<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - San Diego Politics and Political News]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/KNSD+RSS+Feed+logo+blue.png NBC 7 San Diego http://www.nbcsandiego.com en-us Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:49:52 -0800 Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:49:52 -0800 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[TX Pol Backs Legal Pot, Citing God]]> Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:15:23 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/marijuana-plants-generic.jpg

A state lawmaker from East Texas says God didn't create marijuana by mistake and is pushing to remove all offenses related to the plant from Texas statutes.

Texas State Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) filed a bill Monday that would repeal the state's ban on growing, possessing and selling marijuana.

"I don't believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix," Simpson wrote in an editorial on Trib Talk. "Civil government should value everything God made and leave people alone unless they meddle with their neighbor."

Under Simpson's bill, the government would not regulate the drug and all penalties currently in place would be removed beginning Sept. 1.

In addition to religion, Simpson said the "well-intended" war on drugs has only created a culture of "no-knock warrants," "stop-and-frisk" and "billionaire drug lords" and that existing drug laws are as big a failure as prohibition.

"You would think that our country's history with alcohol prohibition — an era marked by bootlegging, organized crime, government corruption and a rise in crime in general — would have prevented us from making the same mistake again," Simpson wrote. "The time has come for a thoughtful discussion on the prudence of the prohibition approach to drug abuse."

Four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington; 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana in some form, medical or otherwise.

Full House Bill No. 2165:

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News
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<![CDATA[NJ Officer Meets President Obama]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 10:39:24 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/216*120/Officer+Obama+Camden.jpg

Although cops are used to being called to important gatherings, a New Jersey officer was shocked to discover who she would be meeting at an upcoming event.

Officer Virginia Matias of the Camden County Police was told by Chief Scott Thompson that she would be meeting President Barack Obama.

“He called me and told me I would have the honor of meeting the president,” the 28-year-old said. “It was unreal, I thought ‘is this a joke?’”

Matias went to the White House and met Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in at the White House on Feb. 24 along with five other officers across the U.S. who were nominated by the heads of their respective departments.

“As soon as they opened the door to the Oval Office he was right there with a smile on his face,” Matias said. “He was very welcoming, I felt like I was at home.”

Obama met with the officers to thank them for their service and discuss how law enforcement can work with communities to ensure public safety.

“We’re a model of community policing, so he wanted to get our feedback on what’s working,” Matias said.

Matias was motivated by a tragic event in her teens to become an officer.

“When I was around 17, I had an uncle who was murdered in North Camden while he was operating his bodega in 2003,” Matias said. "At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a part of a change in my city."

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<![CDATA[Runoff for Rahm: Mayor Falls Short]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 04:22:19 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/rahm+and+chuy.jpg

Rahm Emanuel failed to clinch another term as Chicago's mayor on Tuesday, setting the stage for an unprecedented runoff election against challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

Results showed the incumbent mayor with about 46 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent-plus-one support he needs to win another term outright. Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, came in second place with 34 percent. 

The results mean the two will face off April 7, a potentially embarrassing result for a high-profile politician who has already spent millions in his re-election bid. It is the first time since the city changed its election system in the 1990s that an incumbent mayor is forced into a runoff. 

"We have come a long way and we have a little bit farther to go," Emanuel told supporters. "This is the first step in a real important journey for our city. To those who voted for me in this election, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. For those who voted for someone else, I hope to earn your confidence and your support in the weeks to come." 

A boisterous Garcia celebrated the outcome as a win over moneyed interests and other powerful forces supporting the incumbent, saying the results show "the people have spoken."

"Nobody thought we’d be here tonight," Garcia said. "They wrote us off; they said we didn’t have a chance. They said we didn’t have any money while they spent millions attacking us. Well, we’re still standing! We’re still running! And we’re gonna win!" 

Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, struggled to rise above 50 support throughout the campaign, even as he outpolled his four lesser-funded and known challengers. A late campaign blitz that blanketed the airwaves and a public appearance last week with President Barack Obama — a move seen as an effort to appeal to undecided African-American voters — couldn’t propel the 55-year-old mayor to victory.

The 55-year-old Democrat anchored his re-election bid on first-term efforts to better the lives of Chicagoans, highlighting pushes to expand access to early childhood education, raise the minimum wage and improve the city’s business climate and infrastructure. But he faced criticism for other major policies pursued during his first term, including his decision to close dozens of schools.

The school closures fueled a tumultuous relationship with the Chicago’s Teachers Union, which went on strike in 2012. The union, which also clashed with Emanuel over other changes to the city’s education system, endorsed Garcia after a brain cancer diagnosis sidelined its own president, Karen Lewis.

Political expert John P. Frendreis said while Garcia is “funny, he’s got a good speaking presence, he’s been around long enough, he’s got this colorful nickname so people kind of know him,” it was the support of the teachers that made the race competitive. 

“It’s really the school controversy, the closure of schools, the continued opening of charter schools and then the ... battle with the CTU and Rahm that has generated any kind of heat in this and has made him even remotely vulnerable,” the political science professor at Loyola University in Chicago, said ahead of Tuesday’s race.

Emanuel's “bare-knuckles” approach to running the city, despite yielding results in some areas, also hurt his standing with some voters, analysts say.

“He’s reasonably good at his job,” Freindreis said. “Now where he has stumbled is that he is a tough guy and he is a bully and sometimes he is just too smart for his own good and so he’s rubbed people the wrong way because he’s not nice.”

Emanuel’s challengers criticized him throughout the campaign for not doing enough to help bring jobs, safer streets and other opportunities to all Chicagoans. Garcia told NBC Chicago he would, to hire a thousand more police officers, reduce class sizes and standardized tests and “invest in neighborhoods to attract manufacturing or industrial-creation jobs.” In addition to the backing from the teachers, he also gained headlines for winning the endorsement of the liberal political group MoveOn.org. The group applauded Tuesday's results as a "huge win for progressives and working families across Chicago." 

Even if Emanuel succeeds in winning a second term in April, some observers say the education initiatives he pushed in his first four years could take a hit in Chicago and beyond.

“Over the next few years you could have mayors, some Democrats and some Republicans, in cities across the nation saying I’m going to pick the kids over the unions,” said Keith Koeneman, author of “First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daly.”

Check back with NBCChicago.com for more on this developing story. For complete election night coverage, visit the Ward Room blog. 

<![CDATA[Belated Valentine to Bolts: City Professes Commitment]]> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 21:55:53 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/san+diego+city+council+generic+080114.JPG

NBC 7's Gene Cubbison has this analysis on the Chargers stadium dilemma: 

It's now official — the San Diego City Council really, really wants the Chargers to stay.

But with the Los Angeles market eager for an NFL team, time to keep the Bolts local may be running out.

On Thursday came a formal city council resolution of undying commitment to working toward a stadium solution with the Chargers.

But there was no mention in all the phrases beginning “whereas” and the “be it resolved” of how much and under what conditions they're ready to commit.

In this high-stakes scrimmage, will Mayor Kevin Faulconer's "read-and-react" game plan sway a team that's being lured toward Los Angeles?

"You can't do that on this issue — you're going to have to, at some point, stand behind an idea of what you want to happen,” said Voice of San Diego editor Scott Lewis.

“Even if that idea is 'Sayonara, have fun in L.A.' or the idea is 'Let's build a stadium in downtown or Mission Valley, and let's get this thing done.' I think he's just trying to have it both ways, and now he's paying from both sides."

And, as hard questions linger in San Diego about who pays what for a new stadium, those questions already are pretty much answered about the project St. Louis Rams Stan Kroenke and his investment partners are planning in Inglewood.

The city council approved the venture in a multibillion-dollar renewal effort called "City of Champions Revitalization Initiative.”

Meantime, downtown San Diego’s East Village target site carries a 5-to-7 year timeline to get rid of the Metro Transit System bus yard, according to an MTS memorandum.

That would appear to leave Mission Valley’s Qualcomm Stadium site as the faster track to redevelop — assuming a laundry list of issues can be resolved.

"I think what the Chargers have made clear in the past number of weeks is that they're fed up,” Councilman Todd Gloria said in an interview Tuesday. “I think fans are fed up and they're getting incredibly nervous and expecting some leadership."

