Civic San Diego's attempt to generate revenue by becoming a fiscal agent for those companies and organizations looking to make charitable donations is, according to Civic San Diego's asset and contract manager John Anderson, "ripe for fraud, favoritism and corruption and violates state and local laws prohibiting conflicts of interest."
Civic San Diego, a so-called publicly owned private nonprofit, oversees the dissolution of San Diego's former redevelopment agency and performs permitting and planning functions for downtown and surrounding communities. Civic San Diego's attempt to balance the public and private roles has resulted in numerous lawsuits, including one from a sitting board member. Most recently the agency's Chief Financial Officer, Robert Avery, sued the nonprofit after he was allegedly fired after questioning Civic San Diego's financial practices.
Anderson, a current employee, is only the most recent to question Civic San Diego's public and private roles. On June 26 Anderson sent emails to Civic San Diego board member Michael Jenkins, in hopes of alerting the board to the issues he has found. In one of three emails obtained by the Reader, Anderson warned Jenkins and other board members about conflicts in Civic San Diego's newly adopted, Fiscal Sponsorship program. The program encourages outside organizations and developers who want to make charitable donations to give the donation to Civic San Diego and for a ten percent fee the nonprofit will distribute the donation.
Anderson warns that the Fiscal Sponsorship program violates state and city statutes and further blurs the line between Civic San Diego's role as a city-owned nonprofit and that of a private agency looking to generate revenue for its coffers. In addition, says Anderson, the program opens the door for developers to try to gain favor with the nonprofit, which administers permitting and planning functions for downtown and neighboring communities by making donations and then seeking approval on subsequent projects.
"How does the public know persons who are seeking permits or development approvals are not solicited or offer to make contributions to [Civic San Diego's] new Fiscal Sponsorship Program in return for favorable or expedited processing/recommendation of their applications? At the very least [Civic San Diego's] “Fiscal Sponsorship” Program creates the appearance of bias and impropriety."
But Anderson found other issues. One such issue is Civic San Diego's trouble with transparency, many of the same issues, in fact, raised in a 2009 audit from San Diego City Auditor Eduardo Luna. According to Anderson's email the nonprofit only releases a small portion of its financial documents, refusing to release documents related to service agreements it has entered into, parking district agreements and revenues, money from the development of publicly-owned land, loans and interest revenues, permitting revenues, among a list of others.
"Civic does post its financial statements for the last three fiscal years those statements only show income and expenses for [Civic San Diego's] administrative budget," writes Anderson. "These dollars are only one category, and only a small fraction of dollars that come in, go out, and are administered by Civic San Diego. As such, the financial statements Civic has posted on its website do not fully and accurately disclose all of Civic San Diego's financial transactions."
Lastly, says Anderson, the agency has failed to disclose business interests, as required by City Charter Section 225. The municipal code section requires any firm or individual doing business with the city to reveal the identities of all persons directly and indirectly involved in said business.
According to court documents obtained by the Reader, a superior court judge recently ruled against Civic San Diego's attempt to prevent certain whistleblowers from providing depositions in the case brought by former Civic San Diego board member Murtaza Baxamusa. The depositions are expected to proceed. It is unclear whether Anderson is among those set to be deposed in that case.