A San Diego Ethics Commission panel has proposed a $25,000 fine for Nancy Graham, the city’s former downtown redevelopment chief.

Graham, who resigned as president of the Centre City Development Corp. in July 2008, had faced a maximum $170,000 fine for failing to disclose her financial interests and subsequently negotiating a deal here with developers who were her former business partners.

While the three-member panel found that Graham violated city ethics laws on 17 occasions, it urged the full commission to fine her no more than $1,500 per infraction. While Graham is a “sophisticated, experienced government official” who should’ve known the risks her improper participation posed, the panel wrote, Graham’s private deal had been struck years earlier.

“There is no claim that anything Ms. Graham did in San Diego made her one penny more,” the panel wrote. “… Overall, this is an episode characterized by a series of unfortunately timed events.”

Graham worked as a developer in Florida before coming to CCDC in 2005. While in Florida, she struck a development deal with Lennar Corp. that ultimately paid her more than $3 million. She never disclosed the income, some of which was received while she was CCDC’s president, despite city and state laws that require such reporting. She participated and influenced negotiations on a hotel planned for the site Lennar owned.

The commission’s panel found that Graham violated the law by sending e-mails, signing a staff report and participating in 11 meetings about the project.

State and city laws prohibit public officials from negotiating contracts that can financially benefit themselves or their business partners. Graham has already pleaded no contest to one count of failing to disclose her financial relationships.

Two major projects were killed after Graham’s resignation. The hotel project was withdrawn by its developer; another planned $409 million skyscraper was killed by CCDC. The panel said the incident should’ve been avoided altogether.

But, it said, “The Commission does not intend to hold her fully responsible for everything that befell the City and the Center (sic) City Development Corporation during her tenure.”

The Ethics Commission, the local agency charged with enforcing city ethics rules, has investigated Graham for two years. Its full board is scheduled to decide on Graham’s case when it meets Aug. 12. Any decision on a fine would require a unanimous vote of its five commissioners.


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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