To gift or not to gift. City Attorney's Office questioned donation of homeless shelter but was silent for Sunroad land giveaway

Lawsuit challenges the City's donation of public land to developer Sunroad Enterprises.

Donating a city-owned building for use as a homeless shelter is bad but giving away city designated park space to a wealthy developer seems to be just fine.

That appears to be the case in San Diego and the impetus for a new court fight in the controversy surrounding Sunroad Centrum's Kearny Mesa mixed-use project.

Yesterday, on September 9, Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development 21 (CREED-21) filed a lawsuit challenging the give away of public land for private use. The latest lawsuit makes two complaints to be filed so far in Superior Court, both of which headed up by attorney Cory Briggs.

The gifting of public land and subsequent $100,000 donation from Sunroad to the City of San Diego brokered by former mayor Bob Filner's Deputy Chief of Staff spelled the beginning to the end for Filner.

Days after the May 30 donation, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith questioned the donation in a June 10 memo, sparking media scrutiny and later a federal investigation.

Goldsmith, however, was silent when council approved the land deal. His office was not silent, however, three years earlier when council debated whether to donate the World Trade Center downtown and transform it to a shelter for the homeless.

In a July 2011 report to the City's Land Use and Housing Committee, attorneys for the City raised objections to the donation of the World Trade Center building in downtown for use as a homeless shelter. In particular, a deputy city attorney cautioned councilmembers against the donation "unless the City Council can make reasonable findings that the donation...serves a public purpose."

"...The donation of a City-owned building may constitute a gift or thing of value encompassed within article XVI, section 6 of the California Constitution. People v. City of Long Beach, 51 Cal. 2d 875,881 (1959). This Office strongly recommends that the City Council express on the record the public interests served by the donation."

But as was the case with the World Trade Center, Goldsmith hasn't been the only City Attorney to object to donations of public land.

In 1998, then-City Attorney Casey Gwinn also cautioned the City against granting land to private parties. "San Diego Charter section 93 prohibits the City from giving or lending its credit to aid any individual, association or corporation. The purpose of this Charter section is to prevent expenditures of public money unless a valid public need will be served."

Fast forward to 2003 when then-City Attorney Casey Gwinn had a similar opinion. "The credit of the City shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation; except that suitable provision may be made for the aid and support of the poor...The courts have recognized an exception to the prohibitions of gifts of public funds and extensions of credit, known as the “public purpose” exception. That exception is based on the theory that if a public purpose is served through the use of public funds, no “gift” has been made even though a private party may benefit from the loan or expenditure."

But missing in the Sunroad Centrum hearings, brief as they were, were any questions of whether granting easements constitutes as a public gift or donation.

The City Attorney will soon be forced to answer that question and defend the give away in court, on two occasions. Reads the lawsuit: "San Diego City Charter Section 93 provides in relevant part: 'The credit of the City shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation; except that suitable provision may be made for the aid and support of the poor...The gift of the City's real property to Sunroad serves no public purpose."

http://docs.sandiego.gov/cityattorneyreports/RC-2010-29.pdf

A spokesperson for the City Attorney's Office did not respond in time for publication.

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Comments

There is a growing call for the resignation of City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, or, if necessary, his recall. He is the one who felony-prosecuted a man for chalk drawings on a sidewalk that were not obscene nor improper. What is next, Felony Hopscotch?

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