Journalism won’t die if you donate. Support Voice of San Diego today!
Thursday, March 23, 2006 | It was seemingly dead and buried under an avalanche of accusations, counter-accusations, backroom bickering and resignations, but San Diego State University’s troubled The Paseo development appears to have been given a shot in the arm by Mayor Jerry Sanders.
The mayor’s new land use czar, Jim Waring, said Wednesday that the city will withdraw its objection to the project, which had run into great controversy after SDSU President Stephen Weber took control of it last summer. Previously, the Paseo had been managed by the San Diego State University Research Foundation, the non-profit organization that manages the university’s grants and contracts.
The $350 million mixed-use project will be built, and largely as planned, Waring said.
The foundation had been working on the project since its inception almost 15 years ago and appeared close to breaking ground when Weber and other university officials took the reins of the development. At that point, the officials with the city’s Redevelopment Agency – a crucial partner in the project – said they would no longer partner with the university to get the project built because what they said was the university’s poor track record of working with the community.
That all changed last week.
Last Friday, Sanders met with Weber and SDSU Vice President for Business Affairs Sally Roush, who is heading The Paseo project on behalf of SDSU. Waring, who was also present at the meeting, said the outcome was unequivocally positive.
Under San Diego’s new strong-mayor form of government, Sanders became the acting executive director of the city’s Redevelopment Agency on Jan. 1.
“(The mayor) has told President Weber that we would like to work with them to maximize the chances of a Paseo project being built,” Waring said.
City Councilman Jim Madaffer, who represents the College Area, has argued that Weber had essentially killed any hopes of getting The Paseo built when he took control of the project.
Any animosity that previously existed between the Redevelopment Agency and the university has passed, Waring said, and The Paseo can go ahead largely as planned. Barring a few minor changes to the design that Waring said are inevitable in a changing marketplace, the footprint of the project will be the same.
“President Weber has made it clear in a meeting with the mayor last Friday that he is committed to building a Paseo project there, as opposed to an extension of the university footprint, which I define as classrooms and that sort of thing,” Waring said.
Weber has said he was obliged to take over the project because of new regulations in the California State University system regarding how schools manage debt, but
They remained unconvinced that the project would proceed as planned despite Wednesday’s news.
The final plans for The Paseo call for 250,000 square feet of shops, restaurants and theaters, 100,000 square feet of office space, 470 student apartments and 2,000 underground parking spaces, all based around a new trolley station.
Madaffer was incensed by the news that SDSU will be moving ahead with the project. He said that Weber had “hijacked” The Paseo project, and that the university has no intention of building the development as it has been envisioned.
The councilman said the real reason why the university took over the project last year is because of the involvement of developer Frederick W. Pierce IV. As the former president of the city’s pension board, Pierce has been at the epicenter of the city’s ongoing pension scandal and was slated to be the developer of The Paseo when it was under the control of the foundation.
Madaffer said he will pressure the City Council, which has final say over Redevelopment Agency business, to put the Paseo project out to bid to private developers because of his stated distrust of SDSU. If the project went out to bid, Pierce would have another opportunity to win the project.
“This is jihad for my constituents. This is the equivalent of a holy war. I am going to forever stick up for my constituents,” he said.
In 2003, Madaffer recommended Pierce’s reappointment to the pension board in a memo to former Mayor Dick Murphy.
Mike Fortney, who has been overseeing the project for the city’s Redevelopment Agency, was amazed to hear that the project would be proceeding with the university as the developer.
“Wow,” he said. “Everything I’ve heard from the university is that they want to make huge changes to the project.”
Fortney said there were questions as to whether the project would include a movie theater, 200,000 square feet of retail space and an office tower.
Jason Foster, a university spokesman, said he couldn’t be absolutely sure about the specifics of the project. However, he confirmed that there would be at least 200,000 square feet of retail space and that the project will certainly contain student apartments.
Pierce, who would have been the developer of the project had the foundation retained control of the Paseo, said the community should simply not believe the promises made by Weber.
“It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie,” he said.
Please contact Will Carless directly at