The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that could redraw the boundaries of its redevelopment efforts in southeastern San Diego and dramatically change how its redevelopment arm there can spend money in its blighted areas with the goal of increasing the organization’s heft.

The plan’s approval sets the stage for the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. to free up restrictions that currently require it to spend its tax revenue within the boundaries of each of its four redevelopment areas.

The plan proposes putting all the money in a single pool and allowing SEDC to spend it in any of the redevelopment areas. The agency wants to implement the plan over the next 18 months.

Brian Trotier, the agency’s interim president, said without the plan, the agency wouldn’t be able to improve some of the city’s most depressed and under-invested areas. It has struggled to do that since a 2008 leadership scandal ousted its former president and cast doubts on the agency’s ability to fulfill its role.

The approved plan also outlines the agency’s desire to explore capturing a large swath of Greater Logan Heights, east of downtown, and begin capturing tax money there to fund redevelopment in the community.

Over the years, residents and activists in Greater Logan Heights have opposed several SEDC attempts to make the community a redevelopment area, fearing low-income residents could be pushed out. The current plan’s adoption moves the proposal a step closer to reality, but SEDC officials say that will only happen if residents want it.

Since the plan was approved by SEDC’s board in April, some residents, activists and community organizations have struggled to understand its precise implications. Many did not know of the plan’s existence until it was approved, and when they learned of it, were confused about when the proposed changes took effect.

“I can’t believe there was no requirement for public input up to this point in the process,” Ben Rivera, a Logan Heights resident, told the council Tuesday.

Trotier acknowledged the agency could have done more to seek the community’s input and help ensure residents understood the plan would be rolled out over more than a year. But he said over the coming 18 months, state redevelopment law will require the agency to hold multiple community meetings as it pursues the changes.

Before the vote Tuesday, Kathy Lopez, an active Logan Heights resident, emerged from a meeting with City Councilman Tony Young where she said he assured her that he would hold SEDC accountable for involving residents in the redevelopment process.

“He said he was going to hold their feet to the fire,” Lopez said. “But it’s so hard to know what you can believe.”

Before approving the plan Tuesday, the council amended the plan to include language that would commit SEDC to involving residents and eliminating eminent domain if residents opposed it.

Young said as SEDC implements the changes, “this council member will not support a plan that does not have strong community support.”

The City Council asked SEDC to develop the current plan in the aftermath of a scandal that ousted the struggling agency’s president in 2008 and thrust the organization into disarray. The council wanted assurance that SEDC could remain a viable redevelopment agency.

Its fiscal and past leadership challenges have left public officials and residents questioning whether SEDC remains the most effective agency for redeveloping southeastern San Diego.

It is struggling to pay off debts and is devoting much of the tax money it collects for redevelopment to those debts. The current plan, Trotier said, will make it easier for the agency to promote new development that will increase tax revenue and help the agency dig itself out of its fiscal hole.

At the meeting, Trotier told the council that creating the single pot of money, not the expansion into Greater Logan Heights, would help the agency generate more revenue.

The expansion, Trotier said, was “revenue neutral.”

Councilwoman Donna Frye asked why, if that was the case, SEDC planned to continue exploring it in the face of community opposition.

“You’re taking an agency that needs to be re-formatted and saying we’re going to make it bigger,” Frye said. “These people don’t want it.”

After the meeting, Trotier said SEDC could not be certain that the majority of Greater Logan Heights residents did not support SEDC’s plans.

“There were 9,500 people who voted in District 8, and there were 12 here today,” he said. “Until we know what the majority of those people think, we can’t say no to this. That would be circumventing the appropriate process.”

Trotier said SEDC’s board could begin implementing the plan as early as next month.

The Council approved the plan by a vote of 6 to 0. Council President Ben Hueso, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, did not vote because he owns property in Greater Logan Heights. Councilman Carl DeMaio was absent.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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