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City Council Delay May Prove Critical to 4 Developments

Times Staff Writer

A controversial bid by some San Diego City Council members to give quick, final approval to multimillion-dollar contracts governing five large residential developments was postponed 24 hours Wednesday--a delay that greatly decreases the chance that four of the projects will be able to escape the terms of slow-growth measures facing voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.

When the council reconvenes in a second special session today, council members Gloria McColl, Wes Pratt and Abbe Wolfsheimer are scheduled to be absent. Mayor Maureen O’Connor and Councilman Bob Filner have already voiced their opposition to quick approval for four of the five residential developments.

That would leave those projects, which would add 7,454 homes to the city over the next 10 years, one vote short of the five-vote majority needed for approval by the council.

Grading Further Along

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Only Tierrasanta Norte, a 1,693-home project scheduled to be built over the next five years, will win the key fifth vote from O’Connor, sources in the mayor’s office said Wednesday. The mayor is voting for the project, in part, because grading and other preparations for the project is much further along than for the others.

Unless another special session can be scheduled for Friday or Saturday, the four other projects probably will receive final approval Monday, the council’s next regularly scheduled session.

Development agreements approved by Friday would become effective in 30 days and just before the Nov. 8 election. That fact, some officials argue, may excuse the projects from key provisions of the two slow-growth initiatives, both of which place a cap on the number of dwelling units that can be constructed citywide for at least the next three years.

If final approval is delayed until Monday, however, the agreements would not take effect until after voters choose one of the slow-growth plans, or reject them both.

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The timing of the council’s vote on the agreements is critical to a controversy that erupted this week when six council members invoked a rule in the Municipal Code to schedule Wednesday’s special session to consider the projects over the objections of O’Connor.

Councilman Bob Filner and slow-growth advocates accused the six council members--McColl, Judy McCarty, Ed Struiksma, Bruce Henderson, Ron Roberts and Pratt--of scheduling the session to circumvent the terms of slow-growth Propositions H and J that are on the ballot.

‘I Want an Answer’

“I think if we act on these things today, whether it’s legal or not, we give the impression that we are catering to the interests of a few developers,” said Filner, who flew all night from Montreal to attend the special meeting and register his protest. “I want an answer as to why we can’t wait five days to let that happen.”

O’Connor also expressed suspicion that attorneys for the five development projects were seeking quick approval as a way to claim exemption from either slow-growth initiative in lawsuits that many city officials predict will follow the election.

But McColl, whose aide organized the calling of the special session, denied that it was done as a favor to developers. She said she moved to schedule the session when she realized that a quorum of council members would return Wednesday from out-of-town trips that canceled Monday and Tuesday’s regularly scheduled council meetings.

Confusion reigns over whether the quick approval would actually convey any advantage to the developers. City attorneys have adamantly told the council that the five projects would be subject to the terms of either slow-growth measure regardless of when the development agreements are approved.

But Assistant Planning Director Mike Stepner said Wednesday that projects approved by Friday would be exempt from key environmental restrictions of both projects, and might win priority in future allocations of building permits.

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Peter Navarro, a member of Citizens for Limited Growth, which is sponsoring the stringent slow-growth Proposition J, said approval of the projects Wednesday might allow the 9,147 homes to be exempted from that measure’s tough growth cap.

Developers of two of the projects said they were unsure whether the early approval would give them an advantage.

The council had approved the five development agreements Sept. 20, but under council rules must give them a second endorsement 12 days later. Such so-called second readings are usually a routine matter handled at the next council meeting.

Development agreements are contracts between the city and each developer, in which the home builder promises to trade millions of dollars in construction of roads, parks, schools and fire stations in return for a guaranteed right to build homes.

For example, developers of RiverWalk, a Mission Valley project, promised to build $4 million worth of roads and trolley lines in exchange for building guarantees. Tierrasanta Norte developers promised to provide $4.2 million worth of facilities, including a recreation center, park improvements and landscaping.

Approval seemed certain Wednesday, with McColl, Struiksma, McCarty, Roberts and Henderson ready to vote for the projects. Filner and O’Connor were opposed, and Pratt and Wolfsheimer were absent.

But Assistant City Atty. Curtis Fitzpatrick told the council that each 30- to 35-page agreement would have to be read aloud--word by word--at the meeting because they had not been on file in City Clerk Charles Abdelnour’s office for the previous 24 hours.

Instead of enduring that multihour ordeal, council members agreed to postpone the vote 24 hours. But McColl, who is planning a vacation with her husband, said she would “absolutely not” attend today, robbing the agreements of a crucial fifth vote.

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