The San Diego city attorney's office has cleared the way for the city to rehire Plaza de Panama building consultant KCM Group to complete design work on the controversial Cabrillo Bridge bypass road in Balboa Park. But before that happens, the city attorney's office is advising the city to obtain advice from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
In a July 27 memo, deputy attorney Thomas Zeleny explained that while he saw no conflict in rehiring KCM Group to start where they left off on the project, due to the opposition and a four-year-long lawsuit filed by Save Our Heritage Organisation, which stalled the project, it was best to cover all bases.
"However, because of the unusual circumstances surrounding this project and the severe consequences for violations, we recommend the City or KCM ask the [Fair Political Practices Commission] for a more definitive answer if the City wants to hire KCM," wrote Zeleny.
At issue is KCM Group's previous work, alongside Irwin Jacobs's funded Plaza de Panama Committee, to design, develop, and advocate for the removal of automobile traffic from Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama by building a bypass bridge on the historic Cabrillo Bridge, which skirts the plaza and leads to a new parking structure behind the Organ Pavilion.
In July 2011, the city entered into an agreement with Jacobs's Plaza de Panama Committee to develop the project before conducting any environmental studies. Doing so, according to a subsequent lawsuit from Save Our Heritage Organisation, violated the law. The group filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the agreement. A judge agreed and the city paid attorneys' fees. At the same time, work continued on the project.
The following year, the city council approved the project's environmental impact report and again entered into an agreement with the Plaza de Panama Committee and their subcontractor KCM Group. Save Our Heritage Organisation once again filed a lawsuit. A superior court judge sided with the preservationists. An appellate court has since overturned that judgment, allowing the city to proceed with the committee's plans.
But concerns have been raised as to whether KCM Group can once again resume work on the project. Due to their previous work, does KCM Group have an undue influence over the city? According to Zeleny, no.
To strengthen his argument, Zeleny compares KCM's relationship to the Plaza de Panama Committee to that of a sub-consultant who worked on the Torrey Pines North Golf Course Project. For that project the city hired consultant Schmidt Design Group to create the General Development Plan for the golf course. Afterward, the design group asked if its sub-consultant, owned by professional golfer Phil Mickelson, could build the project. The Fair Political Practices Commission found that the group's previous work disqualified them because it had an unfair amount of influence on the city's decision whether to hire them.
But Plaza de Panama's case, says Zeleny, is different, partly because the court nullified the initial agreement that KCM Group entered into with the city in 2011. Another difference is that the city never agreed to pay KCM Group for the work but instead was paid by Jacobs's Plaza de Panama Committee.
The memo is yet another step in restarting the project. Last month, mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his support for jumpstarting it.