San Diego Business Journal

In a group recently sworn in to help lead the city of San Diego for the next four years, there is an environmental attorney, a business improvement advocate, a business attorney and a one-time businessman.

And then there's the judge.

Newly elected Mayor Dick Murphy's role as a judge was at the forefront during his campaign, but the fact that he worked for Bank of America in the early 1970s was not.

Murphy was a marketing officer for the bank, a position also held by Downtown San Diego Partnership President Fred Baronowski.

Baronowski, who recently left the banking industry to lead the Downtown business advocacy group, said he's comfortable having someone with Murphy's business insight leading the city.

"I'm certain that Mayor Murphy will call upon his former banking background in dealing with city issues," Baronowski said.

Murphy and four new City Council members were officially sworn into office Dec. 4.

Baronowski said governmental bodies are typically described as being business-friendly or non-business-friendly. This group, he said, falls within the business-friendly category because of their backgrounds.

Scott Peters, who won the 1st District seat, is an environmental attorney. Toni Atkins, who represents the 3rd District, worked for her predecessor, Christine Kehoe and focused on the business improvement districts in that area.

Brian Maienschein of the 5th District, is a business attorney, while Jim Madaffer from the 7th District was chief of staff for outgoing councilwoman Judy McCarty.

"I think it's important the business acumen these council people have obtained over the years is utilized to the fullest extent while they sit on the council," Baronowski said.

A Boon To The City

Baronowski is not alone in his belief that a council's strong business sense is beneficial for the advancement of the city's economy.

"At the end of the day, they are the underpinning of our region's prosperity and our future," said Julie Meier Wright, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

"So a prosperous economy, which is driven by the private sector, is very fundamental to the financial resources government needs to provide to its citizens."

The EDC is charged with attracting businesses to expand in San Diego and enhancing those already here. Wright said Murphy has already highlighted many of the issues of importance to them as being top priorities. The main ones, she said, are traffic and the diversity of housing.

"Mayor Murphy has an appreciation for what the EDC does," Wright said.

Kathy Ward, president and CEO of the San Diego World Trade Center, agreed that the relationship between businesses and local government is essential to the region's economic future.

"We've invited the new members for a briefing on international trade and an overview of product exports and the number of jobs forecast for the future," Ward said. "We want to make sure the mayor and council have an awareness of the economic impact (of the region), because San Diego's portion of the global economy will have an impact on our economic prosperity."

Regional Approach

Ward said there are several issues on the table affecting San Diego's positioning as a player in the global economy. Therefore, she said, it's vital for businesses to have a good relationship with the city.

For example, she said, there's the issue of finding a site for a new international airport, improving freeway access and relieving traffic congestion.

"We would like (the City Council) to focus on infrastructure issues, like getting the airport decision made, and getting the freeway flowing so people who come here can do business efficiently and effectively," she said.

There are other projects on the table that others would like to see completed under the new administration.

There's the halted Downtown ballpark project, development surrounding that project, the homeless population Downtown, location of a central library, and water issues throughout the county.

"The good news is these new council members are not new to San Diego and are not new to these issues," said Leslie Wade of the East Village Association. "This is a council that is very experienced in community and civic issues."

East Village is the site of the ballpark project that has been on hold for months. Wade said she was encouraged to see the mayor and incoming council members have an interest in moving the project forward.

Some say there is also an opportunity for the new administration to change the image of City Hall.

Chula Vista City Manager Dave Rowlands said this should be an opportunity for the new mayor to have a better working relationship with other cities in the county. He would like to see Murphy attend the countywide League of Cities meetings, events he said former mayor Susan Golding didn't attend.

"That mere act would do more to bring a feeling of partnership among the cities than anything else he could do," Rowlands said.

Chula Vista is one of the fastest-growing areas in the county. There are plans for numerous housing developments, schools, business parks and major roads. But Rowlands said Chula Vista can't act alone.

"The vitality of this portion of the state requires that all jurisdictions work as one," he said. "As the South Bay develops, it will require close coordination with the city of San Diego, the county of San Diego and the city of Chula Vista. While I think our staff works well together in this area, elected officials need to be involved more."

John Kern, Murphy's chief of staff, said the mayor intends to work with the other cities in the county.

Kern said Murphy has appointed himself to the regional governing body's board of directors with hopes of doing just that. The mayor's attendance at the League of Cities meeting, however, will depend on his schedule and the time of the meeting, Kern said.