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The Backstory Behind Secret Downtown Redevelopment Deal

The Backstory Behind Secret Downtown Redevelopment Deal
According to, the secret plan to remove CCDC's redevelopment cap had been in the works for months. We discuss the backstory behind the deal that could open the doors for a new Chargers stadium downtown. And, we analyze why Mayor Jerry Sanders and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher orchestrated the plan.

According to, the secret plan to remove CCDC's redevelopment cap had been in the works for months. We discuss the backstory behind the deal that could open the doors for a new Chargers stadium downtown. And, we analyze why Mayor Jerry Sanders and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher orchestrated the plan.


Andrew Donohue, editor of


David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat.

Kent Davy, editor of the North County Times.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Moving now away from the back country, and back into the bright lights of downtown San Diego. Let's move into the secret deal to keep federal tax money flowing downtown. Govern Schwartzenegger has signed the bill which lifts the cap on CCDC spending, that's the downtown development -- not the development agency, it's the city's arm that develops downtown. And it opens the door on a Chargers stadium and many other downtown projects. Dan Waters of the Sacramento Bee calls the deal a raid on the public Treasury on the part of outrageous special interests. Andrew, give us a quick reminder of what this does and why would the governor be in favor of it.

ANDREW DONOHUE: Basically there is a mechanism in government in California called redevelopment, and the basic idea is that you have poor and blighted neighborhoods and that private development wouldn't happen unless you gave public money to subsidize developers and help them build things. And the basic idea is over a certain amount of years that you subsidize enough that the government eventually needs to get out of it, right? You've been successful in subsidizing its development, and it then can move on by itself or it failed and you didn't actually work. There's always time limits on these things, we've been at it with CCDC downtown for a long time, Horton Plaza, Petco Park. CCDC's lifetime was about to expire, and it was going to be done, being able to do projects. The mayor wanted to extend this, he wanted to find a way to lift the cap on how much money could be spent on subsidies down there. We were sort of starting a public process. Then one morning two weeks ago, we woke up and Nathan Fletcher had convinced Sacramento to lift that cap literally under the cover of the dark of night.


ALISON ST. JOHN: It's -- now that you've set the scene there, we'll get into the discussion, we have to take a quick break, but stay with us on the editors so we can chew this topic over. Upon and also we'd love to hear from you.

And you're back on the Editors' Roundtable here on KPBS, I'm Alison St. John in for Gloria Penner, we have in studio Kent Davy of the North County Times, ANDREW DONOHUE of Voice of San Diego, and David Rolland of City Beat. And we're looking again at this -- this juicy topic about the legislation which has now opened the door to the -- made it a lot more likely that a new Chargers stadium could be built downtown. And the governor has just signed it. And Andrew on Monday, there was a meeting, a big press conference where everybody lined up to try to sort of quell the wave of public shock about this back room deal. Tell us what -- what was said, and did it actually -- was it affected.

ANDREW DONOHUE: Sure, it was a pretty toothless mea culpa. It was the mayor, Nathan Fletcher, and then the head of the CCDC, Fred Moss, got up and said you know what, we realized that the plan we undertook was completely flawed. So now we're gonna spend the next six months on a tour explaining to you the actual impacts of that. And I'm just guessing that they are going to be talking about the positive impacts of that. I mean, this is sort of, like, you know, me with being low on cash and not telling my wife that while she was sleeping over night I went and invested in condos in Dubai, don't worry, it's kind of risky but for the next six months I'm gonna spend explaining to you why this would a good investment.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And will your wife ever have a say? Will the public ever have a say?

ANDREW DONOHUE: I think that's one of the more fallacious arguments at this point, that don't worry, every project is still gonna have to go through some sort of public process. Yes, but this -- the decision's already been made to spend billions and billions of dollars more downtown to subsidize development, and that's the only thing it can be spent on. We do not have any say in trying to expand that and spend it on things outside of downtown. So the major decision has been made. After this, it's more nuances.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So David, can you sort of sum up, why does this affect people outside of downtown? Why shouldn't people just be glad that that's more development downtown?

DAVE ROLLAND: Because, if, as Andy says, if CCDC had reached its intended end, we would start -- the way tax -- property tax money revenue is distributed would change. And there would -- there are other competing interests that would normally have been getting this tax money which would start getting it. But now this pushes that off way into the future. So where it would -- these other agencies, the county, the county's general fund, the city's general fund, local schools. They now will not get that money, now, what's interesting was, I was at this press conference on Monday. And my line of questioning was to Ron Roberts, and it was it is the county gonna sue over this? Because the county is a loser here. And his answer was, I don't know, but we're gonna be negotiating now with the city for basically a percentage of that property tax revenue that's gonna be generated. Now, like Andy says, this is kind of a done deal where they raised the cap, and I guess the county can sue over that. They can maybe sue over the findings of blight. You've gotta make a case that the area that you're talking about is still blighted and that there is a reason under state redevelopment law to do this.

ALISON ST. JOHN: But it doesn't sound like the county is planning on suing from what we've heard so far.

