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Roundtable: Grand Jury Slams City Hall Facts

On Monday, the San Diego County Grand Jury issued a report saying the costs of staying at City Hall rather than building a new civic center were exaggerated by the city and that the city can have a safe and functional city hall without spending almost 300 million.

On Monday, the San Diego County Grand Jury issued a report that could add to whatever distrust and cynicism San Diegans may harbor about their city officials. The report said the costs of staying at City Hall rather than building a new civic center were exaggerated and that the city can have a safe and functional city hall without spending almost 300 million.

Guests: Joanne Faryon, reporter, host, KPBS News STUDIO 858 349-8771

David Rolland, editor, San Diego CityBeat STUDIO

JW August, managing editor, 10News STUDIO 619 992-2210

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

PENNER: On Monday, the San Diego County grand jury issued a report that could add to whatever distrust and cynicism San Diegans may harbor about their city officials. The grand jury's report said the costs of saying in city hall, rather than building a new civic center, were exaggerated. And that the city can have a safe and functional city hall without spending almost three hundred million dollars. So JW, that's pretty powerful stuff. Basically an accusation of distorting information to arrive at the desired result, a new City Hall. What information was incorrect according to the I can't understand jury?

AUGUST: Well, first I'm shocked that somebody at City Hall would give us some disinformation. Shocked at -- oh, right, it is City Hall. It was that the figures they used -- you can make figures say anything you want to say. And the figure -- a number of the figures they used always looked at what would paint the rosiest picture for those pushing for a brand-new, gleaming edifice to the wisdom of our current political leaders, when in fact issues like how much was it a square foot to rent a business property downtown, what it costs now to rent that property, all that -- it always seemed to favor the building of the new building. And they were just trying to slide a fast one by us.

PENNER: Why? That's the real question.

AUGUST: Because they wanted to have -- maybe it was a Jerry Sanders memorial building. You know, they loved to have -- politicians love to have buildings built up. And the public wonders, if you got money to build these new buildings, why are we having all these problems? We have a Hamburger -- we got a Hamburger diet, and they wanted to build a sirloin office building for the city.

PENNER: Okay, David Rolland, with your big sigh, go ahead.

ROLLAND: I don't even know where to start. But first of all, I have to start with full disclosure. I have a personal relationship with somebody who was on the team, the developers' team that came up with the winning proposal to build a new City Hall.

PENNER: Okay, you're dismissed. The.

ROLLAND: Folks can do with that what they want. But first of all, the reason that -- this is not a new idea to build a new City Hall. It's been around for about three decades. They have been trying to replace that building. The building is by all account a death trap. It has to be fixed, and even if it's renovated, the life of the building Tuesday, the operations, the structure of it is not long for this world. So something has to be done. But on the grand jury report, have you read it? It's four pages, and it is the flimsiest thing I have ever seen. It reads as if it was written by Carl DeMaio and some folks who might be in the commercial leasing real estate leasing business downtown. That's how it reads. People can look at it on the grand jury's website. They don't have to take my word for it. They can read it themselves. It has no back up information. It is strictly four pages of opinion. And the things that it sites are that the city relied on information from 2008. Well, that's when they did the study. And so as it went through the process, it got a little later in the process. So you can say that they need to update their numbers. And then the other cause of action, or basically the other complaint that it has, was that it used -- the people who did the economic studies used the maximum cost to renovate the building rather than the minimum cost. So you can quibble with that. But the main point here is that this is coming out of nowhere. This project has been shelved. And nobody's even talking about doing it now.

PENNER: Well --

AUGUST: A citizen came forward and brought it to their attention, and I don't know. You gotta beat these things down. Don't trust that they're dead. And I don't agree with him there. This thing may have been thin, but they may have done that on purpose so the common folk could understand it. Irving Hughes came out with a much more sophisticated report when this came out and said the same thing. Hey, they over inflated the cost.

ROLLAND: And Irving Hughes stands gain if they --

AUGUST: Well, of course.

