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Long-Term Agreement With Civic San Diego Goes Before City Council

The San Diego City Council will consider a long-term agreement with Civic San Diego Tuesday. That’s the city-owned nonprofit that helps decide what can be built where in downtown San Diego.

The corner of Sixth Avenue and C Street in downtown San Diego is slated to become a cyclist’s dream.

Andy Hanshaw of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition said protected bike lanes and other modifications are approved for the area as part of the Downtown Mobility Plan. Hanshaw said it’s an important step to address downtown’s projected population boom.

“It’s really important for cities to have a thriving, smartly grown downtown," the coalition executive director said.

Funding still needs to be finalized, but the project comes from Civic San Diego, the city-owned nonprofit corporation that oversees permitting and planning in downtown and economic development in southeastern San Diego. It also oversees the wind-down of redevelopment projects in some San Diego neighborhoods, including City Heights. The City Council will discuss Tuesday whether to cement its relationship with the agency by approving a long-term operating and agency agreement.

Supporters say the agreement will enhance transparency and accountability for an agency that manages public land. Opponents say Civic often leaves out the community when it comes to important decisions about the future of their neighborhoods.

One person on board is Hanshaw, who hasn't worked with the nonprofit on many projects but said the mobility plan is a significant move that might not have happened without Civic.

“We passed a precedent-setting Climate Action Plan," he said. "This is a key component of reaching the goals in that Climate Action Plan, in my opinion.”

Across town at Hilltop Drive and Euclid Avenue in Encanto, a project approved by Civic and the City Council isn’t so well received.

“Almost 9 acres of city land is part of the deal," said Kyra Greene, deputy director of the nonprofit Center on Policy Initiatives, which focuses on social and economic justice.

Greene said not all community members think the proposed project that includes apartments, homes and a brewpub is right for the lower-income neighborhood. Some residents say they had little opportunity to tell Civic that. This makes Greene worried.

“What we want to avoid is using public money to make a place nicer but make it so nice that people from San Diego can’t afford to live there and can’t afford to raise their kids there," Greene said.

Greene said her organization and other groups also had little input on the new agreement and sent a letter to the City Council expressing their concerns. The issue was raised before Civic’s board at a recent meeting and members pointed out the public is welcome to comment on non-agenda items at their meetings. Documents provided by Civic in response to a public records request show the agency scheduled at least 18 meetings in communities it serves over a two-year period.

Document

CivicSD Meetings

CivicSD Meetings

A series of documents provided by Civic San Diego show its scheduled stakeholder and community meetings from October 2014 through November 2016.

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One of the opponents that signed the letter to the council is the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, which filed a lawsuit that questions Civic's role and responsibilities.

Officials claim the new long-term agreement actually clarifies the agency's responsibilities and will increase community involvement because it requires Civic to submit an annual work plan that outlines its upcoming and on-going activities. Civic San Diego President Reese Jarrett said it also includes rules about how Civic can negotiate taxpayer dollars for a project.

“It also defines where there are public funds invested in projects that Civic is overseeing that certain community benefits should be derived from that public-fund investment," Jarrett said in a phone interview.

Those benefits, which include affordable housing requirements, hiring local businesses and adhering to the city’s living wage ordinance, are only mandated when the subsidy is $100,000 or more from the city’s general fund. A city spokesman said that’s a reasonable amount, but Greene says this looks like a loophole because subsidies may include lesser values of different funds.

The San Diego City Council will discuss the new agreement and its community benefits policy on Tuesday. The item was docketed at two previous meetings, but both times was returned to staff.

The operating and agency agreement must receive at least six votes to pass.

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