The alleged pay-to-play tactics used by Sunroad Enterprises to obtain city-owned land at no cost for their Kearny Mesa mixed-use development are not protected by the first amendment.
On Friday, November 15, Superior Court judge Timothy Taylor rejected Sunroad's argument that the two checks, totaling $100,000, that executives gave to then-mayor Bob Filner in exchange for his support of their project was an exercise in free speech.
At the same time, Taylor confirmed that Sunroad and the City of San Diego, both of which were named in the lawsuit from San Diegans for Open Government, were equally culpable.
"..the case is not one 'arising from' protected activity; rather, it arises from the City's failure to follow the requirements of law before transferring the easements in question. The protected petitioning activity upon which the moving papers focus is merely incidental to the claims pled (violations of the San Diego City Charter, the San Diego Municipal Code ("SDMC"), and the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA")
Free speech was at the crux of Sunroad's legal defense. In August, attorneys for Sunroad and the city began crafting their arguments over the legality of the donations. Attorneys for Sunroad dismissed the lawsuit, claiming it violated anti-SLAPP statutes meant to protect free-speech and participation in government. At the same time, as mentioned by the Reader in a September 18 article, the city has gone so far as to call the lawsuit "a sham."
"The project obviously is not a sale of city property," stated deputy city attorney Andrea Contreras in the city's response to the lawsuit. "Even if [San Diegans for Open Government's] 'quid-pro-quo' allegations were true, Sunroad's funds were returned, so no 'sale' could have taken place. The lawsuit is a sham."
With the anti-SLAPP argument out of the way, the city and Sunroad must address the pay-to-play allegations head-on. For Sunroad, that means defending a back-room deal wherein executives wrote checks for two mayor-backed project; for the city council, it means justifying a give-away to a developer with absolutely no public benefit.
The next hearing, a management conference, will be held in Department 72 at 1:30pm on December 20.