You might have heard of Cory Briggs. He’s the lawyer suing City Council President Todd Gloria and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith over public records, suing to stop the planned Convention Center expansion and a member of the trio who took down former Mayor Bob Filner.

Briggs has a new target: city street and infrastructure repairs.

Briggs is threatening to sue the city over its latest $120 million infrastructure loan, which is designed to repave roads, repair and design new fire stations, among other fixes.

Briggs believes the loan must be approved in a public vote because it’s a long-term debt.

The state has rules that restrict when a local government can issue debt without voter approval. The city plans to use a financing structure for the infrastructure bond called a lease-leaseback that gets around those restrictions.

The method is used throughout California but it’s far from straightforward. The city leases some buildings, in this case 16 properties, to a city-controlled financing authority for a nominal fee. The financing authority uses the properties as collateral for the loans. The city pays the financing authority an annual rent equal to the loan payment.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

City officials don’t believe Briggs’ claims have merit, but they’re not taking out the loan in the meantime. Councilman Mark Kersey, who heads the city’s infrastructure committee, is none too pleased.

“We’re just trying to do our job here and this is not helpful at all,” Kersey said.

Loan dollars are critical to the city’s infrastructure repairs. More than 60 percent of the money the city spends annually on street, building and storm drain fixes comes from the loans. Even with the loans, the city still does not spend enough to keep things from getting worse every year.

This loan is the fourth the city has planned to issue this way since 2009. This is the first time someone has threatened to sue the city over the financing structure. Courts have a long history of approving similar measures.

Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre refused to sign off on this financing structure when he was in office, saying it was an illegal way to avoid a public vote. He pushed for one. It didn’t happen. Briggs says he wants a public vote, too.

Briggs said he’s bringing the case now because he raised a similar issue in a lawsuit over the now-defunct plan to remake Balboa Park’s central plaza.

He also said he didn’t have time to do if before. He’s been busy filing many lawsuits against the city on other issues.

“Even watchdog organizations only have certain resources,” Briggs said.

Briggs might ultimately get his wish. Gloria is pushing for a megabond for repairs, which would include a tax increase, on the November 2016 ballot.

“If it’s so good and you’re going to go to the voters anyway, then why don’t you just do it legally?” Briggs said.

But even if the megabond were to pass, not having loan money now creates problems. Infrastructure will deteriorate further, requiring even more money in fixes. And the city needs a constant stream of dollars to keep making repairs without delaying projects that have been funded over time.

Briggs said he thinks voters would be willing to trade two years of further street decay to keep the city from issuing loans he believes the city can’t afford to pay back.

“That’s the price of shitty leadership in a big city,” he said.

    This article relates to: Government, Infrastructure, News, Share, Streets and Sidewalks

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

    JLDodd subscriber

    After we came to believe the public employee unions would never allow the city to live within its means, we moved out of the city. It is obvious the unions get what they want and the taxpayers are forced to live with that. Since 2010 we have been outside looking in, and if anything, the situation has gotten worse. With more Free Stuff Army people on the council, the trajectory is clear...

    jim dodd

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    The core problem is not providing dedicated funds to maintain infrastructure. Past administrations have kicked this can down the road. I agree that the public should have a vote on future indebtedness.

    That being said the public should support a bond issue that would dedicate money to fixing and maintaining our existing streets and bridges. This could be supported by an increase in gasoline taxes and TMD revenue.

    Our sewer and water lines are already taxed on our water bills.

    Next we need to halt building new structures like a convention center addition unless the revenue not only pays for building it but maintaining it. Note the existing convention center is reported as requiring already deferred maintance.

    Furthermore in the future the city should not support building unneeded structures like the proposed bypass bridge and the parking garage at Balboa park. This was all part of former mayor Sanders way of pay back to developers who helped put him in office.

    In brief this city needs to have its right hand know what it's left hand is doing...AKA governmental transparency.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Why is VOSD attacking Cory Briggs for pointing out what state law says? Don't kill the messenger; if you don't like the law, go after the legislature in Sacramento. Just badmouthing an attorney for  enforcing state laws seems childish.  Get away from the personal attacks and focus on the law and policy involved in this issue please. Sometimes reading VOSD is like dealing with kindergartners.

    Elmer Walker
    Elmer Walker subscriber

    We need to return to the ways of old. Save funds and use for future needs and not float bonds for so many routine costs. Stop spending property and sales taxes for day to day operations and save a portion of them for large cost items like we used to. Any idiot can recommend we float a bond and then take credit for a great accomplishment. but a leader can save money every year and pay for the improvement when needed. No more bonds regardless of the need.