At City Hall, following a pep talk by Faulconer, the Council voted 8-0 (with one absentee) on a resolution proclaiming the Chargers "a source of civic pride and inspiration", and declaring the city "fully committed" to keeping them.

Die-hard Bolts fans who attended the Council session can't imagine what the city would be like without the team.

"It would be like, even a death in the family — you really don't get over with it, but you learn to live with it,” Serra Mesa resident Butch Dye, sporting a Bolts #32 (Eric Weddle) jersey, told NBC 7. “I think that's what could happen. But it won’t happen because the Chargers are gonna stay."

Said Lemon Grove resident Don Holdren: “To me, with all the friends and fan base I know, we’ll no longer be Charger fans. It’s a terrible thing, but us sharing a stadium with the Raiders is like sleeping with the enemy. And I don’t see it happening.”

<![CDATA[San Diego City Council Approves One Paseo Project]]> Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:16:03 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/one+paseo+city+council+meeting.JPG

In front of a packed house, the San Diego City Council approved a controversial mixed-use project in Carmel Valley after hours of public comments.

The One Paseo Project includes the construction of stores and eateries, the expansion of a movie theater and the addition of more than 600 family apartments and a parking structure in Carmel Valley.

The San Diego Planning Commission approved the proposal for the $750 million, 1.4 million square-foot, mixed-use village slated for the corner of Del Mar Heights Road and El Camino Real. The panel agreed to the plan on the condition that developer Kilroy Realty agreed to make 11 changes to the master plan.

On Monday night, the San Diego City Council approved the plan 7-2, though they did say Kilroy must add 60 affordable housing units and a sychronized traffic system. Council President Sherri Lightner and Council President Pro Tem Marti Emerald were the dissenting votes.

Hundreds showed up Monday to hear the debate at council chambers -- so many that Golden Hall had to be used as an overflow area. About 600 people signed up to speak on the issue, many wearing red shirts to show their opposition to One Paseo.

The Carmel Valley Planning Board voted against the current proposal but its members have said they support a smaller version of the plan.

Opponents say the project is too big and would create a traffic nightmare.

"This is really a terrible model for the city of San Diego," said Ken Farinsky with "What Price Main Street," a group organized to oppose the project.  "You're building high density shopping malls and calling them smart growth, and if this is the model for the city of villages, I think San Diego is in deep trouble."

Council President Lightner said the project is three times too big for its site.

"I am discouraged by today’s outcome, as I strongly oppose the One Paseo Project as proposed, or even with the minor modifications requested tonight," Lightner said in a statement. "The current project has too many significant impacts to the surrounding community, including traffic, parking, public safety, and community character."

However, supporters say the development would be a positive addition to the area, bringing 1,600 new jobs, 600 news homes and $630 million to the local economy.

The developer said there has been plenty of compromise. Plus, they plan to pay for $6 million in road improvements and projects that aim to improve travel times.

"It's basically a complete neighborhood, and it's a town center for Carmel Valley, something they don't have right now," said Rachel Laing, a Kilroy Realty spokeswoman. "They don't have anywhere to go and hang out, and we're offering all of those benefits."

Carmel Valley resident Jannette Littler said she thinks fear is a strong motivator, and many of her neighbors are afraid the community they love will be different.

"I cannot tell you how gratified I am this beautiful mixed use project is coming to my neighborhood," she said.

If all goes as planned, Kilroy Realty will break ground by the end of the year. Its completion date is set for 2018.

<![CDATA[Chargers to Carson? 3 Things to Consider]]> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 13:09:41 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Dean-Spanos-Chargers.jpg

Somewhere amidst the backstage maneuvering behind the alliance – unholy or otherwise -- between the Chargers and Raiders are countless elements that add up to a series of reality checks.

For example:

  • Exit Strategy Considerations

It would cost the Chargers $17.6 million to trigger its Qualcomm Stadium escape clause this year to meet their obligations to pay off the remaining principal debt on the bonds to renovate the stadium in 1997.

The team still has until April 30th to give “notice of termination” under that clause; the team has announced it will not do so this year.

However, the developments involving Carson could cast a pall on ticket sales for the 2015 NFL season.

If and/or when the team should exercise the escape clause, it would have to vacate Qualcomm Stadium by July 31st of that year, as well as the Chargers Park facility in Murphy Canyon, whose construction was bankrolled by the city.

The exit fee, in effect, scales downward to under $10 million by the year 2020.

The Chargers have been paying a bargain-basement $2.5 million in annual rent since 2004.

  • Legal Considerations

A move under the game plan now in play in Carson likely would invite lawsuits (against the teams and NFL) from the cities of San Diego and Oakland, with Los Angeles a potential “party in interest” (if not plaintiff as well) owing to AEG’s Farmers Stadium proposal targeted for downtown.

The legal cause(s) of action might rest on allegations of anti-trust, restraint-of-trade violations and/or other underlying business-related claims.

There’s a possibility that the city of Carson could be sued on grounds of “tortious interference with a contractual relationship”.

By way of background, litigation filed by San Diego challenging the Padres’ proposed sale to a grocery chain magnate and relocation to Washington D.C. in 1974 bought time for a proposal under which McDonalds tycoon Ray Kroc wound up acquiring the team instead.

  • Commercial Considerations

The Carson stadium financing plan envisioned by underwriter Goldman Sachs and the teams presumably would rely heavily on the sale of Personal Seat Licenses (PSL), a scheme that generated $550 million for the 49ers’ new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.

PSLs are, essentially, the purchase of rights just to buy season tickets for certain seats in a stadium – along the lines of paying money for a wristband to wait in line for tickets to a rock concert.

Season ticket sales at Levi Stadium went well, but as the team’s record tended toward the mediocre, there were many empty seats and grumblings about hellacious traffic problems and the “dump” neighborhoods surrounding the facility.

With the 49ers having finished 8-8 and lost its head coach in the off-season, the size of the team’s fan base may undergo some shrinkage.

Will the Los Angeles “market” support PSL sales to the extent that fulfills the Goldman Sachs projections -- especially when appeals must be made to two separate fan bases (Chargers, Raiders) that would seem to have little overlap?

To what extent (if any) would the teams be on the hook for rent/maintenance/capital improvements – and game-day services provided by the city of Carson and/or other public agencies?

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Skinflint Salaries Turning Off Mayor, Council Prospects?]]> Fri, 13 Feb 2015 20:09:20 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/san+diego+city+council+generic+080114.JPG

If anybody's getting rich in public service, San Diego's mayor and council members hardly seem to fit that profile.

Next year, city voters may get the chance to set -- and raise -- their salaries.

The mayor's job here pays $100,000 -- less than half of what it does in Los Angeles, and less than in seven smaller California cities including Chula Vista.

A hundred grand for a chief executive who runs a $3 billion operation is pretty much unheard of.

"This is the 'C Suite' of San Diego politics,” said political strategist Laura Fink. “They're making decisions that affect a lot of San Diegans, and we need to make sure that they are paid appropriately. Now they're not going to get rich either -- but we need to make sure the salaries are commensurate with the experience of the folks that we want to attract."

And in the view of the 2014-15 San Diego County grand jury, that’s not happening

"If this continues as it's going, and not really working as it's intended,” said grand jury foreman J. Robert O’Connor, “you're going to have people running for office that are independently wealthy or have no experience whatsoever.”

Attorney Robert Ottilie, chairman of the city’s independent Salary Setting Commission, added: "Not to say that somebody with a lot of money or little experience wouldn't necessarily be a good council member, but our job is to create the largest pool of potential candidates so that the voters can decide who's best. But right now we've cut out about 95 percent of the pool. That's not good."

O’Connor and Ottilie fear there’s too little incentive for people who could command much higher wages to run for office — or stay in it.

San Diego council members get $75,000 a year.

Tony Young more than doubled his salary when he left his council presidency for the Red Cross two years ago.

The salary setting panel — appointed by the city’s Civil Service Commission -- has spent 12 years recommending raises, only to have them rejected by council members who see approving them as political suicide.

The commission has suggested linking elected officials' salaries to a percentage of what judges or lawmakers get, or the cost of living index.

