Monday, June 30, 2008 | Earlier this year, Councilman Ben Hueso made a decision: He would no longer speak publicly about the prospect of a new redevelopment area in southeastern San Diego, and he would recuse himself from any discussion of the project in his role as a city councilman.

Because the councilman owns two properties within the proposed redevelopment area, and could therefore financially benefit from its creation, he was told by the Ethics Commission and the City Attorney’s Office beginning in February that he was disqualified from participating in or influencing the project.

Community activists said the councilman championed the plan at community meetings as recently as January, and that he portrayed the proposal as the last chance to revamp their neighborhoods.

The day after the SEDC board voted to go ahead with the project, Hueso wrote to the Ethics Commission and asked their advice. Since the Ethics Commission wrote back a month later, he has been mum.

“I don’t want to be involved at all in participating on boundaries, programs, anything,” Hueso said in a recent interview. “I’m going to recuse myself from every decision as long as it involves property I own. I’m going to work really, really hard not to talk about this process publicly.”

Hueso’s recusal means he won’t be able to weigh in on what has already become a contentious discussion within his council district.

The creation of the redevelopment zone would allow the Redevelopment Agency to capture tax money from the neighborhoods, which could then be used to complete revitalization projects and offer subsidies to developers working within the district’s boundaries. Experts said property values in the area could be accelerated by the area’s redevelopment designation.

Hueso and his relatives own at least 15 properties in the proposed redevelopment area.

Hueso and his wife own two residential properties within the proposed redevelopment area. His brothers Angel and Alfredo, and his sister, Virginia, also own residential property within the zone. Several other properties are either co-owned by members of the Hueso family or are owned by trusts named for members of the family. The family also owns several other properties just outside the project area.

Brokers and real estate appraisers familiar with the neighborhoods to be included in the redevelopment area said there’s no guarantee that redevelopment would boost local property values or that it would necessarily benefit the community.

Designation as a redevelopment area only benefits a community if the agency is active and effective in luring developers and funding capital projects in the community, said Bill Lipman, an appraiser at Lipman, Stevens & Carpenter.

“Generally speaking, it helps,” Lipman said. “But it depends to a large extent on how depressed the area is to start with.”

Steve Roach, an appraiser with Jones, Roach & Caringella, said there’s absolutely no question that redevelopment can unlock large gains in property values if it’s done right. He pointed to examples elsewhere in San Diego, particularly in the East Village, where property prices have increased exponentially after redevelopment efforts.

“The availability of tax increment financing and tax increment cash flow is a huge issue toward facilitating redevelopment and can lead to substantial value increases,” Roach said.

Hueso said he has generally been supportive of using redevelopment as a tool to improve his constituents’ quality of life. He said he has supported redevelopment efforts in neighborhoods from San Ysidro to Barrio Logan since being elected in 2005.

And Hueso, who opposed the redevelopment plan when it was first floated in the mid-1990s, said he has only supported studying the concept of using redevelopment in the new area. He said he doesn’t remember taking a position in favor of the project, but said he may have spoken about it in public. That’s unavoidable, he said.

“I have to live in the district that I serve in, whether I own a house or not. The requirement is that I live in the district. There’s a possibility that, because I live in the district, there’s a decision that might affect an ownership interest that I have,” he said.

“You can’t get around that,” he added.

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Hueso Family Owned Properties in Proposed Redevelopment Zone
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