balboa park
Balboa Park has an estimated $300 million in repair needs. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Every so often, there’s a collective grumbling about the nonprofit organizations in Balboa Park that don’t pay the city rent. The public park’s estimated backlog of $300 million in infrastructure and maintenance needs is typically what spurs the grumbles.

As part of Voice of San Diego’s The People’s Reporter feature, where the public can submit questions and then vote on which questions they want us to answer, City Heights lawyer and Balboa Park advocate John Stump wanted to stir up that conversation again. He wanted to know how much Balboa Park museums and other organizations renting space in Balboa Park make, and what rents they pay.

So VOSD’s Kinsee Morlan compiled a list of the major nonprofit Balboa Park leaseholders’ budgets and what, if anything, they pay the city. The San Diego Zoo has the biggest budget by far of all the organizations in the park, for example, but pays the city about $92,000 to rent its space. San Diego Comic-Con International has a multimillion-dollar budget, but doesn’t pay the city any rent for the building its leasing in Balboa Park.

Here’s why most of the nonprofits don’t pay for space in Balboa Park: The park’s buildings were constructed for the expositions in 1915 and 1935, and someone needed to do something with them. Filling the buildings with nonprofits that provide cultural, educational and recreational uses made sense. Not only would the nonprofits serve residents in ways the city wasn’t, but they’d attract tourists, helping make Balboa Park one of the city’s biggest attractions and economic drivers.

The nonprofits don’t pay rent, but here’s what they do pay: The nonprofits have to take on the buildings’ maintenance costs and pay utilities. Many of the organizations have also paid for costly upgrades to their city-owned buildings.

Suit Puts a Temporary Hold on Big Developments

The Newland Sierra property / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

A legal fight over the county’s climate action plan led a judge last week to temporarily forbid the Board of Supervisors from approving certain types of new development if they rely on potentially flawed parts of the climate action plan.

In this week’s Environment Report, Ry Rivard breaks down the decision and what it means for some of the biggest projects pending approval from the county, including ithe 2,100-unit Newland Sierra, 1,700-unit Lilac Hills Ranch and 800-unit Warner Ranch projects.

Toni Atkins and the Limits of #MeToo

When Senate Democrats tapped San Diego Sen. Toni Atkins to lead the Senate – making her the first woman in 100 years to lead both chambers of the Legislature – it was the height of the #MeToo movement, and harassment claims were roiling the Capitol. Political leaders praised Atkins as the right person for the job, at just the right time.

Now a sexual harassment lawsuit working its way through the court casts doubt on whether all that much will change.

“The Senate is trying to fend off a former employee’s lawsuit with arguments that she’s not covered by new whistleblower protections and that the Capitol, as part of the public sector, isn’t covered by state labor laws,” CALMatters reports.

The Senate’s response “is a stark reminder of the institutional pushback facing workers who allege misconduct — even, in this case, after politicians spent months publicly acknowledging the Capitol’s problems.”

Atkins declined to comment to CALMatters, citing pending litigation.

The Convention Center Emergency

From Scott Lewis: In the Politics Report this weekend, we wrote that San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was likely to pursue a special election now that the registrar has said the initiative to raise hotel taxes did get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, though not in time for this November.

We wrote that the mayor would have to make the case that it was worth doing a special election because funding for homeless services baked into hotel taxes plan constituted an emergency. A 2016 initiative — Measure L — required all initiatives go to the next general election unless the City Council makes an exception.

City Councilman Mark Kersey spoke up on Twitter.

“Friendly reminder that the word ’emergency’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the actual language of Measure L,” he wrote. “In fact, L’s wording unconditionally places the decision at the discretion of the City Council.”

He’s correct. The City Council does not need to make any legal determination or come up with any findings to call a special election for an initiative. It’s a political decision.

Councilman Mark Kersey / Photo by Adriana heldiz

One observer says even the part of the initiative that would expand the Convention Center would qualify as an emergency nevertheless.

“I would argue that the 7,000 permanent jobs that are created by the opening of the Convention Center expansion, let alone the increased construction costs, are enough to declare the expansion an emergency,” wrote Phil Blair, executive officer of Manpower San Diego.

Campa-Najjar, a Dem, Supports Gas Tax Repeal

Ammar Campa-Najjar, a Democrat who’s trying to unseat embattled Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter in the 50th Congressional District, is bucking his party by supporting the effort to repeal the gas tax, the Los Angeles Times reports.

A Times survey from May showed 64 percent of registered voters in Orange and San Diego counties and the Inland Empire favored the repeal.

Meanwhile: A judge on Monday set the next hearing in Hunter’s federal trial for early December after the November election. Hunter is charged with illegally using campaign funds on personal expenses. Protesters outside Monday’s hearing came up with a creative way to voice their disapproval of Hunter, as an NBC reporter captured.


Monday’s story about the competing Mission Valley ballot measures’ plans for a river park incorrectly described the location of a separate river discovery center.

The Morning Report was written by Sara Libby and edited by Scott Lewis.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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