City accused of not releasing public documents, sued for violating public records act

SCI Consulting filed lawsuit on Superior Court alleging the City witheld public information.

The bad blood between the City of San Diego and a maintenance assessment consulting firm it once hired is flowing heavier and hotter than ever.

The consulting firm has filed a new lawsuit against the City accusing officials in the City Attorney's Office of ignoring public records requests and refusing to disclose public documents as it sees fit.

The firm SCI Consulting was responsible in manufacturing the engineer's report in both the Greater Golden Hill Maintenance Assessment District and downtown's Property-based Business Improvement District. Both assessment districts have resulted in long drawn out legal battles.

The first lawsuit began due to an improperly weighted vote in Golden Hill and South Park. It turned into a last ditch effort by the City to defend the legality of maintenance assessment districts and the debate over general benefits and those benefits received by property owners. The City lost that fight, after years of court hearings and hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, in legal fees-- in prior emails the City Attorney has refused to disclose the number of hours or cost to defend the case.

The other legal battle was sparked by errant assessments that resulted in residents getting overtaxed. According to recent court documents, the two sides are close to a settlement. The exact terms, however, are not available at this time.

On April 16, a new lawsuit emerged in the San Diego County Superior Court. Lawyers for SCI Consulting, accuse the City Attorney's Office of violating the California Public Records Act (CPRA) by withholding public documents on two separate occasions.

In August of last year, Joel Shackelford, the attorney representing SCI Consulting, requested numerous documents from the City, including emails and memos between city officials and SCI, communications regarding maintenance assessment districts, and documents pertaining to the Hillcrest Commercial Core Maintenance Assessment District, and the Greater Golden Hill MAD.

One month later, without any word from the City Attorney's Office, Shackelford wrote a letter to Deputy City Attorney Carmen Brock. The letter was the beginning of a nasty back and forth between the two attorneys.

"Here, the 10-day time limit as to the request has come and gone. During. that time, our office received no communication from the City requesting an extension, nor any indication as to why an extension would be needed. Given· this, we expect immediate production of the requested document, and will reserve the right to seek adjudicative assistance on this matter to the extent the requested documents are not promptly produced," Shackelford wrote to Brock on September 5.

Brock responded, saying the request was too broad, too voluminous, and violated attorney-client privilege.

One week later, the exchange grew more heated.

Your tone is noted. I'd expect more professionalism from a Deputy City Attorney, and will expect the same as this matter proceeds...

I'm more than well aware of the time requirements with PRRs. I can appreciate what cities have to go through to produce the requested records. That aside, there are strict time requirements that must be followed pursuant to the PRA (and which are not being followed by the City of San Diego here). We are willing to work with you to the extent we receive the documents promptly, but our concerns must be noted here as they will be noted to the court if needed.

Brock fired back.

Regarding the "tone" of my email, emails are notorious for having their "tone" infused by the reader and misunderstanding occurring thereby. .I find it interesting, however, that you are quick to jump on the "lack of professionalism" accusation without ever having met me, or any member of the City staff (who are all working diligently to process your PRA request). We will let you know by September 10th when you can expect the documents you have requested to be ready for review.

Three days later, the City Attorney's Office concluded that Shackelford's CPRA request was "vague, overbroad, and not sufficiently specific to allow the City to locate the requested records with reasonable effort."

In all, out of 32 items requested, the City Attorney's Office produced only 86 pages.

Then on March 14, the attorney for SCI submitted a similar request.

He received a similar response from Brock at the City Attorney's Office.

"Your requests have been reviewed and the majority has been found to be overbroad, vague, and burdensome."

Enter the latest lawsuit, accusing the City Attorney of witholding information from the public.

"To date, Respondent has not produced any documents with respect to the categories of documents it improperly objects to as to the August 17, 2012 Request and the March 13, 2013 Request. Indeed, the City has responded with the exact same objections to both Requests despite the same that the March 13, 2013 Request asks for additional documents which are reasonably particulruized in the demand. Petitioner has gone out of its way, without any obligation to do so, tc accommodate the City in producing the requested documents. Despite this, the City, time and again, has been unresponsive and has utterly failed to abide by the CPRA thus forcing Petitioner to file this writ petition."