DAVE ROLLAND: Yeah, I think Ron Roberts was the only -- he was only one of five county supervisors that was there, but he said I think we can come to an agreement. Now, I hope so because that's something that's important to me. The county is what provides social services and they do that from the general fund. This is maybe even more interesting, the other communities in San Diego, you know, as I said earlier, I was talking to Tony young yesterday, and I said -- we were talking -- he took me on a tour of his district, and we were talking about redevelopment in his district in southeast San Diego, and I said are you gonna try to get some of that CCDC money and he said oh, yeah, oh, yeah. Definitely gonna try to get some of that money.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So it may filter out of the downtown area?

DAVE ROLLAND: Yeah, and he cares about other communities besides downtown, and he -- he is all in favor of what happened. He is in the apologizing for how it happened or anything. He says it's great, San Diego finally stepped up and did a power move.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Kept, I know you're dying to make a comment, but I just want to get a quick call in from Alex in Rancho Bernardo.

NEW SPEAKER: The county might not be suing but the people of San Diego should get up and sue this, the whole government process. And besides that, they should stop supporting people who keep stealing from us. Every time we have a strong form of mayor that was passed, this issue was brought up, and people keep electing the same officials who keep stealing from the people. How can we trust Fletcher for any position while he had done this? It's because people support people like this. People should stop their support.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Alex is making the point that we elected them, hey, it's up to the voters to choose who they have represent them and let them make the decisions. Let's just take another call from another perspective here from Sarina in Mission Hills.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you so much for taking my call. I appreciate the input from your round table this morning. My comment is that this whole back room over night deal is a ruse. It's the camel's nose under the tent, and there will be out fall much later on that we will never ever be able to see. My whole point is, this is the People's decision. This is not a mayor and an assembly man's decision, oh, this is what we're gonna do. And the whole subject is trust. I wouldn't trust mayor Sanders in a flat no, minute. Richard Ryder said when Sanders was trying to put through the new city hall. He said that Jerry Sanders has this edifice complex, because he wants some kind of legacy, and it's no longer government of the people, by the people, for the people. It's what all of us fat cats can do. And I'll listen to comments off the air. Thank you.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay, Sarina, thank you for that comment. A lot of different opinions here. Kent, you want to add your.

KENT DAVY: Just a clarification on this, so people understand. The money that development agencies, whether it's this one or any other have available to them is the incremental tax increase from the development itself. The base property tax still is distributed back out however that hand scape is. When they pulled a new building, a new facility, the increase in the property tax then goes back to the redevelopment agency. And despite how the cap has been moved it doesn't mean the money has necessarily been spent on Chargers or anything in particular. It's just simply that they have bonding capacity to go ahead and spend the money on whatever the new cap is.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I wanted to go back to Sarina's point about trust. It does seem like that's key. And it could affect who's gonna vote on Proposition D. What do you think Andrew?


ANDREW DONOHUE: That's what's sort of remarkable about this. At the same time, the city is pleading poor, at the same time the mayor is going out and saying we don't have the money for the very basic fire, the very basic police services, library, everything like that, we are going to still sequester that money, because kent's right, it's an increment. But now we've been doing this for decades. So if you abolish redevelopment downtown, that immediately is creating a revenue stream for just anything that the city could spend on it. Of so I think this is -- it's remarkable that at the same time you're pleading poor, you're going out and doing this, let's make no mistake about it, this is being done in order to help facilitate a chargers stadium, convention center expansion, more building projects, which I think shows the mayor's priorities are not more about building these projects as they are about making sure this financial plan gets through. The second point, I wanted to make on her call, about people being involved, the crazy thing about redevelopment is there really is no natural checks and balances like there is in many other parts of government. Labor unions, developers, all these sort of politicians are in favor of it because of the money that it's creating that's going to their different causes, the really only checks and balance on the other side is justice an average everyday citizen. And that's a hard battle to fight.

ALISON ST. JOHN: There are obviously gonna be winners and losers under this plan, we had a call from body in San Diego who wants to know how the public can get involved or are they pretty much shut out of this whole deal?

DAVE ROLLAND: They're shut out of the deal about whether or not we should raise the cap. That's a done deal. Now they can sit in those hearings about who are the winners and losers, they cannot sit at the table with these negotiations with these stake holders, those are private. So the only thing they can do is show up when it comes time to vote on whether or not to spend redevelopment money on this project or that project. That's when they can come and say I don't like that one or I like this one.

KENT DAVY: There is a roughly similar kind of situation, this is the discussion that people in Escondido are having on whether or not to build a minor league ballpark and use redevelopment funds for it. Same thing.

ALISON ST. JOHN: But in that case --

KENT DAVY: It's still inside the cap they have in their redevelopment agency so they need to go down and have the legislature do anything. Same topic though.

ANDREW DONOHUE: I would say pay attention to CCDC, despite its name, it is very much a public agency. I think despite a lot of the difference nuances that people use in talking about it or trying to make it look like it's apart from city hall. It's a public agency that uses public money. So as much interest as this can drum up in the actual actions that CCDC are gonna take with this money, I think we should be paying attention to that.

DAVE ROLLAND: The big thing is the Chargers stadium. If you don't think that public money, even redevelopment tax increment money should go to a sports complex, you still have the ability to come out and say that.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Great. Thank you so much. That's Dave Rolland of City Beat, Kent Davy from the North County times, and ANDREW DONOHUE, editor of voice of San Diego.