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San Diego Creates Public Corporation to Carry on Redevelopment

The next time a Padre hits one out of Petco Park or a tourist orders another round of Pacificos at a bar in the Gaslamp District, many San Diegans will thank the Centre City Development Corporation. If a new plan succeeds, future kudos will go to Civic San Diego. 

While many cities will retain fond memories of their redevelopment agencies, few were so lauded as CCDC, which, along with its lower-profile sister organization, the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., employed a novel combination of redevelopment and regulatory power in order to revitalize downtown and southeastern San Diego, respectively. 

With the demise of redevelopment, Civic San Diego--approved last week on a 7-1 vote of the San Diego City Council--combines the two nonprofit, public benefit corporations into a single entity. The boards of both corporations had previously voted in favor of the merger.

The new entity will initially receive nearly $6 million in funding, largely from parking meter revenues and permitting fees. Civic San Diego will support 32 staff positions, down from the 58 at CCDC and SEDC. And it will continue to process land use entitlements in these two areas, just as it did before.

Civic San Diego's immediate tasks will center on the wind-down of redevelopment and the administration of approved projects. In the long-term, it will pursue a broad mandate to stoke economic development in its project areas. Eventually, Civic San Diego's purview could expand citywide. 

"I think the merger is a smart move for the city, given the fact that redevelopment and our primary funding source to implement projects has been eliminated by the state," said Jeff Graham, CCDC's vice president of redevelopment.  

If the city is to retain control over planned redevelopment projects, Civic San Diego will implement them in some of the city's neediest areas while also pursuing broader economic development goals.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Jerry Groomes, president of SEDC.  "But what it could mean is that we can continue to focus on this part of San Diego, the southeastern part, we can continue to implement those projects that are legally obligated or otherwise approved."

Though it will not enjoy the largesse of tax-increment financing, Civic San Diego has a broad mandate to direct redevelopment in its project areas. Though Graham admitted that the details are "really a blur right now," Civic San Diego will, in broad terms, attempt to stoke private development and provide public infrastructure improvements just as redevelopment agencies did.

To accomplish this goal, the new organization will have to be single-minded, at least in its early stages. 

"We have to go out and make our number-one priority finding new funding sources," said Graham. 

While money may be scarce, city officials say that Civic San Diego will retain one crucial advantage over traditional redevelopment: the power to direct land use planning. 

Considered unique among California's former redevelopment agencies, both CCDC and SEDC served jointly as their respective areas' redevelopment agencies and planning departments, with zoning and permitting powers independent of the City of San Diego Planning Division. 

Developers say that this arrangement was ideal for redevelopment and will continue to serve Civic San Diego well. 

"The beauty of CCDC has been that because it's an independent, separate corporation, they've been more nimble in terms of being able to process land use entitlements and development permits," said attorney Robin Madaffer, a former district chair for the San Diego/Tijuana Chapter of the Urban Land Institute. 

To promote development downtown, CCDC implemented a master environmental impact report, which essentially created ex ante approvals so that developers would not have to shoulder the burden of conducting their own, individual EIRs. 

"The planning power that generally is associated with the CCDC and the ability they had to expedite things downtown was due to the fact that they had an overall master EIR that allowed the fast-tracking of projects," said Groomes. 

As well, by bundling redevelopment and planning under the same roof, planners and redevelopment staff could ensure that redevelopment plans matched up with zoning codes and project approvals. 

"It was critical in having being able to negotiate a public-private partnership with our redevelopment project managers for a particular project downtown and having, in the same shop, the planners and permitters who will be doing the design review and taking the project forward," said Graham.    

By retaining those powers, Civic San Diego may continue to stoke development even without its predecessors' deep pockets. 

"I think having Civic San Diego control its own planning functions for its geographical boundaries and be able to issue the permits gives it the ability to be more nimble and responsive," said Madaffer.  

Last week San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders reportedly told a group of business leaders that he hopes that Civic San Diego can expand citywide. He praised the organization's potential for efficiency and quickness in issuing permits. He also reportedly implied that the developers would feel comfortable doing business with Civic San Diego. 

As cities across the state struggle to devise replacements for redevelopment, San Diego may have taken an early lead—and may provide a model for other cities.  

"Being able to keep that in place is a light at the end of the tunnel in this whole redevelopment demise," said Madaffer. "It will be a model for the rest of the state to pick up the pieces and be able to implement the things that are important and the good things about redevelopment: economic stimulation, affordable housing."

Contacts: 

Jeff Graham, Vice President of Redevelopment, Centre City Development Corp., 619.235.2200 

Jerry Groomes, President of Southeastern Development Corp., (619) 527-7345

Robin Madaffer, former District Chair, San Diego/Tijuana Chapter of ULI, 619.252.0295

 

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