    SDGIS subscribermember

    The term "megabond" isn't appropriate. It is prejudicial against the approval of sustainable infrastructure financing. While mega-anything is catchy, this term implies frivolous use of City funds. This term detracts from the intent of the bond and doesn't add anything valuable.

    I am disappointed in Voice of San Diego's use of Fox News style tactics to sway the conversation.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    There is no need to wait until 2016 for the Shady Lease-Lease-Revenue Bonds. 

    Since 2010, City Leaders had ample opportunity to put forward a new Tax Increase to Fund Infrastructure projects.  

    It is not a big deal for the City Council to put forward a 5% TOT increase on the Ballot for a Maximum 15.5% TOT to fund Infrastructure projects for the November 4, 2014 election.  Then the Unconstitutional 2% TMD and up to 3% Special Hotel Tax lawsuits would be moot and repealed.  Then  construction can start on the Convention Center Phase III Expansion, and we can keep Comic Con in San Diego.

    Richard Tanner
    Richard Tanner subscriber

    Someone should inform Mr Kersey that if he was doing his job of fiscal oversight he would not have to “ just trying to do our job here and this is not helpful at all,” .  San Diego City Council does not have a good track record of fiscal responsibility.  The loan/bond is just another way for us to pay again for the infrastructure.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Here are two alternatives:

    1. Hand off the responsibility of road maintenance to the neighborhoods or property owners like we do with sidewalks. Let each neighborhood or property owner decide whether the repairs are worth the costs. Shouldn't the person who benefits the most from something pay the most for it?

    2. Add a "street usage fee" to the price of gasoline. It wouldn't be a tax because according to the California constitution, the following is not a tax: "A charge imposed for a specific benefit conferred or privilege granted directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government of conferring the benefit or granting the privilege." Because it wouldn't be a tax, it wouldn't require a public vote.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Jim Jones The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again while expecting different results. We keep giving the San Diego our tax dollars and hoping this time they'll fix the streets.

    Someday we're going to to have to become a little more pragmatic and realize that San Diego's government is too big and too unionized to use our tax dollars efficiently and that we should therefore take on the responsibility of street maintenance ourselves or demand more accountability by replacing taxes with fees that "[do] not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government of conferring the benefit". The money we've already given the city to do a job they aren't doing is a sunk cost and we should treat it as such instead of hoping that some day they will make good on their promise.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @michael-leonard No, it won't be double-taxing because it will be a fee, not a tax. Read California's definition of a tax which I provided.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    As Mr. Jones writes, what you suggest would actually be double-taxing because we have supposedly paid for the maintanence already. But please don't blame "the unions" for what the pols have wrought.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann How does maintenance/repair of the street in front of my home qualify as a privilege not provided to those not charged?  There aren't many private streets in my neighborhood; how about yours?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Bill Bradshaw Who benefits more from potholes being fixed: people who drive, or people who don't drive?

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @michael-leonard  I don't "blame the unions", they're doing what all unions do, cutting the best deal they can for their members.  And, I don't necessarily blame the politicians either.  What I blame is the whole concept of collective bargaining in the public sector.  It's inevitably going to result in abuse because politicians make the ultimate contract decisions, and their motivation is to stay in office.  Read "Unintimidated", Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's account of how he fixed the problem in his state ( and, so far, has survived).

    The corrections to the system in San Diego, despite the screams of the employees are, at best, partial, even for new hires, if you apply the common sense criterion that there's no way to justify public employees getting a far better deal than private sector workers, job for job.  The very early retirement ages are the primary problem, not just wage or benefit levels, and it should be possible, over time, to correct this but it will take courage not displayed by today's group of San Diego politicians.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Jim Jones Can you prove that such a tax would be a net benefit to non-drivers? If not, then it isn't a tax.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Jim Jones You didn't answer the question, so I guess we're done with this thread of conversation.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Any way you look at it, it's taking from one pocket to put into the other. Funding deferred maintenance with deferred payments -- which is what both the proposed methods are -- makes little sense in the long run. But the alternative is to continue living with potholes and water-main breaks. Ah nuts.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Actually agree with you on this. What must be done is to fix the referred infrastructure before it gets any worse and the hell with new projects until the old stuff is taken care of. Just like a homeowner would hafta do.