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Shockingly, Jan Goldsmith and Bob Filner have vastly different takes on the legal wrangling over the Centrepoint deal.
Just after Councilwoman Marti Emerald announced a legal settlement over the city’s halting of a construction project near San Diego State University, Goldsmith, the city attorney, made a point to say what the city did wasn’t OK.
“We didn’t want a Mt. Soledad situation,” Goldsmith said Tuesday, referring to his predecessor’s public acceptance of legal liability for damage caused by a landslide in 2007.
“We’re advocates, and it’s our issue to defend the city,” he said. “Our lawyers did a very good job. But let’s face it, had the plaintiffs continued, it most likely would have been a different result.”
The legal settlement was indeed an unusual outcome.
For one, it ended with the plaintiff paying the defendant as a condition for dropping its own lawsuit.
The plaintiff, developer Carmel Partners, also agreed to a change in the rental structure in the building, and to a minor design change to each apartment.
All the city agreed to do was let Centrepoint resume construction, using the permits the developer had already legally obtained.
The settlement allowed the city to avoid a suit Goldsmith said was on the money. The developer’s due process rights were infringed, he said, and in the future the mayor needs to know he cannot issue so-called administrative holds on development projects.
“I held my nose and we got a settlement that was mutually acceptable, but I’m seeing things on a daily basis that I’ve never seen before,” Goldsmith said. “I’m getting disgusted. On Centrepoint, we did our job. We did it well. Our lawyers did the job to defend the city, and afterwards, we tried to make sure it would never happen again.”
Filner stopped construction at the Centrepoint project by instructing the city’s Development Services staff to stop conducting inspections on completed phases, which kept the builders from moving to the next step.
That’s a valid way to stop a project, but Goldsmith’s legal opinion said that mechanism required a stop-work order approved by the city attorney’s office.
The normal time to issue one, he said, is when a developer hasn’t paid required fees, not when neighbors voice disapproval, which is what spurred Filner’s action.
Of course, Filner has a different interpretation of how things played out.
“I’m using the powers that I have as mayor differently than they have been used in the past,” he said at a Friday press conference of his decision to stop construction at Centrepoint.
“That’s a frank situation. The mayors would not stop that project before. The council person would have been yelling at a closed door. We now have a mayor that listens to them.”
Filner decided to stop the project at the request of Emerald, who received constituent complaints about the project.
While there’s been a mighty howl from those concerned with how Filner’s actions will affect future developer decisions (a damages assessment conducted by Centrepoint found the stalled construction cost it $4.5 million as of May 14, or $56,000 per day), his intervention is undeniably popular with the Rolando residents who asked for it, and with others in the city who think their voices have gone unheard too long.
And though Filner’s method for stopping the project was illegal, according to Goldsmith, the resulting settlement provided $150,000 for a neighborhood park and addressed some concerns about the development.
“I have only good things to say about Bob and Marti, they’ve done a terrific job of listening to us, and making us feel like we had a chance,” said Daniel Anderson, president of the Rolando Community Council, which had advocated for changes to the project.
Even after the settlement, however, Rolando residents still aren’t happy with their new neighbors.
The neighbors’ main complaint has been with the size, scale and density of the project in their predominantly single-family neighborhood, Anderson said, and they were never given a chance to publicly discuss their concerns.
The negotiated concessions in the settlement made Centrepoint slightly less dormitory-like and brought in money for a decaying neighborhood amenity, but the residents who pushed to stop the project are still looking at a new neighbor they don’t want.
The difference Filner seems to see is that for the first time, someone’s at least listening to those complaints, and fighting to give residents something to show for speaking out.