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Port of San Diego fires lobbyist who boasted of "spoon feeding" commissioner

July 12, 2010 |  5:30 pm

A lobbyist who boasted in emails about “spoon feeding” a California Coastal Commissioner while attempting to secure his vote on a controversial project has been fired by the Port of San Diego.

In a letter to Coastal Commission members Friday, Robert “Dukie” Valderrama, chair of the Board of Port Commissioners, wrote he was “appalled” by what the port’s hired lobbyist, Susan McCabe, said in her emails. He said she was no longer under contract and was being replaced.

“In her zeal to be a winning advocate, she acted in poor taste, something that the Port of San Diego does not condone,” Valderrama wrote. “For that, we are deeply sorry.”

The apology came after The Times reported on emails between McCabe and port officials detailing efforts to convince Commissioner Patrick Kruer to vote in favor of the multimillion-dollar project to revamp the downtown San Diego waterfront, a proposal ultimately defeated by the divided panel.

The e-mails describe McCabe drafting talking points for Kruer, discussing "spoon feeding" him information and asking port officials to contact officials in Sacramento to get them to sway Kruer. At one point, McCabe wrote Kruer "will recommend a yes vote.” In one email, McCabe referred to the commissioners who voted against the project as  "the toxic five."

The correspondence was obtained by a group of activists fighting the redevelopment of the waterfront in downtown San Diego. Coastal Commission staff recommended rejecting the project because the port had eliminated a public park called for in earlier plans.

Kruer was a vocal proponent of the first phase of the $228-million redevelopment of the waterfront in downtown San Diego, but he abstained from voting on it in April after Coastal Commission staff questioned him about his brother's financial involvement in the project. Kruer's brother Jonathan runs a construction management firm working on the planned revamp of the waterfront.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating Kruer for a potential conflict of interest after receiving a complaint.

Kruer told The Times he was offended by the tone of the emails and that he never told anyone he would recommend a “yes” vote. None of the messages suggest Kruer violated any rules.

With Kruer recusing himself, the panel in April rejected the project on a 5-5 vote.

McCabe is one of the principal lobbyists for developers, landowners and local governments before the Coastal Commission. McCabe & Company’s website lists more than 250 past coastal clients, including developers, oil companies, wealthy beachfront homeowners such as David Geffen and Kevin Costner and the cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Newport Beach and San Diego.

Port of San Diego officials said they are searching for someone to take the place of McCabe, who was paid $595 an hour.

“You can be sure that her replacement will work with you,” Valderrama wrote to commissioners, “with the respect and the decorum that all of you deserve.”

--Tony Barboza