The grand jury has just weighed in this month with its first report, urging a charter review aimed at going to the voters with a citywide ballot measure in 2016.

A big question is whether the electorate will endorse the idea of higher compensation, as well as taking the final say away from the council.

"I think it's all in how you package it, how you put it to voters and how do you place it?” Fink said during Friday’s recording session for Sunday’s edition of NBC 7’s “Politically Speaking” program. “Are we putting it on the June ballot? More likely, the November ballot. How do we package and sell it voters as one of the pieces of reform that we need to move forward in this larger charter review?"

Said Mark Leslie, president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association: "We'll be removing something that continues to be a sword that each other can be stabbed by, depending on who's running for what office. Or what the public wants to say about someone running for office. I think it needs to be removed and that this compensation needs to be set aside and no longer be political."

The city has until early May to respond to the grand jury's report and explain any disagreements or refusals to take recommended actions.

<![CDATA[Bob Filner Is Writing His Memoirs]]> Fri, 13 Feb 2015 19:42:30 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Filner-Studio-0213_2.jpg

Former San Diego mayor Bob Filner who spent three months under house arrest for false imprisonment and battery of women told NBC 7 he is writing his memoirs.

Filner declined to talk on-camera, and would not talk about politics, even off-camera but he did say he is writing an autobiography/memoir, for which he hopes to soon find a publisher.

Filner, who looks fit and relaxed, said he also recently ran a marathon in the Los Angeles area.

Filner visited the downtown studios Friday as his former fiancée, Bronwyn Ingram, appeared on “Politically Speaking.” Ingram said she and Filner are not dating and are just friends.

Filner stood in the studio and watched the show’s taping on an in-house monitor.

One of the show’s guests just happened to be Laura Fink, Filner’s former employee who spoke out in the summer of 2013 with allegations of sexual harassment.

Fink, who worked for Congressman Bob Filner in 2005, told NBC 7 she had an uncomfortable run-in when she says he asked her to turn around and then touched her backside.

After the show’s taping, Fink left the studio without speaking to Filner. She later posted an update to Twitter about the run-in with her former boss.

Filner resigned from office in August 2013 after months of scandal.

More than a dozen women accused him of inappropriate behavior.

In October 2013, he pleaded guilty to felony false imprisonment and two misdemeanor charges of battery involving victims of sexual harassment and completed 90 days of house arrest.

Photo Credit: NBC 7
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<![CDATA[Senator Calls Dinner Honoring Former CPUC President "Shameful"]]> Fri, 13 Feb 2015 08:59:59 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/PEEVEY+FOR+WEB1.jpg

A $250-a-plate dinner is being held in San Francisco to honor former California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey, who is currently the target of a corruption investigation by the state attorney general.

The dinner is scheduled for Thursday night at the Merchants Exchange Building. The invitation to the event said Peevey is being honored for a lifetime of service to the people of California.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, calls the dinner for Peevey shameful and an embarrassment to the citizens of California.

"But I think more importantly we should ask the families of those eight individuals who were killed, those eight citizens that I represent in San Bruno who lost their lives because of the negligence in some part by Mr. Peevey that contributed to their deaths," Hill said.

Hill is referring to the investigation that revealed a history of potentially inappropriate communications between Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Peevey, who chaired the agency charged with regulating the utility.

The dinner invitation said proceeds from Thursday's dinner will go to benefit the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Henry Brady, the school's dean, called Peevey a distinguished member of the school's advisory board.

Brady added the allegations of corruption have not been proved and that loyalty and decency dictate that we go forward.

"I just want tonight to be over," Brady said.

San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson is a graduate of UC Berkeley.

"I'm disappointed that they would go forward under such a cloud of difficulty that continues to pervade Mr. Peevey's reputation and that of the PUC," Jackson said.

While the idea for Thursday's dinner came from Susan Kennedy, who until last month was a consultant for PG&E, she said she is no longer working for the utility.

PG&E said it does not know of any employees that are on the guest list for the dinner.

<![CDATA[Philly Chosen as 2016 DNC Host]]> Thu, 12 Feb 2015 16:51:07 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/philly+skyline+generic+camden+waterfront+sunset+comcast+liberty+place.jpg

The 2016 Democratic National Convention will be held in Philadelphia, party leaders announced Thursday.

Philadelphia beat out two rival cities for the chance to host the party’s nominating convention in July 2016. Both Brooklyn and Columbus, Ohio, were in the running through the final round of the bidding process.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the city’s “deep rooted place in American history provides a perfect setting for this special gathering.”

“I cannot wait to join Democrats across the country to celebrate our shared values, lay out a Democratic vision for the future, and support our nominee,” she said.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter said the city's "proven track record of hosting big events safely and efficiently with a dynamic team of top-tier professionals to organize and manage a conference of this magnitude, paired with our City's tremendous amenities, its accessible location and historical significance" made it an ideal pick.

"We're all delighted to make history again, here in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection," he said.

The final contract between the DNC and Philadelphia was signed Thursday, Wasserman Schultz said. The convention will take place the week of July 25, 2016. The decision was made following a meeting between Wasserman Schultz and President Barack Obama Wednesday night in the Oval Office, a source involved in the selection process confirmed to NBC10.

"The president enthusiastically signed off," said the source.

The meeting of Democratic politicians and delegates will be the second major event for the city in less than a year's time. In September, millions are expected to flock to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis during the 2015 World Meeting of Families.

Philadelphia last hosted a national convention in 2000, when Republicans gathered there. Republicans have already announced plans to hold their 2016 nominating convention in Cleveland.

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<![CDATA[Civic Center Plaza Deal Questioned, Defended]]> Thu, 05 Feb 2015 21:09:53 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/civic+center+plaza.JPG

A big real estate deal approved by the San Diego City Council last week is getting a lot of second-guessing and "what ifs" right now.

Documents behind the complex, lease-to-purchase transaction indicate the city was between a rock and a hard place, and had to scramble fast to make the best of the situation.

The properties involved are downtown, just north of city hall: the 18-story Civic Center Plaza tower built four decades ago and a low-rise building nearby that houses a campus of King-Chavez High School.

Their sale price to a third party: $44 million.

But the city will pay more than triple that amount to lease and buy them — in a rush-rush, layaway-styled deal.

"We were told the seller said, 'We've been wanting to sell this property for some time. The city's dragging its feet,’” recalls city fiscal and policy analyst Charles Modica Jr. “’Get your act together — or we're just going to go and sell this building at market.'"
The deal's present-value price tag has been cited at $91 million.

But as NBC 7 pointed out on January 26, the total cost to taxpayers is far more than that -- $160 million dollars over 20 years  in rent, operating expenses and improvements.

"Apparently the buildings are owned by a family trust that was having some kind of dispute among the different members of that trust as to whether or not they wanted to sell the building,” Modica said in an interview Thursday. “And those were some other considerations that were presented."

Those considerations set a hard-and-fast deadline of last week to green light long-term acquisition of the properties.

The office of the city's independent budget analyst wanted more time to study the numbers.

Bottom line?

The taxpayers will spend $160 million in rent, operating expenses and improvements over 20 years — money going to a holding company that's buying the buildings for only $44 million because the city couldn't float bonds to do so itself.

"Our real estate assets department said bond financing is not an option, based on the compressed timeline. And we took them at their word on that," said Modica.

But city real estate officials say their hands were tied from exercising that option “as a result of litigation and unknown appeals” -- even though the escrow closure deadline was pushed back twice, from December 31 to March 15.

More than 800 city employees work in the Civic Center Plaza under a month-to-month lease – a situation that former city attorney Mike Aguirre said essentially turned what earlier might have been a renter's market into a seller's market.

"What the city probably should have done is looked for some alternative space,” Aguirre told NBC 7. “It's like Al Capone said, 'You can get further with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word.' And that's what we're talking about here."

Officials emphasize that the deal will save taxpayer $9 million through "below-market" lease rates; there also will be income from parking and King-Chavez High.

If the building had been sold out from under the city on the open market, they noted in an email to NBC 7, the city could have faced much higher current market rates than the city has negotiated, with a new lease limited to five or six years.

“This deal,” they wrote, “locks the city into knowing exact terms for the next 20 years.”

