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6 a.m., Feb. 22
What better way to discuss pushing through a development project than over some Mussel Bisque from Dobson's Restaurant?
Councilmember Lorie Zapf and Tom Story, Sunroad Enterprises' vice president of development, did just that on May 8, when the two met at the downtown diner to discuss the 18-feet of city-owned property that Sunroad took without permission during construction on their Kearny Mesa mixed-use project.
According to emails obtained by a public records request, a staffer for Lorie Zapf set up the lunch meeting with Story.
"Lunch with Lorie & Tom Story from Sunroad on Wed. [May 8] at 12:10 at Dobson's (next to Thai Time)," reads a May 7 email from Zapf staffer Cheri Hoy.
The meeting was just one of several conversations that occurred between Zapf's Office and employees at Sunroad. As the public documents show, and as Voice of San Diego reported on July 3, the two sides had been in close contact over the use of the easements and the best way to gain approval from the city council.
On March 6, former council representative Kelly Batten worked with Story on drafting a memo to other councilmembers about the benefits of the project and the need to waive the council policy governing use of city easements.
"Really if you can send me whatever information is pertinent to waiving the council policy that I can put into the memo and then use for the docketing process would be fabulous," wrote Batten in an email to Story. "I have the information you gave me yesterday, but I just want to make [sure] the wording and language you want included is in the memo."
The following week, on March 11, Story even offered a few edits. "Next to last [paragraph] revise as follows: "The requested building restricted easement will not impede access to or use of the site for park purposes. The park does not have any structures such as restrooms..."
At that point Story started getting the word out. "Memo looks fine," wrote Story. "I mentioned this to [Todd Gloria's Senior Policy Advisor] Stephen Hill this morning and will brief him shortly. I've also spoken to Allen Jones this PM and sent him the memo request I had previously sent to you."
On March 27, Batten again asked Story for help with the motion that Zapf would offer at the Land Use and Housing meeting.
Back room or in this instance dining room meetings between developer and elected official to get a project through the pipeline is not unusual says Zapf's Chief of Staff, Job Nelson.
"There seems to be some confusion so hopefully this email will clarify," wrote Nelson in a June 8 email.
"There are no ex parte rules in the City of San Diego that require disclosure of individual meetings or recusal if we work with the proponents. That said we were very transparent at every hearing that we were working with the proponents of this project even partnering with them on the presentation at committee. This was also not a quasi-judicial decision so there was no prohibition against working with the proponents to move the project forward. It is not uncommon for Councilmembers to work with folks who are putting forward projects in their districts (especially if that Councilmember is also chairing LU&H) in cases that are not quasi-judicial."
Nelson then went on to give additional support for the giving away of easements and for the project.
"We supported the waiver of Council Policy because it is a good project- the type of smart growth project (live/work/play) that we need to see more of in the City of San Diego. This was one of the major reasons it was backed at committee by Council President Gloria and Councilmember Lightner and it passed Council unanimously. There was no financial benefit (therefore no requirement to recuse) for the Councilmember or her district other than the usual fees and assesments (such as $5 million for parks in the area) that are required under the law. That is why we supported the action and why we worked to move it forward."