What kind of racket is Civic San Diego?

Agency’s backers seek less oversight while one of their boardmembers sues

The Downtown San Diego Partnership, a nonprofit business-minded organization, is stepping up its defense of Civic San Diego, the private nonprofit in charge of permitting in select neighborhoods and handling redevelopment functions throughout the city.

According to an April 13 disclosure, executives from the Downtown San Diego Partnership are busy lobbying mayor Kevin Faulconer, council president Sherri Lightner, and newly elected council member Chris Cate to reject any proposal that would "create additional appeals processes or other layers of additional oversight for Civic San Diego decisions."

The partnership also wants the city to give Civic San Diego the authority to "create and administer their own community benefits policy." The policies are a new approach from Civic San Diego to adopt individual neighborhood development plans, as opposed to reviewing each on a project-by-project basis.

The city's agreement with Civic San Diego to handle permitting and redevelopment is unique. No other cities or counties have handed over similar duties to a private nonprofit group. Doing so has some elected officials as well as members of Civic San Diego's own board worried that granting Civic San Diego additional authority coupled with less oversight is a recipe for disaster.

Last month, as reported by San Diego CityBeat, assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced a bill in the state legislature that would require city officials to sign off on any land-use decisions made by the private nonprofit.

According to a statement from Gonzalez’s office, the "goal of the bill was to clarify the ability of non-profit groups like Civic San Diego to perform permitting work for local governments, as it’s uncertain what legal authority in California law the organization has to approve building projects on behalf of the City of San Diego after redevelopment’s demise."

More doubt was cast on Civic San Diego on April 10, when one of its boardmembers, Murtaza Baxamusa, along with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, filed a lawsuit aimed at defining the role of Civic San Diego in order to avoid any abuses of power or conflict of interest.

"To date, the Board has approved millions of taxpayer dollars and New Market Tax Credits to fund downtown area projects with virtually no oversight from the City Council," reads an excerpt from the April 10 lawsuit.

"In essence, [Civic San Diego's] board operates without accountability to the City Council, and thus without accountability to the taxpayers whose dollars it spends. The fact the Board apportions taxpayer dollars should be enough to demand the City Council's oversight. Yet [Civic San Diego's] operations demand close watch for a multitude of reasons.

"In fact, the public has been silenced through the operation of [Civic San Diego]. Taxpayers cannot be heard by the City Council on appeal, and they cannot be heard at the ballot box. Thus, neither [Civic San Diego] nor the City Council have to account for the planning and permitting decisions of the [Civic San Diego] board. [Civic San Diego] does not have to answer to the City Council, and the City Council does not have to answer to its constituents."

Despite the lawsuit and upcoming Assembly bill, San Diego's mayor and business organizations such as the Downtown San Diego Partnership are standing by Civic San Diego.

In an April 10 U-T San Diego article, Faulconer, through a spokesperson, gave his support to the organization.

"...Mayor Faulconer remains a strong supporter of Civic San Diego and its mission to create more affordable housing opportunities and spur economic development in San Diego neighborhoods."

The lobbying efforts from Downtown Partnership also show that the business community supports more authority and less oversight.

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The best part of the lawsuit is the City Charter Section 117(c) Managed Competition issues.


Our City Charter Section 117(c) states that the City Council can only contract out city functions is the work can be done "More Economically." Everyone employed at Civic San Diego makes Considerable more money than any similar City Employee. There is no way that Civic San Diego can do the work for a lower cost. In the Fiscal Year FY-2013 CAFR, Civic San Diego borrowed $20.4 Million from our General Fund Reserve Balance for extra Civic San Diego Administration. Then the Comptroller wrote off the Gifted $20.4 million as part of a $211 Million Write Off for Successor Agency debt. Shady.


City Charter "Section 117. Unclassified and Classified Services. Employment in the City shall be divided into the Unclassified and Classified Service..." 

Section 117 (c) The City may employ any independent contractor when the City Manager determines, subject to City Council approval, City services can be provided more economically and efficiently by an independent contractor than by persons employed in the Classified Service while maintaining service quality and protecting the public interest. The City Council shall by ordinance provide for appropriate policies and procedures to implement this subsection. Such ordinance shall include minimum contract standards and other measures to protect the quality and reliability of public services."


Dorian, It's good that you've reminded everyone that the Downtown San Diego Partnership is an arm of Civic San Diego, with Kris Michell at the helm and in control of the Downtown Property-Based Business Improvement District (PBID). For years, you've provided excellent coverage on DSDP, Michell, questionable but well-paid insider PBID consultants, assessment overcharges, and questionable petition/voting processes that allow the PBID to continue to collect money from all downtown property owners (residential and commercial). There is a parallel between the way the DSDP/PBID operates and the way that Civic San Diego operates; a contingent of insiders benefit while the tax-paying property owners pick up the tab and are politely ignored by their City Council. Perhaps someday, with the right kind of mayor/council, things will change. Until then, keep writing about all of them.

These non-profits operate without the constraints imposed on city government by law. They are not required to disclose to the public except through their income tax filings as non-profit. The MADs, BIDs, CDCs, and others operate as they please with "grant" money from the city. It all works perfectly (for them).

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