San Diego City Hall / File photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

This post originally appeared in the Dec. 17 Politics Report. Subscribe to the newsletter here. (The Politics Report is available to Voice of San Diego members only.)

Yes, the story of 101 Ash St. is a story about a building, its asbestos, messy politics, huge sums of wasted taxpayer dollars and undisclosed partnerships with hidden profits.

But it was also just a chapter in the ongoing story about San Diego’s decrepit City Hall and the failed attempt more than a decade ago to rebuild it – a failure broker Jason Hughes helped engineer and a failure which later led to the city’s commitment to purchase two office towers, deals on which Hughes made nearly $10 million. One of those towers remains unusable but they are both now fully within the city’s control.

The city still has workers that need a place to work.

So guess what’s back?

San Diego is about to embark on the most serious effort to rebuild City Hall since 2009.

After the City Council and mayor decided to purchase 101 Ash and Civic Center Plaza outright and settle part of the major litigation it was dealing with, it formed the Civic Center Revitalization Committee Working Group and Stakeholder Roundtable (the CCRCWG&SR as it’s now commonly known) is coming close to finalizing its recommendations. And the group is coalescing around one simple message: The now six blocks the city owns around City Hall should be redeveloped with the goal of building a new City Hall and new affordable and work force housing.

The group voted to support a recommendation that the city build a new City Hall at the site of the now City Operations Building at 1222 First Avenue, which is across the street from the existing City Hall and includes the main downtown fire station. City Hall is officially known as the City Administration Building.

Graphic by Megan Wood

The idea is to build the building, allow workers to stay in the City Administration Building until it’s done and then sell everything else to developers with the goal of building as much housing

The committee created an Economic Development Working Group led by former Port Commissioner Steve Cushman that included Michael Zucchet, the general manager of the largest union of city employees, the Municipal Employees Association, former city manager Jack McGrory and former Council President Tony Young. That group came up with the recommendations the others endorsed and will present as a draft to the City Council Jan. 10.

Jaymie Bradford, the chair of the whole committee said the goal of the group’s presentation to the City Council Jan. 10 is to make sure they’re going in the right direction and the Council is on board. The plans could change.

Regardless, a new City Hall is attractive.

“Having a building to house downtown city employees and consolidate them would allow the city to get rid of other leases. It has obvious advantages,” she said.

Cushman was more direct. His committee decided that, to pull anything off, the city would need to be hyper focused on a new City Hall and housing.

“I truly believe that, by focusing primarily on a new City Administration Building, this project can be a reality. That’s the primary goal, with a secondary goal of affordable and workforce housing. Nothing more, nothing less,” he said.

There are other city assets to consider. The Civic Theatre for example, or the fire station. According to the plan that’s coming together, the rest of the land outside the City Hall would be put up for sale with a Notice of Availability, or NOA, similar to what the city did for Sports Arena.

“Renovation of the Civic Theatre could be a development condition of the NOA. Renovation should be in collaboration with San Diego Theatres and philanthropists, not primarily funded by the developer,” reads the draft recommendation.

They want a report soon on other services like the fire station and where it would be best rebuilt.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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3 Comments

  1. The new Economic Development Working Group. I don’t think they could have found a slimier bunch of people. Michael Zucchet, Jack McGrory, and Tony Young. I see a truly epic screwing of the San Diego citizens in our future.

    Jack McGrory? Really? Hasn’t he done enough damage to San Diego? I thought Zucchet was still in prison. And Tony Young… he’ll just quit when he gets a better offer, but he’ll do it in a way that costs the city millions.

  2. Listening to the meetings of the mayors advisory Committee, one gets the impression that this whole project was already designed behind closed doors in the mayor’s office and it being spoon fed to the other committee members by Steve Cushman and Jack McGrory. The committee as a whole rubber stamped the following project details from Cushman’s “Economic Development working group” which included a host of city hall insiders not appointed to the committee:

    – The new city hall will be built on the block that contains the existing city operations center, which will have to be demolished first,
    – The committee must recommend that the primary goal of this project must be to build a new city hall, and a secondary goal of building new housing on the blocks now owned by the city -“No more, and no less” as Cushman admonished committee members.
    The concept of replacing or remodeling the existing civic theater, supported earlier by other committee members, was delegated to a footnote in the notice of surplus property the city will send out to real estate developers as a “nice to have” element.
    Let’s hope that Scott Lewis keeps a very close eye on this planning process and gives his readers the inside scoop about what’s really going on.

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