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San Diego City Council Tuesday approved a $900 million revitalization and expansion of University Town Center by a vote of 7-1, with Councilwoman Donna Frye opposing.

The near-unanimous final vote came after heated discussions about the projected water usage of the mall expansion, which will include, among other things, a new movie theater, child care center, residential housing and more parking. Both Frye and City Attorney Michael Aguirre said plans for the property’s renovation do not adequately address its impact on the city’s dwindling water supply.

These concerns came a day after San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders declared a stage-one water emergency.

Frye said she could not support the proposal because of its projected high-density, but also raised concerns that water was not completely addressed as an environmental issue in the project’s latest environmental impact report.

The project has been touted as an example of cutting-edge green innovation by supporters, who say the project will include efficient buildings, an ice rink partially-powered by solar power and parking structures covered by solar panels. Critics, however, say that the project’s eco-friendly amenities will be negated by increased traffic congestion in the area.

On Monday, the counsel received a memorandum from Aguirre stating he opposed the project’s approval because additional sources of water could not be identified in the wake of the city’s water shortage.

Councilman Jim Madaffer criticized Aguirre for his last minute decision on a project that has been in the works since December 2001, and pointed out that the city attorney’s office had already signed off on the EIR report.

“It was just yesterday that we declared the water emergency…but I disagree that the actual potable use of water is going to be neutral,” Aguirre said. “The analysis that was made by the water department was made during a time in which they thought voluntary conservation was going to work, and now we know that it wasn’t.”

Westfield Corporation legal counsel Christopher Garrett said Aguirre’s concerns have already been addressed. He said the expansion had absolutely no impact on the city’s water supply, as required by the city of San Diego’s water department.

“[The city’s water department] was absolutely unrelenting in forcing us to completely offset any increase from our existing project by coming up and using the reclaimed water that’s going into the ocean,” Garrett said. “We have no impact on the city’s potable water supply, this is the most defensible water supply assessment that I’ve ever seen.”

— LEA YU

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