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We’re Having the Wrong Conversation About Civic San Diego

While the debate about Civic San Diego and whether it favors efficiency over public input is interesting, it obscures an important question: Was creating Civic San Diego even legal?

Recent opinion pieces published on Voice of San Diego about Civic San Diego and Assembly Bill 504 have mostly focused on development efficiency versus public process.

As Murtaza Baxamusa put it, “we are at the mercy of the economics driven by developers,” and “the speed of issuing permits masks the process for meaningful public involvement on a project-specific level.”

Kris Michell, of the Downtown Partnership, and Jerry Sanders, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, countered that Civic San Diego is “the model of government efficiency when it comes to approving development projects,” and said AB 504, a measure proposed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that would force more oversight on the agency, “is just another example of government letting some ill-conceived notion of process get in the way of real progress.”

While the debate is important and interesting, it does not answer the most basic question about Civic San Diego: Is it legal?

A little background: In 2011, the passage of AB 26 ended redevelopment in California and required the winding down of those agencies.

On June 25, 2012, then-Mayor Sanders brought an item, S-402, to the City Council to establish a new, city-funded nonprofit named Civic San Diego to take over two former redevelopment entities, Centre City Development Corporation and Southeastern Economic Development Corporation.

Civic San Diego would perform the functions of CCDC and SEDC, including “continued land use permitting and planning, existing management of the Downtown Parking District and economic development.”  In other words, Civic San Diego would become the “new” redevelopment agency.

There were no City Council committee hearings about forming Civic San Diego, and I could not locate any city attorney opinions, memorandums or reports about whether this deal was legal. Plus, the item to create Civic San Diego was supplemental, meaning it received less public noticing than a regular agenda item. It passed City Council with little, if any, public awareness of what was going on. And here we are today, with more questions than answers.

So while the debate about public process versus development efficiency heats up, I can’t help but notice a bit of irony in all of this, which leads me to support the public process side of the debate and AB 504 in general.

Had there been a meaningful public process and a written legal analysis when the idea of creating Civic San Diego first came up, it’s likely we would not be having this discussion or needing legislation, as Gonzalez correctly noted, to “save the city from itself.”

Donna Frye is a former City Council member and serves as president for Californians Aware. Frye’s letter has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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