Will Civic San Diego help truly needy?

The high times are over for San Diego’s Great Gatsby — also known as the Centre City Development Corporation.
  • The high times are over for San Diego’s Great Gatsby — also known as the Centre City Development Corporation.

The Great Gatsby is forsaking his palatial estate, donning rags, and moving permanently into a run-down neighborhood. Huh? Well, something like that is happening in the City of San Diego. The city is entrusting Civic San Diego, essentially the successor to Centre City Development Corporation, with great responsibility over homelessness and affordable housing. Critics point out that Centre City, which in its heyday concentrated on gleaming high-end projects, was actually responsible for creating homelessness and was often contemptuous of affordable housing.

Civic San Diego is a combination of two scandal-plagued operations, the former Centre City and former Southeastern Economic Development Corporation. Centre City’s onetime head was fined by the Ethics Commission for failing to disclose her snug relationship with a developer — a cozy association that had been widely reported in Florida media before she was ever hired. Two Southeastern officials pleaded guilty to embezzlement but avoided the slammer.

Centre City “was often criticized for keeping all of the downtown tax-increment money downtown, yet the critics choose to ignore that it was illegal to do otherwise,” bristles Jeff Graham.

Centre City “was often criticized for keeping all of the downtown tax-increment money downtown, yet the critics choose to ignore that it was illegal to do otherwise,” bristles Jeff Graham.

It’s not a marriage of equals. Former players at Centre City dominate Civic San Diego. Four of its top five officials came over from Centre City, and the chairwoman has been involved in downtown intrigue for two decades. Civic San Diego’s 32 employees rake in an average $124,375 a year in salary and benefits.

On May 13, the city council approved the Affordable Housing Master Plan that would award Civic San Diego — author of the plan — $33 million to tackle affordable housing. Civic San Diego will also have some authority over the homeless problem, now the responsibility of the San Diego Housing Commission.

Centre City Development Corporation long had a reputation for hogging money for downtown projects that lined the pockets of developers.

Originally, California redevelopment was meant to rehabilitate blighted areas. But the concept was kidnapped and was used to subsidize projects that should have been financed with private capital — professional sports facilities, retail buildings, auto dealerships, movie theaters, and the like, in decidedly nonblighted areas. In San Diego, the money was concentrated downtown while neighborhoods and infrastructure crumbled. Critics put the blame where it belonged: on Centre City.

California has wisely killed redevelopment, along with its funding mechanism, tax-increment financing, by which tax revenues from additional surrounding growth is expected to pay costs of building a project. The Affordable Housing Master Plan is intended to keep redevelopment going under a different name, although new tax-increment financing and the city’s Redevelopment Agency are out of the picture.

Civil engineer Katheryn Rhodes says Centre City “showed callousness to the homeless.”

Civil engineer Katheryn Rhodes says Centre City “showed callousness to the homeless.”

Civil engineer Katheryn Rhodes likes the master plan but says Centre City “showed callousness toward the homeless” and contempt toward affordable housing. For example, in 2006, when downtown’s Hotel San Diego was torn down to make way for a federal courthouse, Centre City wouldn’t pick up the tab to relocate residents, thus sending some poor people into the streets. Consistently, “Centre City maintained that ‘homeless people are not a form of blight, so we can’t spend money on them.’ Instead, it would only spend money on brick-and-mortar projects,” mainly benefiting for-profit interests.

While claiming it helped low- and moderate-income citizens, Centre City “did a lousy job, choosing to deal with big money development downtown,” says Norma Damashek, former president of the League of Women Voters. But even that strategy didn’t work. Centre City “was supposed to kick-start private development” and then drop the handouts “while the private sector stepped in. But we are still relying on subsidies.”

She points out that when redevelopment turns a fleabag hotel into a boutique one, or knocks it down, homelessness is created. “Redevelopment displaces poor people,” she says, and Centre City exacerbated rather than alleviated that problem.

Robert Scott Dreher, an attorney in a lawsuit filed by Affordable Housing Advocates, points out that Centre City did not create new, commensurate housing for the dispossessed after bulldozing homes or hotels to subsidize a project assisting businesses.

Jeff Graham

Jeff Graham

Both Rhodes and anti-redevelopment activist Brian Peterson state that Centre City never spent 20 percent of tax-increment receipts on affordable housing, as required by law. Jeff Graham, president of Civic San Diego, disputes that, claiming Centre City reached its quota, and “those who continue to accuse [Centre City] of spending less than 20 percent of tax increment on affordable housing always neglected to count the debt service on the housing bonds.” The critics such as Rhodes and Damashek riposte that Centre City used accounting prestidigitation to claim it hit that 20 percent bogey.

