OPINION: La Jollan shares what an FBI agent taught him


By J.R. Sullivan

Trustee, La Jolla Town Council; Former president, REB

Last year was one of the toughest years in a long time for home values. Despite these tough times, 2009 La Jolla home values are up 58 percent from their values in 2000. La Jolla property values have been resilient to market downturns. Please read my interview with Bob Collins, a long time La Jollan to get some insight into what makes La Jolla so valuable.

I felt like I was back in the era of black and white T.V. hits like “The Untouchables” and “Dragnet”, only this was for real. Like watching a good television program, I stared at Bob, hanging on each word as he told me a true story from his FBI days.

Glowing with enthusiasm, Bob shared an FBI story from over 50 years ago:

“Say Roddie, I was thinking about taking up golf. Could you show me what a great set of golf clubs look like?”

Without hesitation, the cordial yet over-confident crook opened the trunk to his shiny Yello 1951 Cadillac. Inside was a mint set of high-end golf clubs. Today, such clubs might cost nearly $1,500!

“That’s our evidence,” said agent Robert Collins as he began to arrest the crime boss of the largest car-theft rings in Birmingham, Alabama.

How did a set of golf clubs lead to the arrest of a major crime boss?

A true insider

Before I tell you the rest of the story, it is necessary to point out Bob Collins’ connection to La Jolla.

Since the late 1950s, he has influenced La Jolla’s design and growth. First, with Carlos Tavares, Bob helped developed the Muirlands neighborhood. Later as vice president of Willis Allen, Bob and his team handled many commercial property sales and leases in La Jolla. During this time, he also developed a number of commercial buildings, which he still owns.

For many years since 1964, Bob has served on the La Jolla Town Council, where he has reviewed countless proposals for building and development in La Jolla.

Learning Bob’s background, I had to ask if Bob foresaw the La Jolla of today, with its irresistible appeal and growth in property values:

“Bob, back in the 1950’s, did you know that La Jolla would become what it is today?”

“Yes,” he said immediately. “Back then, I could see that La Jolla had all the ingredients to become one of the most sought after places on earth. The geography is beautiful.”

“However,” he earnestly followed up, “the People of La Jolla are responsible for turning La Jolla into what it is.”

The secret

What Bob said next rang as clear as a bell. It explained why La Jolla is so unique and why La Jolla property is so valuable. As you read this, you too will realize that the La Jolla Town Council is vital to protecting the interests of La Jollans.

Bob offered this insight: “La Jolla can easily take a turn for the worse. Many development projects have come before the Town Council that would lead La Jolla down a path of over-development. The Town Council and the Community Planning Association have successfully opposed developments that are too big, block views, diminish parking, are ugly, unsafe and otherwise violate building codes.

Given a choice, most La Jollans would not want to be another Palm Beach or Atlantic City. Can you imagine what it would be like in La Jolla with mountains of high-rise buildings, ubiquitous oversized signs, and parking meters?

“Development is good and necessary, but it must be managed properly.”

Indeed, the La Jolla Town Council was instrumental in establishing the 30-foot height limit (Prop. D) in the 1970s. More recently, the Town Council organized opposition to parking meters, three-story buildings in two-story commercial areas, and the under market sale of land by the city.

“One of the best investments I ever made!” Bob blurted out.

Thinking he meant one of his La Jolla properties, I asked, “Which one of your properties was your best investment?”

Bob corrected me: “I’m not referring to a property. I meant the La Jolla Town Council. The $50 a year and the time I put in the organization has paid back handsomely. Thanks to much of the Town Council’s work, we have strong property values, and a great quality of life. Plus, I really enjoy all the people I encounter at meetings.”

What Bob had just said seemed undeniably true to me. Can you imagine the cost to hire a lobbying firm to advocate for you? It could cost as much as $100,000 per year! It’s very smart of La Jollans to pitch in and support the Town Council by joining.

By now, you are probably wondering if I will finish Bob Collin’s FBI story. How did a set of golf clubs lead to the arrest of a major crime boss? You are also wondering if there is a connection between the story and the La Jolla Town Council.

As you read the rest of the FBI story, you will begin to benefits of belonging to good organizations.

For some time, the bureau and Bob Collins had their eyes on the notorious car theft king pin, Roddie Roddam. However, Roddie was very clever and avoided anything that connected him to criminal activity. Roddie was so confident in his ability to outsmart the FBI, that he brazenly invited Bob Collins and his partner to lunches and held cordial conversations with the crime fighter.

Fortunately, the Bureau has the four key elements of any effective organization: (1) committed people, (2) a just cause, (3) good organization, and (4) good communication. Bob knew that with these powerful forces on his side, it was only a matter of time before they had Roddie Rodham in cuffs.

Agent Bob Collins eventually was able to enlist an informant close to Roddie Rodham to join the FBI’s cause. This informant regularly passed on intelligence about the criminal group’s activities. One day, the informant told Bob that the group had stolen a luxury car from a hospital parking lot. That same day, a doctor from the hospital reported that his car had been stolen and there was an expensive set of golf clubs in the trunk. Knowing that Roddie Rodham was an avid golfer, Bob realized there was a darned good chance the expensive golf clubs would find their way into Roddie’s hands ... or trunk. During one of Roddie’s brazen attempts to “play with fire” by chatting with the FBI agents, Bob asked the question:

“Say Roddie, I was thinking about taking up golf. Could you show me what a great set of golf clubs look like?”

The doctor’s golf clubs were in the trunk of Roddie’s car.

”... and now you know the rest of the story”

By now, you can see the benefit of a strong organization to back you up. Right now, send in your $50 and become a member of the La Jolla Town Council. As a member, you will feel stronger and stronger about what you can accomplish in your community.

Here is some of what you will get:

Defend your interests: (a $100,000 value!)

The La Jolla Town Council lobbies for your interests.

  • The Town Council will fight proposals that hurt our property values and diminish La Jolla’s beauty and character.
  • The Town Council will promote proper development that enhances La Jolla’s beauty and quality of life.
  • La Jolla is not its own city. La Jolla benefits from having a local civic organization to insure our voice is heard by the Mayor and City Council.

Put your own touch on La Jolla:

What do you want to improve about La Jolla? By joining the La Jolla Town Council, you can serve on a number of committees such as
  • Traffic and Transportation
  • Parks & Beaches
  • Beautification
  • Christmas Parade
  • Business & Professions


Would you like to promote your business or services in La Jolla? The La Jolla Town Council has hundreds of individual and business members. The Town Council also offers monthly “SunSetter” social meetings at attractive venues around La Jolla. Just imagine whom you might meet at a Town Council meeting or function! Networking groups often charge hundreds of dollars a year.