UPDATED: San Diego Mayor Bob Filner touches on Balboa Park centennial, rift with city attorney during La Jolla lunch

Hud Freeze, director of the genetic disease program at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, talks to Filner about an effort to engage elected officials in funding scientific research. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherman

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner addressed more than 150 people during the Group of 12 and Friends’ monthly luncheon and lecture, July 3 in Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute’s Fishman Auditorium. The mayor touched on topics ranging from next year’s centennial celebration in Balboa Park to his rift with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and plans to ramp up economic opportunity at San Diego’s port.

Whether planning for the centennial or his proposed bi-national Olympics in San Diego and Tijuana, Filner said there are opportunities to improve San Diego that could benefit residents well into the future.

“Let’s have high expectations,” said Filner, noting that he was less than impressed with centennial organizers’ initial platform and theme, “Edge 2015,” which was intended to showcase San Diego as a center for technology and innovation.

“What the hell is the Edge? Shaving?” Filner joked. “I would go around the city and nobody understood what it was. People know what Balboa Park is. They’re proud of it. Let’s express that.”

Filner said that when he walked into his first briefing by the Balboa Park Centennial Committee, he “sensed low expectations.”

“They couldn’t raise much money, they thought. … They were thinking of 365 days of music and I said, ‘With all due respect to your elementary school kids, you’ll have an elementary school choir with the parents of those kids attending, and that’s about it.’ ”

Mayor Filner talks about his first seven months in office during the Group of 12 and Friends’ monthly luncheon, July 3 in Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute’s Fishman Auditorium.

Filner said he instead proposed bringing the “12 best musical and artistic exhibitions and acts in the world” to San Diego — once a month.

Asked how he intends to pay for his grand centennial plans, which also include lighting the Coronado Bridge the entire year, a “spectacular bi-national concert,” world-class museum exhibits and Disneyland-like trams to bring people into Balboa Park (a vestige of the failed centennial plan proposed by Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs).

Filner said centennial funding would come from “private sources, corporate sponsorships, food sales, philanthropic organizations and corporate donations,” and that plans could be scaled up or down depending on how much is raised.

“We’re not asking for public funds on this, but there will be some infrastructure, obviously, and stuff that we will require,” he said, noting that San Diego Gas & Electric has committed to pay for installation of as much as $30 million worth of microgrid technology (a self-contained, energy-efficient, power-generating system).

Filner said the system would allow the entire park to run off renewable energy.

“They’re putting in this $30 million to say it is the most ‘green’ park in America — and that’s worth a lot of money,” he said.

Auto extradition

While on the subject of Balboa Park, Filner also touched on his effort to get parked cars off the Plaza de Panama by removing painted parking spaces (as opposed to building a bypass bridge or parking garage as Jacobs’ plan proposed). He said the now vehicle-free plaza would allow the Museum of Man to move its café onto the plaza, and the Timken Museum and other cultural outlets to create their own spaces in the plaza.

“Just taking the cars out opens up all kinds of possibilities, and then people’s own creativity will take charge,” he said.

Mayor Bob Filner with Group of 12 & Friends’ founder, Reena Horowitz, and program director, Doreen Schonbrun.

The problem with Jan

Asked if he thought he would ever reach a détente in his strained relationship with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, Filner characterized the rift was more than a personal feud.

He said their clash is the result of an “institutional and structural problem” faced by other large cities with both an elected city attorney and a “strong mayor” — and what he characterized as Goldsmith’s misguided interested in helping shape policy, which Filner said is his responsibility.

“We should not see it as just a personal spat,” Filner said, conceding that the acrimony between them was “bad for the city and bad for all of us.”

Filner also blamed the problem on what he said is Goldsmith’s refusal to provide him with proper legal counsel.

“The final solution, if you want, I think will be a (city) charter change that gives either the mayor, his or her own legal support, or has an appointed attorney, rather than an elected attorney,” Filner said. “What you have is an elected attorney who defines his constituency in several ways: the public, the mayor and the (city) council.

“He (Goldsmith) says I am not one of the clients,” Filner continued. “Come on, I’m the chief executive of the city. The charter gives me all kinds of power, but if you can’t talk to your attorney in a privileged way, that is confidentially and in private, what good is an attorney?”

Ultimately, Filner said he hopes he and Goldsmith can work out their differences, but he jested that it won’t likely be while grabbing a beer together.

On a positive note, Filner said his mayoral predecessor, Jerry Sanders, went through years of “intense sacrifice” and cost-cutting to leave him with a balanced budget, and the city with a solid bond rating.

“It gives me a chance to be as optimistic and as excited as I am because for the first time when I (announced) my first budget, we didn’t cut anybody,” he said. “The debate on the city council was not where to cut, but where to add.”

Filner said he hopes to increase public safety funding, which he said is “dangerously low.”

“For a major city, we are at the bottom, and I’m going to try to increase that as rapidly as we can,” he said. “Morale is pretty low because of that.”

Improving the border

One audience member noted that, driving back from Mexico one day, traffic was backed up for more than three hours, because U.S. border officials apparently were unaware that it was a Mexican holiday. People attempting to enter the United States and spend money turned back out of frustration, she said.

Meanwhile, Filner said Mexico has “brand new border facilities that put us to shame.

“You would expect the most advanced nation in the world to have an advanced entry,” he said. “It’s federal policy that I think as a mayor I could help try to change, because I know what needs to be done. I’ve represented the border for 20 years in Congress, five years on the city council. We can change this virtually overnight if there was a will to do it. Washington doesn’t understand the border; Mexico City doesn’t understand the border. They think that if Americans see long lines like your three-and-a-half-hour wait, they’ll feel safer. I say, efficiency is security.”

ADDENDUM: In response to the mayor’s comments to the group regarding his rift with Goldsmith, Assistant City Attorney Paul Cooper responded via e-mail on July 10:

“Our office has never refused to provide legal advice to the Mayor’s office and in fact has done so whenever requested. The unfortunate truth is that our office has been forced to provide legal advice after the fact, in an effort to correct actions taken by the Mayor that did not comply with the law.

While we are not in the policy making business, we are also not in the business of standing by idly and doing nothing when actions and policies do not comply with the municipal code, city charter or state law.

Our City Attorney was overwhelmingly elected on the platform that he would be a legal watchdog on behalf the citizens of San Diego and would ensure that the actions taken by the City were within the law. Mr. Goldsmith intends to continue to honor that commitment.”

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Posted by Pat Sherman on Jul 9, 2013. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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