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Developing Downtown San Diego


The push is on to build more in downtown San Diego with more tax money. Is this a lead up to a new charger stadium there?

GLORIA PENNER (Host): We’re going to get a little more local now. This week, the San Diego City Council decided to not decide whether to study downtown blight. They postponed a vote on the Centre City Development Corporation’s request for $500,000. The half a million would be spent on a consultant’s report on where blight still exists in downtown San Diego. So, Andrew, why are consultants necessary to determine whether help is needed downtown?

ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, Well, blight is kind of a subjective thing and we’ve seen a lot of abuse of it in California redevelopment law. So basically CCDC, which is charged with revitalizing downtown, had a cap put on it. It could only collect and spend $2.9 billion and that cap is set to expire in 2024 or they’re set to hit that cap in 2024, so they want to extend that. They want to keep doing more and more redevelopment downtown and one of the big prizes in that is the Chargers stadium, which the team is seeking about $300 million of public money and then that would have to come from CCDC.

PENNER: Is that the prize or is that the impetus?

DONOHUE: That is – it is at least the cloak. I think it is a good way to sort of try to pull this issue through and get some sort of popular political support. I think the big shocker in this is CCDC has always been sort of a sacred cow of politicians and of the powerful and to see the city council stand up in chambers and actually speak out against this and worry about their own districts and the money that’s going to their own districts, I think, was an amazing sign of kind of where we’ve gotten as a city financially, that the city council members would actually be willing to stand up against this. So it was just a fascinating week, I think.

PENNER: Okay, well, let me ask our listeners about this. I don’t know if you’ve been tracking it or not. But as you can tell, CCDC wants to be able to collect more tax money in order to be able to continue to build out San Diego downtown and of course there are all kinds of projects there. There’s expansion of the convention center, there’s a new city hall, there’s a downtown library. Of course, some of them have funds from other places in addition to the redevelopment monies. And then, of course, there’s the Chargers stadium. So what is your attitude toward that? Do you feel that the tax cap should be lifted and CCDC should be allowed to bring in more tax money and spend it on downtown projects? 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. John, why is CCDC needed? Why can’t the city council do the job since the city council is actually the city’s redevelopment agency.

JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Well, you know, this probably goes back some 40 years but all municipalities have found that in dealing with matters of real estate and redevelopment, it has been wiser to have a redevelopment agency that specializes in that area as opposed to having an elected body trying to do it themselves. And it’s done a wonderful job of converting it from what was a collection of porn-tattoo shops and all kinds of, you know, sleazy spaces 20-some years ago to what we now have. The problem is that CCDC and those who support it are trying to make CCDC more important than the rest of the city and that’s where the inequity comes in, that other people have projects. We’re entitled to libraries. Other communities are entitled to parks, and all these things that seem to always get pushed to the back burner because of CCDC and the emphasis on downtown and this beautiful image we want to present.

PENNER: But we have a feeling now that’s permeating all of us and that is that we are in an economic downturn. And so we get a little concerned about tax money, even if it’s property tax money being used to build out buildings when there’s a great need in the city. What role do you think, Alisa, might the economic downturn play in building out all these major projects I was talking about?

ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Western Bureau Chief, National Public Radio): You know, I think that what CCDC has accomplished in downtown San Diego over the last 10, 15 years, I mean, it is a beautiful place, the Gaslamp District, the convention center, so many of the projects I think everybody in San Diego is proud of. But I think the reality is, is that they benefit the tourists and the conventioneers who come in. I don’t think the majority of us who actually live and work in San Diego spend a lot of time downtown. And so that I think that as we begin to, you know, we can’t stop hearing about how we’re going to be cutting budgets and cutting libraries and closing parks and our roads, I mean, you drive around a lot of areas in San Diego and it’s beginning to, you know, it’s beginning to look like a third world country, frankly, and I think people are wanting to see their local money put in their local projects, the stuff that they actually use.

