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Both Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Attorney Mike Aguirre assured radio talk show host Roger Hedgecock this afternoon that they were working to resolve the dispute over business-improvement funds for Little Italy, which the city abruptly stopped handing over to the Little Italy Association two weeks ago.

Business owners and supporters decried the city’s decision to cut off of their maintenance funds at a press conference in Little Italy this morning. Photo: Bronson Pate

Fred Sainz, the mayor’s spokesman, said this afternoon that the mayor plans to meet in person with the officers of the association within the next few days.

“The city in no way, shape, or form wants to harm Little Italy,” Sainz said. “The mayor thinks it’s a great example of what a business-improvement district should look like.”

Officials from the neighborhood association say they’ve not yet been contacted directly by the Mayor’s Office to schedule a meeting, but that they’re pleased to hear such a meeting has been promised.

Sainz said that, while the city is “trying to get them money just as soon as possible,” it is the city’s role, as the fiduciary agency for the improvement funds, to ensure that any rumor of controversy or wrongdoing is checked out.

“When questions are raised, the city has the responsibility to address those issues,” Sainz said.

Business owners and association officers held a press conference in the neighborhood this morning, where they spoke passionately about the funds they considered to be “held hostage” by the city attorney.

Aguirre said in a statement yesterday that the city was reviewing the association’s expenditures in light of a search warrant that had been served on offices of the neighborhood association’s officials. But Theresa McAteer, the attorney representing the Little Italy Association, said that the search warrant was served on the offices of Marco Li Mandri, the association’s executive director, for documents unrelated to Little Italy.

The hubbub led the association’s president, Steven Galasso, to disparage the city’s care for businesses this morning.

“I am very ashamed and disgusted to be a small-business owner in the city of San Diego,” he said.

Tom Di Zinno, the association’s secretary, compared the city’s move to the decision made by “bureaucratic despots” in the 1960s to bifurcate the community with the construction of Interstate 5, which runs right through it.

“It’s taken us 45 years to revitalize Little Italy, and these people behind me rebuilt it,” Di Zinno said, gesturing to a few dozen local supporters and business owners. “These aren’t the Sopranos, Mike Aguirre.”

KELLY BENNETT

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