Second-reading council approval of the agreement is expected next week.

<![CDATA[Will Task Force Advice Turn into Real Action?]]> Sat, 31 Jan 2015 08:23:44 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/160*120/Qualcomm-Chargers-Stadium.jpg

Another approach to getting a new stadium built in San Diego has just been put in motion.

It’s an advisory group introduced Friday by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to come up with a game plan by this fall for crafting into a 2016 citywide ballot measure.

The Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group is made up of civic leaders and financial experts. The plan will include the optimal location and the best way to pay for the stadium.

Smart money says the nine members – specifically not branded a “task force,” as previous such efforts went nowhere -- will do everything possible to avoid a tax-based financial scheme that'll require two-thirds voter approval under state law.

The mayor said the city has had plans before, but never anything tangible until this effort.

“This independent group will give San Diegans the first real plan in the past 13 years,” Faulconer said in a statement. “These expert volunteers will explore all possibilities to finance the project, with the clear direction from me that it must be a good and fair deal for San Diego taxpayers.”

Their real hope, according to group members and officials involved in their appointment, is to find ways to private money so as to face only a simple-majority hurdle to passage.

"The history of these things from San Francisco to Portland, Maine is that two-thirds is virtually impossible,” said Los Angeles Times bureau chief Tony Perry, following a mid-morning news conference east of Petco Park in downtown’s East Village.

“And of course we're in San Diego -- Libertarianville here -- and we don't like taxes for anything. So that, I think, is pretty much a non-starter."

Said Associated Press sports correspondent Bernie Wilson: ”It seems like a creative group; it seems more business-oriented than politically oriented, which some of the former task forces have been."

One key member member is Jim Steeg, who produced 26 Super Bowls for the National Football League and later served as a Chargers executive.

Another is Adam Day, assistant manager of the Sycuan game tribe and board member of the state university system -- two potential players in the financing effort.

They'll be looking not only at downtown's 12-acre East Village site – but revisiting the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley, the NFL’s second-oldest venue.

But the greater challenge is sifting through possibilities for bankrolling the billion-dollar price tag of a new stadium, including taxes if they prove unavoidable.

Those options include funding from the league and Chargers, stadium naming rights, corporate partnerships, seat licenses and surcharges on tickets, parking and concessions.

The team also has spoken of exploring the prospect of financially "leveraging" city land such as the 105 acres that encompass the Valley View Casino Center and city-leased retail and real estate properties in the Sports Arena/Midway District.

"There are a lot of different ways to skin the cat,” Steeg said in an interview. “It will involve maybe cobbling together five or six of those concepts to make one. And I think that's the greatest thing -- to have an open mind and try to find one."

A major obstacle in the process is the city’s quest for larger convention facilities.

Hotel owners want the bayfront center expanded on-site. The Bolts want a hybrid facility, linked to a retractable-roof stadium across Harbor Drive.

A statement issued by Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani indicates the franchise is under-whelmed by the new advisory group, and that it will be “pleased to evaluate any other ideas” beyond the nine stadium proposals it’s advanced over 13 years.

But Steeg sees a path to the promised land, and he has a sense that the time is right: "I think you finally have the political will to get it done. And to me that's been the problem all along. Obviously in the last ten years, how many mayors have we had? Eight? Something like that? So we've never had that. We've had all sorts of issues going back and forth."

Either way, with speculation raging around a proposed Inglewood stadium on land held by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Hollywood Park interests, San Diego might wind up on the clock with the NFL, if it’s not already.

As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told journalists at his pre-Super Bowl news conference in Glendale, Arizona Friday: "They do need a new stadium for the Chargers to be successful long-term. It's one of the oldest if not THE oldest stadium in the league … I'm glad to hear (Faulconer has) a task force going. But they've been working at this for 12 years, and it's something we need to show tangible results sooner rather than later."

In the wake of Faulconer’s news conference, onlooker Jan Bourgeois, an East Village resident and Padres mini-season ticketholder, was asked what she makes of what she had heard.

"I agree with most of them that you will not get the 66 and two-thirds, so you need to figure out another way to bring everybody to the table to be able to move it forward,” she told NBC 7.

“Because I love the Chargers. I don't go to the games but I always watch them on TV -- all the preliminaries and follow-ups afterwards."

Along with Steeg and Day, the mayor’s stadium advisory group includes:

  • Doug Barnhart, chairman of Barnhart-Reese Construction
  •  Rod Dammeyer, private equity investor
  • Adam Day, California State University trustee & assistant tribal manager of Sycuan
  •  Walt Ekard, former San Diego County CAO & City of San Diego COO
  • Aimee Faucett, COO of the San Diego Regional Chamber
  • Jason Hughes, president and CEO of Hughes Marino
  • Jessie Knight, executive vice president of Sempra Energy, chairman of the board of SDG&E
  • Mary Lydon, executive director of Urban Land Institute - San Diego-Tijuana
  • Jim Steeg, former NFL executive

An NBC 7 report in January  said the Chargers were less-than-impressed with the mayor’s initial proposal at his State of the City address.

It seems everyone has an opinion about the future of Qualcomm Stadium. Even NBC football analyst Cris Collingsworth gave NBC 7 SportsWrap his two cents.

Anyone wishing to provide input for the project can email the mayor at StadiumInput@sandiego.gov.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pot Shop Permit Appeal to Be Heard]]> Thu, 29 Jan 2015 07:50:53 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/Marijuana+Generic1.jpg San Diego's City Planning Commission will meet to hear an appeal filed against the first permit issued for a legal medical marijuana dispensary. NBC 7's Elena Gomez reports.

Photo Credit: File - Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[City OKs $160M Deal to Lease, Buy Civic Center Plaza]]> Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:09:43 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/civic+center+plaza.JPG

San Diego taxpayers could always use a good deal when it comes to government office space.

But will a deal put together by the mayor's staff and authorized Monday by the San Diego City Council prove to be a long-term bargain?

As NBC 7 first reported in November, officials had been looking to buy the 18-story Civic Center Plaza tower that’s 90 percent occupied by city workers under an expiring lease, and another downtown building nearby.

But it turned out that lease-revenue bonds were not considered “an appropriate source of funding” for the properties – for which Cisterra Development eventually agreed to pay the current owners $44 million and offer them to the city under a “lease-to-own” deal.

That arrangement will cost taxpayers nearly $160 million over 20 years.

City property managers say the agreement to acquire Civic Center Plaza, along with the building on the same block housing a King-Chavez High School campus, would yield savings of $24 million in rent that otherwise would be paid for space in the office tower.

"The concept is that at some time in the future, they're going to re-format all the floor plans there so you can get more people into the building,” explained Charles Modica Jr., a fiscal and policy analyst in the office of the city council’s Independent Budget Analyst (IBA).

“Right now there are some large offices -- some of them will be reduced, and conceivably you could put more people in,” Modica added in an interview Monday. “But there are costs associated with that."

Those costs include a projected $15 million to re-configure the building for an additional 245 employees -- which doesn't cover furniture or workspaces – plus $6 million for capital improvements and asbestos removal.

The city, meantime, would get rent from the underground Civic Center Plaza Parkade and the King-Chavez leasehold.

The New York-based property owners, comprising a family trust, insisted that Cisterra – essentially the city’s holding company for the lease-purchase -- close escrow March 15.

Thus the city council had a deadline of midnight Monday to approve the transactions.

In a report to the council last month, Modica and his boss, IBA Andrea Tevlin, expressed concerns about the hurry-up manner in which the deal was brought forward, saying there hadn’t been enough time to request more information or suggest potential amendments.

“The stated consequences of the council’s not approving this agreement on January 26th – including significantly increased costs and the potential need to relocate hundreds of city staff – may well represent real risks to the city,” they wrote, “but adequate time for public review and council deliberation is essential.”

Taxpayer advocates pointed out that letting the deal fall through – perhaps leaving the properties to other bidders -- and pursuing a new round of bargaining could involve less attractive terms going forward.

"Once again, that’s the mystery of real estate. If you know something, it's much easier to pencil it out, to put a black-and-white number to it,” Mark Leslie, president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Assn., told NBC 7. “We have to make some assumptions here. The assumptions that are being used in that report appear to support that it's a good deal for the city."