PENNER: You know, I actually had to replace a whole wheel on my car when I fell into one of those potholes? So I understand that. Let’s hear from Dave in Sorrento Valley on this. Our number again is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. How do you feel about spending half a million dollars on consultants to see whether we should bring in more property tax to build out downtown San Diego? Dave, go ahead, please.

DAVE (Caller, Sorrento Valley): Well, that’s exactly my question. How come there’s always money to pay for these audits and these consultants but there’s no money to fix the infrastructure, there’s no money to fix the problems that the city has, you know?

PENNER: I think that’s an excellent question. Let’s have Andrew Donohue from answer that one.

DONOHUE: That is a galling question. I mean, $500,000 just to study this on something that’s going to last until 2040 when that’s the – that amount of money could pay for all the fire pits they’ve ripped out of the beaches, all the trash cans, the bathrooms they’ve closed by the beaches. I mean, these are the things that, first of all, impact all the people that actually live here. And second of all, if tourists come and they see our bright, shiny downtown and they go to our beach and see a bunch of trash and can’t have their bonfire out there, I mean, they’re not going to come back.

PENNER: Okay, well, that was Dave, and Dave, thank you very much. You’ve stirred up the phones and bunches of people are now calling to get in on the conversation. Where is the opposition? Before we go into a break, let me go back to you, Andrew. Where is the opposition on lifting the cap?

DONOHUE: The opposition is actually coming from the city council members, and I think that’s what was most surprising. What CCDC does basically is it collects a greater share of the tax money from downtown and that’s money that otherwise would have flown to the whole city and to the county and to the school district, and so…

PENNER: Yeah, that’s the part that I think is interesting and that is that that money isn’t shared not only within the city but in other parts of San Diego as well.

DONOHUE: And it’s used to subsidize development, and the idea that downtown is still blighted, I think, is a little bit of a fairy tale. Downtown is a success story. CCDC has been a success. But sooner or later, it’s time for it to fade away. I think the argument that’s being made now is that the blight that remains is the trolley, sort of the train station downtown. I mean, there’s really not a whole left for them to be doing.

PENNER: Okay, well, before we go into break, my producer asked me to clarify what CCDC is. That is the Centre City Development Corporation and its responsibility is to redevelop downtown San Diego, period, and it has to raise the money to do that and it raises it from the property taxes that come in from downtown. And when you have new buildings that are bringing in revenue, well, CCDC gets a portion of that. Am I right, please, Andrew?

DONOHUE: Yeah, and then what it can do is only spend that downtown.

PENNER: Okay. So we’re going to come back. We’re going to take your calls. And this is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. With me at the roundtable today is Andrew Donohue from, John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint and Alisa Joyce Barba from NPR News. And I have to tell you, I always get thrilled when I see the phones light up when we’re talking about a civic subject, not a glamorous subject, you know, not something that has great passion behind it but this is a civic subject having to do with the Centre City Redevelopment Corporation (sic). Who would’ve thought it. So let’s take some of these calls because I’m really eager to hear what people have to say about this. Our subject is San Diego’s Centre City Development Corporation wanting to raise the cap on the tax revenues that it brings in so that it can continue to build out downtown San Diego. And let’s start with Ian in Mission Hills. Hi, Ian, you’re on with the editors.

IAN (Caller, Mission Hills): Yeah, thanks for taking my call. And I’ve got a comment and that is, I disagree that CCDC has done a good job of redevelopment in the last decade. For example, they’ve not created viable communities. They’ve not created jobs for residents downtown, particularly lower income residents. And if they’d just reorganize their priorities so they build parks and fire stations that are badly needed and focus less on the capital projects that the mayor wants to get done, they wouldn’t need an increase in this cap anyway.

PENNER: Well, Alisa, what do you think of Ian’s comment?

BARBA: I agree. I mean, I think it’s a very good point. I did say that they had done a good job. I mean, they’ve beautified downtown, they’ve made it very pretty. It’s a good postcard. The tourists like it, the conventioneers like it. But, you know, the CCDC works on behalf of the developers and they’re in it to make money. Certainly if they had different priorities, downtown would look different for sure.

