Transcript of Interviews With City Manager
Editor’s note: Last Sunday, The Times published an article based on two on-the-record interviews with San Diego City Manager Sylvester Murray in which Murray, nine months into his job, gave his perspective on San Diego.
Several of his printed comments--especially about the attitudes of blacks in San Diego, his authority over the Police Department, and his relationship vis-a-vis the City Council--caused an uproar. Murray, severely criticized on several fronts, publicly apologized for the remarks. But by week’s end the controversy persisted, and there was talk of his job hanging in the balance.
The interviews with Murray were taped by the reporter, and several council members asked The Times to furnish them the tapes.
It was a request the newspaper could not fill. The principle of not handing over notes (be they written or recorded) is one that The Times defends continually and at great cost. To do otherwise would be to allow the newspaper to be seen as allied with one faction or another and would, in the long run, affect credibility.
On the other hand, Murray did not seek a pledge of confidentiality of his remarks and does not object to the release of the material. And there is, obviously, intense community interest in this matter.
In an attempt to shed light on the public debate without forsaking principle, The Times today is printing the full transcript of the two interviews.
Both interviews, informal in tone, took place over breakfast. The first one, on May 23, involved Murray and almost two dozen Times reporters and editors. The second interview was on May 29 with reporter Ralph Frammolino and City Editor Richard Kipling. In some cases, words or phrases were unintelligible because of background noise and those instances are marked in the transcript. Minor grammatical changes were made for clarity.
Both sessions were taped with Murray’s knowledge, on the understanding that any material to be off the record would be mutually agreed upon. Nothing that follows was so designated.
Q: Did you know much about San Diego from talking to other city managers before you came here?
A: (Talking about meetings of city manager groups) San Diego was rarely a part of those national meetings except for the time that Pete Wilson was chairman, I think, of the California League of Cities. I think that was at the time he was about to run for the United States Senate, and therefore had heard of Pete Wilson. But San Diego as a city was not a part of the discussions with Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chicago, San Antonio or . . .
Q: So when you came to San Diego, it was kind of a clean slate for you, there was no sense of the place at all?
A: That’s true.
Q: Do you ever go out to breakfast in your local neighborhood?
A: Yes. I’ve been . . .
Q: Where do you go? The Hob Nob?
A: I’m just a block from it.
Q: Oh God, that’s dangerous. Very dangerous.
A: I’m at the Brittany Towers so I can just walk there.
Q: What is it, three blocks?
A: One block east and two blocks . . .
Q: What was your impression of San Diego going in?
A: It was not negative. It was, because we did not have that kind of impression. We had simply an impression of a town that had a lot of Navy presence and conservative Southern California. And when I say conservative, I don’t even know why I say that, because . . . said it, I guess, only in the position that it did not appear to have the kind of, number of blacks that we had in Oakland that we knew about, or in Los Angeles that we knew about. Nor did I know that there were a lot of blacks in San Francisco, it just did not appear that San Francisco was considered conservative because of the number of homosexuals that you read about. We didn’t read about that in San Diego.
Q: What did you find as far as the machinery or the health of city government when you got here? Did you inherit something that was fine-tuned or did you inherit something that maybe its reputation was a little larger, that reality? . . . What is your sense of the government itself? Is it in good working order? Could it be better? And where would you improve it?
A: My sense of the government, I ascertained based on the governmental officials and the professional staff that I found when I came here. I consider it very good, and I have others to compare with. The senior administrators that the city has I’ve found to be people who are competent and diligent. I don’t think that you could find a more responsive and knowledgeable person than a (Deputy City Manager) John Fowler or (Assistant City Manager) John Lockwood, for example. I don’t think that you can find a more analytical person than (Deputy City Manager) Coleman Conrad. Said analytical as opposed to responsive because Coleman, of the three, Coleman would be the kind who would stand up to you and argue up to you aloud, say “You should not do that” or “We do not recommend that,” or whatever.
