One of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ top priorities used to be the construction of a new City Hall. He argued that the current building was dilapidated and didn’t meet basic health and safety standards.

Sanders planned a ballot measure to put before voters but vetoed the measure from being placed on the November 2010 ballot because its backers told him that there wasn’t money to campaign for its passage.

The $294 million project to build the new City Hall had been passed with a 7-1 vote of the city council. The council however subsequently failed to override the mayor’s veto and the issue was effectively put in abeyance.

We wanted to know if the project would be a priority for the next mayor. We asked the city’s declared mayoral candidates the following questions: “Do you believe the city needs a new city hall? If yes, what’s the problem with the current city hall? And how would you finance its development if so? If no, why?”

Carl DeMaio, city councilman:

I have vocally opposed plans to build a new City Hall since before I was elected to the City Council. I have continued making the case against this huge expenditure of taxpayer dollars throughout my time on the Council.

While the current City Administration Building needs some improvements and renovations, it is completely unjustifiable to spend nearly $300 million for a brand new building when downtown office space is currently being leased for the lowest prices in years.

Amid the unfortunate down market we face in San Diego, the City is provided with the opportunity to renegotiate leases for office space and secure lower rents. For this reason the City needs to move quickly to renegotiate leases and should immediately stop pursuing the new City Hall idea. If not, the City risks being boxed into a corner in two years when many of the leases expire and our negotiating power is lost, leaving the City to pay higher rent than could be had now.

As streets deteriorate, library hours are cut, and other services decline, it is disappointing to see City leaders continuing to push for this excessive and unneeded taxpayer-funded project.

Bonnie Dumanis, district attorney:

I have heard all of the arguments, both pro and con, for a new city hall. One fact stands above all others: we do not have the money! We also have much higher priority needs, like ending the billion dollar maintenance backlog and gaining control of our pension system. We need to keep our priorities straight, and that means reforming city government, holding the line on taxes, and making San Diego the easiest place in California to start or grow a business.

Bob Filner, congressman:

The congressman failed to respond.

Nathan Fletcher, assemblyman:

It is unacceptable we have a City Hall that doesn’t comply with the same health and safety standards every other business and office building have to comply with. It isn’t fair to regular citizens who have to comply, and it isn’t fair to city workers who spend their days in a facility with asbestos and without fire sprinklers. That has to change.

A case has been made that savings can be reached by consolidating multiple services and agencies into a new facility. However, some of the conclusions of the initial studies performed by the city to justify a new building have been called into question, with suggestions that there are more cost-effective alternatives to building a new City Hall.

As Mayor, I will take a fresh and objective look at the full costs and options. Then, I will work with the City Council to get this issue resolved.

David Cardon, real estate broker:

No I do not think the City needs a new city hall…The City can’t even take care of the streets that are under its control. There is a fountain outside of City Hall that is inoperable or has been shut off. Just another example of how our infrastructure is failing all around us. Eventually it would be nice to renovate the current building, because it does suffer from functional obsolescence and is unattractive, but not anytime soon. What the City needs to do is to take care of all of the assets and property that it has under its control RIGHT NOW. Why give City Government something new, when it hasn’t proven that it appreciates what we have given it already? Let’s Take Back OUR City…

Hud Collins, trial attorney:

In good times we would have started building a city hall a long time ago; certainly it is dilapidated and is in need of retrofitting its sprinkle system. In a double dip recession times, there’s no way that the public money will be used to build this needed complex. Low leasing rates would allow putting all City Hall employees at other close locations. Currently, there is a 10-year $3.7 million dollar budget for temporarily fixing City Hall. No public money can be used, redevelopment or other. As I have previously mentioned with regards to other projects; there has to be a thinking outside of the box whether it be the Charger Stadium, Convention Annex, etc. The way to build this City Hall complex is to negotiate with the retirement fund for any full amount of the building plus a reasonable interest of 5% – this loan plus interest can be collateralized by the land and the building, so that the retirement fund has no risk in this venture. Otherwise once again no public money be it redevelopment or all public money.

Loch David Crane, magician and retired teacher:

Of course we need a new City Hall…but not THERE.

