Filner Says He Was Unaware Of Developer's Expectations, Returns Checks
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner today apologized for being unaware of correspondence between a former staffer and developers at Sunroad Enterprises and said he returned money that he accepted without knowing of the development group's expectations.
Yet a former top aide told Scott Lewis of Voice of San Diego late today that the mayor was aware of the correspondence in question.
Stories have swirled for weeks regarding the appearance that Filner's office squeezed the developer for $100,000 in exchange for allowing a change to its permit and a building-code variance. Filner says it's all a misunderstanding about a donation for a worthy cause.
But Filner's political opponents say the affair doesn't pass the smell test.
To be clear: No one is alleging that any money went into the mayor's pocket.
It's a complicated story involving a mixed-use project in Kearney Mesa originally approved by City Council in 1997. The first phase involved a 379-unit apartment complex and 2-acre park at a former General Atomics site.
Plans for the second and third phases of the project, residential units, called for buildings to be 6 feet from the park; state building code requires 15 feet. City Council approved the easement, but the mayor vetoed that action in May.
The council was moving toward overriding that veto when the subject of what Filner calls a donation came up. But Filner said today that he thought the $100,000 was a good-faith donation to a pair of his pet projects: A veterans' memorial and bicycle promotion. Filner added that Councilwoman Lorie Zapf brought the permit change to the council without staff support.
He says he learned otherwise on Thursday, when a memo from Tom Story of Sunroad to Filner's Deputy Chief of Staff Allen Jones, surfaced. It read:
"Attached please find two checks totaling $100,000, payable to the City of San Diego in consideration for the City's recordation of ... easements on the north and south portions of the subject park site ...."
Jones has since left the mayor's office. But he told Voice of San Diego that he had discussed the "donation" with the mayor in February or March. Jones further stated that the donation from Sunroad in connection with the change in the building permit was his own idea -- and he still thinks it was a good one.
As a result of public-record-act requests by reporters, a voicemail recording left by Tom Story on a phone line at Councilman Kevin Faulconer's office has Story saying he paid the money that was requested.
When the issue of the veto-override came before the council in May, Filner's cheif of staff, Vince Hall, said the mayor now supported overriding his own veto because "a complication in the recording of the easement." Hall said there was no money put forth in consideration of granting the easement when directly asked by Councilman Scott Sherman.
Filner put forth this explanation to reporters during today's session with reporters:
"I did not have any notion that that was what they were doing. I was told that they were interested in making it easier and I said, 'If you make the donations, that'd be for a great cause,' because I couldn't stop it at the council anyway."
Faulkner said in a statement today: "The content of the voicemail speaks for itself. This is not how the mayor of San Diego should be conducting business."
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who has butted heads with Filner repeatedly over a variety of issues, issued a memo on June 10 saying if the $100,000 was a donation, it should have gone to the citys general budget, not to the mayor's office. Goldmith said his office is continuing to investigate the matter.