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Civic San Diego commits foul, says group

Agency allegedly used outdated environmental impact reports

Civic San Diego, the city-owned nonprofit corporation in charge of permitting and planning in downtown and surrounding communities, is again under fire for the process in which it approves development proposals.

On December 6, a group of residents calling itself San Diegans for Responsible Planning sued Civic San Diego over its approval of a 39-story hotel and residential tower located at Seventh Avenue and Market Street as well as a smaller 20-story hotel development on Seventh and Island.

The larger of the two proposals, proposed by Cisterra Development, will be home to a Ritz Carlton Hotel, Whole Foods Market, and include 218 residential units as well as eight stories of parking. The neighboring development consists of a 324-room Hampton Inn hotel.

According to the complaint, the nonprofit used environmental documents from 2006 to push through the development and sidestep requirements outlined in the City of San Diego's Climate Action Plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. In addition, alleges the complaint, the nonprofit failed to follow the guidelines set forth in the California Environmental Quality Act.

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"[Civic San Diego, the city, and Cisterra] erroneously concluded that the [projects] will have insignificant impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, traffic and other environmental concerns. Respondents reach this erroneous conclusion by relying on an outdated, ten-year-old programmatic Downtown Community Plan 2006 Environmental Impact Report that never analyzed these specific 2016 Projects, as well as a hodgepodge of dozens of other different EIRs, plans, attachments, staff reports and piecemeal project approvals — instead of a single, compliant Project-specific Supplemental EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act ('CEQA') for each Project."

In July 2016, Civic San Diego approved the project. In October, downtown resident Sergio Gonzalez, also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, appealed the nonprofit's decision to San Diego's Planning Commission. At a hearing later that month, commissioners denied the appeal. City councilmembers denied subsequent appeals by Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and his fellow plaintiff San Diegans for Responsible Planning are asking that a judge order a stop to the project until all environmental issues are addressed.

Civic San Diego's handling of permitting has been challenged before. The decision by the city to grant the organization the authority to make planning and permitting decisions, considered to be essential city services, has drawn criticism. San Diego is the only municipality in the state to delegate land-use decisions to an outside group.

As reported by the Reader, Civic San Diego boardmember Murtaza Baxamusa sued the nonprofit over the arrangement and what appear to be conflict-of-interest issues.

Business owners have sued the organization for its handling of permitting decisions as well as for failing to ensure public participation.

More recently residents in the community of Encanto claimed they were shut out in the development of a publicly owned parcel located at Hilltop and Euclid avenues.

In October, despite the objections from residents and others, city councilmembers renewed Civic San Diego's operating agreement with the city that included new provisions aimed at improving public participation.

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Civic San Diego, the city-owned nonprofit corporation in charge of permitting and planning in downtown and surrounding communities, is again under fire for the process in which it approves development proposals.

On December 6, a group of residents calling itself San Diegans for Responsible Planning sued Civic San Diego over its approval of a 39-story hotel and residential tower located at Seventh Avenue and Market Street as well as a smaller 20-story hotel development on Seventh and Island.

The larger of the two proposals, proposed by Cisterra Development, will be home to a Ritz Carlton Hotel, Whole Foods Market, and include 218 residential units as well as eight stories of parking. The neighboring development consists of a 324-room Hampton Inn hotel.

According to the complaint, the nonprofit used environmental documents from 2006 to push through the development and sidestep requirements outlined in the City of San Diego's Climate Action Plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. In addition, alleges the complaint, the nonprofit failed to follow the guidelines set forth in the California Environmental Quality Act.

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"[Civic San Diego, the city, and Cisterra] erroneously concluded that the [projects] will have insignificant impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, traffic and other environmental concerns. Respondents reach this erroneous conclusion by relying on an outdated, ten-year-old programmatic Downtown Community Plan 2006 Environmental Impact Report that never analyzed these specific 2016 Projects, as well as a hodgepodge of dozens of other different EIRs, plans, attachments, staff reports and piecemeal project approvals — instead of a single, compliant Project-specific Supplemental EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act ('CEQA') for each Project."

In July 2016, Civic San Diego approved the project. In October, downtown resident Sergio Gonzalez, also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, appealed the nonprofit's decision to San Diego's Planning Commission. At a hearing later that month, commissioners denied the appeal. City councilmembers denied subsequent appeals by Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and his fellow plaintiff San Diegans for Responsible Planning are asking that a judge order a stop to the project until all environmental issues are addressed.

Civic San Diego's handling of permitting has been challenged before. The decision by the city to grant the organization the authority to make planning and permitting decisions, considered to be essential city services, has drawn criticism. San Diego is the only municipality in the state to delegate land-use decisions to an outside group.

As reported by the Reader, Civic San Diego boardmember Murtaza Baxamusa sued the nonprofit over the arrangement and what appear to be conflict-of-interest issues.

Business owners have sued the organization for its handling of permitting decisions as well as for failing to ensure public participation.

More recently residents in the community of Encanto claimed they were shut out in the development of a publicly owned parcel located at Hilltop and Euclid avenues.

In October, despite the objections from residents and others, city councilmembers renewed Civic San Diego's operating agreement with the city that included new provisions aimed at improving public participation.

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