By Doug Porter
This is why we can’t have nice things in San Diego. By this I mean the greed of the local billionaire class and the willingness of the Union-Tribune to publish lies on their behalf.
UT reporter Roger Showley was apparently called upon to create some propaganda following the legislature’s approval of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s AB 504, a bill designed to strengthen oversight of organizations like Civic San Diego making land use decisions for cities.
It’s my guess this UT article represents a last-ditch attempt to appeal to Gov. Jerry Brown in the hope he won’t sign the bill. (You never know with the Gov…)
Gonzalez and other civic activists saw the necessity for such a measure because San Diego is the only city in California that outsources permitting and planning functions to a nonprofit with minimal oversight. Attempts at oversight and citizen input have been continually stymied.
Before I get back to just how rotten Civic San Diego is, let’s examine today’s UT propaganda.
Downtown’s Court Stenographer Goes to Work
Here’s the lede from Showley’s “reporting”: (emphasis added)
Downtown skyscrapers, sidewalk cafes and everything in between have enjoyed a speedy review process for 40 years through a special city agency, but all that could change under a bill given final approval by the Legislature last week.
Ooooo. Doom and gloom. “Could change.”
Civic San Diego was created in 2012, replacing the Centre City Development Corporation and the Southeast Economic Development Corporation to wind down local redevelopment programs following Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to end such programs statewide. Both organizations had a history of financial scandals. So things are already changing. Obviously, there’s no profit in that.
Rather than let the beast die, development officials sought federal new-market tax credits and proposed expanding Civic San Diego’s planning authority into several economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. People in City Heights were less-than-thrilled. Encanto was okay with it.
The bill, AB504 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would allow major projects to be appealed to the City Council and, if one reading is correct, it could add extra hours to council meetings and require the hiring of more than 30 planners to review projects. The bill will go into effect Jan. 1 if Gov. Jerry Brown signs it in the next few weeks.
Stenographer Showley fails to identify the source of that one reading, probably because nobody else who’s read the bill sees it that way.
It’s also probably a good idea to reiterate that AB 504 creates an appeals process, nothing more.
It doesn’t say how you can build, what you can build, or what you can use it for. And that appeals process is only for larger projects. And the appeal is made to the City Council, you know, those people who are elected to look after our interests.
The Mother of All Sidewalk Cafes
In the next paragraph, Showley quotes Assemblywoman Gonzalez. Except that he uses an old quote….out of context. Gonzalez confirmed this morning that she was never contacted for the UT story.
Then there’s this zinger from Showley:
It’s unclear how CivicSD’s review of building designs and approval of conditional use permits for sidewalk cafes, signs and other development details would be affected.
Given, according to Gonzalez, the threshold for projects that could be appealed under AB504 is 25,000 square feet and up (a fact mentioned & then immediately forgotten in the UT story) “that would be quite a sidewalk cafe.”
How Desperate Are They?
Joshua Emerson Smith’s City Beat story on the lobbying against AB 504 by Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders (along with representatives from Mayor Faulconer’s office and the Downtown San Diego Partnership) provides much insight into just how desperate the local oligarchy was to keep their sweet deal.
In the six weeks after mid-May, the Chamber and Partnership paid Mercury Public Affairs nearly as much money ($21,250) as they’d been paid to lobby on 37 different bills and resolutions during the first three months of 2015.
The crew sent to Sacramento for a hearing of the state Senate’s Governance and Finance committee used lots of weasel words like “uncertainty.” The a representative of the mayor’s office suggested the prospect of an appeals process could put basic city services at risk, saying it “will hurt communities who deserve park improvements, fire and police upgrades and much-needed economic development.”
The City Beat story included Gonzalez’ rebuttal to this malarkey:
Followed by supportive testimony from regional union leaders, Gonzalez argued before the Senate committee that the bill was necessary because Civic San Diego had frozen labor, and other members of the public, out of its planning process.
“What I want in San Diego is what all of you have had already in your own cities,” she said at the hearing. “To suggest that San Diego’s development somehow… would stop because it could be appealed to the City Council is almost ludicrous when you look at the downtown development in Los Angeles, subject to community benefits agreements, subject to appeal of the City Council.”
Right now, major land-use decisions made by Civic San Diego are often only appealable to its board, which deals almost exclusively with design aesthetics. Wider discussions around things like labor practices, job quality and increasing affordable housing are considered outside the agency’s purview.
The Legal Questions
Assemblywoman Gonzalez introduced AB 504 following unsuccessful attempts to get the City Council to provide oversight of Civic San Diego.
The organization is accountable to the city through nomination and appointments of board members by the mayor and city council, and its operating contract is managed by the city’s Economic Development Department, according to the mayor’s office.
Gonzalez said she recently obtained an opinion from the Legislature’s legal counsel that said the city was unconstitutionally giving away its police powers by allowing outside agencies to make land use decisions.
Faulconer’s office pointed out, however, that the opinion said a city could delegate such powers as long as there is appropriate oversight.
Civic San Diego board member Murtaza Baxamusa and the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council filed suit over the question of oversight back in early April.
From the then-UT-San Diego:
Murtaza Baxamusa, who has served on the nine-member board for two years, said he has sought in vain to determine CivicSD’s legal responsibilities and now wants a judge’s ruling.
“It’s an issue that I want to see resolved,” he said.
Baxamusa, who serves as director of planning and development for the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council’s Family Housing Corp., was joined in the lawsuit by the trades council. He said he does not intend to resign from the CivicSD board but will excuse himself from CivicSD board meetings when his lawsuit is discussed.
In addition to clarifying CivicSD’s responsibilities and potential conflicts of interest, the lawsuit also seeks to require the establishment of a community benefits plan and an appeals process from CivicSD decisions.
“In essence, CivicSD’s board operates without accountability to the City Council, and thus without accountability to the taxpayers whose dollars it spends,” the lawsuit filed by attorney Steven T. Coopersmith says.
The Bottom Line
It would be easy to pass this disagreement off –as some already have– as a subterfuge by organized labor. And it’s true, they’ve been increasingly excluded from any role by Mssrs. Sanders, Faulconer and the other errand boys for local developers.
The problem here is that nobody else gets a seat at the table either. Organized labor just happens to be organized enough to ask for a hearing. The way Civic San Diego wants it to be is “our way or the highway.” With a smile–or is that a sneer?–of course.
No public input, or oversight by those whose campaign coffers benefit, is what led to pension crises nationwide. That’s why future city services and repairs were sacrificed in exchange for landing a GOP convention back in 1996. Pick your civic problem, San Diego, and you’ll find at its source it was enabled by people who sought to remove regular citizens from the equation.
My favorite argument used by Civic San Diego supporters is that it’s a mechanism for creating affordable housing. The number “6000 units” gets thrown around, with nary a mention of all the other opportunities passed over by redevelopment agencies or the fact that these “affordable housing” funds are misused or used to pay basic overhead expenses.
I can only hope that Gov. Brown will see Civic San Diego for what it is…
As to the stenography posted in the Union-Tribune, I’ll use Murtaza Baxamusa’s response to my inquiry about the article:
I was quite disappointed that the newspaper would spread extreme doomsday scenarios in order for developers to escape accountability.
On This Day: 1853 – Reverend Antoinette Brown Blackwell was ordained, becoming first female minister in the United States. 1923 – Oklahoma was placed under martial law by Gov. John Calloway Walton due to terrorist activity by the Ku Klux Klan. After this declaration national newspapers began to expose the Klan and its criminal activities. 1970 – More than 350,000 members of the United Auto Workers began what was to become a 69-day strike against General Motors.
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