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Last week, we explained why two San Diego City Council members opted not to voice an opinion on major land-use decisions facing their communities.
Turns out just last month, one of the city’s newest council members didn’t exercise as much caution, and now he might be forced to recuse himself when the City Council votes on the matter in the next few weeks.
On Jan. 22, Councilman Scott Sherman spoke to a group of constituents at the Allied Gardens Community Council, and was asked a series of questions about the Village at Zion, a 60-unit affordable senior housing project on 1.2 vacant acres on Zion Avenue.
Developers have asked for an amendment to the Navajo Community Plan that would change the parcel’s existing single-family zoning to a multi-family designation.
Sherman told the residents he’d likely vote for the project. One week earlier, the city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the City Council approve the amendment. The council is expected to vote in the coming weeks.
Here’s video of Sherman’s appearance before the Allied Gardens Community Council. The video was provided by Anthony Wagner, vice president of the community council and acting chairman of the Navajo community planning group. Wagner volunteered for Sherman’s opponent during the June election.
In the video, an audience member asks Sherman (at the 6:22 mark) how he plans to vote on the project.
Sherman’s audience is openly hostile to the project, peppering him with questions about his position once he says he’s tentatively planning to support it. He offers a number of candid defenses for his position, and encourages the audience to speak against the project when it comes before the City Council. Here’s the meat of his response:
We give a lot of lip service to being in favor of seniors and improving the quality of life of seniors. Navajo has a very large, growing senior population. I’m not a big fan of rezoning properties to fit what developers want to do, however, it would be kind of disingenuous of me to come up and say, ‘I want to help seniors, but at the same time I don’t want to help them in my backyard.’ But will we work with the developers and do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t get out of control? Probably so. It doesn’t sit right with me to come out and say, ‘I want to help seniors, but not here.’ It’s a perfect location, you’ve got the hospital down there, you’ve got the park, you’ve got the library, you’ve got the stores. And I know there are some parking issues, and we’re going to work as hard as we can to try to mitigate and solve all of those issues. But I’m probably going to go down that road. I’m leaning heavily in that direction.
Sherman is also asked in the video what he can do to improve the parking situation in the area.
He says he will lobby the rest of the council, and pressure the relevant council committee to take up the issue as well. With a council majority, he says he can work to place conditions on the developer.
The audience member again clarifies that “his point of view” means saying yes to the project.
“Yes,” he says, “but work to mitigate it as much as possible.”
The problem for Sherman: Approving community plan amendments is a council action that asks the body to act in a judge-like capacity.
In those situations, state law requires that officials reserve judgment until after a public hearing, in order to be sure that all parties are given a fair hearing.
But even if an official doesn’t specifically say how he plans to vote, they could be disqualified from the process if there’s evidence he came to a conclusion on the facts of the case prior to the public presentation before the council.
That’s where Sherman’s appearance in the video could force him to sit out of the council’s decision. While he leaves open the possibility that he’ll still vote against the project, he also makes definitive statements on the case, such as calling the location ideal for this type of project, and saying, “let’s be honest, the people who don’t want to see it are like I am, (living) real close in proximity” to the site.
I’ve asked the city attorney whether Sherman’s comments at the meeting are enough to warrant a recusal. I’ll update this post when I receive a response.
Sherman couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
“He’d certainly be willing to recuse himself from the vote if that was the guidance given to him by the city attorney,” said Sherman spokeswoman Diana Palacios.
Update: I asked City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to weigh in on whether Sherman’s comments at the meeting would warrant a recusal. He responded on Wednesday, but declined to offer an opinion: “If we are asked for advice on this matter by our client, we will provide that advice. It would not be appropriate to discuss the matter beforehand with the media,” he wrote in an email.
I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at email@example.com or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter:
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