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San Diego County is planning to sue over the last-minute move that eliminated a key limit on downtown redevelopment, a letter from County Attorney John Sansone said.

The letter sent to San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith on Dec. 21 said that a lawsuit will be filed against the city’s Redevelopment Agency, the downtown redevelopment agency, the state and the governor unless the city and county agree to a settlement.

It gives a Jan. 14 deadline for the suit to be filed.

The county was likely one of the losers in the state legislation that allowed San Diego’s downtown redevelopment agency to effectively extend its lifespan for 20 years until 2043. The agency, the Centre City Development Corp., is estimated to reap more than $1 billion in additional property tax revenue over that time. Some of that money could otherwise have flowed to the county.

The legislation, passed the night before the legislature approved the state budget in October, also circumvented an ongoing public process to discuss the cap removal. That process gave the county significant leverage to squeeze future tax revenue out of the city to get a deal done.

The word settlement is undoubtedly a code word for “money” in the letter. Mayor Jerry Sanders and County Supervisors Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob began negotiating a deal a few weeks after the legislation passed.

In the letter, Sansone argues that the legislation, SB 863, violates the state constitution’s rule that requires legislation to be about a “single subject.”

“Based upon this violation of the State Constitution, the County contends that the codified provisions added to the Health and Safety Code by SB 863 relation to the Agency’s Project should be declared by a court to be invalid and of no force or effect,” Sansone wrote.

Legislators attached the provision on San Diego downtown redevelopment to a bill addressing rural farmland development and redevelopment in a Bay Area city. Then-state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, an opponent of the bill, called it “a pretty violent violation of the one subject rule.”

We addressed the “single subject” issue in a November story about legal complications involving the legislation:

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.”

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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