Council members made it clear they didn't appreciate the "last-day" deadline to consider what amounts to a pricey layaway agreement, but approved it on an 8-0 vote.

Property officials said there'd be cost savings and greater efficiencies from having more workers in one facility and that the city would control the whole block for future development options.

<![CDATA[Christie Woos Iowa Conservatives]]> Sat, 24 Jan 2015 22:46:55 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/12415chris.jpg

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is trying to connect with Iowa conservatives by assuring them that "you'll always know who I am" if he runs for president.

While still undeclared, Christie left few doubts Saturday at the Iowa Freedom Summit that he is primed to enter the 2016 GOP race.

Christie told the Republican voters in the leadoff primary state in the nomination battle that they shouldn't let his blunt style turn them off. To those not enamored with all aspects of his record, Christie asserted "you'll always know what I believe and you'll always know where I stand."

He spoke at length about his anti-abortion views, which tends to resonate with Iowa's social conservative caucus-goers.

Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and many others turned the Iowa Freedom Forum into the unofficial launch of the next campaign for the Iowa caucuses. More than 1,000 religious conservatives met at a refurbished theater to hear their pitches.

The forum's sponsor, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, opened the event by asking the crowd, "Do you believe that the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you today?"

The audience erupted in applause and King responded, "As do I."

Few would pick Christie, an abortion rights and gay marriage opponent better known for his union and budget battles, to emerge as the favorite among Iowa's evangelical voters. Yet his appearance could allow him to make inroads with a group focused as much on ideological purity as defeating the Democrat nominated to follow President Barack Obama.

"He has gusto that makes him an everyman. That appeals to me," 29-year-old Steve Friend of Sioux City said of Christie. "But I think he tanked the 2012 election by praising President Obama after (superstorm) Sandy."

Christie has defended his praise of the president for visiting storm-ravaged New Jersey in the weeks before Romney lost. But it's an image that sticks in the craw of Iowa's most right-wing conservatives.

"I don't trust him," said Mary Kay Hauser, another forum attendee. "I think he's disingenuous. I think he's part of the old New Jersey party."

<![CDATA[California's Calling Gov. Chris Christie]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 13:11:21 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/179*120/chris+christie+surprised+face+new+jersey+governor.JPG

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be the keynote speaker at next month’s convention of the California Republican Party.

Organizers made the announcement Friday describing Christie as “a great example of Republican leadership.”

In a prepared release, Christie said, “I’m excited to be joining Republicans in California as we plan for the years ahead and look to build upon the successes of 2014.”

Just last week, Christie told reporters he was undecided on his future plans and whether they include entering in the 2016 presidential race. According to NBC News, Christie said he will not be rushed, "so everybody just calm down."

The outspoken governor has been criticized recently over gifts he received from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, how he handled a heckler at a Hurricane Sandy recovery event and his decision to issue an Ebola quarantine after the nurse complained about her treatment.

Christie will speak at the luncheon on Saturday, Feb. 28 at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento. 

Photo Credit: Tim Larsen]]>
<![CDATA[Sen. Rubio Taking Steps Toward Possible 2016 Run]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 15:51:11 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/121113+marco+rubio.jpg

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio rode into Washington on a wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment in 2010. He may soon be hoping to ride a similar wave all the way up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House in 2016.

NBC News has confirmed that Senator Rubio is taking steps to prepare for a run for the White House in the 2016 election. The news was first reported by ABC News on Friday.

Rubio has hired Anna Rogers to be his finance director. Rogers comes from American Crossroads, a Super PAC backed by former senior Bush advisor Karl Rove. Rogers is expected to start her new job with the Rubio campaign in the first week of February.

The senator has laid out plans to visit multiple states for the next month and will skip Senate votes next week in order to attend fundraisers in California.

Rubio’s rapid rise to political stardom started in the Florida Legislature, which he led at one point. He entered the 2010 Senate race far behind then-Governor Charlie Crist and was able to outflank Crist in the Republican primary. The moves electrified Rubio’s political star and sent Crist’s political career tumbling.

Rubio won his seat in 2010 primarily based on the Tea Party wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment. He also benefitted from having a three-way race with Crist as an independent and Kendrick Meek running as a Democrat. The two effectively split the electorate opposing Rubio, opening the door to the Senate for Rubio.

The junior senator from Florida may be hoping to start and catch a similar wave to the White House that Obama followed when he ran after just two years in the Senate. However, Rubio would have filled out his entire first-term if he runs in 2016.

The path to the White House for Rubio will be much tougher. He angered many of the Tea Party voters that supported him when he helped pass a bi-partisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill a few years ago.

As the conservative backlash started, Rubio quickly backed away from support on many of the bill’s key policies and won back support from some of the voters who lifted him to the White House. He will also face a field full of big Republican names hoping to win the nomination.

While none have officially declared their pursuit of the presidency, it’s expected that Mitt Romney will make a run at the White House. He could be joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Governor Rick Perry, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

“The interesting thing here is that Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are friends they look like they are both running for each other and they both live really close to each other and that is going to make for one interesting kind of awkward campaign,” said Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo.

Bush could prove to be the biggest obstacle for Rubio to make a successful presidential bid. Bush has more experience as an executive and skillfully navigated the Florida political machine for two terms as governor and is still well-liked by many of his former supporters in the Sunshine State.

“I think Jeb is going to be the one that’s going to finish the race,” said Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Marco is still a young boy. He has a lot of years left in him.”

Rubio said Bush has the political acumen to raise the amount of money necessary to mount a successful presidential campaign. The 2016 presidential campaign could end up being a multi-billion dollar campaign and will likely be the most expensive in U.S. History.

Rubio has been a fierce critic of almost every policy move made by the Obama Administration. He’s also been a leading critic of the move to normalize relations with Cuba, though polls show a national majority back the moves by the White House.

For Republicans, if Rubio follows his previous comments that he will not run for re-election to the Senate if he runs for president (which also is a Florida law); his plans may open up a new battleground in the almost evenly-divided swing state of Florida.

That could prove especially beneficial to Democrats. The 2016 electoral map is expected to tilt towards the Democrats in many swing states and voter turnout could help Democrats re-take the U.S. Senate and also keep the White House.

Rubio could also be angling for another key position in a potential Republican White House, that of vice-president. If Rubio doesn’t win the presidential nomination, he could be a leading contender to join the winner’s ticket as the vice-presidential candidate.

Still, whoever the Republicans end up choosing to run for the White House will have one of the toughest challenges ahead in the general election, a potential Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

“If Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush run against Hillary Clinton; they’re gonna lose and they’re not only going to lose the White House race, they’re even going to lose their home state of Florida,” said Caputo. “But, that is what the polling says now. And as you know and I know, in a state like Florida; don’t predict the elections too early, heck even on election day as we sometimes don’t know the winner.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Infrastructure, Stadium Costs: Taxpayers Face Dilemma]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 19:35:17 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/cracked+sidewalk+san+diego+infrastructure.JPG

San Diego taxpayers are drowning in a fiscal swamp of backlogged maintenance work needed for their public facilities.

We now know the price tag -- almost $4 billion.

How does the city pay for all that, while fantasizing about a new stadium and expanded convention center?

For several years, the cost of fixing and upgrading San Diego's infrastructure has been pegged at $2 billion. The latest numbers indicate it's nearly double that, and there’s a funding gap alone that approaches $2 billion.

Critics have long faulted the city for being distracted by "bread and circuses" and skimping on the "meat, potatoes and vegetables" of sound, functioning facilities: streets, sidewalks, water and sewer systems, police and fire stations, parks and public buildings.

They say that work needs big bucks -- and soon.

So much municipal property is degrading, it's never fully been quantified, until now.

"This is the first time the city has ever put together a strategic, comprehensive look at infrastructure – ever,” said San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, who chairs the council’s Infrastructure Committee. “And this is something other cities do. Big cities do it. Medium-size, small cities do this. The is the first time San Diego's ever done this."

But while Kersey and other city leaders explore "public-private partnerships" and "enhanced infrastructure finance districts" to take a nine-figure bond issue to the 2016 ballot, Mayor Kevin Faulconer is looking at that same year to sell voters on a new stadium for the Chargers.