A serious issue is possible duplicative bureaucracies. “It’s hard to kill an agency. You have to put a wooden stake through its heart,” says Steve Erie, political science professor at the University of California San Diego. Both Civic San Diego and the Housing Commission insist they can work happily together. But are they covering the same ground?

“Who is responsible for what?” asks Damashek. “Surely we shouldn’t be setting up another housing agency.” She says City of San Diego government is now dysfunctional as a result of bumbling by the prior administration, and she hopes mayor Bob Filner “will pull all these loose pieces together.”

Todd Gloria

Todd Gloria

Centre City “was often criticized for keeping all of the downtown tax-increment money downtown, yet the critics choose to ignore that it was illegal to do otherwise,” bristles Graham. Not so, says Rhodes. Monies from tax-increment financing downtown could have been used for the homeless or affordable housing outside of the downtown project area — “San Ysidro, for example,” she says.

Both Rhodes and Damashek point out that council president Todd Gloria pushed the council to approve Civic San Diego’s housing plan. Downtown is now in Gloria’s district. He “is courting the old-time powerhouses downtown by preserving what was Centre City,” says Damashek. “He has to court them for campaign money.”

Erie is concerned that Civic San Diego “will do a couple of showcase projects” in downtrodden areas “to demonstrate they are interested in more than downtown. But this may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

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“Centre City ‘was often criticized for keeping all of the downtown tax-increment money downtown, yet the critics choose to ignore that it was illegal to do otherwise,’ bristles Graham.’’ But wait. The Fourth District Court of Appeals just ruled that it is legal to take money out of Grantville redevelopment and send that to downtown. Over $31 million! This suggests if CCDC or The Downtown Cheerleaders had the will, they could have transferred downtown tax increment to other communities. They wanted to keep all the Centre City money downtown, plus suck it in from other communities. Besides, Katheryn Rhodes is correct. California redevelopment law allows TI for affordable housing to be spent anywhere in the region, not just within the project area.

Brian: You are so right. That latest decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeals basically reaffirms what Katheryn Rhodes says: all along, Centre City could have spent that money outside the project area. But it wanted to hog it for downtown, claiming, disingenuously, that downtown was blighted. (I am not happy about the Fourth District decision because Grantville got screwed, but at least it solidifies what Rhodes has said.) Civic San Diego will have to make an abrupt about-face or people will realize it is just the same old Centre City. Best, Don Bauder

Civic San Diego is busy redeveloping itself. They have to justify those salaries. They are involved in redeveloping the Horton Plaza park that they redeveloped in March of 1985. In 1985 they spent $775,000 to rehabilitate the Plaza. By 1987 street people had retaken the Plaza. In July of 1990 City Council voted to remove the grass and benches. Now there are plans to create a new park with lots of grass. The homeless population has increased since 1985. Why does Civic San Diego think it will work this time. Lots more about what has happened at Horton Plaza can be found at www.balboaparkhistory.net/glimpses/horton-plaza-park.htm.

kcasey: The City has agreed to tear down a large section of Horton Plaza, whose owner says it will then create and maintain a park. Watch whether that happens. And ask yourself two questions: 1. Why should the City tear down at the City's expense part of a shopping center? The tear-down should be the responsibility of the center's owner; 2. Why do all the downtown corporate welfare boosters refer to Horton Plaza as a great success story? It has been a marginal center for decades. Best, Don Bauder

Thank you Don for the wonderful story. Now I will have to reread the Great Gatsby.


Linked above is our solution to the problem which requires our Strong Mayor Filner to bypass the City Attorney and City Council through a Mayoral Executive Order to move all $292.9 million is Successor Housing Entity assets into our San Diego Affordable Housing Fund and/or the Housing Trust Fund (HTF). This will move operational control of our housing assets to the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) from Civic San Diego's self-serving administration. Then Mayor Filner will need State approval from Sacramento, instead of hoping Goldsmith's several legally flawed RDA lawsuits filed in our capitol will prevail.


Potential good news is that Mayor Filner was in Sacramento yesterday and according to Toni Atkins' Twitter feed had a meeting with Governor Brown.

City Attorney Goldsmith's flawed and purposeful misinterpretation Redevelopment Agency (RDA) of Legal Memorandum MS-59 entitled "Use of Redevelopment Agency Funds for Social Service Programs or Operation of Homeless Shelters" dated May 21, 2010, outlawed the use of Redevelopment Agency (RDA) Tax Increment (TI) for homeless services.


