Civic San Diego commits foul, says group

Agency allegedly used outdated environmental impact reports

Civic San Diego, the city-owned nonprofit corporation in charge of permitting and planning in downtown and surrounding communities, is again under fire for the process in which it approves development proposals.

On December 6, a group of residents calling itself San Diegans for Responsible Planning sued Civic San Diego over its approval of a 39-story hotel and residential tower located at Seventh Avenue and Market Street as well as a smaller 20-story hotel development on Seventh and Island.

The larger of the two proposals, proposed by Cisterra Development, will be home to a Ritz Carlton Hotel, Whole Foods Market, and include 218 residential units as well as eight stories of parking. The neighboring development consists of a 324-room Hampton Inn hotel.

According to the complaint, the nonprofit used environmental documents from 2006 to push through the development and sidestep requirements outlined in the City of San Diego's Climate Action Plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. In addition, alleges the complaint, the nonprofit failed to follow the guidelines set forth in the California Environmental Quality Act.

"[Civic San Diego, the city, and Cisterra] erroneously concluded that the [projects] will have insignificant impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, traffic and other environmental concerns. Respondents reach this erroneous conclusion by relying on an outdated, ten-year-old programmatic Downtown Community Plan 2006 Environmental Impact Report that never analyzed these specific 2016 Projects, as well as a hodgepodge of dozens of other different EIRs, plans, attachments, staff reports and piecemeal project approvals — instead of a single, compliant Project-specific Supplemental EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act ('CEQA') for each Project."

In July 2016, Civic San Diego approved the project. In October, downtown resident Sergio Gonzalez, also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, appealed the nonprofit's decision to San Diego's Planning Commission. At a hearing later that month, commissioners denied the appeal. City councilmembers denied subsequent appeals by Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and his fellow plaintiff San Diegans for Responsible Planning are asking that a judge order a stop to the project until all environmental issues are addressed.

Civic San Diego's handling of permitting has been challenged before. The decision by the city to grant the organization the authority to make planning and permitting decisions, considered to be essential city services, has drawn criticism. San Diego is the only municipality in the state to delegate land-use decisions to an outside group.

As reported by the Reader, Civic San Diego boardmember Murtaza Baxamusa sued the nonprofit over the arrangement and what appear to be conflict-of-interest issues.

Business owners have sued the organization for its handling of permitting decisions as well as for failing to ensure public participation.

More recently residents in the community of Encanto claimed they were shut out in the development of a publicly owned parcel located at Hilltop and Euclid avenues.

In October, despite the objections from residents and others, city councilmembers renewed Civic San Diego's operating agreement with the city that included new provisions aimed at improving public participation.

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This article went downhill at the start with the factual error that the larger project is 60 stories (it's not). Not surprising given the Readers history of poor research and fanning the flames of regressive land-use policy... Downtown has a fully vetted and tested EIR. These lawsuits are nothing but diversions for disgruntled, selfish NIMBYs looking to limit development wherever they can, however they can for there own exclusionary reasons.

Meanwhile, the Encanto project was discussed at length with the community in terms of density, design guidelines and scale before the project developer arrived and proposed a project well within those pre-approved community guidelines. Now, disagreeable neighbors are raising a flag over something already approved by not only the city, but the community as well.

This story, of course, glosses over that history and instead follows the same tired tropes the Reader's (lazy) "journalists" employ when they need to meet their deadlines (developer = evil, City = Corrupt, NIMBY = community hero). Read any land-use article on here, and you'll find the same old formula. Great job again, SD Reader, your lack of nuance is serving our community well...

Yeah, damn anyone who wants to retain any sort of standard of living! We need to pack as many people into San Diego as possible! So long as one slob is crying that they cannot afford to live at the beach, there is a social injustice that must be rectified!

We keep hearing that we're in a drought. How and why are we supposed to be packing tens of thousands of more people in to the city and county if there isn't enough water? Most of the rest of the country is much more affordable and has water... it's time for those who cannot afford to live here to go there.

Snore. These arguments (too many people/not enough water) are just as stale and false as the Readers. Our population growth has been minuscule over the last two decades, and nearly all of it has been internal (i.e. it's our children and grandchildren). We aren't packing anyone into anything, in fact we are driving more people away each year because of our exclusionary land-use policies. The sad reality is that some locals feel entitled to live here and demand walls to keep others out, which hurts not only our economy, but our low income communities, and particularly, people of color. As for the water argument, yawn. Newer developments are exponentially more water efficient and help reduce our water use while creating new homes for young families. If anything, we should be tearing down those suburban water hogs we call homes and rebuilding them to 21st century standards.

Developer lobbyists have succeeded in creating a false argument that Tinkered recites in his or her posts: that anyone who cares about their city and wants to participate in the dialog as to how and where it grows are really just trying to keep people from moving here and real estate prices high. Poppycock. What I have found by going to planning meetings and talking to the people are trying to get their voices heard is that people love their city and are fearful well connected developers and their expensive lobbyists are going to ruin the soul of the city for profit and under cover of affordable housing and climate change. I know from listening that the so called NIMBYs want those things more than the developers. Consider the ridiculous example of Lilac Hills which spent millions marketing its awful project with the same false argument. What the falsely villainized and wrongly named NIMBYs want is a fair process that respects the wisdom of the community. But that gets in the way of developers profits so they instead work to influence politicians (like Todd Gloria) behind closed doors, and provide "climate change/affordable housing" cover for them to throw their constituents under the inefficient bus service.

Thinkered: You're correct. There was an error in the story. The tower is 39 stories not 60. This was my fault. As for poor research and fanning the flames of "regressive land-use policy," I have no agenda. I report on lawsuits, among other issues. This is a newly filed lawsuit that no other media outlet reported on. I did. Admittedly, I should have checked my facts before publishing. This was an honest mistake and nothing else. If this was a lawsuit from a developer against the city then I would have reported it as such. Thanks for your comment. Please feel free to contact me anytime with a well-nuanced tip and I will gladly look into it. -dH

Thinkered: Regarding the Encanto project, they are not opposed to development at that site. They, several residents I spoke to, wanted to have more say in what that development looks like. They believe Civic SD didn't give them that opportunity. Are their concerns not valid? Are they NIMBY's because they object to the development of publicly-owned land?

That said, I understand your point. Some people are flat-out opposed to any new development. They want to keep adequate parking, space, views, et cetera. At the same time, however, some people are negatively impacted by misguided developments. Does this mean one position is better than the other?

Now, back to me mentioning the Hilltop/Euclid development. It was not done to add to some NIMBY conspiracy theory, as you claim, but was mentioned due to the fact that the decision to grant land-use authority to an outside agency is unique and has been challenged in court. This is news. It might not be something you agree with but it is news nonetheless. Thx -dH

The neighbors in Encanto were angry because Civic San Diego staff put a gag order during the design competition phase. The opposition did not like Civic San Diego's handling of the Bidding process that did not allow others to spread the news of their projects and gain community support. The alternative proposals teams felt they were suckered by Civic San Diego staff, when agreeing to keep quiet. Then loss after decision were already made by Civic San Diego staff, with no discussion.


Don't feel like you have to apologize, Dorian: seeing thinkered's regular trolling of anyone less than fawning to developers on this and other sites, he must get paid more per word than you. Replying just earns him more money to spend on improving his single-family suburban home.

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