The department heads, that which I found a difference--and I’m not putting a good or bad value judgment on it yet--is that the city has obviously accepted general managers. So that the water and sewer director has a degree in public administration, and before water and sewer he was the director of recreation. It’s the kind of--and that’s the same for the parks and recreation director--and the same for the general services director, the airport director. That was basically the only difference. In other large cities, you usually find that the water and sewer director is definitely an engineer who’s been always water and sewer, and parks and recreation director has a long history of being the recreation director in other cities and has a degree from Indiana University. So those specialties, being the general administrator, I did not find here as I did in other cities.
The idea here was: “A general manager is a general manager.” Same mentality that you have in Washington, D.C., and you can’t argue that. You can go from being secretary of health education and welfare to secretary of defense, and the whole idea is we simply need a good administrator. So that was unique to our city. I found that we do certain things so routinely and so well, until they don’t even become an issue. Paving streets is not an issue here, resurfacing streets. We may get calls about potholes, but there’s no question that you’re going to spend $5 million, $6 million resurfacing the streets. It just happens every year, coming and going. Infrastructure. Very good.
Found that this city was taking a position that they were going to buy traffic lights from SDG&E.; That’s a position that . . .
Q: Traffic lights or . . . ?
A: Street lights. Street lights. And we’re buying them, literally the tens of thousands of them, that we will own and we will maintain. That is going to be considerably expensive. The analysis was done years ago to say that as expensive as it is, it is probably cheaper for the city. What it did to me was indicate that this is a city government that allows the bureaucracy to expand and grow, and it is not bad. Every other government I’ve been in, business is supposed to grow or you’re not good business. But government is never supposed to add people. Government grows like business grows, something is wrong with government. But here the attitude is, if it’s a growing city, then government is supposed to grow, too. Very different.
But since you mentioned it, I found then some things that I didn’t like. One example, traffic signals. We’re a growing city. A lot of new streets are being paved. A lot of subdivisions being built which cause intersections to become crowded so you put up a traffic signal. The time to put up a traffic signal in our city is more than 12 months, maybe 18 months, from the day that you say that you decide to do it to the day that a person has to stop at the red light, it’s 18 months. It’s not an issue of money. It’s timing, based on design, based on neighborhood input, it’s based on some things that I don’t understand. For example, I personally have not accepted within my mind that it ought to take us 18 to 24 months to put up a traffic signal, something that is not unique like a fire truck where they sit over there and literally draw their own truck. So I have complimented the city, in one instance, for routine things, normally done. I have yet to receive a garbage complaint in my office.
Q: Compared to what in Cincinnati?
A: Geez, you get a garbage, every week. You know, every week you get 10. Here, we pick up tons of garbage routinely, that’s infrastructure, and dispose of it, I guess, routinely and in the (Unintelligible) million dollars a year. We resurface streets, routinely. We replace broken sewer mains, water mains, routinely. But on the other side, we have a two-year wait for a traffic signal. And last night I found a one-year wait to put up a wastepaper receptacle on the street. It came out of the budget discussion last night. That’s a long answer to your question “What did I find when I came here?” I found a very competent senior staff. I don’t know the lower staff that well. I found a city that works, works in some parts routinely, very well, no questions asked. And on the other side, I found a city that appears to have some problems in its administration.
Q: What does that tell you, though, about the soul of the city, or the soul of the city government? You got them replacing water mains fairly well, but they can’t put up a garbage can. Is there something to be said just over all about that?
A: I wouldn’t put a judgment over all. I would probably simply say that we have placed priorities in those areas of high cost, because we have been dealing with high cost, we’ve been dealing with a lot of money here. Our budget has been increasing each year considerably after ’78. I don’t think it’s anything that somebody sat down and designed and said that, “We’re going to do well here and not do well there.” It’s where (Unintelligible).
Q: You talked about that we are good at paving streets and all. Do you have any sense that we’re good at deciding where we ought to pave those streets? I notice that whenever there are street problems in Mission Hills, they’re out there right away. But I know . . . in Encanto or Southeast for example, there are streets there that have the same kind of potholes I have on my street but they don’t look like they are being paved. I wonder who makes the decision about which streets get paved when. Like La Jolla versus Southeast.
