San Diego Bert Decker remembers calling Midway area tenant Vic Maidhof in early November 2003 to warn him that the San Diego Redevelopment Agency was about to "chop up" his business. Maidhof did not believe it and told Decker he must be crazy. But the retired Navy commander convinced Maidhof to attend a meeting of the redevelopment agency's North Bay Project Area Committee the following day.
Maidhof refused to talk with me about his story. But as Decker tells it, when Maidhof got to the meeting on the morning of November 5, he witnessed a PowerPoint presentation of plans to build condominiums on property he was subleasing to other businesses. As a nine-year occupant of the property behind the Sports Arena (recently renamed ipayOne Center), Maidhof stood up in the meeting and objected to the plans. The condominiums were the main fixture in a redevelopment proposal by the Pacifica Development Corporation. The redevelopment agency supported Pacifica's proposal.
During the meeting, the redevelopment agency's project manager, Alex Greenwood, declared Maidhof had no "owner participation rights" because he, too, leased the property. But private citizens on the North Bay Project Area Committee were flabbergasted that Maidhof, 52, had received no notification of the proposal to redevelop the property he hoped he could pass on to his children. Greenwood said he had not known how to reach Maidhof before the meeting but sent notification to the property's owner. It turned out that the owner was 92 years old and lived in a nursing home. It also came out that Bert Decker took the phone number off a banner on the building Maidhof was leasing and used it to reach him.
The committee voted to delay action on the proposal and give Maidhof a month to come up with a counterproposal. In the following days, Maidhof contacted Vince Bartolotta, the attorney who won a $98 million lawsuit against the city on behalf of Roque de la Fuente. Bartolotta advised Maidhof to buy the property he was leasing as soon as he could. With great strain on his finances, Maidhof did just that. He then produced a plan at further expense to develop his own property. To this date he has been able to keep the city's redevelopment agency from his door.
On March 21, private citizens on the North Bay Project Area subcommittee have turned thumbs down on condominiums proposed by developer Bill Kenton in the same neighborhood on Kurtz and Hancock Streets behind the Sports Arena. The city's redevelopment agency supports Kenton's proposal.
Joe Fritzenkotter, president of Vanard Lithographics on Kurtz Street, says that in December he received a letter from the redevelopment agency demanding that he choose whether to sell his property to Kenton, redevelop it himself, or move to another location. The letter allowed a fourth choice called "other." Fritzenkotter checked the "other" box and wrote a note underneath it saying he wanted to remain in the printing business at his current location.
In June of last year, Kenton told Fritzenkotter that he wanted to develop the two blocks on Kurtz and Hancock between Riley and Sherman Streets. Kenton claims to own 40 percent of the area. In July, Kenton sent Fritzenkotter an offer of $1.7 million to buy his property. The printer says he ignored the offer but later met Kenton outside on the sidewalk. "Then he hinted," says Fritzenkotter, "that if I didn't sell my property to him, the city would take it."
The redevelopment agency's North Bay Project Area Committee held the first public discussion of Kenton's condominium proposal at a "workshop" on February 23. Fritzenkotter says a PowerPoint presentation that morning focused on his property first, then quickly moved on. Fritzenkotter said he yelled out, "Stop! That's my property! I want to talk about it!" only to be told to "shut up" by someone in the audience. To the private citizens on the committee, the proposal came as a surprise; they had heard nothing about it. So, they forced the group to convene a subcommittee to evaluate the proposal. It was that subcommittee that rejected the Kenton redevelopment proposal on March 21.
Kenton presented his proposal at the meeting, telling area property owners he wanted them to become his partners in the venture. But the most important component of his pitch was that the condo project would eliminate three adult-entertainment businesses at the area's entrance, including the Body Shop and Les Girls nude-dancing nightclubs. Those businesses, he argued, were part of the area's current blight, which makes redevelopment mandatory. Kenton also contends they are an eyesore leading into the Midway area, at the Rosecrans entrance off I-8.
As soon as Kenton finished, most of the meeting attendees condemned his condominium plan. The most impassioned argument against it came from Chris Clifford, who has a financial interest in one of the Hancock Street properties. Clifford argued that Kenton was working with the redevelopment agency to develop his proposal as far back as spring of last year. "We, the property owners," Clifford told the meeting, "should be given the same kind of process and equity that Kenton was given. We deserve six months to put together our own proposals."
The redevelopment agency had given those owners who chose to develop their own properties 30 days to outline their plans. The agency also denied the right to present proposals to owners who originally did not make that choice but later changed their minds. Clifford was one of them. He now wants to propose a plan that includes both industry and art in the redevelopment area. He calls it an "arts of industry" plan.
A majority of the owners in the redevelopment area do not favor the condominium plan, insisted Clifford. "Kenton now says, 'Oh, be a partner.' That was not what we were offered when the original proposal letter was sent to property owners. No one said, 'Partner with us.'
"And the redevelopment agency's Greenwood," continued Clifford, "seems to have ignored his fiduciary duty to the property owners to inform us when he was first contacted by Mr. Kenton. What I got from [Greenwood in an earlier conversation] was that December 14 was the date of the official proposal. Yet the agency has never explained what an 'official' proposal is versus the nonofficial one that says, 'We'll work with you for five months while we sandbag everybody else.' The rest of the property owners don't deserve to be sandbagged."