By Angela Lau
October 1, 2004
Delivering his campaign spiel with customary self-assuredness, Scott Peters hardly looks like a politician in the fight of his career.
"I'm confident I will win," the 46-year-old District 1 incumbent said. "My staff and I have put together the best record of accomplishments. Compare it with my predecessors'.
"My motto is: Get results."
The La Jolla lawyer faces a runoff against Phil Thalheimer, a Rancho Peñasquitos businessman, in November. It is the first runoff involving a council incumbent in 15 years.
Community leaders and city staff members who have worked with Peters have commended him for reviving projects that have been in limbo for years, such as the section of state Route 56 linking Interstates 15 and 5 that opened this year.
"Scott is not only hard-working, he's not afraid to make tough decisions," said Harry Mathis, who served two terms in District 1 before Peters. "He's an intelligent guy. He's got his head screwed on right. He deserves a second term."
Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Baykeeper, which gave Peters an A-plus rating for his voting record on water-quality-related issues in 2003, said Peters took leadership roles in supporting storm-water and sewer improvements to reduce beach pollution.
Peters also helped pass a coastal growth management program that is "pretty environmentally protective," Reznik said. "He took a lot of heat from development interests."
Peters said his goals for a second term include construction of a connector between state Route 56 and Interstate 5 in Carmel Valley and the creation of a bicycle trail linking University City to Mission Bay.
He said he has grown weary of Thalheimer's campaign rhetoric.
Thalheimer has alleged that contributions Peters accepted from developers may have influenced votes on major developments, but the allegations were not backed up by San Diego Union-Tribune record searches. In fact, many of the projects in question were approved before Peters' tenure on the council.
"This whole whisper campaign . . . that's all they've got," Peters said.
Campaign finance disclosure statements show that Peters relied on fellow lawyers and an assortment of other donors to retire his campaign debt when he first took office in 2000. In 2001, his campaign account included contributions from developers, and real estate and building industry professionals.
In the latest reporting period, Feb. 15 to June 30 this year, he received $8,250 in campaign contributions from residential and commercial developers, such as home and hotel builder Pacifica Cos. and commercial developer OliverMcMillan.
Contributions from developers constituted 6.7 percent of the total $122,234 raised. He also accepted $9,200 from builders and construction businesses and $10,100 from real estate-related businesses. He has lent $67,000 to his primary and runoff campaigns and has raised a total of $373,500 so far.
Peters noted that Thalheimer, who has said he will not accept developer contributions, has put $700,000 of his own money into his campaign so far.
"If the only clean candidate is one who is self-funded, then only rich people can run," Peters said.
Peters, a Democrat, is endorsed in the nonpartisan race by San Diego firefighters and police associations, the Sierra Club, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif.; state Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego; Democratic Assembly members Christine Kehoe and Juan Vargas; and Mayor Dick Murphy.
In his first term, Peters tackled a broad spectrum of issues that ranged from improving the environment to advocating the creation of a park master plan.
As chairman of the city's Clean Water Task Force, Peters helped the city's storm-water pollution program reduce sewer spills by nearly 60 percent, said Karen Henry, the program's deputy director.
Peters also helped with the design and funding of the controversial reconfiguration of the La Jolla Parkway bottleneck at Torrey Pines Road and fielded phone calls from constituents angry over the disruptions caused by construction, city staffers said.
He pushed for the opening of the Camino del Sur interchange on state Route 56 three years ahead of schedule and the completion two years early of Vista Sorrento Parkway, which parallels Interstate 5.
City staffers and some community leaders who worked with him said Peters is a problem-solver in tune with his district's needs and has hustled to find funding for district projects despite tight budgets.
They also said Peters was instrumental in making possible the widening of the North Torrey Pines Road bridge by addressing concerns raised by community and environmental groups and the California Coastal Commission.
Peters said he is undecided on whether to support the Regents Road bridge over Rose Canyon, an issue that has polarized the University City community. Peters said he wants to study an environmental impact report scheduled to be released this month, and will make a decision before Election Day.
Thalheimer scoffs at Peters' record.
"If Scott Peters has been doing his job, we wouldn't be here," Thalheimer said of the runoff at a recent debate in University City.
He said Peters is part of the problem at City Hall and noted that Peters voted with the majority of the City Council in 2002 to continue underfunding the pension system, which has a $1.17 billion deficit.
To replenish the system then would have taken $500 million from the city's general fund and would have led to massive layoffs, Peters said.
He said he supports strengthening the city's financial disclosures and recommendations made by the Pension Reform Committee to shore up the fund.
Kathryn Burton, who ran against Peters in the primary and now supports Thalheimer, and Ken Moser, a former Thalheimer campaign consultant, filed complaints against Peters last week with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, the San Diego Ethics Commission and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Thalheimer supporter.
Moser owns Marketing Support Systems, which received $32,290 from Thalheimer's campaign in the first half of this year for phone banks and office expenses.
The complaints allege that Peters used city mass mailing at a cost of $23.65 to send letters in April this year to his supporters on town councils and community planning boards to inform them that free tickets to the Padres' inaugural games at Petco Park were available on a first-come, first-served basis.
However, Peters said the mailing was not limited to supporters, noting that a Thalheimer supporter was among those who received tickets.
Peters said City Council members are given tickets to sporting events, but he gives the city-supplied tickets to volunteers in the community to thank them for their service. He said he also has given tickets to students and coaches.
The complaints also allege that Peters neglected to report a 2001 dinner with former San Diego Data Processing Corp. executive director Roger Talamantez, who resigned in January after a city audit revealed that he and his staff spent large sums of taxpayers' money on meals and drinks. Thalheimer was an employee and, later, a board member of the Data Processing Corp.
Peters said he asked Talamantez within a day or two of the dinner how much his meal was worth, and Talamantez told him it was less than $50, which was under the city's gift disclosure limits. Peters said that when he saw the $808 bill in May of this year, he sent a $200 check to the agency to pay for his share.
Peters said the complaints were "manufactured to create issues in an election."
"My opponent never repaid any of the dozens of dinners he attended on the (agency) . . . when he was an employee. He didn't do anything to stop them when he was on the board," Peters said. "Rather than fire Talamantez, he raised his salary to nearly $200,000."
Peters, or "Scoot," as his staff calls him because of his high energy, sometimes sustained by caffeine, is the oldest of four children born to a Lutheran minister and a mother who is a homemaker.
Peters said he was taught to be compassionate toward others. Reggie Borkum, a lawyer who organized a recent fund-raiser, said Peters was kind to him when Borkum was a waiter.
"It didn't matter who I was; he treated me with respect," Borkum said.
Peters attended Duke University and later went to law school at New York University. He worked as an economist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and for law firms in Minneapolis and San Diego before joining the County Counsel's Office as an environmental attorney. Peters later opened a private practice with a partner.
A devoted father, Peters cannot go long without talking about his 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
He said that without the support of his wife, Lynn, he could not have served the way he did.
Reflecting on the recent death of 37-year-old Councilman Charles Lewis, Peters said he tries to keep things in perspective.
"You can never let any job eat away at you," he said.