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San Diego’s downtown redevelopment agency and a consultant have not released their proof that downtown remains rundown despite a promise to do so more than five weeks ago and requirements in state public records laws to release the information within 10 days.
The documents in question are central to the legitimacy of late-night state legislation that removed a key limit on downtown redevelopment.
Under the legislation, the Centre City Development Corp. will grab a substantial share of billions of dollars in future downtown property taxes for public improvements and development subsides.
Downtown, backers of the legislation argue, continues to require those taxpayer subsidies for redevelopment’s purpose: improving rundown neighborhoods.
But the state move meant that CCDC no longer had to prove that downtown was rundown, a public process that it had begun to undertake. Central in that effort was a $500,000 study that CCDC canceled after the controversial legislation passed.
The study and the information behind it are key to understanding if boosters would have been able to justify the need for downtown’s continued tax subsidies through the standard process.
In its unfinished state, the study asserts that downtown remains rundown. But the document, written by lead consultant Keyser Marston Associates, had yet to include evidence to back up those findings beyond simple crime statistics.
On-the-ground surveys validating that conclusion have been completed, according to bills for the project.
The draft study’s deficiencies and the downtown development boom over the last 35 years — including the revitalization of the Gaslamp Quarter and building of landmarks like Horton Plaza mall and Petco Park — have led local redevelopment experts to question if the study would have been able to justify the continued subsidizing of downtown.
The state legislation, crafted quietly in the midst of budget negotiations, could have been a way around the state’s requirements to prove blight, they argue.
Legal, environmental and redevelopment consultants had spent three months on the study, and the agency paid $162,000 on their work. CCDC’s leader had said the agency was only weeks away from presenting the study to the City Council when the legislation passed.
Invoices Keyser Marston submitted to CCDC show the consultant billed for $104,000, including a survey of downtown properties and expenses for a trip to San Diego by Keyser Marston’s Los Angeles-based lead consultant.
California’s public records law requires agencies to release information within 10 days of a request except in extraordinary circumstances.
CCDC has released some information. More than five weeks after promising to turn over the study’s backup documentation, the agency released the information it provided Keyser Marston for the study, including construction activity reports and city code violation data.
Still, the key information remains private.
“It’s on them,” said Jeff Graham, CCDC’s vice president for redevelopment, said of Keyser Marston. Graham added CCDC asked the consultant for the information before the December holidays.
Late Friday afternoon, a CCDC spokesman said in an email the agency was reviewing data and would provide a “status update” this week. He didn’t respond to follow-up questions.
Jerry Trimble, the head of Keyser Marston’s San Diego office and former president of CCDC, blamed CCDC for not releasing the information.
In a brief interview Tuesday morning after a panel discussion on downtown redevelopment, Trimble repeatedly said it was CCDC’s responsibility to turn over the documents.
But Trimble conceded the consultant hadn’t given anything to CCDC.
“At the appropriate time, the people that are handling it will provide it to CCDC, so talk to CCDC,” Trimble said.
Asked why the consultant hadn’t turned over its information yet, Trimble replied, “I think there are a few refinements of the material.”
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who sponsored the state legislation, has justified the continuance of redevelopment activity in much of downtown because certain neighborhoods, such as East Village, still require assistance.
“Past blight studies plus common sense when you walk in the areas we talked about earlier tell you there is still a need,” Fletcher said Tuesday morning at the downtown redevelopment panel.
Some backup for that claim exists. The draft study says the consultant completed a survey of downtown properties in September.
Graham said Keyser Marston needed to obtain that survey from a sub-consultant. Also, Graham said he believed Keyser Marston had financial and economic data including home prices and rental and office vacancy rates.
Asked if Keyser Marston had enough information to determine if blight remained downtown, Trimble said, “No, we were just starting.”
Pressed that the draft study said that blight still existed, Trimble walked away, ending the interview.