SignOnSanDiego > News > North County > Logan Jenkins -- Duke's attorney tries to sell fuzzy math

A brick – the Bull Market award – to Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's legal team, attorneys who may possess astute legal minds but, when it comes to real estate values, they're crooning loony tunes.

In the most recent display of wishful property assessments, Mark Holscher, Cunningham's attorney, argued in federal court that the government should pay Cunningham, the Republican congressman representing the 50th District, $800,000 to make up for the difference between what Cunningham's Rancho Santa Fe house is worth and what he has been offered for it.

To back up a bit, Cunningham and his wife bought the house in early 2004 for $2.55 million after selling their Del Mar Heights home for $1.675 million to a defense contractor. Now that the congressman is being investigated for corruption, the house has been put on the market. In the meantime, prosecutors have issued a seizure warning, alerting potential buyers that the house is subject to forfeiture.

In a court hearing, Holscher insisted that Cunningham's Rancho Santa Fe house is now worth at least $3.3 million, a $750,000 spike in 20 months. That's a 35 percent appreciation (as the real-estate market has begun to cool off).

Now compare that fantasy with this one: Holscher told Judge Dana Sabraw that he could prove that the Del Mar Heights home was worth $1.67 million when Cunningham sold it to Mitchell Wade, the defense contractor who, it's alleged in the seizure order, bribed Cunningham with an inflated sale price.

When Wade sold the house almost nine months later, he took a $700,000 bath despite the then-sizzling market. Holscher credits this disparity to the fact that Wade was in a hurry to sell and that the house was unoccupied, unkempt and in bad condition, presumably because Cunningham left it that way.

It appears that the first rule of real estate is that Duke always comes out looking like a bandit.

A brick – the Public Trough award – to the Escondido City Council, which approved (in a 3-2 vote) a 30 percent salary increase.

This self-feeding wouldn't be so galling – council salaries hadn't been raised since 2000 – if it weren't for last year's unpublicized hike in the council car allowance to $750 per month, up from $450. This is a car allowance that might suit a salesman – $25 per day – but not a local politician.

Let's ask a simpleton's question: Why can't the council members be reimbursed for miles actually driven in their own cars, like any other business?

Councilman Ron Newman and Councilwoman Marie Waldron deserve bouquets for voting against the raise. Waldron, it should be noted, may have had an ulterior motive. She's running for the Assembly next year as a fiscal conservative and probably wouldn't want to see a vote in favor of a raise featured on a hit piece by a rival candidate.

A bouquet – the Long Brush Stroke award – to Oceanside muralist Clayton Parker for completing what may be the longest single-artist mural in the world.

First conceived three years ago for Vista's downtown, Parker endured two years of bureaucratic red tape and a serious skin disease before finally completing the historic scenes of local people and places.

While honoring this feat, paid for largely through donations by residents, I should throw a brick – the Snob Appeal award – to myself.

Three years ago, I sneered in this space that the project was bound to be cheesy and cartoonish if cash donations determined the subjects.

Well, I was wrong. By all accounts, the mural artfully reflects the city's spirit. Well done.

A brick – the Registering the Bogeyman award – to the Oceanside City Council for some petty lawmaking for the express purpose of bringing one lobbyist to heel.

An argument can be made for keeping track of paid operatives who try to influence city government on behalf of clients. But the reality is, the number is going to be small except in large jurisdictions such as the county and the city of San Diego, both of which register lobbyists.

In Oceanside, the catalyst for this ordinance is no mystery. The council majority – Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwomen Esther Sanchez and Shari Mackin – bear a special malice for Jack Orr, a political consultant with a long history in North County. Sanchez said she wants the ordinance to cover "anyone who looks like Jack Orr."

Before it goes ahead and enacts an ordinance, the council should keep two things in mind.

First, lobbying comes in many forms from many sources. It's not fair to limit registration to those representing developers and not include those who get paid to represent environmental groups and nonprofits.

Second, if Orr and a few others, such as former Councilwoman Colleen O'Harra, are the only registered lobbyists, the city is creating a prime vehicle for them to advertise their services. For a nominal fee and a bit of paperwork, the bogeymen may actually be listed on the city's Web site.