John Lynch, CEO of U-T San Diego, appears on KPBS Evening Edition.

by Brooke Williams | inewsource

The head of the county’s largest newspaper threatened a port commissioner running for Congress with a newspaper campaign to dismantle the Unified Port of San Diego.

The email to Port Commissioner Scott Peters last month shows the extent to which the newspaper’s new owners will go to push their vision for a football stadium on the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.

“This will become a major issue in the campaigns and the UT will be forced to lead a campaign to disband the PORT [sic],” U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch wrote to Peters. He was referring to provisions he wanted to see made regarding the impending 24.5-year lease with Dole Food Company.

Peters said Lynch sent the email threat to his personal account, but Peters deleted it when he forwarded the email to port officials. The port had been under assault and he didn’t want to demoralize the staff with a “threat of extinction,” Peter said.

“This whole thing, that the UT is coming after us, it’s not really good for the port,” he said in a telephone interview.

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Peters shared the entire email exchange with the inewsource/KPBS Investigations Desk Thursday.

“I’m happy to give you this one, and I hope it helps,” Peters said.

The redacted email was cited in an inewsource/KPBS investigation aired and published Monday, documenting financial and political ties among U-T owner Doug Manchester, his business partner Lynch, and elected officials. The investigation focused on the U-T’s push to develop the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal downtown into an entertainment complex that would include a Chargers stadium.

The investigation detailed how Lynch has publicly boasted about having “concrete meetings” with “hopefully the right people,” but they’ve “tried to keep it down low.” He also told Peters in another email, “ We actually have made significant progress, with labor, Chargers, County, business, Navy, and one of the Mayoral candidates.”

Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican who was endorsed on the front page of the U-T in his bid for mayor, has known Manchester since 2003, not long after DeMaio came to San Diego. Despite the endorsement, DeMaio said he does not favor the U-T vision but rather supports continued maritime uses at the terminal. He insists he is not the candidate Lynch was referring to in the email.

In the initial email from Lynch, sent to Peters’ personal email account on Aug. 9, he asked Peters how he intended to vote on extending the lease with Dole Fruit Company. The 24.5-year extension, which Lynch subsequently called the “Chiquita Banana Caper,” appeared to have dashed U-T San Diego’s vision for a Charger stadium on the terminal.

Peters said he forwarded the email to the port’s lawyers. The email, in part, assured Lynch the Dole lease could be rescinded.

In an interview this morning, Peters explained why he deleted the threat.

“I didn’t send the rest of it because the notion that the port would be threatened with extinction — it’s just people are working really hard at the port,” he said. “It’s tough on morale to have their work meet that kind of comment, and it just didn’t seem relevant.”

Peters’ redacted email was shared with inewsource/KPBS as part of a Public Records Act request to the port. The email showed up as a public record because it had been copied to port lawyers with port email addresses.

The law is unclear in California and across the country about whether emails sent to private addresses are public, even if they deal with the public’s business.

Peters defended cutting the line.

“I was trying to avoid making the battle any bigger,” he said.

Peters also did not include an email from former Port Commissioner Peter Q. Davis, which Lynch forwarded to him, when he cc’d the Port attorney. In his email, Davis appeals to Lynch’s position as head of the newspaper, hoping he will have a reporter quiz the Port on the lease.

“This would appear to be about 1/5 of the space at 10th Avenue Terminal—But it ends stadium talk for 24.5 years—-I have to believe the Port will make a big deal about that and rubbing it in the uT’s face at next Tuesdays meeting–Sure hope you have a reporter cover that and ask investigative questions–Like How much is Dole Paying—-Also once unl;oaded [sic] “where do these containers go”? Davis wrote.

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