Saturday, June 04, 2005 | The City Council was slated to discuss behind closed doors on Tuesday the sale of the land leased to Fairbanks Ranch Country Club and six other city-owned properties, but apparently the session will not be held because City Attorney Mike Aguirre refuses to put it on the agenda.
Real Estate Asset director Will Griffith said the properties he wants the council to consider could realistically be sold within the next 12 months if the council were to tentatively approve the transactions this week. Griffith said he has prepared information regarding the potential sale of seven properties based on a request Councilman Tony Young made at a budget hearing on May 23.
The city lands Griffith recommended to be heard in closed session:
– The Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, consisting of a 27-hole golf course on about 370 acres in North City. The country club, who currently leases the land, was listed as the prospective buyer.
– A vacant lot of about 9.2 acres in Jamacha that has been identified for an affordable housing project. The San Diego Housing Commission is listed as the prospective buyer.
– The MG Stonewood Garden Apartments, where a 255-unit residential complex stands on 8.4 acres in the Midway District. The apartment company currently leases the land and is listed as the prospective buyer.
– The La Jolla Marine Apartments, an eight-unit affordable housing project, on a half-acre in La Jolla. The building was transferred from S.O.F.A., a low-income housing agency, to the San Diego Housing Commission in May and the agency is listed as the potential buyer of land.
– A vacant lot of about two-fifths an acre in size in East Village. Centre City Development Corp., the city’s downtown redevelopment arm, is listed as the prospective buyer.
– A vacant lot of about one-third an acre in size near University of California, San Diego in La Jolla. Hillel of San Diego, a Jewish organization, is listed as the prospective buyer.
– A vacant East Village lot of about one-tenth an acre in size where San Diego Repair & Service is located. Brian Caine dba 11th and B Development Co. is listed as the prospective buyer.
Griffith, who is listed as the city’s negotiator in the memo listing the properties, said each of the properties submitted is at a different stage in negotiations and that he would not comment on the financial terms of the potential deals.
He said in an interview Thursday that the council would discuss in closed session land transfer options to generate revenue, and that a prospective real estate transaction is sometimes shuffled in and out of a council committee before being finalized in an open meeting of the full council. The public would have the opportunity to testify about the land in open or closed meetings, but that they would only be privy to monitor council decisions made in open session, Griffith said.
Then came Friday, and the civility surrounding budget options unraveled into the usual Aguirre-versus-Murphy verbal melee that has swirled City Hall all year.
The city attorney said it was inappropriate to spring the potential sale of property such as Fairbanks Ranch onto the public days before the council discusses the transaction in private.
Aguirre said he headed off a potential violation of state open-meeting laws by outright announcing that he won’t approve discussing the potential land deals behind closed doors. Liz Maland, director of legislative services in the City Clerk’s Office, said this is the first time to her recollection that a city attorney has refused to docket legislation, but that to her knowledge Aguirre’s approval was required to place the items on the agenda.
Mayor Dick Murphy, in a press conference Friday afternoon, likened Aguirre’s decision to a “veto.” The city attorney also refused this week to sign off on a salary ordinance – legislation that ratifies the new labor agreements. Aguirre said his disapproval of those deals was because savings generated through city employees’ concessions were funneled back into the pension system to pay for illegally granted benefits.
The city attorney accused Murphy, the mayor’s former and current chiefs of staff, and Griffith of meeting as far back as January to discuss selling land to pay for “illegal benefits.” He pointed to the suggestion made Tuesday by Ann Smith, an attorney for the Municipal Employees Association, as evidence that Murphy was working in cahoots with the unions to sell off public land to pay off a pension deficit estimated to be between $1.37 billion and $2 billion.
“Mayor Murphy is the puppet of Ann Smith, Judie Italiano and Ron Saathoff,” said Aguirre, referring to the presidents of the MEA and the Local 145 firefighters’ union, respectively.
Murphy chalked it up as another Aguirre conspiracy theory.
“He said that the staff and I are conspiring to sell land,” Murphy said. “That is a big lie.”
Aguirre launched an accusation at Murphy that the mayor and top aides had met with Griffith in his office to discuss land sales on Jan. 2, citing a security sign-in sheet for Civic Center Plaza. Entries were logged in for Murphy, former chief of staff John Kern, incoming Chief of Staff Tom Story and aide Bill Baber at 11 a.m. that day, with an indication that they were guests of Beth Murray, an assistant to the city manager.
The log states they were headed to suite 1700, where offices for both Murray and Griffith are located. Aguirre contends that Murphy and his aides were there to discuss land sales with Griffith.
The mayor presented the press corps with his calendar on Jan. 22, showing that he had an appointment to talk about the transition to a strong-mayor form of government, which voters passed in November, on that day at 11 a.m. Murray is the city staff member overseeing the transition.
Murphy also pointed to a staff e-mail declaring that the power would be out of the main administration building, where Murphy’s office is located, from Jan. 21 to Jan. 23. He said they met in Murray’s building because of the power outage.
Reporters then pointed out that Aguirre was asserting that the meeting was held Jan. 2, not Jan. 22. He said that he didn’t recall being at the Civic Center Plaza building that day and suggested that the date on the building’s guest log was probably wrong.
Aguirre maintains that the log was not filled out incorrectly, and that the meeting in question was on Jan. 2.
San Diego Housing Commissioner spokeswoman Bobbie Christensen, whose organization is mentioned as a potential buyer for the Jamacha and La Jolla Marine properties, said there have been no financial terms discussed in regards to the two pieces of real estate.
The housing agency and the city’s Real Estate Assets Office have been in talks for years about the La Jolla Marine Apartments land, she said. The Jamacha real estate was identified two years ago by the city, the Housing Commission and the Planning Commission as a possible site to build affordable housing, she said.
Calls placed to other agencies and firms listed as potential buyers were not returned by press time.
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