A: We have a system for rating our streets, literally. We have on computer every street that we have. We supposedly know what condition that it is in. One of the issues that will probably not be written anyplace, but I know we adhere to it here because we adhere in every other political entity that I’ve worked in, and that is when you have a large geographical area, you don’t concentrate in one area (unintelligible). Because you have elected officials from all areas, you try to do a little bit everywhere.
Bureaucracies know that their objective is to service the public, but our immediate objective is to make our elected officials happy. That’s city people, that’s city councils, that’s federal bureaucracy with congressmen. We just do that. We respond to the elected officials because those are our bosses and they are the ones who determine, quote, if you’re going to get a pay raise or if you’re going to get public criticism that really counts. Let me say that again. I mean by really counts, their criticism can be very biting and it supposedly holds water because the average public will assume really that the councilman really knows what’s happening.
So we would pave some streets in Mission Hills, some streets in Southeast and some streets in Mira Mesa. Mission Hills is much smaller that Southeast. So if we pave five streets in Mission Hills, five streets in Southeast, you’d probably notice it much more in Mission Hills than in Southeast. I’m not saying that’s right. I’m not saying that someone sat down and put that on paper and said, “That’s the way you do it.” But I’m almost certain that’s what happens.
We got a complaint last night at the budget hearing from Councilman Jones about surfacing streets and it was almost the same as you gave. It wasn’t comparing Mission Hills to Southeast. He said, “You would pave 35th Street in Southeast. You would skip 36th, skip 37th and then you would do 38th. Or then you would do a piece of Imperial . . .” He called it mishmash. That you were not uniform. And his question was, “I would think that all the streets would be put in at the same time, so the wear and tear would basically be the same, outside of business streets. So why are you doing it that way?” In response to his question, we’re going to try to find out what is happening, and some answers. So that may lead to your issue, too.
Long answer, but I’m going to mention a thing that I think you wanted me to mention. Bureaucrats also recognize who pays taxes and who doesn’t, just like elected officials. And we know that--good, bad or indifferent--the chances are complaints from Mission Hills are going to get a higher profile and priority than complaints from East San Diego. It should not be the case, but it probably happens.
Q: Maybe they complain more frequently, too.
A: They do more sophisticatedly. Maybe they know how to do it. More articulate. I’ve gotten complaint letters from wealthy areas of the city where the letter very plainly tells you what is happening. They have drawn a diagram to show where that pothole is. I’m serious.
A: Yes. And have then asked at the end of the letter to respond. Keep dates. So when they send you the second letter, they can tell you when they wrote the first letter, who they talked to. It’s much more sophistication than (Unintelligible).
Q: You mentioned the conservatism. William Jones remarked that when the name change for Martin Luther King was being discussed he got a lot of calls that he said were racist calls and I asked him when was the last time you had this kind of public feeling and he said it was when you were appointed city manager. Have you come across any feelings of racism here, like we don’t want you?
A: No, I have got no direct, I got no direct comments or positions that I would say were racist, in that sense. Have not been refused a request to see somebody. I have not been met on the street and told that “I don’t like you” or “We don’t want you.” It has just never come to my face. When you say indirect, I have never been refused the right to look at a house. (Unintelligible) about buying an apartment. I suspect that there are people out there who are racist and who probably don’t necessarily like the fact that I’m the city manager. But nobody has said it to me. As opposed to when I went to Cincinnati, when one lady said to me, “Generally, I don’t like blacks. And I wouldn’t have selected you for the city manager. But you are the city manager and since the City Council appoints you, and these are problems, we’re going to have to work these out,” you know what I mean? She was complementing me, she thought. “And I think you’re doing a good job. I wouldn’t have selected you. But I think you’re doing a good job.”
Q: You also mentioned in our last conversation that conservatism has not been a roadblock to your agenda. What is your agenda? And how do you get around the conservatism, if it is so pervasive?
