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Incumbent San Diego City Attorney Faces Challenge From Public Interest Lawyer

Shown above are San Diego city attorney candidates Cory Briggs and Mara Ellio...

Credit: Candidates' campaign photos

Above: Shown above are San Diego city attorney candidates Cory Briggs and Mara Elliott. Elliott is the incumbent.

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City Attorney Mara Elliot touts her work in tightening gun regulations and cracking down on domestic abuse. Cory Briggs says she lacks transparency and is too political.

Aired: October 19, 2020 | Transcript

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott is facing off against self-described transparency advocate Cory Briggs in the November election.

As Elliott wraps up her first term as the first female and Latina city attorney, she says her proudest accomplishments include tightening gun regulations and cracking down on domestic abuse.

“We have a nationally recognized restraining order program that has removed over 600 guns from the street from people who are threatening suicides, domestic violence or mass shootings,” she said.

If elected, Briggs will go from being a frequent plaintiff against the city to representing San Diego officials in court. In the past decade, Briggs has filed dozens of lawsuits against the city related to real estate development.

“As someone who’s sued the city successfully to get them to follow the law, the transition won’t be that tough,” he said. “I understand how the city is supposed to follow the rules. I’ve been one of the main lawyers making sure they follow the rules because the incumbent doesn’t do that.”

RELATED: City Attorney Candidates Accuse One Another Of Misleading Ballot Statements

Elliot described Briggs as “chaotic” and “emotional” and said she’s the most capable candidate to navigate the city through these unprecedented times.

“I think that a steady hand is needed more than ever as we try to get through COVID as a region and become what San Diego was and thrive again,” Elliott said.

The 101 Ash St. debacle

Briggs blames Elliott for approving the lease-to-own agreement for 101 Ash St., which has proven to be a disastrous real estate deal for the city.

The city signed a lease-to-own agreement to move employees into the former Sempra Energy office building at 101 Ash St. But the discovery of asbestos contamination rendered the building virtually useless. Yet, the city has still been on the hook for millions in rent payments.

Elliott has said the deal was approved before she entered office. Briggs, meanwhile, points out that his opponent’s name is on the contract. Elliott said she only finalized the purchase, which had been fully negotiated before she entered office. She said she had “no reason to second guess” the contract.

“It captured the agreement that the counsel and the mayor made. That is it. The legal work is done at the front end,” Elliot said. “Just like you would do with any other attorney. You would expect your attorney to do the work before they present you with the deal.”

Regardless of who’s to blame for the 101 Ash St. deal, Elliott says she’s the one who can clean up the aftermath while also overseeing the SDSU’s expansion in Mission Valley.

“It is one of my top priorities to address what I have at 101 Ash which is a real estate debacle,” Elliot said. “It doesn’t represent the way I do business. SDSU West does, where I was very engaged with one of the largest land deals in San Diego.”

But Briggs says the 101 Ash St. deal never would have happened under his watch.

“She didn’t want to create chaos for the people who run city hall,” he said. “She’s not looking out for the taxpayers.”

RELATED: City Attorney Files Civil Action To Shut Down Bankers Hill Rental Property

Briggs has also faced scrutiny in recent years. In 2015, the investigative news outlet inewsource, a partner of KPBS, published a series of stories that raised legal and ethical concerns about his dealings in real estate and in court. Briggs has denied all of inewsource’s findings.

Pandemic recovery

To mitigate the impact of the pandemic, Elliott said her office would continue providing domestic abuse survivors with the services they need.

“We did not miss a beat,” she said. “We have been able to get food and hotel vouchers to get families the relief they need to get out of abusive situations.”

Elliott said her office will also continue helping businesses stay open safely.

Briggs said he would divert funding from the city attorney’s office to prevent an even greater homelessness criss.

“I would offer to cut the city attorney’s budget and use those resources to go into a fund to help tenants pay the rent so we keep them out of the legal system,” Briggs said. “We don’t want to have people evicted and then have taxpayers spend more money when they have encounters with the legal system.”

Briggs added that that if he were elected he would tear down the walls between the public and the city attorney’s office by holding monthly public meetings with community representatives.

“I want them holding me accountable on a regular basis because the public knows these issues better than any government issue will ever know them,” Briggs said.

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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