Will they go for both propositions?


The other?

Or neither?

"If we do not resolve our critical, basic needs,” said Councilman David Alvarez, “I don't see how anything else gets funded in the city."

How much can Chargers owner Dean Spanos and his associates, including the NFL, help with "anything else” – and to what extent will that sway voters toward his stadium proposal?

We posed those questions Thursday in a downtown interview with an Encanto resident who identified himself only as “D.J.”.

“(Spanos) has got a billion dollars, he doesn't care if it's Chargers fans, Raiders fans, Patriots fans -- we're already in the stadium,” D.J. told us.

“As long as they're selling beer and the seats are full -- right?” he continued. “The city isn't making that much of a profit off the Chargers selling out, so – infrastructure all the way.”

It’s a balancing act that oddsmakers might be inclined to book as a long shot.

But Councilman Todd Gloria offers this cautious assessment: "We're a big city. We're a world class city. I think we can handle most of the challenges and find solutions. But time's wasting. And we need to have a clear signal from every city leader that they understand not only this is a problem, but they're willing to take on the hard solutions that are necessary to fix them."

Craig Gustafson, a spokesman for Faulconer, said the mayor is already taking action on fixing city streets, and will soon unveil "a series of reforms" to expedite other infrastructure projects.

Gustafson added that Faulconer is challenging council members for specifics as to what their proposed bond issue will cover.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Mayor Faulconer on Mayor's Meetings]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 07:11:55 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/faulconerSOT1_1200x675_387211331986.jpg San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is representing America's Finest City at this week's conference of mayors.]]> <![CDATA[Top NY Lawmaker Arrested on Corruption Charges: Source]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 19:21:24 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/silver7.jpg

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested Thursday on federal corruption charges and is accused of using his position in the state legislature to collect millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, according to a criminal complaint.

Silver, who has held office in the State Assembly since 1976 and been speaker of the legislative body since 1994, turned himself into the FBI at its field office near Foley Square Thursday morning.

The embattled legislator told reporters after his court appearance that he did not plan to resign.

"I will be vindicated," he said. 

His attorneys, Joel Cohen and Steven Molo, released a joint statement calling the allegations baseless.

"We’re disappointed that the prosecutors have chosen to proceed with these meritless criminal charges," the attorneys' statement said. "That said, Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them -- in court -- and ultimately his full exoneration.”

At a news briefing shortly after Silver's arrest, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused the longtime politician of duping taxpayers through a series of secretive schemes and backroom dealings to line his own pockets, and "cleverly" seeking ways to monetize his public office in violation of federal law.

Silver allegedly collected around $4 million in bribes and kickbacks and used his law license and lax New York disclosure laws to disguise the profits as referral fees, Bharara said.

Those alleged ill-gotten gains accounted for two-thirds of the speaker's outside income since 2002, the prosecutor added. Bharara said a judge issued warrants allowing authorities to seize $3.8 million Silver had dispersed in eight bank accounts at six different banks in alleged fraud proceeds.

"For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question, 'How could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly service his constituents?'" Bharara said. "Today, we provide the answer. He didn't."

The five-count criminal complaint unsealed Thursday focuses on two alleged schemes by which Silver acquired millions -- attorney referral payments and alleged real estate kickbacks. One firm, identified by sources familiar with the investigation as Goldberg & Iryami, allegedly paid Silver about $700,000 over the course of about a decade in "undisclosed bribes and kickbacks" to get real estate developers in the state to do their business with the firm.

One of the real estate developers, described in the court papers as "Developer 1," is Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management, according to the sources. The sources said Litwin cooperated with investigators, as did law firm partner Jay Goldberg.

The firm Weitz and Luxemberg also allegedly paid Silver about $5.3 million since 2002. About $1.4 million came from an annual salary, which the complaint alleges Silver received "based on his official position rather than any work he was expected to perform."

"For many years New Yorkers have also asked the question, 'What exactly does Speaker Silver do to earn his substantial outside income?'" Bharara said. "Well, the head-scratching can come to an end on that score, too, because we answer that question today as well. He does nothing."

The rest of the money came from attorney referral fees, with about $3 million coming by way of a scheme where Silver allegedly passed on asbestos cases from a New York doctor, identified by sources as Dr. Robert Taub, in exchange for secretly providing Taub access to $500,000 in state grants and research funds. Taub is the director of the Columbia University Mesothelioma Center. 

Investigators said Silver referred about 100 clients to the firm, but none of the asbestos clients or their family had ever had any contact with Silver at all, court papers said.

Taub cooperated with investigators, sources said.

Messages left with Goldberg, Litwin and Taub were not immediately returned. 

Despite making assurances that he represents "plain ordinary and simple people," investigators found no court records indicating that Silver ever made a single appearance in state or federal court.

"The problem for Sheldon Silver was that he was neither a doctor nor an asbestos lawyer, so Silver did not have relevant legal or medical expertise, but what he did have was extraordinary power over state money that he had the ability to dole out quietly, even secretly," Bharara said.

Bharara had been focusing on how state representatives earned and reported income after the Moreland Commission was shut down in Albany before completing its own examination of alleged wrongdoing in Albany. Bharara says that too was Silver's doing.

"A deal was cut that cut off the commission's work to the great relief of Sheldon Silver, who furiously fought its subpoenas and urged the commission's early shutdown," he said. "Moreland was made to close its doors after only nine months, its work barely begun, and while litigation over those subpoenas about Sheldon Silver's outside income was still pending before a state judge."

If convicted of all five counts in the complaint, Silver faces up to 100 years in prison. He did not enter a plea during a brief court appearance Thursday and was released on $200,000 bond. Silver surrendered his passport and was told he needs permission to travel anywhere outside New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.  

Mayor de Blasio said New York should let the judicial process play out. 

"Although the charges announced today are very serious I want to note that I have always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity and he certainly has due process rights and I think it’s important that we let the judicial process play out here," the mayor said.

Questions in the past have been raised about Silver’s outside income that supplement his part-time assembly work and he has always denied wrongdoing.

In a statement Thursday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Frankel said Silver took advantage of his "political pulpit" to reap unlawful rewards.

"We hold our elected representatives to the highest standards and expect them to act in the best interest of their constituents," Frankel said. "In good faith, we trust they will do so while defending the fundamental tenets of the legal system. But as we are reminded today, those who make the laws don’t have the right to break the laws."

Albany has had its fair share of corruption scandals over the years. The last legislative leader to be charged was former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Bruno, a Republican, was acquitted last year after fighting two federal corruption counts for much of the last decade.

Bharara’s office is prosecuting Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith in an alleged scheme to bribe his way to run for mayor as a Republican, and has charged numerous other current and former state and local politicians including State Sens. Vincent Leibell, Hiram Monserrate and Carl Kruger and New York City councilman Larry Seabrook.

-- Pete Williams and Richard Esposito contributed to this report.  

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA["Pivotal": LGBT Groups Praise Obama's "Historic" SOTU]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 15:38:42 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/obama+state+of+union.JPG

LGBT rights activists and organizations across the country are applauding President Barack Obama for becoming the first U.S. president to use the words "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" in a State of the Union Address.

In the nearly hour-long address in front of Congress Tuesday, Obama condemned persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, while declaring that same-sex marriage is a “civil right.” His remarks come on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court agreement last week to rule on whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," Obama in his sixth State of the Union address. "That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in California, said the mention made the speech “especially historic for transgender and bisexual people.” The first-of-its-kind nature of the reference was widely reported following the Tuesday night address and confirmed by NBC Owned Television Stations.

“We’ve never heard a president address their needs during a State of the Union Address,” Davis said. “That was just historic. By simply saying the word 'transgender' in a speech, it represents the progress for transgender people and the United State’s broader movement for equality for all.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington D.C-based National Center for Transgender Equality said that the “mention of us” is a way that “empower trans people to stand taller and work harder.”

“The president of the United States condemning persecution against transgender people is pivotal,” the transgender rights activist said in a statement.

Former NFL player Wade Davis II, executive director for You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization that is working to eradicate homophobia in sports, said the inclusion shows that society is starting to recognize that "gay" is not a universal term for those in the LGBT community.

