If the state Legislature is where the late-night downtown porkfest gets fattened up, San Diego’s City Council is where it gets slaughtered.
For the second straight hearing, council members sliced and diced staff from the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corp., about secret negotiations that led to a last-minute state deal to eliminate limits on downtown redevelopment. The deal happened without the council’s knowledge even though members were working on a plan to remove the limits themselves.
Last month, the council had requested a timeline of when key players knew about the deal, which allows the agency to collect $6 billion more in property taxes and potentially finance a new downtown stadium for the Chargers. Outgoing agency head Fred Maas, who had revealed previously that discussions about the deal began in August, attempted to do that Monday afternoon.
Maas said he spoke between five to 10 times with local Republican state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, the provision’s sponsor and he had briefed others on the deal.
But that — and a bland memo from Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office also released Monday — wasn’t enough. Councilman Carl DeMaio wanted to know about how the deal began, specifically contact between Maas and mayoral chief of staff Kris Michell. Maas refused to answer. DeMaio, in turn, openly wondered if he could fire Maas.
“I don’t think I feel comfortable with Mr. Maas staying until the end of the year,” DeMaio said.
Incidentally, Maas had just formalized his resignation effective at the end of the year, as the city is seeking to replace him with a permanent downtown redevelopment chief.
Had that not happened, Councilwoman Marti Emerald said, she might have sought Maas’ removal sooner.
“I think there’s probably some of what you’re hearing too is that maybe it should be an immediate resignation,” Emerald said. “No offense to the great volunteer work you’ve done, but this City Council is trying to repair the damage done by previous councils and mayors in doing deals behind closed doors that have gotten us into a lot of trouble.”
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who also was kept in the dark about the deal, poked a hole in one of the main arguments made by its proponents. City Council, backers say, has the ultimate decision on how and if the city should spend the new money.
But there are restrictions to how that new money could be spent, Goldsmith pointed out. Had the deal not occurred, property tax dollars would have flowed directly to the city’s day-to-day operating budget, meaning it could pay for police, fire and other city services. Now the money will be sequestered downtown, meaning it couldn’t pay for those services. Legal language in the bill precludes City Council from deciding to spend the money differently, Goldsmith said.
He said the legislature should clean up language in the law.
“A lawyer did not go through this is my view,” Goldsmith said. “They would have caught this.”