Morning Report: With Building Folly, City Real Estate Director Out - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: With Building Folly, City Real Estate Director Out

101 Ash St. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The city of San Diego owns a vast portfolio of properties and now it will need a new boss to manage it. The city acknowledged Monday that Cybele Thompson, the director of real estate assets Faulconer had recruited after his election in 2014 to clean up the department, was resigning. The move comes after years of controversy about the city’s purchase of a high rise downtown that used to be the headquarters of Sempra.

But more than that, the city’s clumsy and reckless acquisition of properties has been the most recurring failure for Faulconer’s administration. Thompson was the second top manager to leave in the midst of the ongoing revelations about the purchase of 101 Ash Street, the building that hundreds of city employees were meant to occupy for the long term, potentially saving taxpayers millions in annual rent. But they have never been able to move in (well, they did once, but asbestos concerns led to immediate evacuations) and the city last week acknowledged Thompson and her staff never called for an independent inspection of the building before purchasing it and claimed to the City Council it would only need a power washing.

Jesse Marx and Lisa Halverstadt broke the news of Thompson’s departure and reviewed the list of stumbles that led to it.

San Diego’s Power Play

San Diego has one chance to really get what it wants out of its private power provider. And for a city with more ambitious renewable energy goals than the state of California, you’d imagine it’d squeeze everything it could into a new franchise fee agreement. 

We set out to explain the situation as the decision gets closer.

Think of the franchise fee like a rental agreement: The city is the landowner and the utility (currently San Diego Gas and Electric) is the renter using public land to build its poles, wires and gas lines. (The price a utility would logically pay is passed onto customers, however.)

SDG&E is nearing the end of its 50-year lease. A city-hired consultant suggested slashing that term and requiring upfront cash payments from shareholders. But the consultant also recommended the city stay realistic to keep competitors interested in a contract which, by city charter, must go to the highest bidder. Other cities that recently renegotiated their terms are coming up with innovative ways to force private utilities to provide more renewable energy and play along with climate change-minded policy goals.

Now it’s up to city leaders whether San Diego will do something similar.

One More Challenge for Migrants in Tijuana

Disasters always tend to hit the most vulnerable among us hardest, and the pandemic is no exception. Maya Srikrishnan has chronicled the ways in which the virus has scrambled an already tenuous situation for migrants stuck in Mexico, awaiting resolution of their U.S. asylum cases.

In the latest Border Report, she lays out a new wrinkle: “the Mexican government has stopped renewing temporary humanitarian visas that were given to asylum-seekers when they entered the country.”

One attorney who provides legal assistance to migrants in Tijuana is working with the Mexican government to extend the visas.

This bureaucratic hurdle exists on top of the many challenges migrants are facing in the midst of the pandemic, including a shortage of shelter beds and a lack of food and jobs.

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Sara Libby and MacKenzie Elmer, and edited by Scott Lewis.

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