Now the downtown overlords are pushing for a massive Chargers stadium subsidy, even though the only thing blighted in downtown San Diego is the City’s financial condition. The hastily drawn, secret bill to lift Centre City’s cap “doesn’t meet the smell test,” says Pasadena lawyer Sutton. “It was written on a notepad and grafted onto a bill regarding farmland. The legislature has no shame. These giveaways to developers are no different than Tammany Hall [New York City’s 19th-century graft haven]. The development agencies take the money and dole it out to political contributors.”
San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre has filed a suit against the legislature’s guerrilla raid. The defendants are three state agencies. “A finding that a project area is blighted is the absolute prerequisite for redevelopment,” says the suit. But Senate Bill 863 was rammed through “with no committee hearings, no debate before the public, behind closed doors, and while the City of San Diego and the Centre City Development Corporation were in the middle of conducting a study to determine if the relevant project area was sufficiently blighted,” says the suit. It cites a recent appellate decision in which the court rejected Glendora’s blight claim under similar circumstances. Aguirre filed in Sacramento “so we don’t sue the power structure in San Diego; we make them play an away game.”
Says Aguirre, “It is time to wean the developers from subsidies and have them embrace competition.”
That has worked in downtown Los Angeles, says Steve Erie, professor of political science at the University of California San Diego. He and a Ph.D. candidate, Vlad Kogan, have shown that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Los Angeles was able to rein in its redevelopment agency, move tax dollars from downtown to the rest of the city, and block the big subsidies for pro sports facilities. Result: “a downtown renaissance with private capital,” says Erie. But San Diego “is the welfare queen of redevelopment agencies, still on the dole” and still steering taxpayer money downtown. “No other city has such a peculiar institution to capture the benefits for downtown.”
Jerry Brown might be able to do something about that.