Mayor Jerry Sanders outlined his staff’s strategy for managing the city’s real estate portfolio at a morning news conference today, saying that the department overseeing city-owned land is back on track but still has work to do.
Sanders said the city has completed an inventory of property and expects that an outside audit of the city’s real estate management practices will be completed by November. Real estate transactions are on hold until the Real Estate Assets Department’s operating system is reorganized and its policies are updated with the new audit in mind, he said.
With his top real estate aides at his side and rap music blasting from an adjacent house, Sanders announced his plans to assess the best uses of the city’s 3,400 properties while standing on a dusty, vacant lot in Grant Hill. The property has been unused by the city but utilized as a dumping ground since a woman willed it to the city in 1995. A makeshift homeless shelter was discovered in the back end of the lot when officials arrived there this morning.
“Properties like this will be reviewed for their best use, sooner than later, so they won’t stay idle to become eyesores for the community,” Sanders said.
Some excess assets may be rolled into a land sale, but Sanders said no current strategy existed. Sanders said that revenue from real estate sales could be used for infrastructure improvements and capital improvement projects, such as fire station construction or parks.
The mayor said City Attorney Mike Aguirre advised him that the City Charter prevented the city from using the property sales proceeds to balance the budget or pay down the $1.4 billion pension deficit.
Land sales have long been contemplated as one measure to help plug the pension deficit, and unions have advocated heavily for such a strategy. A year ago, former City Manager Lamont Ewell and the council had contemplated selling $100 million in city land as part of a larger $600 million pension funding package.
Sanders also said the independent inventory revealed that the city’s record-keeping practices were more accurate than originally thought. The Union-Tribune reported a year ago today that the city’s property records were in disarray, which led then-Real Estate Assets Director Will Griffith to resign under the pressure of officials who saw the news account to be embarrassing.
Real Estate Assets Director James Barwick said the inventory found that only two of the city’s 3,400 properties did not have corresponding paperwork in its files, but that those were in the process of being included in the city’s paper files.
“These allegations may have been a bit overstated,” Barwick said.