It’s always something with One Paseo.
The 23-acre project in Carmel Valley may skip a legally required hearing after more than half of the citywide Planning Commission’s members determined they have a conflict of interest that prevents them from weighing in.
It’s the latest unusual step for a project that’s seen more than its share. The City Council last year approved the development, only to see opponents collect enough signatures to invalidate the decision and send it to a public vote.
Developer Kilroy Realty and opponents then agreed to a smaller version of the project in a compromise, nixing the need for a public vote.
The smaller project is now approaching final approval, but it ran into a series of rare circumstances that forced the city to seek clarification from the city attorney and the state Fair Political Practices Commission over how it should proceed.
The city hasn’t made its final decision, but it doesn’t have many options.
Normally a project like One Paseo, which would change the Carmel Valley community plan so it can be built, needs public hearings before a community group and the Planning Commission. Those groups can’t make final decisions, but they can recommend changes that are often folded into the project. The hearings are required by law.
But it doesn’t look like One Paseo will be able to make good on that requirement.
In an email obtained by Voice of San Diego, a development services staffer said the city might have to invoke a maneuver that lets it waive its own mandate for a Planning Commission hearing.
The Planning Commission didn’t have a quorum for a vote after four of seven commissioners determined they had a conflict of interest over One Paseo.
That alone would have been a navigable problem: The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission has a regulation for exactly such an event. It says one of the conflicted commissioners should be selected at random and made to participate. It’s often invoked in small jurisdictions in which conflicts are common, said Stacey Fulhorst, executive director of the San Diego Ethics Commission.
But that wasn’t an option in this case.
The FPPC told the city in a formal advice letter last month the special fix doesn’t apply because one of the commissioners had a nonfinancial conflict. The rule only applies when all of the members have direct financial conflicts.
Unlike the others, Commissioner Anthony Wagner recused himself due to a personal conflict, not a financial one. He wouldn’t disclose any other details and he isn’t required to since it isn’t a financial issue.
“It is clearly not right for me to take a vote one way or another,” Wagner said.
Luckily, the city also has a special fix for situations like this – and that remedy may actually be usable.
The city can waive its own requirement for projects to go before the Planning Commission, and send it directly to the City Council.
City staff hasn’t made a final choice, but an email to planning commissioners from Deputy Director of Development Services Mike Westlake said the city doesn’t have many options.
“At this point it appears as though the only remaining option is to proceed with going straight to Council and” waiving the city’s requirement that projects go to Planning Commission, Westlake wrote. “At this time staff is in the process of scheduling the project for a City Council hearing.”
Besides Wagner, the other commissioners had straightforward conflicts.
Doug Austin’s company had previously redesigned office space for a tenant of Kilroy Realty, the developer behind One Paseo. Kilroy paid for the changes. Bill Hofman, whose appointment the City Council is approving Tuesday, consulted for Kilroy on a project in Carlsbad. Commissioner Susan Peerson’s spouse works for one of One Paseo’s consultants.
Rachel Laing, spokeswoman for the project, said it’s simply an unusual circumstance resulting from the large footprint Kilroy has in town.
“I think that anyone who is looking at it with a fair mind can say, ‘This was beyond Kilroy’s control,’” she said.