Pechanga Arena located in the Midway District / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

San Diego voters in November approved a measure that removed the coastal height limit in Midway, just a few months after the previous mayor selected a developer to rebuild the city’s Sports Arena property into an urban entertainment district, perhaps including a new arena.

Mum’s been the word since then, though, on any formal agreement between the city and the developer, Brookfield Properties, to get going on the project.

It turns out, that’s because of an overlooked change to state law two years ago that, based on a state agency’s interpretation, could at least delay, and possibly derail, the city’s redevelopment attempt.

State law already required cities to offer up any land they wanted to sell to a private developer first to other public agencies, or to nonprofit developers that build homes for low-income residents. But the state’s interpretation of a 2019 law now extends that requirement to projects when the city leases, rather than sells its land, as is the case with the Sports Arena.

If that’s the case, the city would need to first go through that process before it could cement a deal with Brookfield, a process that could take months. Even if no other public agencies bite, though, the state’s interpretation could reshape the project: the state law would also require the project to reserve 15 percent of its more than 2,000 homes for low-income residents.

The city disagrees with the interpretation that the law applies to leases of public land, but it says there’s no point negotiating now, until it knows for sure that’s how the state sees it.

The state’s official guidance, settling the issue, was expected in January but didn’t come. Now, a state official tells us it could be here “within the coming weeks.”

What We Know About San Diego Unified’s Reopening Plans

San Diego Unified students return to the classroom in less than three weeks, but there’s still a lot we don’t know.

While district officials and the local teachers union have agreed to a minimum of two days of in-person instruction per week starting April 12, some have said they will attempt to offer more based on the number of students returning and ability to space out those students inside the classroom.

“One of the biggest questions yet to be answered: Which schools will offer in-person learning four days per week and which schools will only offer two? It’s an insanely difficult question for families and principals to plan around with less than three weeks before in-person learning resumes,” writes Will Huntsberry in the latest Learning Curve.

Huntsberry spoke with parents and workers at four different elementary schools who all said their school expects to offer more days of instruction than required, although plans were only firm at one of the schools. The results of a district-wide survey sent to families should paint a clearer picture in the coming days of what each individual school can offer.

Secretive Police Group Won’t Be as Secretive Moving Forward

In response to a lawsuit filed by newspaper La Prensa, a secretive San Diego law enforcement group tasked with distributing anti-terrorism dollars has admitted its dealings should be public — at least from now on.

The Urban Area Working Group, led by local police and fire personnel, has for decades operated in a way that effectively shielded all of its decisions from the public.

The group can’t technically make purchases on its own, as Jesse Marx has reported. It instead submits grant applications which are often buried in city council consent agendas. Last last year, San Diego officials gave the group permission to buy cell-phone hacking technology without realizing it.

An attorney for the group recently conceded in court that the group is considered a “legislative body,” meaning it’s bound by the Brown Act and Public Records Act, which requires that government meetings be open and documents be accessible. He suggested the group abide by those standards from here on out, but won’t necessarily make previous records available.

“If the group does intend to make that argument and a judge agrees, millions of dollars’ worth of purchases stretching back more than a decade will continue to be concealed from the public,” Marx writes.

Balboa Park Groups Make Merger Official

Balboa Park’s two largest philanthropic groups are combining forces.

The Balboa Park Conservancy and the Friends of Balboa Park voted earlier this week to move forward with the merger they began exploring last year. It will be effective July 1.

For years, the two groups have separately raised funds and corralled volunteers. They decided last year that they might be able to do more together. 

“We realized we could be more effective and efficient in serving Balboa Park as one entity,” Friends of Balboa Park Board Chair Sarah Evans said in a release from the two organizations. “We are confident Balboa Park will be better served by one merged entity rather than two separate organizations.” 

The groups’ boards believe the merger will bolster fundraising, advocacy, park projects and various programs they support – and simplify things for both the city and the community.

The move is significant given longtime concerns about who’s in charge of an iconic park with countless needs and stakeholders and how to draw in significant philanthropic dollars that haven’t flowed into the park. Those concerns have lingered about a decade after the Conservancy was founded to address them. 

Longtime park stakeholders hope the merger will allow the groups to take on more significant day-to-day responsibilities and projects, and create the sort of park leader civic leaders imagined years ago when they championed the creation of a conservancy.

In Other News

  • An internal investigation determined an SDPD officer posted a photo on social media mocking a memorial to a resident who the officer shot and killed earlier that month. SDPD did not announce how the officer would be disciplined, based on the internal review. (Union-Tribune)
  • California residents who are at least 50 years old can get a COVID-19 vaccine starting April 1. All residents age 16 and up will become eligible April 15. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Escondido police have arrested a 13-year-old girl who allegedly ran over and killed two homeless men last month when she crashed her mother’s SUV while trying to outrun police. (Union-Tribune)
  • Migrant children set to temporarily live at the San Diego Convention Center are scheduled to start arriving there this weekend. (KPBS)
  • The city of San Diego is proposing sewage rate hikes, beginning next year, to help pay for water infrastructure projects like the city’s Pure Water recycling program. (10 News)
  • A resident’s lawsuit seeking to nullify San Diego’s disastrous deal to acquire a downtown high-rise, and return millions in city payments from the building’s seller, is set for its day in court Friday. (Union-Tribune)

The Morning Report was written by Megan Wood, Andrew Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt, and edited by Sara Libby.

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