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San Diego leaders are sorry — sort of — for cutting the public and other government agencies out of a multibillion-dollar decision to eliminate limits on downtown redevelopment.

Mayor Jerry Sanders, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and downtown redevelopment head Fred Maas attempted to put the circumstances surrounding the surprising last-minute state legislation behind them Monday by promising a six-month series of public meetings on the bill’s effects.

The bill, which is awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature, was introduced and passed in the space of a day — though we revealed on Friday that key players had been discussing outlines of a deal since August, contrary to their previous statements. It surprised and angered San Diego’s City Council and San Diego County supervisors, whose current negotiations on downtown redevelopment limits were made unnecessary by the bill.

Since the vote, the trio central to the bill’s passage — Sanders, Fletcher and Maas — have come under heavy criticism for orchestrating a secretive maneuver on such an important public policy decision.

On Monday, they all decried the “flawed process” that led to the elimination of redevelopment limits.

“Despite the dysfunction, San Diegans will be heard as we pursue this in the future,” Sanders said.

But their contrition might not be enough to stave off a lawsuit from one of the deal’s potential losers. County supervisors will discuss filing suit to overturn the deal during their meeting tomorrow, Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

Jacob was initially on the list of those attending Monday’s press conference, but backed out because she said it would have looked like she was supporting the bill.

“When the backroom-deal occurred to lift the cap, it threw out the window any guarantees that county taxpayers would be protected as well as taxpayers in other areas of the city of San Diego that are not in downtown San Diego,” Jacob said.

At Monday’s press conference, Sanders, Fletcher and Maas joined three critics who have had varying degrees of scorn over the deal to promote the forthcoming public meetings. Councilman Kevin Faulconer reiterated his support for eliminating downtown redevelopment limits, but dislike for a process that left him out of a decision vital to his district. Supervisor Ron Roberts said he wanted to continue negotiating with the city to make sure the county didn’t lose any money, not file a lawsuit. Councilwoman Donna Frye said the series of meetings mollified her complaint about the lack of public input.

Right now, the effects of the redevelopment deal aren’t known other than it’s a boon to downtown and a potential new Chargers stadium. Proponents are counting on greater downtown development to spur higher property, sales and hotel-room tax dollars across the region.

But despite the contrition expressed at the press conference, it wasn’t clear what, if anything, any of those involved in the deal would have done differently. Sanders repeated that secrecy was important because of concerns that Los Angeles legislators could have killed it. The way politics works in the state capital, Fletcher said, makes deals happen this way.

Asked if he would have informed the City Council or county supervisors knowing what he does now, Fletcher replied: “I don’t know. That’s a hard thing to ask in terms of looking back. I’ll tell you moving forward, we’ll do everything possible to engage everyone.”

Monday’s press conference comes at an awkward time for Sanders. In just over two weeks, city voters will decide on Proposition D, a sales tax and financial reform ballot measure that relies significantly on trusting city elected officials to keep cost-cutting promises. Both Sanders and Frye support Prop. D, and Frye said Monday’s action helped restore her trust.

Jacob wasn’t as sure.

“The biggest issue here is, how can we trust those public officials that have been a party to circumventing the process?” Jacob asked. “Actions speak louder than words, and so far it’s just words.”

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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