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Friday, May 23, 2014 - Last Blog on Earth | News

City drags its feet on development plan for Encanto, City Heights

Despite willingness of union, labor negotiations never started

By Joshua Emerson Smith
mikezucchet_sandiego San Diego MEA General Manager Mike Zucchet
- Photo by David Rolland

Civic San Diego, the city-owned nonprofit tasked with winding down redevelopment projects, has been drooling over the possibility of bringing its Downtown development strategy to the neighborhoods of Encanto and City Heights. For months, Civic San Diego's president, Jeff Graham (who stepped down earlier this year), was going around to City Council members, talking about an opportunity to bring in federal “new market” tax credits and bank loans to help revitalize underserved neighborhoods.

However, there was a catch: Civic San Diego needed control of planning and permitting for those areas, Graham insisted.

That didn’t sit well with the San Diego Municipal Employees Association (MEA), the union that represents the workers in the city's planning department—the folks who do the work Civic San Diego was looking to appropriate. The union wanted to go through meet-and-confer, a process in which the city would have to make a good-faith effort to at least discuss the idea of shifting planning duties before approving it.

While that has yet to happen, Mayor Kevin Faulconer included $225,000 in his May revised budget to “fund Civic San Diego to provide ministerial review in Encanto and City Heights,” according to city documents. This doesn't give Civic San Diego the planning authority it wants, but it gives the nonprofit the resources to prepare to take on that role.

“This is a heck of a way to start that good-faith discussion with dropping this on us,” said Mike Zucchet, MEA general manager, at Wednesday’s City Council budget hearing.

"Many of you are fond of blaming labor unions for slowing things down," he added. "We’ve been begging you to engage on this for more than six months, and there’s been nothing until yesterday."

The Mayor’s office didn’t respond to CityBeat's request for comment.

The $225,000 is for Civic San Diego to set up an investment fund, said Planning Director Bill Fulton at the hearing. "Civic will begin to put that investment fund together now, so that at such time as planning and permitting authority is either transferred to Civic or projects are available to Civic to participate in, that fund will be available to do that."

So what is the proposal that the city and the union will discuss, exactly? No one really knows, except maybe the Mayor’s office, the City Attorney and Civic San Diego.

"We have been in an active engagement with Civic San Diego, as well as the City Attorney’s office on refining that proposal," said Scott Chadwick, the city's chief operating officer, at the hearing.

The general idea is that for large commercial swaths in each neighborhood, the community plan would be substituted for a “specific plan.” This way, requirements and limitations on height, density and parking could be bypassed in an effort to lure in development.

Who would have the final approval on what kinds of projects get built is far from clear. It could be the City Council or it could be Civic San Diego's Board of Directors—which has had significant disagreements on how to prioritize community benefits for development projects, such as affordable housing and subsidizing rent for community-based nonprofits.

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