“It’s not an inclusive term for someone who is bisexual or transgender, and we hope people would realize that,” said Davis, who came out as gay in 2012. “The struggle of someone being gay is not a representative of the struggles of someone who is bisexual or transgender. Gay is not this universal term that stands for lesbians, bisexual and transgender. And transgender has zero to do with sexual orientation.”

While the wait may have been long for a U.S president to make such move at the annual joint session of Congress, Obama’s calls for LGBT rights and protections are not entirely new. He was the country's first sitting leader to support same-sex marriage, an announcement he made in 2012.

Obama made a more robust move in 2013, when he reportedly became the first president to use the word “gay” during an inaugural address ─ at his second inauguration in 2013. Last year, the president signed an executive order extending protection against discrimination in the workplace for gay and transgender workers in the federal government.

Masen Davis said more work need to be done, and he urged Congress to pass laws to help LGBT individuals get more access to the services they need, including protections against housing discrimination.

Wade Davis, the NFL player, echoed those remarks, saying he hopes Obama’s message Tuesday night “will start some serious conversations about the discrimination” people in the LGBT community faces, particularly transgender individuals.

“It’s unfortunate for this to be the first time a president talks about it, but it speaks to some come change that is happening,” Wade Davis said. “I hope that the outcome of those conversations will be a policy. Talking without having a policy to back it up is just empty.”

Photo Credit: ap]]>
<![CDATA[New Md. Gov: What to Expect]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 13:02:30 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/20141104+Hogan.jpg

Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland governor Wednesday, becoming just the second Republican to hold the post in more than 45 years. He'll face a $750 million budget deficit, a legislature controlled by Democrats and an electorate awaiting the tax cuts he promised on the campaign trail.

But what he will try to do in office remains something of a mystery, political observers say.

"He was not at all specific about policies during the campaign," said Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "He basically ran against the outgoing governor for being a tax-and-spend liberal and claimed that we were not only overtaxed but over-regulated."

Hogan, 58, defeated Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown last fall, in what was described as an astonishing upset and a rebuke to two-term Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and the tax increases he implemented. Hogan, a commercial real estate broker, is the son of a former congressman and county executive for Prince George's County in Maryland. He is the state's second Republican governor since former Vice President Spiro Agnew held the role.

Hogan has promised better fiscal management, but now must contend with spending formulas that control some of the budget's largest expenses.

"I can't see him imposing new taxes so really he's left with cuts and that's where he begins to engage real battle with the legislature," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report.

Mandated appropriations account for 81 percent of the state's portion of spending proposed for the 2015 fiscal year beginning in July, according to a November report from the Department of Legislative Services' Office of Policy Analysis. The two-year budget shortfall has grown to nearly $1.2 billion.

"Beyond what's in his initial budget, I think you'll see him trying to change some of those mandatory spending patterns to give the state a little bit more flexibility and an ability to avoid ongoing structural deficits," said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science and chairman of Political Science Department at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Hogan vowed during the campaign that he would work with the state legislature, and observers will be watching carefully to see how long bipartisanship will last in a state with a 2-to-1 Democratic registration.

"I would say the two presiding officers in the state legislature are moderate to conservative Democrats but their rank and file, particularly in the House, are very liberal so that's going to be a pressure point for all of these four years," said Josh Kurtz, a political blogger for Center Maryland.

Kurtz and others noted that the previous Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, similarly pledged compromise but instead fought with the legislature through much of his single four-year term.

"So if Hogan chooses to fight with the Democrats, it's going to be an ugly four years," Norris said. "He won't get anything accomplished. If he can find ground for compromise and cooperation, then I think things will work out pretty well for both sides. We just have to wait and see."

Hogan, who won 54 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Brown, has said he wants to appeal two environmental measures: a storm water remediation fee, otherwise known as the rain tax, and regulations governing how much nitrogen can be released into the Chesapeake Bay, particularly from chicken farmers on the Eastern Shore, Norris said.

Hogan also has questioned the expense of two large public transit projects on the boards: the Baltimore Red Line, a 14-mile light rail transit line linking the city's east and west sides to the downtown that would cost $2.9 billion, and the Greater Washington Purple Line, a 16-mile east-west transit line connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton that would cost $2.45 billion. Both would gotten $100 million in federal funding, and could get up to $900 million each if Maryland signs funding agreements.

In recent days, Hogan refused to discuss the projects until after he took office, but during the campaign, he said he would spend money on roads rather than on expanding public transportation.
Observers noted that he was elected by predominantly suburban and rural voters.

Others programs that could prompt objections from voters if Hogan tries to cut them: school construction and prekindergarten.

"Nobody really knows what Hogan is going to be like when things don't go his way because he's never held elective office before," Kurtz said. "So in that respect, he's a big mystery."

<![CDATA[GOP Congressman Slams Obama for "Deportable" SOTU Guest]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:52:56 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/AP060731031104.jpg

A Republican congressman took a social media swipe at the White House over one of its young State of the Union guests Tuesday, tweeting that the first lady would have a "deportable" joining her.

Iowa Rep. Steve King said the president "perverts 'prosecutorial discretion'" by inviting Ana Zamora, a 20-year-old student from Dallas, to sit "in a place of honor" with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday's address.

Zamora, who was brought to the United States illegally as a young child, was granted temporary work authorization under Obama's executive order seeking to protect undocumented children living in the U.S. under such circumstances, often referred to as "DREAMers." The White House has said that Zamora's parents, a small business owner and a construction worker, are expected to benefit from more recent actions meant to shield millions from deportation.

When asked about the tweet by NBC News' Luke Russert, King, a vocal critic of Obama's immigration policies and actions, said to  "shake it off and have a sense of humor." The conservative congressman, who is hosting a gathering of potential GOP presidential candidates in this home state this weekend, said he didn't think the comment would hurt his party's possible 2016 contenders.

Zamora is one of nearly two dozen guests invited to watch the State of the Union along with the first lady. Others include a teen from Chicago's South Side who wrote a letter asking Santa for safety for Christmas, an astronaut set to spend a year aboard the International Space Station and Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen recently released after five years in Cuban prison.

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<![CDATA[Pot Shop Regulations Debated as City Council Vote Looms]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 20:57:27 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/mainPic.png

As medicinal marijuana shop entrepreneurs compete for a limited number of permits, San Diego's City Council is poised to vote Tuesday on regulations that community activists say are too permissive -- and won't be enforced effectively.

The issue of managing medicinal marijuana distribution has been frustrating City Hall for more than four years.

Under the regulatory scheme now up for consideration, pot-shop permits have become valuable commodities.

That’s because only four are allowed for each of San Diego’s nine city council districts, and 18 are being sought in District 2 alone, not far from the Valley View Casino Center in the Midway District.

The applicants apparently are on board with them, but not outraged neighborhood activists.

"The city's going in a good direction in getting regulations, but the big problem is, they're trying to regulate criminal activity, which is very difficult,” said Scott Chipman, founder of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods. “We are not convinced that the city has the money involved that's necessary to regulate these things properly."

Even delivery people for medicinal marijuana storefronts will be subject to numerous regulations recommended for the council’s approval by city staff.

On Monday, an NBC 7 news team checked out industrially zoned locations on a two-block stretch of Hancock Street, where four buildings are targeted by permit applications to operate “Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperatives."

That's a dilemma because such dispensaries aren't allowed within 1,000 feet of another.

Executives in a second-floor office in one of the buildings declined comment on the prospect of becoming under-the-same-roof neighbors with a medical pot dispensary.

A construction contractor working on a new restaurant interior downstairs told us it shouldn’t be much of an issue, but the restaurateur who hired him didn’t give us a call after her contractor took my business card and relayed our interest in speaking with her.

As for the difficulty of enforcing the proposed regulations, “We’ve seen a history of criminal activity,” said Chipman. “Shootouts, burglaries, break-ins and assaults all around these things -- and it's all related to the marijuana itself."

But attorney Jessica McElfresh, who represents medicinal marijuana industry interests, said rogue operators are the predominant players in those scenarios and permit applicants are being held to high, costly standards.

"No one would go through this process if they did not intend to follow all the rules and if they did not see tremendous value in following the rules,” said McElfresh said in an interview Monday.

