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What’s one way San Diego City Council members can make sure Mayor Jerry Sanders doesn’t cut them out of future redevelopment decisions? Cut the mayor out of redevelopment decisions.
The City Council gave strong signals that it would curtail the mayor’s redevelopment powers in the wake of a late-night, last-minute move in October that funneled a significant share of $6 billion in future property taxes to downtown redevelopment without the council’s knowledge.
“At least some members of this council are ready to move forward with a redesign, a rethinking of how we do redevelopment in the city of San Diego,” City Councilwoman Marti Emerald said. “That starts from the person at the top.”
For now, that person is the mayor. But in many ways, his authority is an accident.
The city’s redevelopment structure is, to put it mildly, strange. The City Council serves as the redevelopment agency’s board under state law and the mayor is the agency’s executive director. That means, in theory, the council could fire the mayor.
None of the state’s other 300-plus redevelopment agencies have an elected official as its executive director, a redevelopment deputy told the council last week. The executive director serves as the agency’s CEO in charge of managing how the city subsidizes development and beautification to fix rundown neighborhoods.
The mayor’s authority is an unanswered question lingering since voters in 2004 blessed a new strong-mayor form of government. That structure, made permanent by voters this year, put the mayor in charge of the city bureaucracy and removed him as a council member. His authority extended to the city’s redevelopment bureaucracy by default.
But Sanders’ role in the October state legislation spurred the council to take speedier action to resolve the mayor’s authority, council members said last week.
The mayor worked behind the scenes with local Republican state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and downtown agency officials to pass the legislation without telling the City Council.
Council members have given the mayor varying degrees of scorn for keeping them out of the loop. They had already begun setting up a public process to consider extending the life of downtown redevelopment.
“We are the agency’s board, and we should have had some involvement in this,” said City Councilman Todd Gloria, who is chairman of a new committee formed by the council last week to reform redevelopment citywide.
The council decided last week to extend Sanders’ term as the agency’s executive director for another two months, but indicated it wanted to strip that power away in favor of a professional manager.
A manager would be more unambiguously accountable to the council. A politician would be more unambiguously accountable to the voters.
Sanders wants to remain in charge.
“We believe the system should remain as is,” said Rachel Laing, a mayoral spokeswoman. “The mayor is the only policy official elected citywide, and is therefore the appropriate executive director of an agency overseeing redevelopment, which touches all but two districts.”
Gloria expected the new council committee would last up to two years and examine all aspects of redevelopment, including the mayor’s role, permitting, combining redevelopment areas and merging agencies.
The city’s redevelopment structure is complicated beyond the question over who’s in charge. Two city-created nonprofits, Centre City Development Corp. and Southeastern Economic Development Corp., manage redevelopment activities in the city’s downtown and southeastern areas. The two nonprofits and the city carry out the redevelopment work in 17 neighborhoods around San Diego. Most other redevelopment agencies around the state just implement their projects themselves.
One important redevelopment decision now appears resolved. Sanders formally announced his selection of Jerry Groomes as SEDC’s permanent head. Groomes, who led SEDC in the early 1990s, is currently city manager of Carson in Los Angeles County.
Sanders has offered Groomes $170,000 a year, which is $20,000 more than interim SEDC head Brian Trotier makes. But it is a steep pay cut from the $225,000 Groomes was earning in Carson.
SEDC’s board will discuss Groomes this week and council could appoint him in January. He declined to comment.
The permanent president position became open in 2008 when the board fired Carolyn Y. Smith after our investigation revealed the agency’s clandestine bonus system.