Civic San Diego
Civic San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post initially appeared in the June 5 Morning Report. Get the Morning Report delivered to your inbox.

So ends Civic San Diego.

The former redevelopment agency has handled the city’s responsibilities for planning, permitting and parking management downtown since 1992, when it was still called Centre City Development Corp. When the state ended the tax-funded redevelopment program in 2012, the city rechristened the organization Civic San Diego and let it continue its downtown role, which the development community largely credited for steering downtown’s revitalization.

But a former board member for the agency sued the group in 2015, alleging that the city’s delegation of those functions to it was illegal. The city has now settled that lawsuit, which included stripping the agency of its government-like powers and making it a fully independent nonprofit.

The City Council voted Tuesday to finalize that deal, making way for the city to hire nine staffers to handle Civic San Diego’s old jobs, as a standalone city department that will report to one of the city’s deputy chief operating officers. The city’s head planner said he hoped Civic’s existing staff would take those positions.

Civic supporters praised the agency for its streamlined process of approving big projects downtown. But the agency’s critics said it was insufficiently responsive to public input and that its decisions should have been made by elected officials. Hotel, grocery, construction and white-collar municipal unions had all organized against Civic in its latter years, and eventually led to its defeat (the former board member who brought the lawsuit against Civic works with the local council of construction unions).

But the agency itself had spurred plenty of non-union criticisms in recent years, leading to the ouster of its former director a year ago. And the agencies from which it was formed had their own long, storied histories of corruption.

Now, city employees will handle the jobs it used to do, and staff for the Republican mayor – who has long been a Civic supporter – said the handover of responsibilities would be seamless and nothing would be lost. Civic staff and board members themselves came to the hearing to welcome the transition.

But not everyone on the City Council was happy to see the end of an organization that for better or worse has played an integral role in recent San Diego history.

“Civic was created to keep politics out of land-use decisions,” said Councilman Scott Sherman after announcing he’d vote against the decision. “We can tell by the people here supporting this, they’re all either political operatives or union operatives. It tells me politics is behind this, and not common sense.”

Council President Georgette Gomez said it was time to end Civic’s role as a quasi-government.

“Politics are always going to be in the mix no matter what, but land use is one of the core issues we’re elected to be responsible of,” she said.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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