A: Let’s define conservatism, to begin with. Conservatism to a normal Southern black, would have meant race. We don’t like black folks. Conservatism to a normal, middle-class white probably deals with money. Taxation and government, “We don’t want government.” So their position would not be just, “We don’t like blacks,” but “We don’t like government, period.”
What I find in San Diego is a different definition of conservatism to different people. I think we’re conservative against the government itself, but I see that more for federal government than local government. The people here who you would consider conservatives are the people who are saying, “Yes, we ought to have a landscape ordinance.” And “Yes, you ought to have a one-stop permit counter, we’ll help you put that together.” Knowing that it’s going to add to the bureaucracy, it’s going to add to cost. It’s just confusing.
But at the same time, when you come to a point of saying “We have to, we have to have a better affirmative action program in building a convention center,” there’s not a big push to say, “OK, make some specific goals and make some demands on people to do it.” The idea is if “We can get it in passing as we get the low bid, OK.” But that’s not a priority.
Q: In fact, it was an afterthought on the convention center?
Q: Social goals are not very high.
A: I am told, I am told we don’t have a goal that says, I don’t think we have hardly any public housing, for example, so we recognize that there are really poor people, who don’t need subsidized housing but government housing where the rents are actually very, very low, subsidized. We don’t push that here.
Q: It’s an invisible constituency here, for some reason. In other cities, there is a public housing constituency. There are thousands of people who live in them, who make demands, who you can see. Maybe that’s on purpose. We don’t want to create that constituency here. It would upset the political balance. So how do you do it? You have a housing commission that does it a different way.
A: And saying that every subsidized housing unit, you only have 20% poor people, and approve none that’s all poor.
Q: So you never get that concentration of poverty or power from poverty. I don’t think it was on purpose.
A: I don’t think we had a group of five people sitting around saying this is how we’re going to do it.
Q: There have been scores of articles written over the years about the San Diego Establishment, who in the past gave their OK to the appointments like the city manager and council appointments. Do you have any sense of them? Have you been invited by them to private conferences, have you been accepted?
A: My answer is no and no. I don’t have a sense of such a group existing. And I haven’t been invited.
Q: You met (First National Bank of San Diego chairman) Malin Burnham and (Great American Savings chairman) Gordon Luce?
A: Yes, not in any private conversation, “Come to my house, come to my office and we’ll sit down and talk about the city.” I know Gordon Luce primarily through his work at the Museum of Art. He invited me over there to show me what they were doing and talk about it. Of course, asking for support for the museum. But nothing businesswise.
Q: Are you getting any sense that if there is not a clique of five or 10 people, there are movers and shakers that you would go to as the head of the government and say, “Look, we need some help here. What can you do for us.”
A: No? But what I think I’ve ascertained over the last six months is that the University of San Diego can do it, and maybe its because its president has been here for, what, 6, 10 years?
Q: Can do what?
A: Can go to a list of people and say, “This is what we need to do for the university” and “This is how much money we need.” I have that feeling that the chancellor of the University of California at San Diego also has such a list, but I’ve got the feeling that the University of San Diego’s list is what you might consider the movers and shakers of the City of San Diego versus the chancellor of (UC) San Diego’s list is just very rich people that he knows.
Q: But those are pure philanthropy with not a whole lot of strings attached. The kinds of harder things--help us with the Convention Center, or help us build some housing--those are messier things. And you don’t find any reservoir of people . . . Again, that goes back to that social agenda and the basic conservatism.
