Year for Arts, Maturity Lies Ahead for City, O'Connor Says

Times Staff Writer

Abandoning her nuts-and-bolts approach to city government for one night, San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor on Monday delivered a State of the City address laced with a populist vision of the city's future and announced plans for major arts projects as part of a 1988 she proclaimed "the year of the arts."

Speaking to a standing-room-only audience in Balboa Park's Old Globe Theatre--a location that made her 60-minute speech the first of its kind to be delivered outside the City Hall complex--O'Connor announced that negotiations are under way to bring top artists, dancers and musicians from the Soviet Union to San Diego for a monthlong arts festival in 1989 or '90.

"This celebration of the arts will rival the music festivals of Edinburgh and Salzburg, the painting exhibits of the New York Metropolitan and the Getty Museum in Malibu, and the dance and folk concerts of the most classical regions of Europe," O'Connor said.

Insists She Has Vision for City

Facing reelection in six months, O'Connor also responded with sharp words to the persistent, "whispered" criticism that she lacks a vision for the city's future.

"Those who are blinded by developers' money say that I have 'no vision,' " O'Connor said somberly. "They see high-rises and freeways where I see parks and open space.

"Those who are blinded by greed and quick profits say that I 'can't count.' They see 'sound business deals' where I see non-competitive bids, poor accounting and sometimes tax shelters.

"And those who are blinded by the old days where a few powerful people controlled the destiny of everyone else say that I am inaccessible. They see their influence being ignored, while I see it being replaced by the neighborhoods."

City on 'Threshold of Adulthood'

Repeatedly interrupted by applause, O'Connor promised a San Diego where "the neighborhoods will forever sit as equal partners," where "never again will the mayor's office be closed to everyone except big contributors" and where "never again will a developer's contribution to a political campaign guarantee him the unchallenged right to bulldoze our hills and canyons."

In marked contrast to her 1987 address, a businesslike speech that outlined her views on the city's five most pressing problems, O'Connor endeavored Monday to mix inspiration with a cluster of new proposals and a review of progress over the past year.

"In 1988, the City of San Diego stands on the threshold of adulthood, with the sun shining in her face," O'Connor said. "She is not in the twilight of her power, with the sun setting on the back of her accomplishments. Great deeds lie ahead. This is our time. It will not come again."

As part of an effort that the mayor described as preserving San Diego's past while it heads into the future, O'Connor said she will introduce an ordinance to protect historic sites from "demolition and misuse" and will ask the council to fund a new position of city architect.

She also called for an amendment to the City Charter preventing the sale of city-owned land without approval of two-thirds of the city's voters, referring to land sold to the City of Escondido for a golf course and the lease of the Mission Beach Plunge to developers to build shops and restaurants as "losses."

"We need to preserve our historical landmarks, not turn them into mini-malls," O'Connor said.

Though the mayor pledged to fight AIDS, more than 500 protesters used her address to press their bid for more city money for AIDS victims and research. Standing in the darkness holding cardboard tombstones bearing numbers representing San Diegans who have died of the disease, they broke into loud chants as the audience left the theater after O'Connor's speech.

"They're not helping us at all," said Patrick Cannon, an organizer of the demonstration. "They're trying to ignore us . . . and hoping we'll all die and go away." Cannon said that the $100,000 given by the city to three AIDS organizations is just a fraction of the sums that other cities are giving AIDS victims.

O'Connor said she will ask the Charter Review Committee that is now being appointed to add an amendment limiting the mayor and City Council members to two terms in office.

Elected in a special 1986 election, O'Connor is serving out the term of former Mayor Roger Hedgecock, who resigned after his conviction on felony conspiracy and perjury charges. O'Connor will run for her first four-year term in June.

O'Connor also called for more money to aid police in their search for serial rapists and "druglords." In an interview prior to the speech, Police Chief Bill Kolender said a countywide task force designed to go after major drug distributors could use more resources from the city, but he said added manpower would not necessarily make a difference in tracking down serial rapists like the one police believe is currently operating in the Mission Hills area.

O'Connor opened her address with a review of the five major problems she listed in 1987--finances, growth, sewers, neglect of city parks, and the decline in esteem of the Police Department--and declared that her goals for progress in each area have, to some degree, been achieved.

With tourism dollars up from $2.4 billion in 1986 to $2.7 billion in 1987--along with $46 million in state and federal grants to repair sewers, fight illegal drugs and help the homeless--the city's finances were in better shape last year than the year before, she said.

Growth, she said, was tackled by the passage of the Interim Development Ordinance, which restricts the number of units that can be built in the city during an 18-month period.

Progress on the sewer problem included repairs to the notorious Pump Station 64 and the formation of a Border Sewage Task Force.

Though two propositions to renovate Mission Bay and Balboa Parks failed, the City Council did approve $25 million to battle erosion of Mission Bay Park's shoreline, prevent sewage spills into the bay and begin landscaping Fiesta Island. O'Connor again promised to pursue state or federal funding to repair crumbling buildings along Balboa Park's historic Prado.

In the months after the Sagon Penn trial, which seriously damaged relations between police and minority communities, the city appointed a Civilian Review Board to handle complaints about police conduct as well as initiate new training for officers to improve community relations, she said. And more officers are walking beats in neighborhoods where drug sales are rampant, the mayor added.

But it was clearly the arts that have captured O'Connor's imagination for the coming year.

In addition to the Soviet arts festival, she announced plans to convert the Navy Hospital library building in Balboa Park into a museum. She reiterated her desire to turn the County Administration Center into a "cultural art and park complex that will rival the Museum d'Orsay in Paris."

"The two large parking lots could easily be turned from asphalt to botanical gardens, from cement to reflecting ponds, from no-parking signs to a forest of small trees," she said. "Inside the renovated building, there might be a municipal art gallery, a small tropical fish aquarium or an intimate performing arts stage. To permit the wrecking ball to touch this historical building would bring shame on us all."

Mayoral spokesman Paul Downey said that the Soviet arts festival idea developed last August in Edinburgh, when O'Connor sat next to two Soviet culture officials at a concert and later discussed the idea of bringing a similar festival to San Diego. The Soviets have conceptually approved the idea, and the city will soon select a delegation to send to the Soviet Union for negotiations, he said.

"It's an astounding thing, coming at a time when the arts (here) are ready to step forward and be counted," Jack O'Brien, artistic director of the Old Globe, said after the speech. "It's also wonderful to feel that what we're doing in our lives has consequences on an international basis . . . It's well-timed."

For the second year in a row, O'Connor also gave out "Seahorse Awards" to San Diegans she considers unsung local heroes. This year's awards went to:

Gordon Luce, chairman of Great American Savings & Loan, for the bank's commitment to improving San Diego; Gompers Secondary School science and math teams, winners of the 1987 National Science Olympiad; Bill and Maxine Wilson, who for seven years have been feeding the homeless; Delza Martin, who has volunteered at the Old Globe for more than 50 years; the U.S. Navy for its help in renovating the vandalized San Ysidro Boys Club; the San Diego Refugee Women's Assn., which helps new arrivals from Southeast Asia; Father John F. Blethen, director of social services at Villa Nueva Housing Project in South San Diego; Mr. and Mrs. Vern Taylor, who along with relatives donated $3.5 million to enable the city to acquire the Farnum Elementary School site in Pacific Beach for conversion into a library and park, and Assistant City Manager John Fowler, who O'Connor said represents "the best in San Diego's civil service."

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