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Cole Delays Talks On Affordable Housing Bond

City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole sits at the dais after her election as council ...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole sits at the dais after her election as council president, Dec. 12, 2016.

San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole has put off further discussion of a $900 million affordable housing bond proposed for the November ballot, after removing the proposal from the agenda of a Wednesday committee meeting.

While the delay does not kill the bond measure, it does narrow the time window that council members and the public will have to weigh in on important specifics, including how to administer the funds and how to structure an independent oversight body. The council's Rules Committee, which meets monthly, has until July 11 to forward ballot proposals to the full City Council.

The committee first discussed the bond measure at its Feb. 7 meeting. The measure is proposed by the nonprofit San Diego Housing Federation and would fund local construction of affordable housing for low-income veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, families with children and people experiencing homelessness.

The committee ultimately voted 4-1 to direct the City Attorney's Office to begin drafting ballot language. Cole joined council members Barbara Bry, Chris Ward and Chris Cate in advancing the bond measure, while Councilman Mark Kersey voted "no."

The agenda for Wednesday's Rules Committee meeting initially included further discussion of the bond measure, which the City Attorney's Office said would likely require multiple hearings before ballot language could be finalized. Then last Thursday, the item disappeared from the meeting's agenda.

Cole's chief of staff, Jimmie Slack, said in a phone interview that the bond measure had been placed on the agenda prematurely and that the measure would still be brought before the committee in June or July.

"We were expecting to see a draft ballot measure, and the draft ballot measure wasn't there," Slack said.

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After that phone interview, KPBS obtained a copy of a draft "resolution of necessity" and accompanying memo dated April 4 and prepared by the City Attorney's Office. The resolution of necessity is a procedural step the City Council must take before placing a tax measure on the ballot. City attorney spokesman Gerry Braun confirmed the memo and draft resolution had been sent to Cole's office for consideration.

Slack said in a follow-up interview that Cole had been looking for "something that had a specific type of information in it related to the bond measure itself."

"There's nothing nefarious going or anything like that, it's just wanting to ensure we got something actually to discuss and take action on," he said.

Also uploaded to the committee agenda last week was a staff report written by Cole's Rules Committee consultant, Marisa Beruman. The report states: "This item continues discussion on the proposed measure to provide more input to City staff to enable staff to draft the measure. ... Bond measures such as this one require additional procedural steps that will be addressed at this meeting and that affect the timeline for placement on the ballot."

San Diego Housing Federation Executive Director Stephen Russell said he was still planning to attend Wednesday's meeting to ask Cole to bring the bond measure back for discussion in May.

"We feel there's a lot of questions about the measure that need to be answered, and we do need the time to do that because the clock is ticking," Russell said.

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The proposed bond would be paid for with an increase in property taxes of $19 for every $100,000 of a property's assessed value. Two-thirds of City Council members must support the measure for it to be placed on the ballot. Then two-thirds of city voters would have to vote "yes" in November for the measure to become law.

California voters this November are due to decide whether to approve a $4 billion statewide bond measure that would fund affordable housing construction. Supporters of the local bond measure said at the February committee meeting that city funding would be critical to ensure San Diego gets its fair share of state and federal resources.

"San Diego needs to have cash to put in the game," said Sue Reynolds, CEO of the nonprofit affordable housing developer Community HousingWorks, at the Feb. 7 meeting. "The other jurisdictions that have passed those local bonds will out-compete us because local match counts."

Another tax measure that addresses homelessness is being discussed for the November ballot: A group calling itself Yes! For a Better San Diego wants to raise the city's hotel room tax to pay for an expansion of the Convention Center, homeless programs and road repair. The group is backed by a coalition of hotel and business owners and labor unions and is still gathering signatures to place the measure on the ballot.

The initiative's backers estimate their proposal would generate about $140 million in funding for homelessness in the first five years.

A San Diego City Council committee Wednesday was due to discuss a $900 million affordable housing bond proposed for the November ballot. But a week before the meeting, Council President Myrtle Cole took the item off the agenda.

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