The 101 Ash St. building / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The scandal surrounding the city’s Civic Center Plaza and 101 Ash St. leases has now officially spawned a criminal investigation.

Our Lisa Halverstadt broke the news that investigators from the District Attorney’s Office served simultaneous Tuesday morning search warrants at Hughes Marino and Cisterra Development. She saw investigators at both locations. 

The move comes just weeks after Halverstadt broke the news that while Jason Hughes, the leader of the firm, served the city as a purportedly volunteer real estate advisor, he had a secret contract with Cisterra guaranteeing him a 45 percent cut of the profits if Cisterra was able to sell the city two office towers downtown.

Hughes advised the city on the deals and the city agreed to lease-to-own the two buildings — Civic Center Plaza and 101 Ash St. For his role, Cisterra paid Hughes $9.4 million total. Neither Cisterra, nor Hughes disclosed the payments. In fact, they had non-disclosure agreements as well.

Representatives for Cisterra and Hughes told Halverstadt they were cooperating with investigators and expected to eventually be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Don’t expect charges – if there will be any charges – anytime soon: If the District Attorney’s Office decides charges are warranted, retired prosecutor Gary Schons told Halverstadt they are likely weeks or months away.

Worth noting: Investigators had to persuade a judge there was probable cause to believe there was a felony violation to get a search warrant.

That, of course, doesn’t mean there were any felony violations and again, the investigation is likely in its early stages.

Read the full story here.

San Diego High Gets To Stay

San Diego High School will remain in Balboa Park for another 99 years rent-free per a lease agreement approved by the City Council on Tuesday.

The Union-Tribune’s Jennifer Van Grove reported that the City Council voted to approve the lease without discussion despite the years of controversy surrounding it. The City Council action will allow San Diego Unified School District to proceed with a $74 million plan to upgrade the property.

The City Council vote comes years after a successful 2016 ballot measure meant to give city leaders the authority to keep the high school in the park. After all, the current lease expiring in 2024 requires the district to give the school property back to the city.

For years, some park advocates have argued that the city’s crown jewel shouldn’t house a school and that the real estate deal with the school district is among the city’s most problematic.  

The district, meanwhile, has argued that the city shouldn’t boot the high school that has called the site home for about 140 years.

Looking for more? Van Grove reviewed the history behind the high school in Balboa Park and the longtime arguments surrounding it. 

  • The City Council also voted Tuesday to direct another $39.7 million to the city’s COVID-19 rent relief program and at Mayor Todd Gloria’s urging, to reallocate $5 million from the federal CARES Act Community Development Block Grant funds to back eviction-prevention education and legal assistance. Our Maya Srikrishnan recently filed an update on the city’s rent relief efforts and protections that remain for renters following the expiration of the state eviction moratorium.

In Other News

  • Politifest starts in less than two weeks. Register for the full event or get single-day tickets here. Bonus: If you’re not already a VOSD member, signing up for the full week will give you access to great member benefits like the Politics Report. Student tickets are free.
  • If you’re a parent thinking about school choice, join us for a free virtual community meeting this Thursday to explore our annual Parent’s Guide to San Diego Schools. You can download the guide and RSVP here.
  • Monday night’s storm left thousands without power throughout San Diego County. (City News Service)
  • City News Service reports that San Diego County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to oppose the placement of sexually violent predators in the county until local governments are given a way to weigh in on the placement process, including veto authority.
  • The Union-Tribune profiled a new homeless outreach effort in North County.

This Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, and edited by Megan Wood.

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