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Bob Filner and Nathan Fletcher were expected to spar over the issues that traditionally divide Democrats and Republicans in San Diego at last night’s mayoral debate: pensions, competitive bidding, local hiring rules.

But another significant city issue showed the starkest contrast between the two: downtown redevelopment.

Filner wants to eliminate it. Fletcher’s the one who recently extended its lifespan for two decades.

Filner, a congressman, said that he supported the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corp., when he served on the City Council 20 years ago. But now it has outlived its usefulness.

The first thing Filner would do, he said, is “abolish CCDC.”

“CCDC has done its work,” he added.

Instead, Filner proposed each neighborhood should receive equal attention and funding. It’s unclear, as with many of Filner’s ideas, exactly how that would work. The neighborhoods Filner mentioned at the debate, Clairemont, Valencia Park and Mira Mesa, aren’t in existing redevelopment areas or barely overlap with them.

Fletcher, an assemblyman, defended downtown redevelopment. He celebrated downtown’s record and said he would try to replicate its success in other neighborhoods.

“We have to be a healthy city in every community, not just in our core,” Fletcher said.

Redevelopment seeks to improve rundown communities by siphoning away property tax dollars from counties, schools and cities’ day-to-day operating budgets to subsidize development in those neighborhoods.

Boosters cite downtown San Diego as one of California redevelopment’s greatest success stories, turning what was a pornography-shopped and tattoo-parlored money pit into a gleaming, restaurant- and retail-powered economic engine.

But particularly in recent years, downtown redevelopment has faced criticism for a conflict-of-interest scandal, sequestering money needed for schools and general city services, and diverting attention from more impoverished neighborhoods.

Fletcher got himself caught up in the redevelopment maelstrom.

Last fall, he spearheaded a middle-of-the-night bill that extended the downtown agency’s lifespan by 20 years — a move that could funnel an estimated $6 billion to the neighborhood — and, backers have argued, spur economic development to help areas of the city. At the time, Fletcher’s bill divided city leaders who were involved in a public process to justify doing the same thing. The assemblyman later offered a semi-apology.

Fletcher didn’t mention the bill during the debate.

Of course, all eyes in the redevelopment discussion now are on the California Supreme Court. The court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the state’s two-step move to eliminate redevelopment, but allow agencies to buy back into the program. Oral arguments in the case will be Nov. 10.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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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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