Three contenders include Scott Peters

Staff Writer

November 10, 2008

SAN DIEGO – The math is simple: There are two vacancies on the high-profile Port Commission and three candidates vying to fill them.

Who will be the odd candidate out will be decided today when the San Diego City Council selects from environmentalist Laurie Black, bank executive Robert McNeely and council President Scott Peters.

The Port Commission is the governing body of the San Diego Unified Port District, which sets land-use policy and administers state tidelands along San Diego Bay and the Imperial Beach oceanfront. The district has more than 600 tenants, including some of the county's priciest hotels, and operates cargo shipping terminals and a cruise ship terminal.

Black, who served on the Regional Water Quality Control Board from 1998 to 2003, is seeking reappointment to the port post. She is wrapping up 18 months on the commission, completing the term of lawyer Victor Vilaplana, who resigned.

Black was nominated by council members Jim Madaffer, Toni Atkins and Kevin Faulconer. If she is not reappointed, no women will be on the seven-member commission.

McNeely is a Union Bank executive who has served on the Centre City Development Corp. board since 2003. He was nominated by Councilman Tony Young, who said diversity is important on the commission. If appointed, McNeely would resign from the CCDC board and be the commission's only African-American.

Then there is Peters, who will be leaving office after eight years because of term limits.

Peters, an environmental attorney for 15 years before being elected to the City Council, was nominated by council members Atkins and Ben Hueso. Atkins said Peters' background in environmental law would be useful on the commission, as would his knowledge of the relationship between the city and the port.

Peters said he will recuse himself when his name comes up for a vote, but that has not quelled criticism from current and incoming council members.

“I certainly won't be voting for Scott,” Young said. “It's counterproductive to the confidence we're trying to build with the public. It reeks of being self-serving – there's no other way you can look at it.”

Councilwoman Donna Frye said she also would not support Peters, but she noted that the terms of the two commission seats in question do not expire until January. Frye said the appointments should be made after new council members are sworn in Dec. 8.

“I don't know why there's such an emergency,” Frye said. “We've had positions on boards and commissions vacant for years.”

Councilman-elect Carl DeMaio said city protocol has been that the council waits until a term expires before nominees are selected and vetted. He agreed that the appointments should made by the new City Council.

“Since when has this city government been on time with its appointments?” DeMaio asked.

As council president, Peters sets the agenda for council meetings, but he said he followed council rules on the appointees. According to the rules, the council has 30 days to submit the names of nominees for vacancies on boards and commissions after it receives notification of the openings from the city clerk.

In this instance, City Clerk Elizabeth Maland sent letters to council members Sept. 22 about the two slots on the Port Commission. Peters asked the council for nominees in a Sept. 30 memo.

“I followed the process for filling vacancies to the letter,” Peters said.

Peters said his environmental law background and his three-year membership on the California Coastal Commission would be valuable on the Port Commission.

“I want to be in public service, and I'd work well with the council and the port,” he said.

Black said she wants to continue serving on the commission, where she successfully pushed for a deal that will allow a private developer to renovate and reuse the historic Old Police Headquarters at Harbor Drive and Kettner Boulevard.

Black also worked well with the port's tenants and showed an understanding of the many real estate issues that the port grapples with, said Sharon Cloward, executive director of the more than 200-member San Diego Port Tenants Association.

“I love public service. It's a passion,” Black said.

McNeely was out of town late last week and unavailable for comment.

Port commissioners receive no salary but have the option of accepting medical, dental, vision and life insurance coverage. They also can accept a $1,000 monthly transportation allowance, $100 monthly phone allowance and can travel to foreign countries on trade missions.

The Port Commission has seven appointed members – three from San Diego and one each selected by the city councils of National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and Coronado.