The Soul of San Diego

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Sent to the Mayor and City Council May 17, 2019

I write this in opposition to:

May 20th 2PM City Council Agenda Item 206:

Proposed First Implementation Agreement to Horton Plaza Owner Participation Agreement and Associated Documents to Provide for the Conversion of the Horton Plaza Retail Center to a Mixed-Use Technology Office Campus.

Over thirty years ago, when I ran for Mayor of San Diego my campaign motto was “An election is the market place of ideas.” This time my campaign motto is, “Good ideas never go out of style.” 

Running for Public Office, whether for the Mayor of San Diego or a Board of Director’s position for the San Diego Association of Car Clubs, it is a duty and honor to serve your fellow citizens in a leadership position. I believe that the problem we face in San Diego is: we no longer have political parties or candidates that believe it is an honor and duty to serve as an elected official. Instead we have what Plato wrote about twenty three hundred years ago in his erudite discourse on the nature of government. 

Anyone familiar with American History knows that America, in 1776, was the embodiment of the utopia” Republic” of which Plato wrote.  Benjamin Franklin after signing the United States Constitution is famous for his answer to the question what kind of government is it? His reply was, “a Republic if you can keep it.”

Anyone today, who is honest, would have to say America has devolved into the prison of Plutocracy Plato envisaged.

The American voter is faced with a political system that is rigged to encourage the continuation of government officials who owe their loyalty to their campaign donors. The motivation of our elected officials is not honor or duty; it is a career opportunity to retire from, with great pension benefits.

In 1983, I used Horton Plaza to make the point that once we as a City commit the draconian action of eminent domain it is immoral to give that land to a private developer. I campaigned on two promises: terms limits and: a charter change to prohibit the sale of City owned land. Today term limits is the law. If we had, as I campaigned for, a charter change on the sale of land  we would not be having this discussion today.

Frank Curran was the last San Diego Mayor who believed that it is a civic duty and honor to represent San Diego as the Mayor.

Pete Wilson, backed by the wealthy developers, orchestrated a phony scandal that enabled him to beat Mayor Curran.  Pete Wilson took a job that paid $5,000 a year and parlayed it into a millionaire lifestyle and a private mansion in LA where he lives today. He sold more than 40,000 acres of City owned land including the project we are discussing here today.  He traded his position for wealth, which is the classic definition of a Plutocrat.

I am here at this kabuki political drama to represent the voters of San Diego. I also speak for the generations of San Diegians who are no longer alive to suffer the indignity of having their homes and businesses taken from them under the guise of the public good. I am here to voice outrage at the political chicanery that this vote is hiding. 

Here is the ugly truth about how Horton Plaza was born. Pete Wilson, working with Ernie Hahn and other wealthy San Diegians, had a vision of downtown San Diego. That vision meant they had to take away what was there and build what they wanted. Ernie Hahn brought most of the Horton Plaza land from owners who sold their land under the existing land use. The purchase price of the land was limited to the permitted use under the existing laws. When Hahn had secured the majority of the land he encountered a problem. There were a group of businessmen and home owners who would not sell their land at any cost. Their argument to Mr. Hahn was their family had owned the land for generations it was not for sale it was for their progeny.  These poor people had no idea of the power of “Eminent Domain.” They were forced to sell their land to the City, who gave it away to Hahn.  The justification for this robbery was it creates jobs and will transform a blighted property into a place we can all be proud to go to.

In 1981, thanks to the actions of Mayor Pete Wilson and the City Council, Hahn tripled his net worth.

Fast forward to today where we have the same swindle with different players.  Westfield cannot keep up the property as called for under the terms of the land lease. Westfield sells out to Stockdale under the existing valuation of the property based on existing zoning. Stockdale goes to the Mayor and City Council with the justification it will create jobs and transform a blighted property into a place we can all be proud of. Never mind the increased density, lack of parking and the gift to Stockdale of the increased valuation of the land.

The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The voters of San Diego in the upcoming Mayoral election will have a chance to say no to this abomination of planning and the enrichment of developers. I said it in 1983, and I will say it today. The land of San Diego is priceless. If the developers want the increased density that will make their project work, then structure a land lease that brings the property back to the City in the future.

Send this project back to Stockdale and tell them to come up with a formula that will give this land back to the Citizens of San Diego. By doing so, in some very small way we as a City can make amends to the original San Diegians who had their land taken for what we have today.

The difference between me and you is I want to preserve open space and you want to build it out. My task between now and March 5, will be to convince the voters of San Diego, I have a better idea on how to use City Land.

Rich Riel

Present and Former Candidate for Mayor

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