You can read the entire complaint and view the emails at the link below:

http://www.sandiegoreader.com/documents/2013/apr/17/sci-consulting-vs-city-san-diego/

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Comments

SCI Consulting acted on information the city gave them when they prepared the Engineer's Report. When the Golden Hill MAD was overturned in the Appeal Court, the city structured the refunds so that almost no money had to be refunded. They made the form difficult - requiring trust papers for property held in trust - that only 10% of the property owners filed for the refund. Of course, the city did not tell ANYONE that refunds were available. Thanks to the Reader, at least some of the people got the word. The city learned a valuable lesson - how to lose and still not pay the refunds, a lesson which I am sure they will use with their new Tourist Maintenance District.

What a completely worthless and pathetic pack of "trusted servants", all of them. A gutless, paid off, and corrupt pack of City Council buffoons that could really give a damn. Down to a smoke and mirrors City attorney who supports his/her corrupt municipal corporation by raising confusion and confounding to an art form. By illegally dodging legal requests for public information to continue hiding thier idiocy and corruption with vague excuses. Now there's a conundrum wrapped in a dichotomy although really it's the only position this gutless pack of morons has left because they're painted into a corner of truth without a paintbrush to hide their deceit and treachery as public servants. Just like it was with Scott Kessler and the laughable and oh so transparent travesty of the Golden Hill MAD When the people and Hal Tyvoll (RIP Hal) called thier ludicrous chicanery and a judge nailed thier illegality to the wall. Btw, where's our Golden Hill MAD money you worthless pack of rat bastards?? Or do we have to take this to the streets??

It is wonderful that the city is being sued for noncompliance with the PRA law: Over the years that people in South Park and Golden Hill sued over the illegal assessment district formation, many were tooled around or ignored when they requested documents through the PRA.

As much as I disrespected SCI for they way they made their money, by doing whatever illegal thing the San Diego Economic Development department heads and staff told them to do, I applaud them for this legal action.

Thanks, Reader, for providing a copy of the suit filed. Very interesting stuff.

Note the PRA requests for documents related to Golden Hill MAD and Community Development Block Grant funds. The city (Economic Development department) indeed violated Federal law by paying CDBG funds to lobbyist Mitch Berner to promote the GGH MAD. It was great when that illegality was reported to HUD and resulted in a much larger investigation and penalties.

Note the discomfort of SCI with the unprofessional communication of Carmen Brock. Well, a lot of people involved in the GGH MAD suit have a LOT of unprofessional communiques from Carmen. Nothing new about that! She is really a terrible lawyer, completely out of her league with even the simplest of legalities. She is consistently wrong, insulting, and demeaning in all of her invective-filled communications and proceedings. She was the DCA in the Our Lady of Peace suit, too, another loser. One commenter in Reader wrote, about that, in part: "how inept our City Attorney's office is, for which I was a firsthand witness when called down to meet with them only to find -- just a few weeks before trial -- that they were completely unprepared, befuddled and, frankly, uninspired. ...San Diego taxpayers should be outraged as this extraordinarily poor use of our money."

Maybe cutting the budget for the City Atty's office will affect DCA Brock. We can hope.

Once again the City shows they are above following the law. Indeed, they learned well from the fiasco of the Golden Hill MAD that they could lose and not pay. They just are not into playing fair or even playing legally. Do you think they read the READER? I guess they just don't care about us peon constituents.

More of the same old shady shenanigans from the City of San Diego: Unaccountability + Obstruction + Obfuscation = Business as Usual!

Shackelford's assessment of Deputy City Attorney, Brock, is spot on. If, as Brock states, she's "more than well aware of the time requirements" (10 days) associated with Public Records Requests, yet hadn't provided any kind of response in more than a month, then YES, that is patently unprofessional. She's not only a lawyer, but a representative of the City government. Greeters at Walmart are held to higher standards for performing their job! Further, Brock's feigned insult at Shackelford's deeming her unprofessional "without ever having met me" is akin to the "I know you are, but what am I" retort used frequently by children. "Unprofessional" is entirely appropriate!

The City of San Diego long ago learned that if you obstruct and obfuscate long enough, you'll exhaust most causes. The Greater Golden Hill MAD tax revolt showed more tenacity than most, but even with two court judgments against the City, the City managed to avoid paying back most of what it took illegally from Golden Hill property owners.

