By Anna Daniels
Who are Civic San Diego‘s stakeholders? Who are the people and institutions who have the most to benefit from their success? And who has the most to lose if they are not successful? The answer depends upon whom you are talking to—CivicSD and its surrogates; City of San Diego elected representatives; or community residents and resident based organizations.
Community residents and community based organizations from areas of the city which have been designated by CivicSD as their immediate focus for economic revitalization have been particularly vocal on this matter, but they are hardly the only ones.
Community voices have been articulating the need for an enforceable city policy regarding the kinds of community benefits that must be generated in tandem with CivicSD’s economic development projects, as well as additional City of San Diego oversight of development activities. They have called for more transparency and accountability in CivicSD’s operation.
In short, those communities which are already fully aware of the economic and social problems that they face, are asking to be recognized as stakeholders and to be given the participatory power to shape the development process.
Meanwhile, CivicSD continues to consolidate and centralize its power, both political and financial. The demands for community benefits, fair labor agreements and oversight have been more of a distraction rather than a major disruptor of those consolidation efforts. But CivicSD is legally tied to the City, and in some instances, operates as the City. It is also tied to those under-served communities by virtue of the requirements for receiving New Market Tax Credits as well as other public funds.
If nothing else, the optics are bad if it appears that CivicSD has shut impacted communities out of the development conversation and it also has to be careful about how hard it can bite the hand that feeds it—i.e. the City Council as guardians of the public, collective good and public purse.
Until this past October, CivicSD has largely been able to ignore community concerns while benefiting from the council’s—and mayor’s largesse—reflected in their FY’15 budget. That began to change at the October 29, 2014 Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods committee. Committee chair Marti Emerald and District 4 council member Myrtle Cole requested CivicSD to report back at the March 18, 2015 meeting on six different points.
At this Wednesday’s meeting there is a Request for Committee Action that includes 1) appointing a representative of the IBA (Independent Budget Analyst) to the Board of Directors of CivicSD’s Economic Growth and Neighborhood Investment Fund; 2) amending CivicSD’s bylaws under “Purpose” to include community benefit language related to promoting affordable housing and creating well paying jobs; and 3) requiring the approval of the City Council for agreements entered into by CivicSD involving either the transfer of City money or the disposition of City owned land valued at $500,000 or more.
How should these requests for committee action be evaluated by those of us who are asking to be viewed as stakeholders and even partners in the economic development of our “challenged neighborhoods”? How much closer do these requests for committee action bring us to the accountability, transparency, responsiveness and representation that is required to be stakeholders and partners?
Will the Real Stakeholders please come forward! CivicSD brings out surrogates Kris Michell and Jerry Sanders
Kris Michell, president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, and Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, co-wrote an opinion piece “Don’t Block Civic San Diego’s Process and Progress” for Voice of San Diego. It was a predictable jeremiad. SDFP editor Doug Porter deftly takes Michell and Sander’s arguments apart in his Starting Line column “Pushback on Civic San Diego Accountability: Here Comes the Uncertainty Ploy.”
There is also a subtext worth noting. It is telling that Civic San Diego has representatives of the Downtown San Diego Partnership and San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce speaking on its behalf. Let that settle in for a moment. The last minute pitch for CivicSD didn’t come from a community group pointing to the ways in which their community has benefited from CivicSD development.
Communities are challenged because they do not have equal and equitable access to political and financial resources. And that is exactly the thing that CivicSD and it’s surrogates is not about to do—share power with those who are affected by their decisions.
In fact the authors completely avoid the very real and sustained dissatisfaction that residents and community groups have expressed toward CivicSD. They fixate instead on Lorena Gonzalez’ proposed bill AB 504 Local Government Accountability for Planning, Zoning and Permitting as if the dissatisfaction and bill are not related. The epithet of “job killer” and the Reaganesque touch of describing AB 504 as creating a solution in search of a problem are enough to engender the requisite knee jerk responses in the usual sectors.
