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One of the biggest potential losers of the last-minute state deal that sprung the limits on publically subsidized redevelopment downtown: San Diego County.

Officials there already have discussed litigation. County Supervisors Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob met Friday with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, one of the law’s architects, to talk about its effect on the county’s bottom line.

The county, like city neighborhoods other than downtown and state education funding, doesn’t know if it will gain or lose from the sudden decision to continue redevelopment through 2033 — 10 years longer than it would have otherwise. Under redevelopment, the city captures a larger share of property taxes that would have flowed to the county government, school district and the entire city in general. The city then invests that money back into a blighted neighborhood and subsidizes development. In this case, that development could include a new Chargers stadium and expanded Convention Center.

Two legal arguments seem the most likely for the county to use should it sue.

• The first: The state constitution requires laws to be about only one thing, known as the “one subject” rule. Legislators attached the provision eliminating San Diego’s downtown redevelopment cap to a bill addressing rural farmland development and redevelopment in a Bay Area city.

• The second: Redevelopment law says you have to prove a neighborhood remains rundown, or blighted, before eliminating redevelopment limits. That appears not to have happened here.

But both approaches are far from slam dunks.

A brief discussion on the single subject issue came up during the dead-of-night legislative debate on the bill, said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. DeVore voted against the bill in part because he believed it funneled tax money to the NFL.

The Irvine Republican also called it “a pretty violent violation of the one subject rule.”

But successful challenges to state laws based on the one subject rules are rare, legal experts said. Courts typically give the legislature significant latitude on the issue.

Local Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who authored the bill’s redevelopment provision, said he wasn’t concerned about any challenge to the bill based on the one subject rule or anything else.

State lawyers signed off on the bill’s constitutionality through their regular review of bill’s language, Fletcher said.

“If there had been any problems, they would have notified us of that,” he said.

But the last minute nature of this law could make things different, said Fredric Woocher, a Los Angeles attorney who has argued single-subject issues before the state Supreme Court.

“It definitely is right on the boundaries one way or the other,” Woocher said. “Either it just skirts by, or it’s going to be one in which a court’s going to say no this is just a little too far over the line.”

Fletcher frequently has cited the legislature’s lifting of a redevelopment cap in Glendora, a small city east of Los Angeles, in 2009 as a precedent for San Diego’s law.

Some circumstances of those decisions are different. The distinctions could benefit San Diego where Glendora remains mired in legal morass.

It is generally understood that redevelopment only can continue if a neighborhood remains rundown or blighted. In a lawsuit filed by Los Angeles County, Glendora officials argued its state law determined its neighborhood remained blighted. Therefore, the city argued, the state law properly eliminated the redevelopment cap.

A state appeals court didn’t agree. This summer, the court indicated it didn’t believe the legislature could declare a neighborhood blighted without evidence.

Backers of San Diego’s law argue they have sidestepped that issue, and escaped Glendora’s legal difficulty.

San Diego’s law doesn’t require any finding that downtown remains blighted to eliminate the cap, said the downtown redevelopment agency’s outside counsel.

“The statute eliminates the cap, period,” said Murray Kane, the agency’s lawyer. “There is no requirement for any finding of blight to eliminate the cap.”

If true, San Diego’s law does something curious. The purpose of redevelopment is to eliminate rundown neighborhoods. Here a substantial expansion of redevelopment happened without a determination that those neighborhoods still were rundown.

Both Kane and Fletcher take issue with that point. Downtown has had numerous studies showing that it remains blighted, they said. And certain individual downtown redevelopment projects require blight findings before they can go forward. Also, Fletcher said, the coming public debate on how to spend the newfound downtown redevelopment money should help ease concerns.

“I think there is general agreement that there are areas of downtown that are still blighted,” Fletcher said. “There will likely be a healthy discussion about other areas.”

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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