Hoping to keep this fall’s slow-growth ballot measures free of the taint of special-interest deals, the San Diego City Council Thursday postponed a final vote on four contracts governing large residential development projects until after the Nov. 8 election.
The council, however, did single out a 1,693-home project in Tierrasanta for approval of its “development agreement,” noting that, because the project is about to be constructed, the contract between the city and the builder should face no further delays.
The five development agreements--which are contracts in which the city trades a guaranteed right to build in exchange for the developers’ paying for costly roads, schools, parks and other public facilities--were the sole subject of a second consecutive special session of the council Thursday.
The meeting followed by one day another called Wednesday by six city council members to give final approval to the five agreements endorsed by the council Sept. 20. If they had been approved, the agreements would have taken effect 30 days later, and before the Nov. 8 election.
Accusation of Circumventing Voters
Council member Bob Filner and slow-growth advocates accused five of the six--Gloria McColl, Ed Struiksma, Judy McCarty, Bruce Henderson and Ron Roberts--of calling the session in order to approve the agreements in time to help developers circumvent the terms of the measures.
City attorneys insisted that was impossible, but some developers said that they believed approval more than 30 days before the election might give them priority if the city is forced to decide how to allocate building permits under either of the slow-growth plans.
The decision was postponed until Thursday on a technicality, and the five-member majority lost McColl, who left for a vacation. With council members Wes Pratt and Abbe Wolfsheimer also absent and Mayor Maureen O’Connor and Filner opposed to the quick approvals, the matter was postponed until after voters decide whether to approve either of the two home-building caps on the Nov. 8 ballot.
With the council-backed slow-growth measure, Proposition H, facing competition from citizen-backed Proposition J on the fall ballot, O’Connor told developers that the council cannot risk the appearance of providing them a special deal. Both measures cap home building in the city and sharply curtail construction on hillsides, canyons, flood plains and wetlands.
“Things have changed. We do have a qualified initiative (Proposition J) on the ballot . . . , she said. “It is a very, very tough time out there right now in the community.
“To save the entire city and get Proposition H passed, some people are going to have to suffer,” she added.
Although developers grudgingly accepted that fate, they were clearly unhappy about waiting as much as two years for agreements that they believe provide extraordinary benefits to the city at a cost of millions of dollars to them.
“The RiverWalk development agreement should have been before you many months ago,” complained Lance Burris, principal project manager of the Chevron Land and Development Co., which is building the $500-million Mission Valley project. “The only reason that the agreement is before you at this late date is because of delays in the city’s review of the development agreement policy.
“Therefore any perceived conflict with the Quality of Life Initiative (Proposition J) is not our doing,” Burris said.
And Councilman Ed Struiksma said that, by delaying approval of the projects, three of which are in his district, the council is gambling that developers will choose not to enter into an agreement and take back the facilities they planned to provide the public. “Go ahead and roll the dice,” he told his colleagues.
The decision ends any chance of special consideration under Proposition J, which would take effect Nov. 8 if it wins. But, with the final approvals scheduled for Nov. 14, the agreements still could take effect before Proposition H becomes law.