Monday, Aug. 25, 2008 |As a retired professional in public administration, I would like to 1) expand on my words that “city officials look at SEDC and CCDC as private developers” and 2) share my public statement on Redevelopment governance at a City Council public hearing on 11/17/05. My goal is to promote a public dialogue about how to improve Redevelopment governance in this city.

Two principles in the American Society of Public Administration’s Code of Ethics (ASPA) are to recognize and support the public’s right to know the public’s business and respect and protect privileged information.

San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency (RA) entangles the private and public sectors by using City-created and-owned private corporations to deliver Redevelopment services on the public’s behalf.  Civil servants regard SEDC and CCDC as private because there is a contractual relationship between the RA and the two independent corporations. (There is also a third contract between the City and the RA because the RA is a separate, distinct legal entity from the City of San Diego.) Although the City Council sits as the RA for conducting Redevelopment business, the RA is essentially a holding company to accumulate tax-increment funds for private use by developers. The RA has no staff, no mission statement or Code of Ethics or adopted set of policies and procedures to guide behavior by its three contractors, which the City Council has (and the public expects) for publicly-provided services. Because this outsourced work was never implemented through a competitive procurement system, there is no contract monitoring by civil servants to steward this huge portion of the public treasury or serve as a liaison with City colleagues or provide the public sector perspective on inquiries from taxpayers on SEDC and CCDC matters.

Given this mixed bag model, City planning staff process SEDC and CCDC’s applications for the planning commission agenda acting not under the principle of supporting the public’s right to know the public’s business” but rather under the principle of protecting privileged information, which is practiced for all private development. Planning department’s policy, according to a former senior planner in 2005, is to treat information from SEDC and CCDC as proprietary, whether accurate or not, meaning it’s up to them to be transparent with community planning groups and the public.

Breaches by SEDC of the ethics of my profession prompted the following: The use of City-owned independent non-profits to carry out CA Redevelopment Law should be curtailed, not increased. By design, no-bid contracts with no public oversight or contract monitoring by the City or Redevelopment Agency are counter to standards of accountability, transparency and representative democracy. For example, unlike the City Clerk’s office where I can walk in and get copies of public documents, there is no central repository of all SEDC, CCDC and Redevelopment Agency documents. Apparently, SEDC and CCDC are regarded as autonomous special purpose districts because I was told by City Redevelopment staff I would have to write a letter to get a copy of a public SEDC document. This model shields so much from public scrutiny, I wonder about procurement standards for developers, consultants and auditors. And finally, through spheres of influence, these independent corporations can govern beyond their geographic borders and charter restraints. Expanding the failed model of governance in place now will only worsen the consequences from the lack of control over these City-owned corporations.

We need to consider options for a transparent, public participation model to regain public trust in the purpose for Redevelopment. Three options come to mind: 1) a Redevelopment Commission like the Housing Commission with staffed employed by the Redevelopment Agency; 2) One like the planning Commission that is staffed by City employees and 3) Keeping accountability for public participation and access with the RA using competitive procurement for specific developments citywide.

There is a huge amount of public money under the stewardship of the Redevelopment industry. State records show all the Redevelopment agencies in San Diego county brought in $427 million in 1999-00, which is twice the $194 million in revenues of all community college districts in the county then. I bet the public knows far more about the community college business than the Redevelopment business. Much of that ignorance can be blamed on the current structure of Redevelopment governance.

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