The Morning Report
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Blight Watch has ended.
After seven weeks, the Centre City Development Corp. will be turning over public information from its blight consultant Keyser Marston Associates.
“We anticipate receiving the data you have requested from KMA and making it available for your review beginning tomorrow after 2 pm,” said CCDC spokesman Derek Danziger in an email. “It will be provided on CD’s at the front desk. If anything changes, I will let you know in advance.”
Taxpayers spent more than $162,000 on Keyser Marston’s study. The unfinished draft of the study was missing key pieces of information, which we’ve been seeking for seven weeks. Over the last two and a half days, we’ve been blogging about CCDC’s refusal to provide the records — we’ve named it Blight Watch.
The information is central to the legitimacy of late-night state legislation passed in October that allowed CCDC to collect more than $1 billion in future downtown property taxes. The legislation effectively extended CCDC’s lifespan for two decades.
The legislation also circumvented a public process that would have required CCDC to prove downtown remained blighted to justify the siphoning of future tax revenue away from local schools, the county and the city’s day-to-day operating budget.
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 could have been a way around the state’s requirements to prove blight, they argue.
Among other things, Blight Watch taught us that CCDC was flouting the state’s public records law and didn’t have the documents we were requesting even though its contract with Keyser Marston suggested it should have.
CCDC is turning over the information tomorrow, but our work isn’t over. Important records requests related to the blight study remain unfulfilled.
We’re still seeking:
• An environmental analysis from another consultant, SCS Engineers. The analysis documented hazardous waste and soil contamination downtown, according to the blight study. CCDC spent $47,615 on work from SCS Engineers.
• Unredacted invoices from CCDC’s lawyers related to the blight study. CCDC has released blacked-out versions that make it impossible to know what both firms billed for, or even if those bills were for the blight study or other legal work. CCDC has invoked attorney-client privilege in not releasing the information. It paid $10,528 for the legal work.
• All communications between CCDC and Keyser Marston, SCS Engineers and another blight consultant 3D Visions from last April to January. CCDC has said this request was too broad and asked us to narrow it. We haven’t. Danziger reiterated that this request was “overly broad” and would take “significant time” to review the emails before providing them. CCDC uses Keyser Marston for numerous projects, Danziger said.
• The notice of termination or suspension CCDC gave Keyser Marston when it stopped the blight study. CCDC has said it “cancelled” the study, but the contract’s official status is unclear. The answer would show what records should be in CCDC’s possession. I requested the notices this morning.
We appreciate the support and emails from numerous readers and commenters on our website and Twitter. We also are grateful for the backing of San Diego City Council members Sherri Lightner, Carl DeMaio and Marti Emerald. They jumped on board this morning.
Lightner succinctly summed up the reason why the information we’re seeking is so vital: The lifting of CCDC’s property tax cap is crucial to San Diego’s financial future.
“Without the blight study, it’s not possible to make an informed decision about whether or not raising the cap was the right choice,” Lightner said in a statement. “If there is backup information, it should be released immediately. Taxpayers paid for this study. It should be available online without the need for a public records act request.”