Monday, October 18, 2010
The architects behind a controversial state bill that extended the life of downtown San Diego’s redevelopment agency came together today to say they’re sorry for how the deal came about. But they’re not sorry that the deal got done.
SAN DIEGO The architects behind a controversial state bill that extended the life of downtown San Diego’s redevelopment agency came together Monday to say they’re sorry for how the deal came about. But they’re not sorry that the deal got done.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders was joined by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and Centre City Development Corporation Chair Fred Maas to explain why they crafted the bill and pushed it through the state legislature without telling the city council or the County of San Diego what was going on. The bill eliminates the limit, or cap, on how much tax revenue CCDC can collect to put back into downtown San Diego redevelopment. Sanders said there was a real threat of law makers from Los Angles squashing the bill. And he says it will create jobs and spur development. But he said he’s sorry the process was so secretive.
“Other big cities do it that way, that doesn’t mean we have to do it that way,” he said. “I think the mistake was that we didn’t do a public process. We became too consumed with trying to keep it quiet so other legislators wouldn’t stop it.”
Sanders and Fletcher both stressed how difficult it is to get bills passed through the state legislature. They said attaching the legislation to the state budget enabled them to get something done quickly. In order to appease critics and sooth public doubts about the deal, CCDC is being required to begin a community benefit assessment. That will include a series of public meetings about how the public and stakeholder groups would like to see CCDC spend its money on.
Councilwoman Donna Frye had been highly critical of the deal. The city was in the middle of deciding whether to raise CCDC’s cap when the state legislation passed. Frye said the meetings are a way to bring the public back into the process. She bristled at the suggestion that the mayor’s press conference today was a publicity stunt.
“This is not a stunt. This is taking something that was not going very well… and to say how do we fix it? A community assessment is not required. There is no law that makes us do this. But we’re doing it,” she said.
Frye said she does not think the secret nature of this bill will have an impact on whether people vote for a half-cent sales tax increase in the coming election. Critics of the tax say the government is asking voters to trust them with their money with no real guarantees of how it will be spent. But Frye, a tax supporter, said developments with the sales tax have played out in the public eye. She said requiring CCDC to hold public meetings will make the redevelopment process transparent as well.
But not everyone is on board with the latest developments. County Supervisor Dianne Jacob declined to take part in the news conference. She said the deal shows that officials at the city can’t be trusted. The county receives less tax revenue while CCDC is still in operation. But it might have been able to negotiate a larger percentage of tax revenue if the cap negotiations had stayed within the local government. Jacob said a lawsuit is not out of the question.
“All options are on the table, including litigation if it’s necessary,” Jacob said.
Jacob said this deal has hurt the county’s relationship with the city. She said the legislation may also have tainted the effort to bring a new Chargers stadium to downtown. Critics of the deal say it was set up to funnel as much as $500 million to a new stadium. Supporters of the bill say there are multiple downtown projects that wouldn’t get done if the cap hadn’t been lifted.
The question of who came up with the idea to take the issue to the state legislature is not entirely clear. At the news conference the Mayor said he’s sure his office approached Nathan Fletcher. A spokesman for the mayor later said there’d been general discussions between the mayor’s office and CCDC for awhile and someone eventually approached Fletcher’s office with the idea. The mayor had initially said Fletcher approached his office about the deal.