Redevelopment Wrangling

[UGCCHI-CJ-breaking news]Fire in the sky
Ann Delabre

While the state Supreme Court has put California redevelopment agencies out of business, the legal kicking and screaming may not be over.

Growing indications are that cities and counties with urban renewal programs are looking at bringing more lawsuits, in hopes of forestalling "babies being thrown out with the bathwater," as the common refrain goes.

At 13th Avenue and F Street in a blighted area of downtown San Diego, the municipality's Centre City Development Corp. already has spent millions of dollars buying up most of the block for a park to be known as East Village Green.

The park has been touted as a magnet for further residential and commercial investment in the neighborhood.

But does CCDC now just sit on the property until market forces make its acquisition costs bearable to new, private buyers?

Write it off?

Or put up a fight?

"If you think about the situation right now in California, it's crazy," said David Steinberg, law professor at the nearby Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

"You have projects where a lot of money is sunk into the project, and now you're just all of a sudden going to pull the plug?" Steinberg asked. "It really doesn't make any sense."

So much for East Village Green, its four planned acres of parkland surrounded by a vast concrete jungle of rundown buildings, many of them vacant.

The only operating business left on the block is a home furnishings and accessories store that's under a year-to-year lease -- and may still be for some time to come, now that redevelopment is dead in the eyes of the state of California.

But is it just dead "on paper," issued late last month by the state Supreme Court?

Docket sheets for Tuesday's closed-door executive session of the San Diego City Council show that municipal lawyers are looking into the prospect of suing the state for "declaratory" and "injunctive" relief.

Steinberg says such actions would be a long shot, but that the costly, time-consuming legal process -- and concerns about adverse outcomes -- might prod lawmakers to restore some redevelopment powers.

"Maybe not with the kind of funding they had," Steinberg said. "Maybe with only some projects funded, and some not."

If so, there may well be a fight over money for the proposed Bayside fire station in the Little Italy district of downtown San Diego, where $2.5 million in CCDC funds have been spent on land for what critics call a $21 million "Ferrari of firehouses."

Should the project be funded, but scaled down to more modest specifications and costs, half a loaf may beat none at all for CCDC and Little Italy residents.

Then, in court, there's the legal long shot.

"This is a controversial decision," Steinberg said. "You may find a judge who decides not to follow the law, who simply rejects the Supreme Court ruling -- or interprets it, or distinguishes it in some way.

"To say, 'Wait a minute, there still is this funding that may exist.' Stranger things have happened."

Citing confidentiality laws, San Diego attorneys and officials had no comment on what came out of Tuesday's closed-door discussions on "potential initiation" of lawsuits against the state and "related entities".

But it would seem naive to think they left saying, "Forget it -- let's just go to Sacramento and beg for mercy on bended knee."

Let us know what you think. Comment below, send us your thoughts via Twitter @PropZero or add your comment to our Facebook page.

Contact Us