A: My agenda is downtown, No. 1. And I want to enlarge the connotation from central city to downtown. Central city is a set number of blocks, for example, that does not even go to I-5 freeway. To me, everything south of I-5 freeway is downtown. So I have an agenda for downtown, making it viable, productive, to include housing but include simply general, I think our downtown should be our meeting area. Let me say that another way. The city is so large, so many communities, until you can live in our city, live in one of our communities, and live there all of your life and not be a part of any other community. And I don’t expect, even in the long run, that the people in Clairemont will go to Southeast to shop or go to the movies. I don’t expect even in the long run that the people in La Jolla will necessarily go out to Tierrasanta to shop and go to the movies. So they will not meet. Have their own separate identities. I would look for downtown to be the melting pot for everybody, in every community, can say “This is me, too.” So when they think of San Diego, they think of two places, both La Jolla and downtown. Or Scripps Ranch and downtown. I look at downtown as being a meeting place, a melting pot, provide an identity for our city that all our citizens can be a part of. That’s an agenda.
Our second agenda is police safety. And that is geared more to perception and philosophy than to having 6,000 cops on the street. So we should always have a police force that, generally, is assumed to be educated and sensitive and service oriented, as opposed to just the bad boys with guns and night sticks. You do that, in large part, through its leadership. So my agenda will always be making certain that you have somebody in charge like a Kolender, who I’m very pleased with who gives an impression to the community of community input, that “I’m part of the community, that I’m sensitive,” that understands. That always stands (unintelligible) agenda.
On my agenda long-term is--I don’t want to use the term “open space,” it’s much more, too used--a sense of greenery that will last. For example, as we go through buying open space lands and canyon lands, what I would really want to have happen is that there is some order to that. That I can show you a map and show you that we are buying canyon lands that would, in essence, make it possible to walk this entire city through publicly open canyon lands from one side to the other. And the second part of that greenery is, I think, that we need to keep our identity physically, by having a greenbelt around the city limits. I don’t see us gaining through annexation additional lands. So I would like there to be a difference between Del Mar, Solana Beach and San Diego. That’s open space green. You know you’re leaving one city for another, as opposed to just going across the street. We might have lost that already in some of our East County area. We don’t need it south of the border. But I think we ought to have it north. That which separates us from Los Angeles now is (Camp) Pendleton. But there should also be something that separates, once you get south of Pendleton, Carlsbad and some of the other communities from San Diego. And I think you should spend the money, buy the open space and greenery, and leave it.
Q: You mentioned Kolender. You said you were surprised at the of lack of reaction to the Penn trial. Has that prompted you at all to have a talk with the chief? A lot of things have come out about the Police Department that are less than flattering. Have you sat down with him and said “Hey, you’ve got to make some changes here. I don’t like what I’m hearing.” Have you done anything on that order?
Q: Do you anticipate doing anything like that?
A: I’m going to respond yes, but I hesitate only because the next question will be, “Which day will you sit down?”
Q: And can we be there? (Laughter)
A: I don’t anticipate there being a, “OK, Kolender, come to the office now and bring your notebook and we’re going to go through and tell you what you’ve got to change and what date you have to change it by.” That community involvement with police, I think, is an on-going process. I intend to place emphasis on the recommendations of the new police advisory committee, that we appointed sometime earlier this year. I have assigned a personal assistant to be staff there, George Penn, as opposed to a police person, to make certain that they can come up with free and objective recommendations. And I’m going to be bureaucratic and have that advisory citizens committee out front, to make recommendations on the reforms so that I feel comfortable that they’re going to be good recommendations, the same kind of things that I would have done, even though I’m not leading them. And I can then be the semi-politician and simply buck any kind of position that could be out there. When we’re talking about racism, for example, “Here comes Murray from Cincinnati, black guy, who’s going to change all of our Police Department that we’ve loved for the last 25 years.” Instead, “The citizens of San Diego through this advisory committee have made certain recommendations and Murray the good city manager is going to assure that these citizens’ times are not wasted.” That’s the attitude I’m going to take. And I think I’ll get the same results.
Q: What does the city manager say to himself when he wakes up every morning? You say you are going to be powerful, you are going to take it to the limit of the law and not one iota over.
