Lorena Gonzalez, Nathan Fletcher – biggest pigs at freebie trough

Hueso, Maienschein, Gloria, Atkins – runners-up

Free meals at Barona’s Casino Private Gaming Area for Eloise Gomez Reyes, Lorena Gonzalez, and others
  • Free meals at Barona’s Casino Private Gaming Area for Eloise Gomez Reyes, Lorena Gonzalez, and others

Lorena’s suite life

A bevy of state politicos found their way into a San Diego Native American casino to slake their thirst and partake in luxury dining during the first three months of 2019. Topping the list was Assembly Democrat Eloise Gomez Reyes, who with spouse Frank inhaled a free meal at Barona’s Casino Private Gaming Area valued at $176.12 on March 8, according to the tribe’s May 6 lobbying expense report. Fellow Assembly Democrat Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego wasn’t too far behind with a free meal worth $88 on March 8.

Lobbyist-sponsored fine dining makes Democrat Eloise Gomez Reyes smile.

Lobbyist-sponsored fine dining makes Democrat Eloise Gomez Reyes smile.

Joining her in that day’s repast were Democratic Assembly members Wendy Carillo, Robert Rivas, and Eduardo Garcia, along with Third District state Board of Equalization member Antonio Vasquez. San Diego city councilman and Assembly Democratic hopeful Chris Ward had to settle for a more modest meal worth $6.95 on January 28, while state Senate Democrat Susan Rubio got treated by Barona to a $19 feeding at the Grange Restaurant and Bar in Sacramento on February 13.

Meanwhile back in San Diego, utility giant Sempra Energy opened its checkbook to provide free passes to the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines worth $295 each to Republican Senator Brian Jones and GOP Assemblyman Heath Flora on January 27. Tish Rylander, capitol director for Assembly Democrat Autumn Burke also got the gift.

The biggest winner in the local legislative freebie derby: Assemblywoman Gonzalez, married to high-profile Democratic county supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who picked up two free suite tickets valued at $469 for a January 16 Elton John concert in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center Arena, courtesy of communications giant AT&T. Assembly Republican Brian Dahle didn’t make it to that blow-out but did manage to wrangle four free suite admissions worth $500 to Cirque du Soleil on March 27. His deputy chief of staff Cheri West got two suite tickets to Disney on Ice valued at $458 on February 16.

Democrat Lorena Gonzalez is smiling because nice people keep giving her stuff.

Democrat Lorena Gonzalez is smiling because nice people keep giving her stuff.

Back to the freebies

The California Tribal Business Alliance’s January 16 party thrown by casinos for members and staff of the legislature was as expensive as ever this year, per lobbying reports. “The total cost of the Back-to-Session Bash was $198,375.17 of which Viejas paid $30,000,” says a May 8 disclosure by the tribe. “The total amount benefiting each reportable official is $132.96.” As a caption on the Facebook page of event photographer Riverview Media notes, “the Bash is a time to celebrate returning back from the winter session break and a chance for the legislators and Capitol staff to get together ‘mingle’ and have some fun before they get back to business. For the sponsors, it is a great way to meet the members of the legislature and the tribal leaders.” Use of the Cafeteria 15L venue ran $79,999. Universal Attractions Agency was paid $30,000, and event planner Monique Vieria-Huestis got $18,231. Carlsbad’s Payne-Mason custom cigar maker got $5610. Says the company’s website: “Not available to the general retail trade, PAYNE-MASON’S limited production of luxury cigars will be found at fine resorts, casinos, prestigious golf and wine facilities, along with other high-end destination properties.”

San Diegans in attendance, per the document, included Assembly Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, who also picked up a March 8 $126 dinner freebie at the tribe’s San Diego county casino resort. Others at the bash were Senate Democrat Ben Hueso, along with his staffers Ana Molina-Rodriguez, Erika Dacumos, and Abraham Mendoza. Newly minted Democrat Brian Maienschein was there, along with colleague and San Diego mayoral candidate Todd Gloria and the GOP’s Randy Voepel. Senate Pro Tem Democrat Toni Atkins attended, and was also treated by Viejas to a $32.48 lunch at Sacramento’s Downtown & Vine on January 17.

Locked up tight

The secretive Naval Training Center Foundation, called out by critics who say that the entity’s board wields authoritarian power over the redeveloped ex-military base on Point Loma, doesn’t have to abide by the state’s open meetings law, per San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott. “The City Council did not create the Foundation in order to exercise governmental authority delegated by the City Council to the Foundation, which means it is not a legislative body subject to the Brown Act,” says a May 8 memo of law from Elliott’s office. “The Foundation’s Board is not a legislative body of a local agency and is therefore not required to comply with the Public Records Act.”

Mara Elliott

Mara Elliott

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

The memo holds that as a private body, the foundation doesn’t have to comply with the California Public Records Act. Adds Democrat Elliott hopefully, “Nevertheless, nothing prohibits the Foundation from voluntarily agreeing to having open meetings in accordance with the Brown Act or providing access to certain records to the public.”

Skyrocketing rents and diminished foot traffic are among the complaints lodged against the foundation by the so-called arts district tenants who have been trying to pry open the board, which includes high-end condo developer and GOP political donor Rich Gustafson. He and other employees of his company CityMark have kicked in a total of $44,525 to city campaigns, including $16,600 for the council and mayoral bids of Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer.

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In a city with more than its share of flunkies, Mara Elliott has really distinguished herself. At least Jan Goldsmith was openly corrupt and incompetent: Elliott keeps trying to pretend otherwise. Her gibberish amounts to, "X didn't create Y to do what X created Y to do." Besides being obvious nonsense, it's just not true: the NTC Foundation's articles of incorporation state its "specific purpose" is "to enter into such agreements as are reasonably required by the terms and conditions of that certain Disposition and Development Agreement with" the city.

Even if you ignore that this organization wouldn't exist if the city did not empower it, it receives financial benefit from administering public resources, and so is no different from maintenance assessment or parking or business improvement districts that, although also private, have to follow the Brown Act.

No wonder an anagram of her name is "Toilet Alarm."

Anagram of her name is "Toilet Alarm." Very creative!

I'm not sure details of this story live up to the headline's lurid promise. Lorena's casino dining tabs ($88 freebie dinner? or $126 freebie dinner? both for March 8?) don't conjure images of pigs at troughs doing wanton thirst-"slaking" or "luxury dining." I realize in a perfect world our state legislators would not accept such gifts from influencers, but hey, at least they are reporting them. And no one threw any punches like California municipal officials gathering in Riverside County did earlier this week

Money (and freebies) talk voters walk.

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