Goldsmith's is also giving Civic San Diego legal backup to say nothing can be added to ROPS spreadsheets? The ROPS spreadsheets have already been modified to include new allocations for Hotel Metro and Atmosphere? Plus $20 to $30 million.

Forbidding over $1 Billion in RDA Tax Increment (TI) to end Homelessness in San Diego has caused hardships and harm. This year an infant died due to lack of funding.

laplayaheritage: Moving authority from Goldsmith is a good move. And moving homeless and affordable housing authority from Civic San Diego is an essential move. Best, Don Bauder

The twin star and partner of CSD, the Downtown San Diego Partnership, was recently reported by Reader's Dorian Hargrove to be hiring a "homeless outreach" director, who will be paid using the assessments imposed on downtown property owners.

I'm not sure if Filner can succeed in controlling the CSD/DSDP powerhouse with Todd Gloria enabling their joint improper and continually selective misuse of public monies, but I'm confident he'll try. I would be even more confident if Filner had Peterson, Rhodes, Damashek, and Erie advising him.

HonestGovernment: You will be happy to know that some of those esteemed people you mention indeed have given advice to Mayor Filner, who was reportedly willing to listen. Best, Don Bauder

That is good. It's evidently bad link day in Readerville: try this for Hargrove's article on the PBID monies being used to hire a "homeless outreach" staffer: http://tinyurl.com/mcrgz7q

HonestGovernment: Dorian Hargrove does a lot of good stories for the Reader. Best, Don Bauder

All you previous commenters are obviously much better informed than I am. San Diego city spreads all over the county in patches. Take a look at zoning maps. You might be surprised. All downtown pet projects are being nurtured and we get the full court media press to fool the normal person who really doesn't pay attention or care. Let me tell you something, here in Otay Mesa where I live, I received a letter from Ben Hueso about lights that were installed at Lucky Waller-Silver Wing park. Meanwhile our sidewalks are cracked, streets are in sorry shape etc. Thats not why I'm writing 'though. Mayor Filner's fiancee is the person on point for the homeless. Center City simply changed their name and business as usual. A real plan for the homeless is needed. Why can't we approve the art proposal for those blocks north of Broadway, thus creating more revenue for funding these projects. We are a big city who's city administrators insist on keeping a small town mentality. Lets stimulate more interest in this town besides the obvious money making machines that are our amusemant parks and such. And whats wrong with a Times Square West? Here's a word you'll understand, revenue! Here's one you might not, sanity?

FatCatSegat: I believe Bob Filner got elected mayor because of many things you mentioned, in particular the rundown infrastructure in neighborhoods while the money is hogged downtown. Best, Don Bauder

When is someone at the Reader going to write an article asking what the County of San Diego is or IS NOT doing for homeless services? Civic San Diego, used to be CCDC, subsidized Potiker Senior Center early 2000 and they agreed to provide services and housing for over 100 homeless mentally ill seniors. CCDC subsidized Rescue Mission (used to be Harborview Hospital) and they agreed to provide services and beds for more than 100 mentally ill homeless. CCDC along with Housing Commission and many other pockets including the state of California subsidized VVSD now called Veterans Village which went from 60 beds in 2000 to now providing services and housing to over 300 homeless vets today. Currently there is a group which meets very often, United Way, City of San Diego, Downtown San Diego Partnership, and numerous other providers to continue to implement effective solutions to the homeless situation. As for Horton Plaza, ever hear of the word "catalyst" Don?????? Horton Plaza was originally developed with large surrounding walls for an inside/outside mall to keep "riff raff" away from shoppers. Today it is being opened up with an enlarged park and open space at the corner of 4th and Broadway for the rest of downtown. Why? Luckily, in 2013 there is actually a real walkable downtown, with real downtown residents and new businesses, restaurants, and a ballpark, compared to 1980 when Ernie Hahn and Pete Wilson decided to develop Horton Plaza. Not bad for 33 years Don. You might not like it, and that is surely your opinion. And you are right, how this city has mitigated or not the homeless situation has been very difficult and ugly. But I have hope that finally with so many municipalities, non-profits and private interests caring and actually engaged and involved there is hope. Civic San Diego is only one part to our homeless problem in downtown San Diego.

ICare: You make some good points, but I look at Horton Plaza from an economic standpoint. It has not been successful. Period. Yet the mainstream media keep saying it has been. Best, Don Bauder

viewer: I can even remember when Carlsbad was a small town. Temecula was smaller. Best, Don Bauder

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