PENNER: Okay. Go ahead, Andrew.

DONOHUE: And there actually are other redevelopment agencies that have taken a different sort of ideological look at how they do redevelopment. Many places work on social services or employment or affordable housing. Here in San Diego, we’ve been very much focused on doing residential and commercial development.

PENNER: And the – I think one of the issues would be a question as to whether it might not be cheaper to give this job, John, of redeveloping or creating development downtown to a city department or even to an outsourced department rather than have a whole top corporation with all of its bureaucracy and its administrative costs continue.

WARREN: Well, I think outsourcing would duplicate what already exists but when you consider over $12.2 million from – of county revenue funds that would come to the city go to the redevelopment agency, it would probably be cheaper to absorb them into the city and to make adjustments. And I think that could be done, and it’s not an impossibility. So if developers want to maintain what they’ve had before, then they will have to come together and finance something separate and apart from a CCDC.

PENNER: Thank you, John. Back to our callers. Alex in Rancho Bernardo. Hi, Alex, you’re on with the editors.

ALEX (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Hi. My comment was, is there a limit to actually, you know, put a limit on the outside studies and lawyers fees that we’re paying for these corporations? Because as far as I remember, since 20 years ago, we’ve been paying KPR and all these other firms to come and do a assessment and how much it costs and doing all the studies for the cities – for our city. I remember paying a couple million dollars the first time for the pension program and we’re paying all these lawyers’ fees and just the fees and studying fees.


ALEX: That was one of my comments. And the second comment is about beautifying downtown. The only thing I find it to be really beautified is the convention center and the 4th and 5th Avenue. We have other streets in downtown, too. If you go through the element, through so on streets, you go down to Market on the other side of Broadway, I don’t think it’s been beautified by the city as much as by developers and people actually spent their own money in putting new buildings…

PENNER: Okay. Thank you very much, Alex. I’m going to hang on to your comments and we’re going to take final comments from the editors. Let’s hear from Bill in the Gaslamp now. Hi, Bill, you’re on with the editors.

BILL (Caller, Gaslamp Quarter): Hi. I’m a business owner that moved in 1985 from Pacific Beach to Horton Plaza, which was the first big project in redevelopment in downtown San Diego. In 1994, we moved across to 4th Avenue and bought a building to become part of the continuation of making downtown a very lively place. The point that you’ve made is that CCDC has done this but it has been done primarily by business owners who, like Ingrid Croce, for example, or the Cohn family, the liveliness that you have down there has been because people like myself have been willing to invest in downtown and we’ve come a tremendous distance but we have a long way to go.

PENNER: So, Bill, do you think CCDC is needed? Do you think it should get more…

BILL: Absolutely. I’m actually the chairman of the Committee Planning Group for downtown. We have 25 elected members and work closely with CCDC to identify the priorities. We’re supposed to get 60,000 more residents downtown and tens of thousands of more people working in downtown San Diego. There is so much left to be done and the cap that we have, which is unusual, in other California redevelopment areas, you don’t have a cap on the amount of money that can be raised.


BILL: But we have a community plan that was passed in 2006 and we really desperately need this revenue to finish the things for the tens of thousands of people that are already here and the many, many more that are still coming.

PENNER: Well, I tell you, we have so many comments here, I’m going to ask everyone who’s calling in now, please, please, go to and make your comment online because I do want to move on. But before we move on, I promised a comment on some of these, the cost of consultants, the fact of business owners contributing, beautification that’s still needed in some areas. I’m going to let you sum that all up, Andrew.

DONOHUE: Well, I think Alisa and I were perhaps being just diplomatic towards CCDC when we were giving them so much credit because we wanted to make our main point which is that, you know, this is starting to starve other neighborhoods and it’s starting to starve the city’s budget in general. And to address what the other caller said about the limit on consultants, I think we’re getting there naturally. I mean, the city’s just frankly running out of money and it’s seeing now that it can’t be spending money like this anymore.

PENNER: Okay, thank you, Andrew. Let’s move on.

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