Kris Michell and Jerry Sander’s attitude toward the actual people who want to be involved in the process couldn’t be clearer.
The description of how AB 504 undercuts the work of Civic San Diego in Encanto and City Heights reveals how the model of the parent- child relationship is reconstituted as experts versus the inept, inexperienced and uninformed.
It also undercuts the work Civic San Diego is currently doing to help community planning groups in Encanto and City Heights identify their priorities so they, too, can update their community plans and benefit from a streamlined and sensible permitting process.
City Heights has been identifying its planning and economic development priorities for decades. It had it’s very own Redevelopment Agency and a PAC back in the 1990’s. The City Heights Project Area Committee goes through the mind numbing formal procedure every budget season of reducing the lengthy list of infrastructure needs to the top ten—and hope that a few make it into the budget. The City Heights Community Development Corporation has initiated studies, held community workshops and generated reports which identify priorities and solutions.
City Heights, and I suspect other challenged communities, don’t need help identifying their priorities. City Heights doesn’t need a mechanism to streamline the process, as if City Heights can’t have nice things because bureaucratic dolts in City Planning have been gumming up the works for decades. Streamlining the process as envisioned by CivicSD doesn’t address the inequity of how public and private investments are made in San Diego. It will in fact exacerbate it.
Communities are challenged because they do not have equal and equitable access to political and financial resources. And that is exactly the thing CivicSD and it’s surrogates is not about to do—share power with those who are affected by their decisions.
The Michell/Sanders opinion piece was strategically aimed a specific audience, a call to circle the wagons at the committee meeting. These are the stakeholders that CivicSD acknowledges and whom their development work ultimately benefits.
Where does this leave those asking for some more, please?
It should be a reminder that the Request for Committee Action is an incremental step in achieving responsiveness to community needs and accountability. That counts. It should also be a reminder that entrenched interests aren’t going to willingly cede any of their power and privileges. One test will be whether the requirement for approval of projects over $500K which involve city money or land is left intact at the end of the meeting.
Community members have an opportunity to advocate for their role as stakeholders in this process, and to continue pressing for a meaningful community benefit policy. It is easy to forget that citizens bring a great deal to this discussion in the form of public subsidies to CivicSD and that CivicSD is greatly dependent on those subsidies at this time. It is ironic that when citizens ask for some more, please they are essentially asking for their share of what they have put in. That point needs to be clearly made.
A number of questions remain. Is CivicSD the appropriate mechanism for economic and social revitalization? Why aren’t we looking at an alternative of community based approaches and supporting community based capacity for economic development instead?
We do not have to accept the outsourcing of basic city functions to CivicSD, nor do we have to accept what has been described as their cynical and blighted vision of San Diego’s future. Alternatives can only happen if we recognize that we are indeed the real stakeholders and understand the power that we can wield, at least for now. That may very well require a much more direct approach—slicing through the Gordian Knot.
There will be a hearing before the council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee at 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, at City Hall where officials from Civic San Diego are expected to report back to the committee.
Anna Daniels is a past president and board member of the City Heights Community Development Corporation and long time resident of City Heights. She is also a retired member of MEA, the Municipal Employees Association. She is a current member of the Community Budget Alliance, representing the Library Organizing Project. The opinions expressed in this article are her own.
Previous San Diego Free Press coverage on the topic of CivicSD:
Pushback on Civic San Diego Accountability: Here Comes the Uncertainty Ploy Doug Porter, 3/16/15
Community Blight or Benefit:Thoughts on the Civic San Diego Roadshow Jay Powell, 3/4/15
Civic San Diego and Community Benefits Agreements: The Need for Project Specific Focus, Jim Bliesner, 1/28/15
How will Civic San Diego Serve Neighborhoods? Jim Bliesner, 1/5/15
What Does City Heights Lose When Albertsons Closes? Anna Daniels, 1/22/ 2014