Developer sues convention center corp.

Lawsuit says Steve Cushman was involved in email shenanigans

San Diego Convention Center
  • San Diego Convention Center

The developer of a $300 million hotel project at San Diego's convention center has filed a lawsuit against the public agency that manages the 525,000-square-foot meeting space, accusing a boardmember for the agency, Steve Cushman, of subverting state public records laws by hiding emails he sent on his personal device.

Cushman currently serves on the board for the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, a public agency that manages the convention center. He has been a major supporter of a contiguous expansion.

According to the March 13 lawsuit, hotel developer Fifth Avenue Landing says the convention center and its board have "been taking actions designed to prevent [the developer] from satisfying its contractual obligations."

In this instance, Cushman allegedly hired outside attorneys to help him respond to a March 2016 public records request from Fifth Avenue Landing. Specifically, attorneys from the firm of Seltzer Caplan allegedly combed through Cushman's emails in order to pick out the emails that they deemed were of a personal nature and not pertaining to agency business.

"An actual controversy has arisen between the parties as to the rights and obligations that [Cushman and the convention center corporation] has in responding to [Fifth Avenue Landing's] request and now desires a declaration of the rights and duties pertaining thereto."

The lawsuit cites a recent decision by the California Supreme Court that opened up personal email accounts and messages sent on private devices to the public records act.

The crux of the lawsuit, however, is much larger than a inadequate response to a public records request. In January of this year Superior Court judge Joel Wohlfeil ruled against a group who sued the convention center over its plans to expand the current convention center along the waterfront. Wohfeil's decision opened the door for those who support the expansion project, among them San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer. Yet, at the same time, the decision also cleared the way for a showdown between the hotel developer and supporters of expanding the center. If built, the $300 million hotel would take up the space along the waterfront needed to expand the center, thus making it impossible to pursue both projects.

Attorneys for the Fifth Avenue Landing are asking that a judge issue an injunction forcing the convention center board and Cushman to respond to the public records request and provide a log for any documents withheld and the reason for withholding them.

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