Friday, November 28, 2008

Are the library closings really secret land deals?

Blog of San Diego
by Pat Flannery

Mayor Sanders made an abrupt proposal to summarily close down several libraries. Here is Andrea Tevlin's much more thoughtful budget cutting proposal. Hers shows a wider perspective and allows for community input.

Tevlin's recommendation is: "keep these facilities open until a more deliberate and comprehensive plan for facility closures is developed and presented to Council." She notes that a number of libraries are on Sanders' closure list and also on his expansion list. Is this just incompetence or something else? If it is incompetence it is really gross incompetence.

Take the Ocean Beach Library for instances. Is Sanders aware that:
"In 2005, the City purchased land adjacent to the Ocean Beach Library for an expansion. According to Council reports at the time, this property is collateral for a HUD Section 108 loan of $2.0 million garnered for the Ocean Beach Library. Loan payments are approximately $223,000 annually through FY 2017 and are being paid from District 2 CDBG allocations."
Here is the public record, from the Tax Assessor. It confirms the IBA's findings but does not reveal the sale price from attorney Thomas Bryan to the City. It would take a little more digging to get that. The fact that the City later borrowed $2 million against the property tells nothing of the sale price or the value of the property. The important point is that the City is on the hook for $223,000 per year for that property. They have probably used the $2 million elsewhere by now. They move such money around all the time.

It seems to me that this whole library and park closure business has more to do with secret land deals than balancing the 2008/09 Budget. If Sanders is about anything he is about land deals. It is my guess that somebody wants that OB site. The library lot together with the lot next door would make a perfect mixed-use development. How many of the other library lots chosen for closure would make excellent development opportunities? Here are aerial pictures of the seven properties, all prime developable lots.

It would explain why Sanders is so sore at Andrea Tevlin. Is she spoiling a well-laid plan? Her recommendations make all the sense in the world. She says: "we are recommending a comprehensive facility plan addressing proposed closures along with proposed openings be brought to Council by February 2009 in order to prepare for the future." Sanders was very scathing about that suggestion. Why? His demeaning remarks about Tevlin brought public protests from Councilmembers Atkins and Young.

Sanders argues that because of an implementation delay, Tevlin's recommendations will result in a "cost". He failed to mention that she has offset this "cost" by raiding two of his pet projects: a BPR (outsourcing) surplus and his reallocation of a Transient Occupancy Tax surplus (he wants to use it for promotional expenditure on his hotel friends). Look at the attachment to her Report to Council. Sanders has a very weak argument.

The best thing that came out of the new "Strong Mayor" form of government was IBA Andrea Tevlin. We are immensely lucky to have her. Let's hope the City Council votes to support her sensible recommendations over the very suspicious proposals of Sanders on Monday November 24, 2008.

Scott Peters' last act of infamy as a City Councilor

Scott Peters' last act of infamy as a City Councilor
by Pat Flannery

A bizarre end to Scott Peters' eight years on the City Council is unfolding. He is using his powers as Council President to finally ram an unwanted 12,000 square foot student center, with a 17,000 square foot garage, on a quiet single family residential neighborhood in La Jolla. For some unknown reason he has pushed this project like a tiger for his entire term in office.

Facing widespread opposition from his own constituents in La Jolla, he managed to get his former law partner, Suzanne Varco, to represent the City in a law suit filed by two La Jolla citizen groups: the Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use and the La Jolla Shores Association. On March 27, 2007 the City lost. Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn struck down the City of San Diego's decision to permit this totally inappropriate project.

Peters and the City decided to ignore the court, saying: "it was determined that the applicant would be allowed to resubmit a new application addressing the judge’s concerns, and process it through the City’s review process." Peters docketed the project for a Council hearing on December 2, 2008, his last day on the City Council. Here is the full documentation for the Council Meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Note that the project has been rejected numerous times by the City Planning Commission, the La Jolla Community Planning Association and other local groups.

According to this Peters Doctrine of land use, if a citizen objector sues the City and wins, the City simply invites the applicant to resubmit substantially the same project and call it a new project. The City will then decide what "addresses the judge's concerns", not the judge. That is what Peters has placed before the City Council on Tuesday. They should reject it.

But here is where it gets really bizarre: the City screwed up the public notice regarding the vacation of a right of way that is part of the project's application. Dr. Ross M. Starr, a Professor of Economics at UCSD, sent this email to the City Clerk on November 19th. He noted that after inspecting the site on November 18 "There were no posted notices for the hearing currently docketed for December 2, 2008."
There was however a posted notice dated October 1, 2008 for a hearing on October 16, 2008. Dr. Starr and his friends wisely took pictures of the posted notice on front of a copy of the Union-Tribune for that day, November 18, 2008. Here it is and another showing a wider view of the site.

The City's response was to go out to the site and post this Revised Notice, announcing a special City Council meeting for December 5, 2008. It explained in bold print: "This Posted Notice is being provided in addition to the Posted Notice, previously posted on November 19, 2008. The Hillel of San Diego Student Center Public Right-of-Way Vacation has been noticed for the City Council hearing of December 2, 2008. It is anticipated that this item will be continued until Friday, December 5, 2008."

