The Morning Report
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For seven weeks, San Diego’s downtown redevelopment agency has refused to hand over information that cuts to the core of its very existence.
The agency, the Centre City Development Corp. isn’t telling us why it’s not giving us the information and, by this point, appears to be in conflict with the state’s public records law.
Two weeks ago, it was unclear if the records at issue were even in CCDC’s possession or still in the hands of its primary consultant Keyser Marston Associates.
Since then, my colleague Will Carless and I have gone back and forth with CCDC and still haven’t received any clear answers.
Monday morning, I spoke with CCDC spokeswoman, Jennifer Davies. I was arranging to pick up some invoices.
I asked about the information we’ve been waiting seven weeks to receive.
“It’s complicated,” Davies said. “If you don’t understand why it’s complicated, I don’t know what to tell you.”
I don’t understand why it’s complicated. What I’m asking for is public information already finished and paid for by taxpayers. At the very least, I should receive a formal explanation from a CCDC official or lawyer why I’m not legally entitled to the information.
Davies said the information is “a matter of negotiations.”
“It’s not us trying to be jerks,” Davies said. “It’s just complicated.”
More than two years ago, CCDC promised “the highest standard of … transparency” after its former leader Nancy Graham resigned in the middle of a conflict of interest scandal.
Now on arguably the most consequential issue the agency has faced since then, the agency first denied the release of an unfinished draft study meant to determine if downtown was still rundown enough to continue as a taxpayer financed redevelopment area. Then they backed down, but then inexplicably blacked out some information before releasing it in full.
Now that we’re seeking the backup information on that study, the agency is continuing to stonewall.
To recap, we want to see $162,000 worth of work paid for by San Diego taxpayers and completed by legal, environmental and redevelopment consultants related to the amount of blight that remains downtown. So far CCDC only has released a fraction of the information and little of substance generated by Keyser Marston.
This information is important because redevelopment’s purpose is to improve downtown neighborhoods or eliminate blight. Once blight is gone, redevelopment is supposed to end.
So if there isn’t blight downtown or blight isn’t widespread, then it calls into question the legitimacy of the late-night legislation that extended CCDC’s life. That allowed it to continue sequestering property taxes downtown for decades longer at the expense of San Diego schools, San Diego County and the city’s day-to-day operating budget. (The state backfills lost school revenues.)
California public records law requires that CCDC make public information “promptly available” to us. Not only has CCDC not released the information, they haven’t given us any reason in writing why they haven’t turned it over, something the agency is legally required to do within 10 days except in extraordinary circumstances.
Here’s what we want to see:
• A survey by 3D Visions, a consultant working with Keyser Marston. 3D Visions surveyed downtown neighborhoods by examining buildings and plots of land for evidence of blight. The draft study says the survey was completed in September and 3D Visions has billed the taxpayer $43,840 for its work.
• Financial and economic data including home prices and rental and office vacancy rates that Keyser Marston has analyzed.
This information we can get only through CCDC and Keyser Marston. We have also made different records requests for an environmental analysis, unredacted legal bills and communications between CCDC and Keyser Marston and other consultants.
We have already received:
• An unfinished draft blight study that concludes downtown remains rundown, but has little proof to back up its claim.
• Documentation provided by CCDC to Keyser Marston after the consultant requested it to prepare its study. The documentation includes construction activity reports and city code violation data. It’s information that’s otherwise publicly available.
Seven weeks ago, CCDC’s spokesman Derek Danziger promised us he would release anything that could be disclosed that Keyser Marston had worked on.
As of two weeks ago, Jerry Trimble, the head of Keyser Marston’s San Diego office, said he hadn’t turned over the records to CCDC yet without giving any reason why he hadn’t.