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San Diego reviews downtown office needs after 101 Ash Street disaster

The San Diego City Council today is hearing a presentation on the city's downtown office space needs. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says the current conditions are a nightmare for the city and its workers.

The San Diego City Council on Monday is set to hear a presentation on the city's long-term need for office space, after the last attempt to provide employees with better working conditions fell apart in a scandal.

Roughly a thousand city employees work downtown, many of them in drab and outdated office buildings with chronic maintenance issues. The city attempted to solve the problem in 2016 by signing a lease-to-own agreement on the high-rise office building at 101 Ash Street.

But the building turned out to be an uninhabitable money pit, and city employees had to evacuate it because of asbestos contamination. The city has since gone to court seeking to invalidate the lease agreement.


RELATED: DA's investigators serve search warrant at two locations linked to 101 Ash St

In the meantime, the city's subpar office space problem has persisted. Michael Zucchet, general manager of the Municipal Employees Association, the largest union of city workers, said the worst example is the City Operations Building at 1222 First Avenue.

"The air quality is bad, the elevator systems are constantly out, the HVAC is a disaster, the bathrooms — the plumbing is often both inconvenient and costly to fix and maintain," Zucchet said. "It's just a bad situation all the way around."

Zucchet added the poor conditions negatively impact city operations, employee morale and recruitment in an already tight job market. The Development Services Department, most of which is housed in the City Operations Building, has more than 100 vacant positions, leading to longer wait times for people seeking building permits.

"When we're trying to recruit employees, especially from other jurisdictions, and that's where they do their interview, it's not a good first look," Zucchet said.