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Less than a year after fighting a losing battle over the legality of the Greater Golden Hill Maintenance Assessment District, the City of San Diego must now defend the legality of the City's 56 maintenance assessment districts as well as the Downtown Property and Business Improvement District.

On August 29, 19 days after city councilmembers approved the district's budgets for next year, local government watchdog group San Diegans for Open Government filed a lawsuit against the City for levying the assessments and against the County for collecting them.

Community activist, Ian Trowbridge, co-chair of San Diegans for Open Government, says the assessments violate California's Proposition 26, the 2010 constitutional amendment that prohibits local governments from implementing or increasing general taxes without a majority vote by the electorate.

"I don't think these assessment districts are terribly bad, they just don't follow the law," says Trowbridge.

But members of the group should be prepared for a long fight. The City Attorney's office has shown that it is willing to spend hundreds of hours in staff time to fight to keep the maintenance assessment districts.

In 2007 residents of Golden Hill and South Park sued the City for creating the local Clean, Green, and Safe program. The residents claimed, and the judge agreed, that the City inflated the vote in order to pass the assessment.

But that wasn't all. In the lawsuit residents also questioned the lack of distinction between actual benefits versus general benefits.

This, says Trowbridge, is one of the problems with these taxes.

"The only people who should benefit are the contributors to the fund," he said. "The property owners are spending a substantial amount of money keeping the streets clean, or on other general improvements. That means everybody benefits, not just the people paying the taxes. Local politicians don't follow the law, instead they have decided to ignore it."

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Comments

nostalgic Sept. 30, 2012 @ 8:56 a.m.

San Diegans for Open Government have taken on a huge battle. The City will do anything to keep these assessment districts. If they are found to be illegal, there is the added burden of refunding the assessments that have been collected. The City itself has a lawsuit against the consultant it hired to set them up. Plenty of work for city attorneys in the foreseeable future.

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madhatter Sept. 30, 2012 @ 11:49 a.m.

The new lawsuit against the City of San Diego questioning the legality of maintenance assessment districts is not only a matter of fighting to preserve the fairness of California's Proposition 26, but it is also a matter of not being ripped off so that a bunch of pals can distribute among themselves contracts for their own benefit, and keep themselves doing their private deals -- deals that have nothing to do with improving our shared community spaces but that are being made with OUR money. GGHMA was a shameful case in point.

May I suggest that the City Attorney's office, instead of spending lots of money defending the opaque-private interests of a few individuals (aka corporations), employ the money (and efforts) on meaningful community activities such as having music, singers, dancers and/or performers in our beautiful public parks?

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GHH Oct. 1, 2012 @ 6:09 p.m.

The City of San Diego acted in bad faith, from start to finish, with the Greater Golden Hill MAD, so it's highly likely that it is also doing the same with other MADs. Here is the sad saga of how the City handled the GGH MAD: - The City inflated their vote to illegally pass the MAD in the first place, inflicting the unwanted and unwarranted double-tax on residents who were already paying for services with their property taxes. - The City pocketed a portion of the MAD assessments for "administration" despite not providing any. - The City gave the remaining MAD money to a private company - the Community Development Corporation (CDC) - with the City's Economic Development Corporation nominally providing oversight (non-existent). - The CDC: • promptly ousted the Golden Hill property owners ELECTED by the community to serve on the MAD Oversight Committee, and replaced them with its own APPOINTED committee • hiked the amount of the MAD assessments, in direct violation of the approved budget on which the MAD was formed • used a significant amount of the MAD funds to market itself (no doubt to solicit further MAD contracts) • received "contributions" from the contractors that it selected to service the GGH MAD • purported to have spent significant funds on audits which were never documented nor filed (the City's overseeing Economic Development Department REFUSED to document audits, despite an explicit recommendation by the Ethics Committee) • had an IRS filing showing the CDC to be approximately $150,000 negative through the previous fiscal year • employed a company - Harvest Landscape - which operated on a suspended Contractors' License, and submitted one-line bills for approximately $17,000 per month (with no itemization of services provided) - The City fought the residents of Greater Golden Hill, who filed a lawsuit to dismantle the illegally formed MAD. - The city lost the case, but appealed, using "lawfare" against Golden Hill property owners to continue taking further MAD assessments while the case languished in the courts. - The City lost the appeal, but delayed shutting down the MAD and refunding the money, thereby avoiding having to repay homeowners for the first year's assessment by exceeding the statute of limitations for refunds. - Once the MAD was finally ceased, the City failed to "administer" an orderly shutdown of the MAD - instead, allowing the CDC to simply walk away, leaving public trash cans un-emptied, dog waste stations overflowing, and residents having to clean up the mess. The City of San Diego not only acted in bad faith throughout the five-year Greater Golden Hill MAD debacle, it acted incompetently and deviously too. Aside from flouting Proposition 26, MADs are a blatant end run around Proposition 13. The Greater Golden Hill MAD was dual taxation, cronyism, and gross government waste, fraud, and incompetence all rolled into one. Neither the community nor its residents are any better off for it!

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