Funny how the City was so easily able to identify every Golden Hill property owner when it attached its illegal MAD tax to their property tax bills, yet was unable to identify them later when it came to paying back the illegal tax it had confiscated. The City never even notified property owners that they could file for a refund. For those who found out anyway, the City forced them to complete an onerous form, and apply formally for their refunds, then it limited the amount they could reclaim by dragging things out long enough to exceed the statute of limitations on the earliest years of the illegal tax. The City's reward for this dishonest chicanery was that only around 10% of Golden Hill property owners ever applied for their refunds, and even those didn't get all they were due.

This shameful saga, which spanned years, leaves no one in any doubt that the City of San Diego was not merely acting unprofessionally, but downright corruptly. An ethical organization would never have skewed the voter weighting in the first place, to illegally pass a MAD that the subject property owners voted decidedly against. It would not then have disregarded the court's ruling, and continued to collect the illegal tax while it appealed the decision and dragged things out for further years, before being ruled against a second time.

An ethical organization would have been forthcoming with a public apology to the Golden Hill property owners, and would have reimbursed their legal fees. It would have disbanded the MAD in a controlled, responsible manner, rather than simply deserting Golden Hill, leaving unemptied trashcans on the streets, and dead vegetation in public planters. It would have credited each Golden Hill property owner with the full amount of illegal tax that it collected - regardless of the statute of limitations. An ethical organization would have made things right just as efficiently and effectively as it made them wrong.

Brock can pretend to be insulted at being called out by her peers on her unprofessionalism, but her obstruction in the Public Records Requests says far worse about her. We're all judged by the company we keep, and she appears to fit right in with San Diego's unprofessional - and unethical - City government.

A public record that requires no formal request is the video archive of council proceedings. Anyone who has the time and stomach should go back and review the many council meetings related to assessment district formations and renewals. Therein you can observe council members, City Attorney staff, and Economic Development staff lying, game-playing, and tap-dancing around the legal issues.

Council members who have shamed themselves in this way: Atkins, Gloria, Hueso, Faulconer, Peters, Young, Emerald. Currently, Gloria and, sadly, Alvarez are leading the way in chicanery, for the next LiMandri-designed, still-illegal, gerrymandered MAD that will be quietly imposed, in Barrio Logan.

DCAs who have publicly lied and obfuscated in council sessions, on behalf of those councilmembers and business groups who want improper procedures to be approved, include DCAs Kim Kaelin and Mara Elliot. Adam Wander has participated in these shameful processes. Mary Lanzafame is the head of this group in the CA's office.

There's only one remaining Economic Development staff involved in illegal assessment districts, Luis Ojeda. The others, Scott Kessler and Beth Murray, were fired or forced out. The company that used to do their dirty work, SCI Consulting, has been replaced by another willing participant, Kopel & Gruber.

...cont...

...cont... The latest young, green DCA to be assigned the task of assuring the council that what they want to do with assessment districts might be "defensible" in court was introduced by Lanzafame in the October 9, 2012 Barrio Logan MAD hearing (click the last item, Item S500; it was quietly placed on the docket at the last minute, so no public speakers other than LiMandri would show up). Everyone should watch this charade, to see an absolutely typical example of how it goes, here:

http://granicus.sandiego.gov/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=5558

LiMandri makes an appearance in the end, so watch it all. The supporting document, a completed Barrio Logan Engineer's Report, was removed from the docket website shortly after the council approved it. Nothing else has happened since October, but keep your eye on BL as the "defensibility" is fine-tuned.

LiMandri recently registered the Barrio Logan Association with the State of California. David Alvarez has touted this "local" association as having the goal of pushing an assessment district. Gee, when did LiMandri move from his home in Ken-Tal, or from his biz digs in Little Italy, and become a Barrio Logan local?

For the record, another "local," Kevin R. McCook, VP of Development, Shea Properties, was selected to be the President of the Barrio Logan Association. McCook will have a long commute from his 3000-sq-ft home in San Marcos when he speaks to the Barrio residents and convinces them that they should pay a private tax to his group.

To be precise, Alvarez said this, in his newsletter: "The Association will fund community specific services in Barrio Logan that the City of San Diego does not currently provide."

The "Association" being the local Barrio property owners, of course. You might want to ask Alvarez what it is that the city doesn't provide that is so important to McCook, and LiMandri, and Alvarez.

SCI Consulting should have asked for the ethics complaints against the Economic Development Department regarding the GH Maintenance Assessment District and the Resolutions. Those are a lot more entertaining reading.

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