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San Diego Cuts Ties With Downtown Project Oversight Agency

City to Take Over Responsibilities as Part of Plan to Settle Lawsuits

Article by: CoStar

San Diego City Council’s voted this week to end the city's relationship with the non-profit Civic San Diego, which had served since 2012 as the primary oversight agency for downtown development projects, and to hand those operations to city employees.

The decision is part of a settlement of two lawsuits that alleged the agency was too cozy with private developers and was passed by a council vote of 5-2, with two members absent. The severing of ties is expected to take effect July 1 after a procedurally required second reading of the measure by city council later this month.

Downtown development oversight will now be handled internally by the city, as it is with other parts of San Diego, but officials are not expecting immediate changes in overall development policy.

The city will be hiring internal staff to handle the new responsibilities as oversight is shifted to the city over the coming weeks. Council took the action at the recommendation of city planning staff, in order to settle the lawsuits filed over practices of oversight agency.

One was filed in 2015 by the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council and Murtaza Baxamusa, a former Civic San Diego board member, alleging the oversight agency was too deferential to developers. Another was filed in 2018 by San Diegans for Open Government, alleging a lack of transparency in agency decision-making.

The city and Civic San Diego denied allegations in the two suits, and the city admits no wrongdoing in the settlements.

California lawmakers got into the fray in 2015, when Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D- San Diego, sponsored a bill designed to disband Civic San Diego and prevent the formation of other entities like it elsewhere in the state. She contended cities should not outsource such big-scale decision-making. The measure was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who argued the state should not get involved in local political and development matters.

According to a city staff report, actual development decisions on private projects are not expected to be immediately impacted by the local changeover during an upcoming transition process. However, some rezoning will be required for future projects in downtown’s Marina District – which includes the waterfront Embarcadero, the convention center and several existing hotels and retail buildings, with others in the works – to bring it in line with other downtown neighborhoods.

Projects already approved by Civic San Diego are expected to proceed as planned, and procedures are meant to continue as usual for projects in interim approval stages. After July 1, Civic San Diego plans to continue to function in smaller scale as a public benefit corporation that only handles community investment programs tied to public-private partnerships.

Civic San Diego was formed in 2012 and is the successor agency to Centre City Development Corp., which was the city’s main community redevelopment entity for almost 20 years before the state of California abolished its statewide redevelopment funding program.

Various redevelopment programs since 1975 have been credited with stimulating revitalization of downtown areas that had long been in decline or under-use, leading to completion of big projects such as the San Diego Convention Center, the Horton Plaza retail center and Petco Park, home to baseball’s San Diego Padres.

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