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

January 12, 1988|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | 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.

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