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Brian Trotier came to Southeastern Economic Development Corp. at a time of turmoil for the organization.
The city-run nonprofit that’s responsible for redevelopment in southeastern San Diego had been rocked by a bonus scandal that ousted the agency’s two top officials. Trotier, a private real estate consultant, was supposed to be a caretaker until the agency found a new president.
Now 17 months into a long interim tenure, Trotier has weathered continued questions from City Hall about SEDC’s survival, most recently based on the agency’s $3 million budget deficit. Since then, Trotier has laid off 40 percent of his staff to cut costs.
On Monday, City Council will consider new rules for its relationship with SEDC and the Centre City Development Corp., a nonprofit responsible for downtown redevelopment. The new rules could clear the way for SEDC to have a permanent leader.
Trotier wouldn’t mind if that leader remained him.
There were concerns about SEDC’s solvency when your budget deficit was publicized. Is SEDC solvent?
Do you think the Mayor’s Office wants to eliminate SEDC?
I wouldn’t know.
How about individual council members?
No one’s said anything to me. I’m not sure that I’d necessarily be in the know. Number one, I’m the acting president and CEO. Number two, this is not a political position. Politicians tend to play their cards fairly close to the vest in many respects. Not just with respect to SEDC, but a lot of issues.
I’ve heard some rumblings about a push from SEDC to talk about a new Chargers stadium and a new City Hall in this area. Why would southeastern San Diego make a good spot for either or both of those projects?
The City Hall was kind of tongue-in-cheek. There had been a discussion at council about putting City Hall on such a valuable piece of downtown property and incurring the higher expense. And we said, well you know we’ve got cheaper real estate. We used the analogy in San Jose where they actually moved City Hall from their central business district out to east San Jose.
It wasn’t a serious proposal. But it was: If you’re really serious about looking at other options, we have cheaper land and there’s at least one other example where a city did that in an effort to stimulate development activity in another part of the urban core.
How about the football stadium?
We have land. We have transportation. We have the trolley. We were reading summaries of what the Chargers said they were looking for in terms of infrastructure, transportation access and we felt like, why not?
There’s some land in southeastern that’s largely located in a floodplain. The cost of taking land out of a floodplain for commercial development means that our relative cost advantage of land goes away. Our land becomes almost as expensive as downtown then. It really was a backward analysis that led to this. I started looking at what could go in a floodplain. Golf courses, parks, parking lots and stadiums. They’re not permanently occupied structures. Qualcomm (the Chargers’ current home) itself is in a floodplain. Nothing has ever come of it, but we raised the possibility.
The mayor has been taking the lead and so we had a discussion with the mayor’s staff.
How long ago?
Last October. Five months ago.
Are you disappointed there’s been no movement on that site?
When you’re in development or redevelopment you’re constantly generating ideas and some of them gain traction and some of them don’t. It’s not a question of being disappointed or not disappointed.
Trotier later said the parcel was in the Chollas Creek floodplain near the Market Creek Plaza development at Euclid Avenue and Market Street.
How have you been received in the community? You’ve mentioned you’re not from here, and it’s primarily a minority community. Were there challenges?
That’s a fair question. I think there was a misperception on the part of many members of the community that I was part of the downtown power elite and had been sent to close SEDC. It took a little while for people to understand that was not the truth. My only discussion — and this was after I’d been on the job for a week — with the mayor, his directive was to save the organization. Make it work.
I’m pretty much an open book. The community has been very supportive and very accepting once they got over the initial shock and fear.
Are you interested in staying?
Yeah, I think so. I think I’ve gotten the hang of the job and have established a reasonably good rapport with a large segment of the people in the 15 different neighborhoods that are in our area of influence. But I understand that I don’t control that.
When I was brought in the board made it clear that the person occupying this position was not eligible to stay on permanently. That’s never changed as far as I know.
Is it because you have some interest in staying part of the reason you’ve floated some of the ideas you have? To even discuss the Chargers idea is a bold move.
No. Bold ideas are what redevelopment is all about. If you’re in the field of redevelopment or development you’re going to have the same dreams even if you know you have a finite life.
What do you think your biggest mistake has been?
Being personally naïve about the political infrastructure in the city of San Diego and not being able to use that to the advantage of SEDC during the attempts to recover.
Do you have a specific example of that?
No, I’ve fumbled my way through a number of things. I’d never tried to work the halls on getting traction for a project or a plan. I’m totally unfamiliar with this concept of being a story. I’m amused by your presence. I’m just a guy who ended up in a place and is trying to help people in this community.
It’s totally unfamiliar territory for me. Quite frankly, nothing I’ve done warrants the attention. I gave this community an opportunity to heal itself. And this organization to heal along with it.
— Interview conducted and edited by LIAM DILLON