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The first official step toward expanding Civic San Diego’s authority beyond downtown could take place in the City Council’s closed session Monday.

Civic San Diego, a city-controlled nonprofit formed by consolidating the city’s former redevelopment agencies, currently has the authority to approve projects in the downtown area.

It also has is in the process of finishing up all the redevelopment projects approved before the state ended the program, manages the parking district downtown, and seeks out federal tax credits to help pay for projects in low-income areas around the city.

But the group would also like to start building “transit villages” in underserved areas that have a transit line running through them. It has specifically discussed Encanto and City Heights as targets for this sort of development plan.

Civic San Diego says it can make it cheaper to build projects in those areas — thus making it more likely projects get built, and that those communities will get things they need, like grocery stores and inexpensive housing.

Before they can do that, however, the City Council would need to change the current agreement under which Civic San Diego conducts its various operations on behalf of the city.

And before it can do that, Civic San Diego would need to go through formal negotiations with the city’s white-collar union, the Municipal Employees Association, over the new responsibilities.

Currently, the city’s planning and development services departments control zoning and planning documents, as well as permit approval for new developments everywhere in the city except downtown. Giving Civic San Diego the go-ahead to do those things elsewhere requires a formal negotiation, known as meet and confer, with the union.

The City Council is going to consider green-lighting that negotiation process Monday.

In closed session, the Council will vote on whether and how the city should conduct negotiations with Civic San Diego over work currently handled by the Municipal Employees Association.

This would be an incremental step toward Civic San Diego’s goal to expand its scope beyond downtown. The Council would still need to take further action even if the negotiations go well, to green-light Civic San Diego’s ultimate plan: spurring development near transit in low-income neighborhoods — with the help of a private-public investment fund.

Specifically, the proposal would let Civic San Diego draw up something called a “specific plan” in the area right around Market Creek Plaza on the trolley’s orange line. The larger Encanto area would still have its own community plan, but the specific plan would be targeted toward, well, the specific area around the transit stop.

By allowing for more development there, and ushering in a more development-friendly permit-approval process, the plan would in theory attract developers to the area. The possibility of subsidies through the public-private fund wouldn’t hurt either.

There have been voices of support for Civic San Diego’s proposal in the community, including from Kenneth Malbrough, chair of the Encanto Planning Group, and from Councilwoman Myrtle Cole when she was running for office. But there’s been pushback too, from those who say there hasn’t been enough opportunity for public feedback.

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at

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