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Study Will Look At Whether Downtown S.D. Blighted

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Aired 6/23/10

Time is running out for San Diego’s downtown redevelopment arm. The Center City Development Corporation is nearing the limit on how much tax money it can collect. But a move by the city council last night could buy CCDC some more time.

— Time is running out for San Diego’s downtown redevelopment arm. The Center City Development Corporation is nearing the limit on how much tax money it can collect. But a move by the city council last night could buy CCDC some more time.

The council voted unanimously to fund a blight study. If the $500,000 study concludes parts of downtown are still blighted, then the council may agree to raise the amount of tax money CCDC can collect and put back into downtown redevelopment.

Before they even got into the discussion, officials like councilwoman Donna Frye wanted to make it clear this was not a debate about a building a new stadium

“And so the action today would not allow the Chargers stadium, or any stadium, to be built or even analyzed?” she asked representatives of CCDC.

The stadium may not have been the subject of the meeting, but it certainly was the elephant in the room. If CCDC’s cap is eventually raised it’s widely speculated the organization may contribute money toward a new stadium, which is currently priced at about $800 million.

But Phil Rath, with the mayor’s office, said the agency won’t be able to do other projects such as refurbishing the C Street corridor and building parks downtown without a cap increase. He said it would also provide funds for new affordable, supportive and transitional housing in and out of downtown.

“Working individuals, families and the city’s homeless could all be served better by those resources,” he said. “It would also allow for continued public investment and [let us] continue constructing our foundation for the 90,000 residents we expect in downtown.”

A report from the Independent Budget Analyst says the estimated value of the projects in CCDC’s pipeline is about $1.6 billion. But the agency only has $386 million that’s not allocated. The report finds that raising the cap would be beneficial for the city’s General Fund in the long run.

Before the cap can be raised, a study must find there’s enough blight downtown to justify continuing CCDC’s existence. Denise Bickerstaff is with Keyser Marston Associates, the firm that will be conducting the study. She said just because an area looks dirty or run down doesn’t mean it’s officially blighted.

“And unfortunately a lot of those conditions aren’t spelled out in the redevelopment law,” she said. “So while, to you and me, an area may appear to be blighted, it may still not qualify under the redevelopment law for redevelopment.”

Councilmember Marti Emerald says she’s confident the cap increase will move forward.

“I honestly have no doubt that the report will ultimately lead to a prospective increase in the cap,” she said.

But Emerald and her fellow councilmembers wanted additional analysis included in the blight study, such as whether CCDC can pick up the tab for some general fund expenses and whether more of CCDC’s money should go toward support services for the poor.

Business owner and Center City Advisory Chair Bill Keller said the money needs to stay downtown. He said in the last 25 years the western side of downtown has improved while there’s still a lot of work to do on the eastern side.

“The question is, how are we going to pay for it? It seems to me that tax increment is a very good way to pay for infrastructure improvements, instead of the general fund,” he said.

Still, there are people who believe San Diego needs to focus on other issues. Pastor Wilbert Miller is with the San Diego Organizing Project. He said he’s concerned the city is shifting money away from its social safety net and into the hands of developers.

"The question today is will our mayor and council’s legacy be a convention center, a new city hall and a Chargers stadium, I know that’s not what we’re discussing but I hope we don’t have our fingers crossed behind our backs," he said.

Whether or not anyone has their fingers crossed behind their backs, a new downtown stadium may well be at stake. CCDC maintains it was considering a cap increase before the issue even came up. The blight study should be complete in 12 to 18 months. The council will then decide whether to raise the cap.

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