A: When I said powerful, I can sit back when I wake up in the morning, there are 7,500 employees out there. What is their work program? Or when I wake up in the morning, I’m going to say things like, I’m going to make sure that five years from now, when we get to two police officers per thousand, that there’s going to be a police cruiser that will come across this intersection at least every hour during the day. That’s the kind of things that I think of. And I can make happen. Or I’ll say, when I wake up, I’m going to have to find a way to dispose of this sludge from Fiesta Island. And where do we put it? How do I find out where do we put it? How do we go about doing it? I can wake up in the morning and say, five years from now when our city is built up in all of these areas, what should be the level of parks in those areas? When I said powerful, I mean that I can influence and intend to influence the conduct of the bureaucracy. That doesn’t mean I’ve got to be out there publicly, or vying for public attention. Just the conduct of the bureaucracy.
Q: Are you finding that you are becoming a galvanizing force for any constituency in town? You talked about how minority communities are approaching you and are saying they would like to have more top level managers from their ethnic groups. Are you finding there is a constituency growing that you could lead?
A: No. And I’m not trying to build it up as such. My position automatically brings people. It is not the individual. It is the position. And as an individual, I can be responsive. So I do get Asians who come and say that “we need to be represented.” Get blacks, get Hispanics. But at the same time, I get business people also who come and say we need to be concerned about this and that. I get the community council of Clairemont, University City, rather--not Clairemont, I haven’t been there--University City saying these are the things that concern us.
For most people their quality of life probably is impacted more by what the civil servant does on a daily basis than what we can project for 10 years out. Most people live in the present. So a street light at the right location, a sidewalk that has been repaired, an alley that is paved, dogs picked up, drug addicts arrested, all have a higher impact on the quality of life on a daily basis than does, “Where should the expressway be 10 years from now?” And those are the kinds of positions we relate to.
I know I was late. I’ll give you five minutes. I have to be at the library at 8:30.
Q: What is your sense of the Planning Department here, how it has done its job, what its priorities ought to be?
A: There is so much development going on in our city now, until the Planning Department has to be in a reactive mode for a larger percentage of its time than you can be long-range. Because things are happening, decisions are being demanded today. For most of our elected officials, not all of them, most of our elected officials, I’m willing to bet, that growth and development have more a political meaning to them right now than sweeping streets. Therefore, the Planning Department, I think, is doing a good job trying to react to all of those forces. If it can simply keep its head above water and make certain that there is some sense of structure to what is happening out there. There’s a general plan that we’re basically following. There is a community plan that we know exists. Just keeping those plans up to date and making certain that when decisions are made, people refer to those plans, even if they don’t follow them, they have to refer to them, is good work on the part of the Planning Department. And when we don’t follow them, and we know that it’s a political decision that the City Council has made. So I give them good marks.
Q: Do you see any time in the near future, given this incredible growth rate, that the Planning Department could be more proactive, than reactive?
A: Under our system, that would be very difficult. Our nine elected officials all feel that they’re experts in city planning. And I’m not being facetious, because the definition of city planning has to be, “Is it livable? Is it quality? Is it something that I like? That is happening. Does it have a rhyme or reason?” So any intelligent person who lives in the city, who really cares about the city, or who intends to live here, probably feels that he can answer those questions. And certainly, elected officials, like City Council members, who had to run for office, who had to talk to citizens and shake hands, feel they know more about what is desirable and needed than does the average person, so they all consider themselves city planners. And I’m not saying that’s negative. But what I’m saying is if they all consider themselves city planners in a sense, then it’s going to be impossible for Planning Deparment to put itself above it.
Q: So are you saying that only the City Council members can be the proactive force, that planning--given the way it’s structured here--is always going to be reactive?
A: As it stands now. You could, however, get a planning director who is very forceful, who is very public, who has a constituency, and he or she can be proactive and probably bring the department along.
Q: We don’t have that now?
A: I don’t think that we have that now.
Q: And you appoint the planning director?
A: No, I do not.
Q: It’s from the council?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Or we could have a city manager who takes a part of that vision and who says, “I want a greenbelt and some sort of organization so you can walk the canyons from end to end.” That’s a planning vision.
