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Morning Report: Chaos at Civic San Diego

Civic San Diego’s president steps down amid scandal, Escondido passes on federal money that would’ve required ICE cooperation and Chula Vista adopts pot regulations.

Civic San Diego
Civic San Diego holds a Downtown Community Planning Council meeting. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Big changes are coming at Civic San Diego, the city’s downtown development agency.

Reese Jarrett, Civic’s president and CEO since 2014, announced his retirement Wednesday. It isn’t clear when he’ll leave, but he broke the news following a one-hour closed session meeting of the agency’s board.

The departure comes as Civic is engulfed in crisis due to a lawsuit from Murtaza Baxamusa, a former Civic San Diego board member who is associated with the region’s largest construction workers union.

During his lawsuit, Baxamusa found four current and former Civic staffers who alleged a range of improper actions by Jarrett, other Civic leaders and their board of directors, as Andy Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt outline in a new in-depth story about the turmoil in the agency that we posted after Jarrett’s announcement.

Civic leaders deny all of the allegations, and none compare to the criminal charges that brought down agencies that existed before Civic. But they have nonetheless been enough to create a sense of chaos around the agency. Mayor Kevin Faulconer and officials who work for him are now negotiating with Baxamusa to resolve his lawsuit. It could mean a dramatic change to the agency.

Since its creation, Civic has moved from one political crisis to the next. It was created from the husks of two scandal plagued agencies: the Southeastern Development Corp., where two leaders pleaded guilty to embezzlement, and the Centre City Development Corp., which lost its leader to criminal charges after she was involved in approving a project with a company in which she had a financial stake.

Escondido Backs Out of DOJ Grant

I was looking forward to watching how Escondido sorted out a small grant it was expecting from the Department of Justice.

It seemed like a chance to figure out how much there was to the dispute between California and the Trump administration on immigration.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says municipalities that are so-called sanctuary cities shouldn’t get DOJ grants like this. But there is no accepted definition of a sanctuary city. Since then, California also added new restrictions on how local law enforcement can cooperate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

But to get the grant, Escondido officials had to pledge to cooperate with ICE. It seemed like quite the pickle, although Escondido officials said they were confident the grant requirements didn’t run afoul of California law.

For now, we’re unlikely to find out for sure if they were right. As Maya Srikrishnan reports, Escondido decided to pass on the grant. Officials said they couldn’t come up with the money for a required match. Immigrant activists had also lobbied the city hard not to take the money.

North County Report: That news and more is in this week’s North County Report. It has been quite the North County week for Voice of San Diego. We had this news, an update on the fish hatchery in Carlsbad, lots of coverage of the race to replace Rep. Darrell Issa and evidence of Republicans turning against Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr.

Trump blasts California: The president hit California in the most unusual way Wednesday. Trump said he is going to punish California by not building the wall here, at least for a while. This is unusual because California literally just lost in court trying to block construction of the wall in California.

Also in the North: A horse-rescue group in Valley Center is mired in accusations of fraud and animal cruelty. (inewsource)

Faced With Ballot Move, Chula Vista Sets Pot Rules

Chula Vista became the first South Bay city to create rules for the state’s recreational marijuana trade.

The ordinance allows for three retail dispensaries in each of Chula Vista’s four council districts. Four of those 12 available licenses will be set aside for independent deliverers whose facilities are confined to industrial areas and not open to the public.

Officials have placed no limits on manufacturing and distribution facilities — so long as those sites meet certain zoning requirements — but they did place a cap on the number and size of cultivation sites.

Chula Vista has reluctantly crafted a marijuana ordinance in response to an industry-funded ballot measure. Activists and professionals have been gathering signatures in several cities across San Diego County, putting pressure on elected officials to adopt regulations on their own instead.

“It is definitely not everything we wanted, but it is a small step in the right direction,” Manny Biezunski, a San Diego-based marijuana consultant, said in an email.

He and others have complained that the rules seem to favor out-of-state professionals over local newcomers. In response, officials tweaked their earlier draft.

The city is requiring that applicants employ at least one manager with 12 months of legal marijuana experience. At least one owner must also meet certain requirements, such as running a lawful business in Chula Vista for three years with more than 10 employees.

The city is also asking prospective license-holders to show $250,000 worth of assets and identify a location upfront. On a per capita basis, as the Union-Tribune noted, Chula Vista is poised to create the county’s largest legal marijuana marketplace.

City officials plan to put an initiative to tax cannabis, which could generate as much as $6 million annually, on the November ballot.

But don’t get too excited: Although marijuana is going to help Chula Vista’s bottom line, it won’t solve the city’s long-term financial problems. The U-T also quotes an expert who helped write Denver’s regulations and warned locals at a recent business forum that pot revenue is not an economic savior; it’ll pay for enforcement and then some special projects.

— Jesse Marx

Opinion: School Choice Is Bad for … the Environment

Gary London, a consultant who helps builders scope out the economics of their visions, reacted to our Parents Guide to Public Schools with a commentary. He understands why some parents in San Diego Unified School District may want to take their kids outside their neighborhood because of concerns about school quality, but he argues that not enough people are thinking of the negative effect that’ll have on our transportation system and the environment.

“My specific concern is that the school district’s practice, which now engages almost half of its student population, has serious traffic and environmental consequences that conflict with avowed San Diego policies on climate change and reducing our carbon footprint,” he wrote. “I have not seen nor heard any active discussion about how inappropriate this is.”

Quick News Hits

KPBS: “San Diego County is planning to build a residential rehabilitation center aimed at helping former criminals and recovering addicts become self-sufficient, Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Kristin Gaspar announced Tuesday during her ‘State of the County’ address.”

A report found that San Diego is one of the worst areas for pedestrian deaths. (10 News)

Yet another woman has come forward — now 15 to allege that a sheriff’s deputy mistreated her. The latest says the deputy groped at her home.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is asking the City Council to approve changes to housing codes, specifically allowing more units to be built if a project has more affordable housing.

Social media and conservative news outlets were abuzz about a course San Diego State University offered to the general public through its extended studies program called “Trump: Impeachment, Removal, or Conviction?” Now, the U-T reports that the university decided to drop “Trump” from the name of the course.

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