastructure project according to the Independent Budget Analyst (IBA) and Financial Management. The +$700 million available and Unencumbered could pay for ALL Regional Park needs. Mayor Faulconer has been hoarding this Cash since 2013. Cash in the Bank through Cash Reserve Fund Balances exists to build the unneeded Jacobs Bridge to Nowhere.



The City of San Diego Cash Reserve Fund Balances increased dramatically due to the liquidation of $500 million = $0.5 BILLION in Successor Agency (SA) to the former Redevelopment Agency (RDA) Assets and ongoing Revenue. All outside the normal Budget process.

City staff state the reason why no shovel-ready projects exist is Either Due to a lack of funding or Staffing. There has never been a lack of Infrastructure CIP Funding, only a lack of Staffing by Mayor Faulconer.

The City of San Diego created this massive non-well-known Pot of Gold, including adding an additional $273,506,000 = $273.5 million Cash between FY-2014 and FY-2015. With no plans to spend until FY-2019 at the earliest.

Please investigate the available funding siting in the bank for the unwanted Balboa Park Centennial Bridge, or any Neighborhood Infrastructure project.

Even though the City of San Diego has cash in the Bank, they are still taking on New Bond Debt and Bank Fees. Please analyze these Shady practices.

laplayaheritage — You have brought up a great topic for the Reader to explore. The reason that few complained when the State of CA got rid of the Redevelopment Agencies is because the Cities were going to get a huge amount of money that they could do whatever they wanted too with, since they are not limited by the previous legal agreements with what used to be called the Redevelopment Agency. All the millions that North Park was supposed to get have now been taken by the City and will be used for doing Projects outside North Park thanks to the SA and the City of San Diego or as I like to call it the City of $an Diego.

Don't forget how much extra money Jacobs and the city are going to have to pitch in to make up for the loss of federal funds. They were warned their plans would so fundamentally alter the Central Mesa that Balboa Park that it will lose its national historic designation. Guess charging parking will make up for that? Oh wait, no: because it will be just like the North Park garage--everyone will park for free in the neighborhood (Banker's Hill) instead.

Jacobs found Balboa Park a city of museums, and he left it a circus.

Let's hope that it won't be destroyed.

What I don't understand is why a parking structure is needed at all. I suspect Kevin Culhane's comment about the Ace Parking connection might just be on target.

Commercialization of the park is increasing. Like the Zoo and Sea World, the park museums are more about entertainment than history or science. The recent Pirates nonsense at the Natural History museum was perhaps the most blatant with actors in costume not only performing, but mixing with crowds in the street trying to promote the (expensive) exhibit.

Reuben H. Fleet was once a place of science, now it's just another entertainment venue that carries on the current dogma of environment and water conservation.

The San Diego History museum dedicated several months to Dr. Seuss memorabilia- interesting but no more related to San Diego history than the Price family (remember Price Club?) or thousands of other successful San Diegans who contributed little to the City. They were simply trying to attract crowds (read 'money') with a frivolous exhibit.

The fabulous Sculpture Garden near the art buildings has been taken over by a restaurant. Many sculptures were removed. People wanting to see them now have to pass diners and waiters to get there, and they feel unwelcome. All in the name of the almighty dollar.

The plan for the Botanical Building includes an entertainment area and a gift shop, of course that means less room for plants, but more $$$. Do we need entertainment in that revered sanctuary?

These museums were all free as recently as 1973. They were built, filled with exhibits, and maintained for decades without demanding money from visitors. They were filled with relevant exhibits, no fluff, no pandering to public bias. Now, for some reason they are always seeking more revenue although they pay no tax, build no buildings and house few new exhibits.

With that in mind, the Jacobs plan is a minor concern. One of the pros would be underground parking. Acres of colorful cars in open lots may have a certain charm at an antique auto show, but I'd prefer they were hidden in our Park. It seems likely that the Seaport Village replacement will also hide the thousands of cars visiting.

RE: "The San Diego History museum dedicated several months to Dr. Seuss memorabilia- interesting but no more related to San Diego history than the ... thousands of other successful San Diegans who contributed little to the City." Contributed little? So you've NOT heard of the Geisel Library at UCSD? Or the annual beloved Grinch play at the Old Globe? Or the fact that $millions in funding have gone to the San Diego Foundation from the Ted Geisel estate (controlled by Audrey Geisel)?

I for one admired the self-effacing contributions of Ted Geisel to this community, but the exploitive commercialization of Geisel's Dr. Seuss-works by his widow, Audrey Geisel, are an entirely different matter.

The UCSD Library, founded earlier, only became the Geisel Library after the naming-rights rage of our business-model era; that Grinch-play was based on the beloved Seuss book but was not created by Ted Geisel himself; and The San Diego Foundation is an institution that takes money from all comers and essentially launders it to many causes -- not all apolitical, benign or admirable.

If this plan goes forward its a huge loss in two ways, one is simply the heartless and vision-less destruction and compromise of the historical structures and landscape of Balboa Park, but it's also a loss for what could be done for the park to gently bring it into the 21st Century while fully preserving and respecting the past. Jacobs' plan is a 20th century plan, something I can imagine being considered at the same time (1960's) they were going to build a major road from I-5 to 163 via Maple Canyon and going through the West Mesa of Balboa Park, connecting to 163 around the Marston House.
Sadly this feels like Jacobs just wants to win after his earlier defeat. This is really sad because he has done so much for this city and I think must feel he's fighting for the public's good. I think all the nefarious speculation I read and hear talked about is wrong, this is not for personal profit, but simply a rich and powerful man's ego. It seems he has been working in the background to get even with SOHO and all the other folks who are trying to protect Balboa Park for the last couple years. This may even explain with the Democrats didn't put up a challenger to Faulconer in the June primary: Jacobs was behind Fauloner and they didn't want to alienate their biggest donor. All so he could get even with those who fought his plan to force his largesse on Balboa Park. (Is it possible we ended up with 4 more years of a mayor that is fully in bed with big developers because Jacobs feelings were hurt by the fight over his BP plan??) The problem is if Jacobs wins Balboa Park loses in a really big way.

Geranium - an excellent summary of the issues and egos. I'm happy there's someone else who remembers the proposed Maple Canyon Parkway. Actually, one proposed route went right through the Marston House, which of course would be demolished. I wonder how much that close call influenced Miss Mary Marston's decision to gift the property to the City with strings attached including life estate for herself.

How about a compromise? Build the parking garage behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, but ban all vehicular traffic across the bridge (except for park and emergency vehicles). Make all access from Park Blvd. ONLY. That Cabrillo Bridge add-on is ugly, totally unnecessary, and ranks with another hideous fiasco in our city's past: Carl DeMaio running for Mayor.

Circulation in Balboa Park is a disaster. Nothing will work well until ALL cars are relegated to a hub in the far reaches (such as the Navy Hospital area on the east side of Park Blvd.) and a frequent, safe, 15-hour bus or tram system is established that stops at every cultural institution. That way you accommodate walkers and tram riders and the Park itself gets reconfigured to become open greenspace. Cabrillo Bridge could be for pedestrians and bikes only. Avoid the brutal garage-building mindset and save the Park.

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