On Friday, January 23, a superior-court judge will decide whether a lawsuit filed by a group of North Park residents over the renovation of a Jack in the Box restaurant should go to trial.
Last year, the City of San Diego and Jack in the Box executives filed a motion for summary judgment in hopes of preventing a case over what residents believe was an illegal renovation of a drive-thru at the North Park Jack in the Box.
For the city and burger chain, the case hinges on their claims that residents were 12 days late in filing their complaint over the proposed renovation project. Members of the North Park Preservation Coalition, the group suing over the development, say the city and restaurant executives duped them into waiting to file a complaint.
Friction between Jack in the Box and neighbors has existed for a number of years, long before the burger chain unveiled a proposal to reconfigure its nearly 50-year-old drive-thru restaurant. As reported by the Reader, neighbors' complained about late-night noise from patrons and delivery trucks, overabundance of litter, and traffic problems. Then, in 2011, residents learned of the burger chain's proposal for a complete remodel.
They objected because zoning laws implemented decades after the restaurant had been built prohibited drive-thrus. The existing drive-thru was grandfathered in — that is, unless the restaurant closed for a period of time or was torn down or rebuilt.
Residents approached Jack in the Box executives and the city with warnings that if any exterior walls were removed during the renovation, the new zoning laws would kick in and the drive-thru would not be allowed.
In May 2012, objections aside, the city's development services department pushed the project through the pipeline. Three months later, San Diego planning commissioners rejected the renovation plan. The city's planning department had other plans; they approved the plans, minus any major exterior changes.
By May 2013, representatives from Jack in the Box seemed to acquiesce. In an email obtained by the Reader, a construction manager assured then–North Park planning chair Vicki Granowitz that they "are not demolishing any of the exterior walls."
The admission was a partial victory for residents. On one hand, the restaurant was not going to pursue a complete overhaul — traffic and noise would not increase; but on the other hand, the drive-thru would continue to operate. Shortly after, however, residents watched as construction crews gutted the building down to the foundation. They contacted then-mayor Bob Filner to enter the fray; his office soon ordered the company to cease all construction.
City attorney Jan Goldsmith informed Filner that a stop-work order could not be issued without his approval.
"...[A] stop-work order must be approved by the City Attorney’s Office (“CAO”) before it can issue," wrote ex-Filner aide Lee Burdick. "After the Development Service Department forwarded the Mayor’s request for a stop-work order to the CAO for review and approval, the City Attorney advised that Jack‐in-the‐box was too far along in the construction, the company would likely sue the City if we stopped the development, and they very well might win. Consequently, the stop‐work order was not issued and, as you noted, the construction has moved on."
A few days later, on August 12, 2013, residents known as the North Park Preservation Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city and the fast-food joint.
More than a year has passed and the case is making its way through the courts. On Friday, attorneys for the city and Jack in the Box will make their case as to why the case should be thrown out. The city says that, despite the years of involvement and the assurances from construction managers, they waited too long to file a formal complaint, rendering their lawsuit moot.
The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in judge Ronald Prager's courtroom, department 71.