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Politics Report: Anatomy of a Nightmare Donation


This week, a $100,000 donation developer Brad Termini and his wife gave to a committee supporting Mayor Todd Gloria’s campaign when he first ran for mayor in 2020 became news for the second time.

La Prensa reported the donation as part of a critical piece on Gloria’s support for the team Termini is leading to redevelop the city’s nearly 50 acres of land at the Sports Arena site. Termini is CEO of Zephyr, the firm that, along with Chelsea Investments and other partners are now one step away from an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city to build on the land for what could be several decades.

La Prensa, though, wasn’t the first to report on the donation. The Terminis’ donations to the independent committee supporting Gloria were actually news and controversial when they made them. Barbara Bry, who was the target of the attack ad paid for by the donation while she was running for mayor, issued a press release over the ad ripping it as hypocritical and cynical. The committee had to pull that commercial and change it. Nobody wanted to tell the Politics Report exactly why but they closed that independent expenditure committee.

A new one was eventually launched, this one headed by lawyer Gil Cabrera, the former chairman of the Ethics Commission.

“I came in to change direction of the independent spending to be more effective in the general election,” Cabrera said.

What happened: Termini was traveling and declined to comment but the Politics Report was able to piece together something of a history.

LiUNA, the Laborers International Union of North America Local 89, formed a committee to support Gloria’s election well before the March 2020 primary. They hired consultants Nancy Chase and Larry Remer to run it. It collected donations and you can see the major ones listed here

They produced an ad attacking Bry, who was running against not just Gloria at the time but also former City Councilman Scott Sherman. It was widely assumed Gloria would make it through the primary but Sherman and Bry ended up in a very close battle for the second spot.

“Bry also says she’ll stand up to developers, but big developers are funding her campaign,” the ad said, in one part.

This was awkward. Termini is a donor. And because Termini had donated so much, his name was required on the disclosure line of the advertisement.

“The most ironic contributions – given the claims in the ad – are Brad and Stefanie Termini, developers of the controversial Marisol development in Del Mar and business partners of one of downtown San Diego’s largest developers, who contributed $100,000,” wrote Bry in her press release blasting the ad, which eventually became fodder for a Union-Tribune column, who also couldn’t get Termini on the record about it at the time.

Again, we haven’t had a chance to connect with him about this but he was supposedly quite upset about the ad. For whatever reason, they pulled it and changed the commercial.

“A number of people were not happy with that ad,” Nancy Chase told us. “I think I was one of the key people who wasn’t happy with it. And that’s why we made a different one, a better one. We changed it.”

Bry survived the primary and advanced to the general election, much to the chagrin of Gloria’s allies who believed the Republican Sherman would have been much easier to beat in the general.

LiUNA shut down the committee and contributed to the new one, Neighbors for Housing Solutions Supporting Todd Gloria for San Diego Mayor 2020, which ended up raising significantly more than the previous group. You can look at those major contributors here.

Why this matters: This whole thing is moving into a more openly political battle. Not only are rivals to the team that won and media going to dig in, but there’s an actual ballot measure moving forward: Measure C. It’s the second attempt to raise the height limit in the Midway area beyond just the Sports Arena land.

But the 2022 election will attract a smaller electorate. People against the measure are going to be more motivated than people who mildly support it. Now they will have already killed the previous version and perhaps they’ll attract more powerful allies if things get uglier.

Come see that debate: At Politifest, Councilman Chris Cate and Dike Anyiwo, the chair of the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group, who support removing the height limit will debate Council candidate Linda Lukacs and former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña who oppose it.

Politifest is going to be really good this year. Check it out.

Council Could Settle Lawsuit Against Housing Commission Broker

The City Council Monday could approve the city’s lawsuit against Jim Neil, the broker hired by the San Diego Housing Commission in 2020 to help buy hotels to turn into long-term housing for homeless people then living at the San Diego Convention Center due to the pandemic.

Months later, we revealed that Neil had made a sizable investment in the owner of one of those hotels after he was contracted to help the city, but before he recommended the hotel to the city and helped negotiate the purchase. The Union-Tribune had already raised questions about the price the city paid.

The city, led by City Attorney Mara Elliott, soon sued Neil, and his employer, Kidder Matthews, alleging his investment constituted an illegal conflict of interest and that he had defrauded the city.

Last month, the Housing Commission’s board recommended the city approve a settlement negotiated by the city attorney’s office, but after two board members said they had unanswered questions about how the deal came together that they didn’t think were adequately resolved by the lawsuit and settlement.

Specifically, it’s still unclear how or why the appraisal associated with the purchase of the Mission Valley hotel, the owner of which Neil purchased 40,000 shares in stock of prior to the transaction, had been explicitly backdated to before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the appraisal spelled out, that meant the value of the property was pegged above where it would have been in the summer of 2020, when the acquisition was occurring, because of the effect pandemic-related travel restrictions had on the hospitality industry.

“I would say this: We want to make sure that we are never in a situation where there is a doubt about the process over a transaction, especially as it relates to the value of a property, and the appraisal that valued a property before a transaction is closed,” said Mitch Mitchell, the chair of the Housing Commission, in an interview about his reservations after he voted to approve the settlement.

Now, the City Council will have its chance to approve the deal. There still has been no public explanation of who instructed the appraiser to backdate the appraisal, or why that would have been done – a second hotel purchased simultaneously, the seller of which Neil had not invested in, was appraised at the time of the transaction.

The settlement would call on Neil to return about $1 million – $155,000 to the city to roughly cover its legal fees, and the remainder to the Housing Commission to recoup commissions that Neil collected on the deal that exceeded the maximum rate specified in his contract.

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