But can the city really afford to inspect and investigate at a level that generates widespread compliance?

"The operators will be paying these fees basically,” McElfresh explained. “The city performs the work, they submit a bill, and people pay it … I have no reason to believe the city of San Diego has any intention other than to take its own ordinance very seriously and to enforce it."

Under the municipal code for proposals that go before the council, the city would conduct background checks and have access to test the marijuana for pesticides, mold, mildew and bacteria.

Critics say potency labels should be on the products, with shops banned from selling "concentrates," oils and edibles.

<![CDATA[Va. Gov. Suffers 7 Broken Ribs in Fall From Horse]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 15:09:49 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/0115-mcauliffe.jpg

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is recovering from injuries he received after being thrown from a horse while on a family trip to Africa, several media outlets are reporting.

McAuliffe is being treated for seven broken ribs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Spokesman Brian Coy says the governor was with his family in Tanzania over the Christmas holidays when the riding accident occurred.

The governor had been working since his return from Africa and expected the injury to heal on its own, but Coy said doctors identified increased fluid around his lungs that required treatment.

The governor is expected to spend two to three days recovering.

"My husband is resting comfortably after a successful procedure this afternoon. He and I want to thank the outstanding medical team at VCU Medical Center who just informed us that he is expected to recover well and get back to his full schedule within the next few days," Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe said Monday. "We would also like to thank the many well-wishers from all across Virginia who expressed concern and support for Terry as he continues to recover."

Coy stressed that the injury is not a "dire thing'' and the governor has been on the job since the accident. That includes delivering the State of the Commonwealth last week.


<![CDATA[State of the Union: What To Expect]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 08:31:05 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/NC_sotupreview0119001_1500x845.jpg President Obama's upcoming State of The Union address is already being met by Republican criticism.]]> <![CDATA[Chicago Teen Who Asked Santa for Safety Invited to State of the Union]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:54:02 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/217*120/letter+to+santa+safety.jpg

A South Side Chicago teen who wrote a letter to Santa asking for safety and received a reply from President Barack Obama has now earned an invitation from the first lady.

Michelle Obama invited 13-year-old Malik Bryant to be one of her guests for the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

It is customary for the first lady to invite guests to the speech, and the guests are often mentioned in the president's address.

Malik, who lives in Englewood, wrote a letter as part of a charitable Letters to Santa program in Chicago in December that said, "All I ask for is for safety. I just want to be safe." The letter made its way to the president, who wrote Malik a response.

"I want to offer you a few words of encouragement," the president wrote, according to the Sun-Times. "Each day, I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover, and grow. Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as President. If you dare to be bold and creative, work hard every day, and care for others, I'm confident you can achieve anything you imagine. I wish you and your family the very best for the coming year, and I will be rooting for you."

Malik will be seated with the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden and Valerie Jarrett, the senior advisor to the president, along with Michelle Obama's other guests from across the country.

<![CDATA[Romney Hints at Presidential Run During RNC Speech]]> Sat, 17 Jan 2015 16:15:09 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/mitt+romney+rnc+011615.JPG

Mitt Romney is addressing the GOP's winter meeting delegates aboard the USS Midway Museum on the Embarcadero Friday evening, a week after he told donors he would consider another presidential run in 2016.

The early meeting of party leaders looking ahead to the 2016 Republican presidential primary season has been creating nationwide buzz in Coronado this week. But a big question is whether La Jolla's high-profile homeowner could become the party's nominee again.

Romney hinted at another run as he addressed the party’s winter meeting delegates aboard the USS Midway Museum Friday evening, saying he is "giving some serious consideration to the future." 

“In the last few days, the most frequently asked question I get is, ‘What does Ann think about all this?’" Romney joked. "She believes people get better with experience, and heaven knows I have experience running for president.”

His chances of making a third time running for president a success have been the subject of recent poor-mouthing in media outlets and among prospective rivals.

But former California GOP chairman Ron Nehring said the former Massachusetts governor’s doubters shouldn't overlook this: "He has universal name ID across the country. He has a large existing political enterprise of donors, supporters, volunteers, activists. Everybody knows who he is. So obviously he would go into a race with a tremendous number of advantages."

Still, Republican leaders are encouraging a large field of prospects — from household names such as Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Chris Christie to others less known outside the party, but highly regarded within it.

While the heavy hitters are a ways off from declaring candidacy, nearly two dozen possibilities have been mentioned as prospects, and it can't be said that Romney's considered the front-runner at this stage.

In any case, GOP leadership is risk-averse in considering the sharp downside posed by a third straight loss in presidential sweepstakes.

"We have to elect a Republican president,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told an audience of several hundred party delegates at Hotel del Coronado Friday. "As we move forward in this election cycle, don't ever lose sight of that. It's not about me. It's not about you. It's not about us … 2016 could be a do-or-die moment for our party."

The GOP has seized control of both the House and Senate since Romney lost his 2012 challenge to President Obama.

And party bosses want to make it a clean sweep by taking the White House in 2016, vigorously talking up their chances at the gathering in Coronado.

"The candidates are all speaking at the public events,” said Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County. “But the real excitement happens behind the scenes where there are private meetings, and people get to kick the tires — if you will — of the candidates and the hopefuls."

So what's the pressure that would be left in "the tires" of a Mitt Romney candidacy for the White House, after he finished 4 points behind President Obama in the 2012 popular vote and 23 percent behind in the Electoral College numbers?

It's something that figures to give party leaders pause.

"This is why those people who want to do away with the primaries and just kind of anoint a candidate — they're wrong,” Nehring told NBC 7. “Because in the course of that primary contest, we get to decide: do we want to have a fresh face? Or do we want to go with a candidate who almost won last time?"

Meantime, a prominent local Democrat who's served as press secretary to congressmen and senators including Robert Kennedy cautions that Romney's credentials shouldn't be discounted.

"I think too many people, in judging him, judge him in just a solely political context,” said George Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego. “Which means they don't like his politics. I don't think you can do that. I would not dismiss him as being the nominee of the Republican Party in 2016."

In an interview Friday, Mitrovich pointed to Richard Nixon's being elected president after losing eight years earlier: "So why are we so quick to think that Romney doesn't matter? Romney matters!"

Nonetheless, fresh online postings Friday raised continued raising concerns about Romney's viability as a prospective nominee.

Reports from Mother Jones magazine cited a former 2012 Romney policy adviser wishing that Romney wouldn’t run again, and a “huge new conflict of interest program” stemming from Romney family business ventures.

There have been earlier references to Romney as “a retread … recycled … yesterday’s news” – some speculating that he might meet the fate of the late Gov. Thomas Dewey (R-NJ), who lost presidential elections twice in the 1940s.

<![CDATA[Millionaires Make Up Half of Congress: Report]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 13:32:59 -0800 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/capitol+generic+federal+government+generic.jpg

Congress is getting richer and seeing its number of millionaire members grow, as average Americans continue to struggle to recover from years of economic distress, according to a new report.

The median net worth of a member of Congress hit nearly $1.03 million by the end of 2013, an analysis of financial disclosure forms by the Center for Responsive Politics found. That figure, up 2.5 percent fron the previous year, makes the body's average elected representative 18 times richer than the average American household, which one recent study found was worth about $56,000 the same year.

In all, Center for Responsive Politics identified 271 millionaires elected to federal office— about half the total membership of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. That's up slighly from the year before, when the group counted  at least 268 millionaires.

 “At a time when income inequality is much debated, the representatives we choose are overwhelmingly affluent,” CRP’s Executive Director Sheila Krumholz said in a statement. “Whether voters elect them because they are successful or because people of modest means do not run, or for other reasons, is unclear, but struggling Americans should not assume that their elected officials understand their circumstances.“

The Senate is the wealthier of the two bodies, with a median net worth of $2.97 million compared to the House of Representatives' $843,000.

GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California led both houses with an estimated net worth of $448.4 million. At $254 million, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was the wealthiest senator, the group found.

Not all members boast anywhere close to those nine-figure sums, though. About two dozen members, including Rep. David Valadao, a Republican from California who was named Congress' least wealthy member, reported being in the red.

Click here to read the full report.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>