This means that Council President Scott Peters informed the City's Development Services Department that five Council Members had reached a "collective concurrence", on or before November 21, 2008, to continue Item 343 on the City Council Agenda for Tuesday, December 2, 2008 to a special City Council meeting on Friday December 5, 2008. Such a "collective concurrence" is illegal - in breach of the California Brown Act.

Yet that is exactly what Scott Peters is planning - one final act of infamy on his very last day as a member of the City Council. I hope a sufficient number of his former La Jolla constituents turn up at City Hall on Tuesday December 2, 2008, to deny him this final abuse of elected office.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Public Records Request for CCDC's Nancy Graham e-mails finally granted, sort of

Link: 404
Voice of San Diego
by Rob Davis
November 25, 2008

E-mailWatch has ended. The Centre City Development Corp. recently turned over one final batch of e-mails sent or received by its former president, Nancy Graham.

We sought all of her e-mails after April 1, looking to determine what Graham had communicated as questions began being raised about her financial relationship with developers with business pending downtown. As my investigation continued, what did she tell people around her?

Turns out, not much. Or at least not much that was disclosed in the e-mails I fought for months to obtain.

Here's how the e-mails look by the numbers:

5,205: E-mails Graham sent or received between April 1 and her July 24 resignation.

0: E-mails that CCDC's attorneys from the Los Angeles-based law firm Kane Ballmer Berkman said were public records before our fight began in September.

4,388: E-mails that CCDC's attorneys ended up turning over after two months of back-and-forth.

413: E-mails that were spam or duplicates.

404: E-mails that were withheld and kept secret.

CCDC attorney Murray Kane offered this breakdown of why the 404 e-mails were withheld: 260 were attorney-client privileged; 35 were part of the deliberative process; 40 were confidential or related to on-going negotiations; 40 contained personnel, medical or "similar privacy matters"; 30 were preliminary notes or drafts not kept in the regular course of business.

CCDC withheld some responses to e-mails it disclosed. For example, Richard Ledford, a local lobbyist, sent Graham a May 13 e-mail entitled "Love That Press". It was written four days after our initial story documenting Graham's past business relationship with the affiliate of a developer with business pending downtown. The story was the first in that led to Graham's resignation and misdemeanor criminal charges being filed against her.

"I leave the country for a couple of weeks and you hit the press..." Ledford wrote. "you just gotta stay out of trouble! Ok, now don't shout, but my St. Paul client wanted to know if there are any fully entitled condo projects for sale in the redevelopment area. Yeah yeah yeah... don't start on me!"

Graham replied the same day. CCDC never provided her reply or the specific legal reason it was withheld.

For those who have been following E-mailWatch, at least two changes have resulted from our pursuit of Graham's e-mails.

Fred Maas, the CCDC board chairman, discovered from the e-mails that Graham had bought $18,000 in office furniture for CCDC's move to new offices earlier this year. That furniture is now supposed to be returned and replaced with less-costly furniture.

Maas said that CCDC is also taking steps to streamline the disclosure of e-mails requested in the future. Maas said CCDC's policy starting in 2009 will be to disclose all e-mails sent to staff members. Any e-mails containing confidential information will be directed to a special e-mail account; everything will be released otherwise, Maas said.


Friday, November 21, 2008

When it comes to greed, sometimes it's hard to differentiate between city unions and Republican insiders

We know that developers and their insider friends keep public money flowing to private projects, but in San Diego it seems that city unions are just as ready as the fat cats to suck the city dry.

Trying to DROP the Budget Deficit
Nov. 19, 2008

As the denizens of City Hall search every financial nook and cranny for ways to close the city's gaping budget hole, some sights have been set on the DROP program, the now famous pension perk that has long been the target of fiscal reformers.

The city could save in the neighborhood of $750,000 annually if the 13-member board of the San Diego City Employees' Retirement System votes to cut in half the guaranteed 8 percent interest rate paid on money city employees have in the program, according to a back-of-the-napkin estimate by Joseph Esuchanko, the city's actuary.

Though this savings would represent less than 2 percent of the city's $43 million midyear budget deficit, it would be equivalent of saving several libraries or recreation centers that Mayor Jerry Sanders has proposed closing to close the budget gap...

However, the pension board, made up of a mixture of current and former city employees and mayoral appointments, has consistently shot down proposals to lower the interest rate. The board is scheduled Friday to consider lowering it to 7.75 percent.

In 2005, the city ended the Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, for new employees. And both Sanders and City Attorney Michael Aguirre have tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the program altogether.

The program allows employees with five or fewer years left until retirement to keep working and collect a monthly pension payment based on their salary and years of service at the time they enter the program. The pension money is deposited into an account controlled by the pension system, which pays an 8 percent return no matter what is happening in the financial markets.

In exchange, employees freeze the salary that their pension calculation is based on the moment they enter DROP...

On Oct. 31, the pension deficit stood at $2.78 billion -- more than double what it was a year ago, according to Esuchanko...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Does San Diego need two city attorneys? Aguirre to represent the people, and Goldsmith to represent officials?

I suggest that cities need two city attorneys--one to give honest, accurate legal advice, and the other to defend officials.

Voters want the city attorney to look out for them, and not just for elected officials. Shamefully, most elected officials want to keep the system in which the city attorney's job has been to help officials do whatever they want, and get away with it. Alternatively, the attorney tells the council what to do, and acts as a de facto city council without being elected.

Apparently San Diego needs both Mike Aguirre and Jan Goldsmith.