ROLLAND: But it's important to be that you can look, you can go to CCDC's website and you can look at the financial analysis that the city did and CCDC did, which was done by a firm called Jones Lang Lasalle and this was peer reviewed by another firm, Ersten Young. You don't have that kind of back up with this grand jury. Why doesn't the grand jury tell us where it got its information?

PENNER: You're passionate about this, David, I can see that. But it seems to me that we're talking about a depressed commercial market now, and we have to keep that in mind. But while we're keeping that in mind, let's hear from sunny in mission valley. Sunny, you're on with the Roundtable.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you, Gloria. Thank you for taking my call. And welcome back, we missed you.


NEW SPEAKER: I would just like to quote our friend, Richard rider, who says that the mayor and attendant City Council has an attendant edifice complex, E-D-I-F-I-C-E. It's build, build, build. And the visual new library downtown is awful. The artist's rendering of the new City Hall downtown is awful. Let's think about moving to mission valley, let's think about moving to Kearny Mesa. Let's fix my potholes, let's fix street lights. Let's fix infrastructure. And I'll listen off the air. Thank you.

PENNER: Okay, JW, you want to take that on?

AUGUST: Well, I'd agree. I think we gotta take care of business. What the issues that are facing us right now, and I don't think we have that kind of money.

PENNER: Well, I think the question that I would and at this point is the mayor has put some of his clout behind public buildings.


PENNER: What is the lure for him of using public funds for building when the city needs funding to repair its crumbling streets and roads, pipelines and sewers? Joanne?

FARYON: Well, that's a great question, Gloria, and I think when you're out in the community as a reporter, and you're talking to people, and you talk about these, whether it's a new library or a new City Hall, often let's the response you are had, like the caller was saying be what my potholes, what about this? We don't have enough money to fix the streets. And yet we're building. And we know from covering these issues that often there, well, the money's coming from this pot, or the money's coming from here, or that's a capital budget and not operational. But I think for people at home, for the voters and the taxpayers, they don't kind of distinguish between what budget it's coming from or how they're gonna raise the money or whether they're gonna borrow the money or the long-term gain, they're just looking at it, this is you will my money at the end of the day, this is my tax money, my streets are in disrepair. We have another -- you know, water main breaks all over the city. So building new buildings I think to some people are just seeing as another expense and more of my tax dollars going into something that maybe I don't want.

PENNER: We just have two minutes left, I'm gonna split the time. Go ahead, JW.

AUGUST: Well, Dave bringing up one very curious fact about this, where did this come from? There must be something going on that we're not aware of.

ROLLAND: I'd like to know where the -- I'd like to see -- like when you're in elementary school, and the teacher wants to see your working how did you come to your conclusion on the math problem, let's just see the work. Maybe they're absolutely right. But the point I want to make is that Joanne's absolutely right in her analysis that the average people see this process, and they won. This was supposed to go on the ballot last year, they pulled it off the ballot, they said it's just -- they didn't want to do it on the same ballot as Proposition D, the sales tax increase. They took if off the ballot. There is -- I don't hear anybody clamoring to revisit this project. One of the callers said that why not go to mission valley and build a project there. Well, I happen to know that Tony Young, the City Council president, is thinking along those lines. There are people that want to create a new government complex where you can split the cost with the state government and maybe some federal offices and things like that. So at the moment, this project -- the timing is just weird because nobody's even talking about it.

PENNER: Okay. We have seconds. What's a better legacy? People are talking about mayer Sanders' legacy. A group of impressive buildings or a city with solid financial underpinnings? Nobody's answering that. Okay. That's all right. I can take a nonanswer on that. I'm gonna leave it up to the public. And now that the information is public on this grand jury report, just very briefly, JW, what can we expect to happen?

AUGUST: Off of the grand jury report, nothing. They'll respond. And nothing's gonna happen.

PENNER: Okay. Well, I want to thank JW August from 10 News, and David Rolland from San Diego CityBeat. From KPBS, Joanne Faryon. You were terrific, Joanne. And it's really good to be back. And I will be back intermittently during the next few months. And so this has been the Roundtable on Midday Edition. I hope you enjoyed this first broad cast, and we'll see you soon.

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