Let’s find a cheaper property elsewhere near downtown, then sell 202 C St. for many millions as prime real estate! We can get a 20% yearly payment, use that and other sources to build a bigger, better building elsewhere. We can upgrade everything, have more parking, create a green solar building, and employ the unemployed. The roof garden provides us a cafeteria. We’ll reward a great local architect, showcase some artists, and hire legal Americans using President Obama’s E-Verify system. We’ll cover the roof as well as the entire south facing side with solar panels!

We can start building thru developer sales or public domain, and occupy in a staggered fashion. We do not need to shut down ALL of the City to move, or even ANY City services. We can avoid asbestos and include sprinklers, the old building’s problems. We can learn from the fire service how to design safe tall buildings, and then pay these heroes well to protect us. The City should also continue to expand satellite services so planning, permits, and other processes can be completed in local neighborhoods or on the web

Sunny O. Enyoghwerho, businessman:

This is not the time to build a new city hall. At the moment, the city is $2.1 billion dollars in deficit. There are more important things to do right now in the city than to build a new city hall. A new city hall is not a necessity right now. It is not a pressing issue. If we should build anything at all, we should be talking about a new Stadium. This is what the city really needs. If it is built, it will generate some revenues for the city, and it will also increase employment. Our infrastructures should be number one priority at the moment. The $2.1 billion dollars deficit is a hindrance for the progress of the city. Until that money is paid or depleted, it will be very difficult for the city to initiate on any meaningful project. The city officials should be thinking about how they could raise money for the city to pay off the deficit. Instead they are thinking about a new city hall that will not yield any income for the city. It is a very bad idea at this time to be talking about a new city hall.

Steve Greenwald, compassionate physician, businessman, and civic activist:

My vision of SAN DIEGO in the beginning of the 22nd century would include a new imaginative energy independent complex with nanotechnology, water and refuse recycling, latest communication technology to be replicated by other national and international urban centers…we could grow food consumed in the complex by a vertical garden and crowned by a rotating restaurant to view the natural beauty that surrounds our city…but at this time we must devote our limited resources to create prosperity for our citizens with special focus on the 18 to 28 year old demographic group.

Toby Lewandoski, computer scientist:

No, I do not think that building a new city call right now would be a benefit for our city. We are operating with a loss of revenue streams from many different avenues, largely due to the amount of expenditures our city has created, government waste, risky investments and the amount of San Diego’s tax base losing their businesses, homes and jobs. I say let’s plan it for 15 years from now. In that time we will create revenue streams that will help the city generate money, which we can than save, for the new city hall. We also have an obligation to the younger generations by preserving the current city hall for historic purposes that tell the story of the great city of San Diego.

Tobiah Pettus, unemployed:

“America’s Finest City” does not need a new City Hall. San Diego needs to focus on our economic recovery. San Diego must force the lead. We must create an environment that fosters rapid growth. With that growth – job creation! City Hall needs to stop thinking about itself and start thinking about “We the People”! We need jobs!

The latest failed City Hall proposal would have cost $293.5 million (not including cost overruns), been 19 stories tall, with 576,000 sq. ft., having 2 levels of underground parking and housing 2,300 city office workers. The new building would save $28 million over 10 years. But, not building it would save at least $265.5 million. The Council voted 7-1 to put it on the November ballot. Mayor Sanders supported it, but fearing its defeat – vetoed it. It would have been defeated; the middle of a financial crisis is not the time. It will not be on the November ballot. The project is now in limbo, unless the Council overrides the Mayor.

San Diego needs elected officials that do not spend $16,140,185.00 per year – on the role of deciding how to spend our money! (Cost of Mayor, Council, support positions, supplies)

Scott Wilson, businessman:

Naturally, the city government needs an effective building from which to conduct business. A building may frequently appear to not need replacement from cosmetic appearance, but underneath have serious issues including water leakage, load bearing member weakness, or a lack of sufficient electrical/internet infrastructure (especially if the building is old enough that it predates computers).

Since I am not privy to the planning recommendations made with regard to City Hall, I cannot intelligently comment on if we need a new building. Once I am in office, I would examine the findings of the planning committee. If it were found to be the case that the reason for replacement was one of necessity (such as the ones mentioned above), then I would advocate replacement of the building. Otherwise, I contend this is a difficult economic climate, and superfluous spending cannot be tolerated.

Lamii Kpargoi is an international fellow working with through the nonprofit IREX. He is working on elections issues and media best practices in community relations. You can reach him directly at and 619.550.5671.

Like VOSD on Facebook.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.