A: Yeah. I don’t call it planning, because I’m not responsible for planning. I just say that as a city manager this is a vision I have for the city and this is what I’m trying to get done. If I called it planning, then I would be encased in a lot of rules and regulations that you have to follow. But as it stands now, I have a lot of input in purchasing open space. It’s my people who go out and negotiate the purchase of open space. It’s my people who go to council and say, “Let’s buy this land.”
Q: Let me ask you one unrelated question. What in your personal vision made you want to get into this kind of business, to be a city manager with all of the attendant problems and the multiconstituencies that you have to serve, and all the rest? Where did that come from?
A: When I was growing up and . . . (end of tape) . . . and those blacks who succeeded when I was growing up in the ‘60s, ‘50s, appeared to be the politicians, people who were in government. So I wanted to be in government, probably as a mayor, as a congressman. When I found out that there was something called a city manager who would have the powers of a mayor but not have to run for office and I decided that’s what I wanted. And especially when I was told that you could be. When I was growing up in the ghetto, we used to run when we saw the police coming. And I was told that a city manager could be boss of the police, I knew that’s what I wanted. (Laughter) I get an orgasm just being a boss of police. (Laughter)
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: Liberty City, Fla., Miami, Fla., but I can say Liberty City now because of the riots that you’ve had recently. Miami area.
Q: How long did you spend there?
A: Eighteen years old and left to go to college.
Q: So you have a sense of what Sun Belt cities are all about and how the sun affects the 9-to-5 mentalities.
A: Uh-huh. Do not have any regrets about selecting city mangement. I think it has worked very well for me. I’ve had some impact. I can give you some personal stories about things, I’ll give you a quick one.
I first was city manager in Inkster, Mich., and a lady came into City Hall, an old black lady with her head down. And she was on her way out, and I stopped in the hallway and said, “Ma’am, can I help you?” She looked up and saw me--at that time I was young--and she said, “Son, no.” (Unintelligible) I said, “Well, ma’am. Try me, maybe I can help you.” She said, “No, I know you can’t help me.” And then, I said, “Well, you look very tired. Why don’t you come into my office and sit down for a little minute.” She said, “Oh, OK, that’s so nice of you.”
She went into the office. It was the city manager’s office, the best office in City Hall. She looked at the office, she looked around and she looked up at me and she said, “Who is you?” And I said, “I’m the city manager.” She said, “You are!” And she immediately brightened up. This black lady, she immediately brightened up. And I said, “What was your problem?”
Long story, she took to tell it, but the bottom line was there was a city tree in front of her house that she had been living in for 30 years. And she had developed some kind of allergy and every spring, when that tree blossomed, it just made her go into convulsions. She just got real sick. Every spring she would come down, ask the city to remove the tree because the doctor said she had to move away from that tree. Remove the tree. The city rule was, you don’t cut down a live tree.
I was able to pick up the telephone. Call the (Unintelligible) and said, “Cut down the tree. Plant a new one. And I’ll send you a note for your files.” You can’t have that kind of power, other than the city manager. Nobody else could have done that. And I like that. I helped that woman. She wanted to die in that house, but she really didn’t want to die from an allergy, you know, with that tree. And she didn’t want to move. She had been living there for 30 years. Those are the kinds of rewards that you can get as a city manager.
Q: You have any kind of story yet about San Diego?
A: Not yet. Not of the same magnitude. But I’m certain that I will because . . .
Q: Will you call us if you do? (Laughter)
A: People are really being very responsive. (Unintelligible) I’m certain there’s some racist there, but no one has come to me yet and shown it. When I have called, people have been responsive. I haven’t called too many people because I’m still learning all the ropes at City Hall. I don’t know what bent you’re going to take on this story, but I do not want it to be competitive with the mayoral elections, since it is coming out at the same time.
Q: We have a very, very real sense of responsibility about the mayoral elections. For instance, this weekend we are not running a single political piece. Not two days before the election. We don’t want to have undue influence over our readers.
A: You don’t? What do you think newspapers are for? I wish I owned one. (Laughter)