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A Southeastern Economic Development Corp. committee last night voted 4-0 to recommend sending a controversial development project back out to public bidding, paving the way for the project to be taken away from developers Pacific Development Partners LLC for the second time this year.

With a new board in place and its long-time president ousted in the wake of a hidden-bonus scandal, the redevelopment authority is starting fresh, said spokesman Alexis Dixon said.

“The whole idea is to start all over again,” he said.

SEDC, the city’s redevelopment authority for southeastern San Diego, has struggled for years to develop Valencia Business Park, an eight-acre plot that it spent about $7 million priming.

The owners of a local exotic bird store have sued SEDC and former SEDC President Carolyn Y. Smith for breach of contract and fraud on claims they were duped into giving up their right to the land.

Earlier this year, Councilman Tony Young and City Attorney Mike Aguirre forced SEDC to put the project back out to public bidding in the wake of the lawsuit and further concerns about the developer being allowed to switch to a more lucrative zoning without increasing its purchase price.

SEDC re-awarded the project to PDP in June, but for a purchase price of about $1 million less than it originally bid on the land.

Then, in the wake of the bonus scandal in July, Aguirre released an opinion stating that any SEDC deals with PDP were null and void because former SEDC Chairman Artie M. “Chip” Owen violated the state conflict of interest law by maintaining a financial relationship with PDP while serving on the board.

Staff recommended sticking with PDP last night and its report to the committee didn’t mention Aguirre’s opinion.

The full SEDC board will take up the recommendation to put the project back out to bid at its next meeting.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ, which is located across Imperial Avenue from Valencia Business Park, has lobbied SEDC for years to develop the land. It will continue to pursue the project, said St. Stephen’s attorney Matt Peterson. Its proposal consists of a combination of retail and restaurant development alongside more community-service oriented development that would host child care and educational space.

Peterson said SEDC needs to get a new team to analyze the project in light of its staff report. “Staff has to somehow come to grips with the fact that they way they’ve been conducting business just isn’t right,” he said.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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