101 Ash St. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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Last summer, a city landlord and a prominent real estate broker dropped a bombshell in what has become a years-long saga surrounding 101 Ash, a downtown high rise turned dumpster fire.

City landlord Cisterra Development revealed that it paid purported volunteer city real estate guru Jason Hughes $9.4 million for his work on two city lease deals, including 101 Ash St. That revelation came as the city prepared to take legal action to void its 101 Ash and Civic Center Plaza leases following what it has described as textbook conflict-of-interest violations.

Months later, attorneys for the city and other parties roped into the city’s legal cases have been deposing parties under oath – and our Lisa Halverstadt got ahold of a transcript of two days of city questioning of Hughes.

In his deposition early last week, Hughes claimed he had gotten former Mayor Kevin Faulconer and his chief of staff’s approval to receive a seven-figure payout – and that he didn’t consider himself to be formally representing the city on real estate deals. (Spoiler alert: Faulconer and his former chief of staff Stephen Puetz say they don’t remember signing off on seven-figure payments and considered Hughes a volunteer.)

As Halverstadt details, those claims could be central to Hughes’ defense. His attorney has argued that the city’s lack of a formal arrangement with Hughes, who came on in 2013 as a volunteer adviser, means he’s not subject to the state conflict-of-interest law that the city is counting on to try to void the two lease deals and recoup tens of millions of dollars in lease payments. City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office has argued Hughes is subject to the state law, known as Government Code Section 1090, and that Hughes’ disclosures about the payouts from the city’s landlord far from sufficient – and unknown until last year.

Next up: Former city attorney Mike Aguirre, who is representing a taxpayer also seeking to kill the 101 Ash lease, is set to depose Hughes on Tuesday.

Click here to read more. 

About Those Precious Metals Under The Sea 

The precious elements Californians and climate-minded folk worldwide demand to make batteries that power the renewable energy transition can be harvested from the deep ocean.

The mining companies proposing to do so say this will stem humanity’s dependency on surface mines for resources like cobalt, an industry that’s permitted questionable child labor practices. Yet scientists and some environmental advocates warn that we don’t know enough about the complex ecosystem of the deep sea to start disturbing it on such a massive scale. 

Voice of San Diego’s environment reporter MacKenzie Elmer talked with a local scientific expert on the biology of the sea and attempted to talk with a mining company to extrapolate the pros and cons of procuring the minerals California’s ambitious climate policy demands. 

Read the latest Environment Report here. 

A city of San Diego sanitation worker collects yard waste in a residential area in North Park on Dec. 23, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

One Early Poll Says People Like the Idea of Changing The People’s Ordinance

Soon, the San Diego City Council could decide to ask city voters this year to change an over 100-year-old law known as the People’s Ordinance.

That law has created the current situation, in which most single-family homes in the city do not directly pay to get their trash picked up, with the cost of doing so instead covered by the city’s general fund, the account where all of the city’s tax collections that are not officially earmarked for something else go to pay for all city services that don’t have a dedicated funding stream, while residents of most apartments and condos housing pay private companies to haul their trash.

A ballot measure proposed by Council President Sean Elo-Rivera and Councilman Joe LaCava would allow the city to charge a fee to recover the money it spends picking up trash from most single-family homes.

A poll conducted on behalf of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association – the union that represents most white-collar city staffers – argues that measure would have a decent shot of passing.

After hearing the potential change – without any positive or negative arguments attached to it – about 53 percent of voters said they would vote yes, or would lean toward voting yes. That’s a better starting point than 2020’s proposal to lift the height limit in the Midway area, which started at 39 percent support before 56 percent of voters approved it.

One big reason voters are frustrated? Frustration with how often trash bins break, and how expensive it is to replace them, according to the poll. The proposed fees would include the cost of replacing bins. Claire Trageser at KPBS dived into resident frustration with trash bins a few years ago.

In Other News 

  • KPBS reports that Migrants from Central America and Mexico living in Tijuana are in greater danger now since a makeshift migrant camp was shut down by the city’s police and Mexican soldiers. That’s because those migrants were pushed to “dangerous neighborhoods in the outskirts of Tijuana.” Officials argue that the camp wasn’t a safe place to begin with, especially for children, and advocates agree, but worry that no one is checking in on those who were displaced and shoved to other parts of Tijuana away from jobs and social services. 
  • Late last month, North County reporter Tigist Layne wrote that Oceanside, a city with the second highest homeless population in North County, was finally getting its first shelter. Advocates said it was a big deal. But looks like remodeling delays are slowing down those efforts. (KPBS) 
  • Some of our pineapples and bananas will be getting from the Port of San Diego’s marine terminal in Barrio Logan to our grocery stores on electric trucks from now on. Dole unveiled five new utility tractor rigs Monday as part of a larger effort to electrify trucks going in and out of the port every day. Managing editor Andrea Lopez-Villafaña reported last week that truck traffic – and the pollution it brings with it – has been an issue for the community for years. (NBC 7) 
  • A San Diego Judge has ordered Santee to throw out a 3,000-home housing project that has been in the works for decades, ruling that developers have not adequately addressed concerns for how these new homes could affect wildfire evacuations. Developers for the Fanita Ranch housing project said they plan to revise the proposal and submit it for re-approval. (Union-Tribune)

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, Mackenzie Elmer, Andrew Keatts and Tigist Layne. It was edited by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña. 

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1 Comment

  1. Let’s be real: the polling for the People’s Ordinance initiative is about checking and developing messaging to get people to vote for it. In fact, the poll results specifically state “the words ‘provide free containers
    for curbside pickup’ contributed 9 points to the overall support for the measure.”

    The “free container” message seems misleading. Won’t the city be charging homeowners to provide the containers and collect the waste from homeowners? If the city provides containers at no “extra” charge, you can be sure that the cost will be added to the calculations for doing business and passed back onto the homeowners as part of the monthly service fee for waste collection. Or is the plan for the city to pay only for the waste containers from the general fund budget but the rest of the costs for waste collection from homeowners via fees? The latter could make the statement technically true but would strongly suggest that this scheme had been crafted specifically to be able to market the initiative with the “free containers” wording to help it pass.

    Either way, it’s pretty disappointing that the city is attempting to mislead voters (through the city’s own mistake in purchasing waste bins that are poor quality) rather than let the initiative stand on its own merits: that it’s unfair that most multifamily housing has to pay for private waste collection in addition to paying the taxes being used to provide free waste collection to single family homes via the People’s Ordinance.

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