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Future Of Downtown Starting To Take Shape

Future Of Downtown Starting To Take Shape

GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week the focus at San Diego City Hall was on several major downtown projects, ranging from a proposed new city hall to creating a quiet zone for residents and businesses bothered by honking train horns. Each comes with a price tag, and considering that the city is expected to be $72 million short of covering its expenses, we ask the Government Editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ricky Young, to tell us how new building is possible. Ricky lets start with the new city hall, comes with the price tag of $293 million. Why build it? Why begin the process of building it now?

RICKY YOUNG (San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, they're saying that spending $293 million on a new city hall will actually save money, and the way they do the math there is right now they rent some offices downtown and they have to maintain an aging city hall and if you put those costs together, that over the next 10 years you can save $24 million by instead building a new city hall.

PENNER: You say they. The spokesperson for all of this is Mayor Jerry Sanders. Why is he so engaged in this?


YOUNG: Well, he's leading the city and I think a lot of the employees aren't too happy in the building they're in, which has, you know, no fire sprinklers, it has some earthquake, you know sismic, issues. And, you know, they say it needs to be updated. Now he has said it would only, they can only do that if the numbers add up to actually somehow save money, and that's that $24 million over the next 10 years that they say can be saved. Now that's calculated by certain assumptions about the rent they're paying in offices other than the city hall they own, and what kind of maintenance and improvements they'd make at the current city hall, and if you add all that together, which you know some people have questioned those numbers, but you would save $24 million over 10 years. There's a promise, because this is going to go to voters in the fall...

PENNER: It is.

YOUNG: Yeah, there's a promise that $1 million of the savings would go toward improving streets and things that some of the council members say are more important to the residents than a big civic building.

PENNER: So, let me see if I get this straight. In other words the deal would be sweetened because any savings by moving into a new $293 million building would then benefit the voters because their streets would be repaired.

YOUNG: That is one of the benefit, yes. The other, I guess, is not wasting money on upkeeping an old building and rent at places that the city doesn't own.


PENNER: But this is city money, isn't it? I mean, its public money. Where would the $293 million come from?

YOUNG: Well, like all the projects downtown. I think the money there would come from CCDC, which is the downtown redevelopment authority. There was going to be an idea of having some commercial development the would help pay for all this, but I think they've taken that out given the market.

PENNER: And that is public money that comes from CCDC.

YOUNG: Yeah.

PENNER: It's our property taxes that would then go into the new building.

YOUNG: There's sort of a feeling that it's, you know, business-oriented money, but it's tax money collected from added economic development from projects that are redevelopment projects downtown.

PENNER: Now this agency that we're talking about, CCDC redevelopment agency, says it needs more tax money, that it's soon going to run out of tax money to create all these projects and so what it's doing is putting out a study to see what parts of downtown San Diego are blighted. That study is costing $500,000. Why is this study needed?

YOUNG: Well, there are certain legal requirements they have to meet to extend the cap on the money they can collect at CCDC.

PENNER: Right.

YOUNG: Which was $3 billion, and I think that this would add another $6 billion if they move forward with it. And they have to make a determination that the area is blighted to meet the state requirements to make it a redevelopment zone.

PENNER: With the treasury falling short, where does that $500,000 come from?

YOUNG: I think that also comes from CCDC.

PENNER: It does, it doesn't come...

YOUNG: It's money that has to be spent downtown on projects and this is a legitimate project expense.

PENNER: I think it was Voice of San Diego that said, you know, you don't spend $500,000 you take a couple of bus trips at $2.50 a pop and you can see that it's blighted.

YOUNG: Well, I don't know what the legal requirements are to determine blight, I think it's a little more complex than they might be making it out to be. You know, but I guess we'll see when the study comes out in 6 months, how detailed it is and how in-depth it looks at this.

PENNER: Well while the city council is busy, you know, approving all this money, they also approved a $21 million expenditure to create quiet zones downtown. Where will that money come from to build the safety improvements so that trains don't have to honk their horns?

YOUNG: Well, I think that's also another CCDC project. You know, it started in 2005, they we talking about it costing $3.5 million, now they're looking at, as you said, closer to $20 million. So going back to our earlier discussion about the City Hall they've reigned in the cost from $432 million to $293 million, but, you know, I don't know how good the city's record is at hewing to the lower cost on these things.

PENNER: So it looks as though the people in San Diego have to keep an eye on this because money is, if not spent now, is about to be spent.

YOUNG: It always is, and a lot of the argument has been that this is a time to invest because the construction costs are lower and, you know, maybe in the end we'll be happy.

PENNER: Thank you very much, Ricky.