Civic San Diego's handling of permitting and planning functions for downtown and neighboring communities is under fire in a new lawsuit from a Little Italy restaurant owner. The lawsuit is another challenge to the City of San Diego's controversial, and, according to some, unprecedented delegation of city powers to an outside agency.
The nonprofit Civic San Diego oversees the dissolution of San Diego's redevelopment agency and has planning and permitting powers.
The owners of Entrada Taqueria and Speakeasy accuse Civic San Diego of failing to provide proper notice regarding the proposed revocation of the restaurant/nightclub's permit and ignoring pleas for a fair hearing and potential mediation.
According to the complaint, a neighbor at the adjacent Finestra Lofts building contacted Civic San Diego several times about the loud noise coming from the restaurant and nightclub. The owners, however, relied on the terms of the 2012 Conditional Use Permit that allowed live entertainment until 12 a.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends — the hours had been reduced by an hour since the previous occupant.
Despite the language in the permit, Entrada's owners say they tried to resolve the noise issues on their own.
In January 2016, they hired a construction company to soundproof two back walls in an attempt to deaden the sound. Three weeks later, the owners say they hired a San Francisco–based noise engineer to conduct a noise study of the premises. That study found that "the resulting noise levels measured at the adjacent property lines, both residential and public way, are in compliance with the San Diego noise ordinance."
The following week, tenants from Finestra Lofts visited the restaurant and were accompanied by Civic San Diego employees and San Diego police officers to conduct a noise study of their own.
The lawsuit claims that during the unannounced visit, the group “demanded" Entrada staff "red-line their audio equipment in an attempt to obtain a volume much louder than is ever played on any occurrence, live or not-live.”
The results were not in Entrada’s favor.
On Wednesday, March 16, the downtown community planning group recommended revocation of the permit. The recommendation was then forwarded to Civic San Diego hearing officer Derek Hull, to also provide a recommendation during a March 24 hearing.
However, two days before the hearing, Entrada's owners hired attorney Vincent Renda. Renda asked Hull to reschedule the hearing for a later date due to the fact that Renda was set for a two-week deployment as a reserve JAG attorney. According to the complaint, Hull failed to respond to Renda's request, prompting the lawsuit.
On March 24, Hull recommended revoking portions of the permit that allowed for live entertainment at the restaurant. The other conditions of the permit, however, remain in place.
Civic San Diego has other legal issues to deal with. As reported by the Reader, Civic San Diego boardmember Murtaza Baxamusa filed an amended complaint in December 2015, questioning whether Civic San Diego — because it depends on revenues from building permits and other planning decisions — has an inherent conflict of interest while legislating permitting and planning decisions.
In a February 2016 statement, Baxamusa's attorney Steven Coopersmith said the legislative authority is only one of the legal issues that Civic San Diego must answer.
"Under California law, a legislative body can lawfully delegate administrative planning and permitting functions to another entity only if it 'retains ultimate control over administration so that it may safeguard the public interest.' The City of San Diego has surrendered control to Civic San Diego and not implemented appropriate safeguards to ensure that the public interest is protected."
Added Coopersmith, "Civic San Diego is a private, non-profit subsidiary corporation in which the City is its sole member. In essence, [Civic San Diego] wants it both ways — they want to promote the streamlined [permitting and planning] approach but they also try to hide behind the city. Civic San Diego is a separate company, and the staff of that company do not appear to be accountable to anyone."
The lawsuit from Entrada will make its way through superior court.