Downtown's Horton Plaza shopping mall, which used millions of tax dollars to level acres of historic buildings in the late 1970s, has itself been hollowing out of late.
Multiple levels of vacant storefronts bear grim witness to the collapse of brick-and-mortar retail in the age of the Internet and the drawn-out failure of current mayor Kevin Faulconer to handle the crisis.
Insiders say it's been clear for years that the shopping center, opened by Pete Wilson backer Ernie Hahn in 1985, would ultimately fall to the wrecking ball, at a sizable but as-yet-disclosed cost to taxpayers.
E-mails retrieved from Faulconer's office under the state's public records act show that two years ago the city conducted confidential talks with representatives of mall proprietor Westfield America and its registered lobbyist, Southwest Strategies, regarding a public subsidy deal.
"On behalf of our client Westfield, we are requesting a meeting between Mayor Faulconer and Bill Hecht, the Chief Operating Officer of Westfield America," lobbyist Chris Wahl emailed the mayor's office on June 3, 2016.
"The purpose of this meeting would be to provide the Mayor with an update on: 1.) Major tenant plans at Horton Plaza 2.) Development plans for Horton Plaza and Mission Valley 3). Opportunities to streamline permit requirements at [University Town Center].”
Records reveal that Westfield was seeking to reach an "incentive agreement" with the city regarding redeveloping the downtown property.
"In connection with Westfield’s ongoing discussions with the City regarding Horton Plaza, please see the attached clean and marked Economic Development Incentive Agreement," wrote Douglas Praw of Holland & Knight, Westfield's law firm, on July 7, 2016. "We look forward to working with you on this transaction."
The shifting proposal, let alone its existence, have not been shared with the public, but the emails suggest that at least one proposed subsidy plan was thwarted by 2016's Proposition H, which routed sales tax growth to infrastructure spending.
"I just wanted to make sure you’re aware that if approved by the voters the proposition may, as a whole, adversely affect the Westfield [incentive agreement] as currently structured," city attorney deputy Katherine A. Malcolm emailed city development director Erik Caldwell.
"The City, on an annual basis, would have to find the remaining 50% from somewhere else, likely the general fund, to meet its obligation under the [incentive agreement] or be in breach of contract."
Now comes L.A.’s Stockdale Capital Partners which, per an April 19 disclosure filing by lobbyist Southwest Strategies, is seeking "Horton Plaza land use entitlements related to redevelopment of the site." The same document shows that Southwest is also lobbying on behalf of Westfield regarding "economic development strategies related to Horton Plaza."
Stockdale's website identifies the partners and co-founders of the firm as Steven and Shawn Yari. According to accounts in the Arizona Republic, Shawn Yari has drawn criticism regarding his company's developments in once-sleepy downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. In one case Yari fired back with a March 2012 defamation suit against Bill Crawford, president of the Association to Preserve Downtown Scottsdale's Quality of Life.
"Crawford has been a critic of Yari and his developments and is opposing his latest proposal for Scottsdale Retail Plaza, a restaurant, nightclub and retail complex with an indoor-outdoor beach club," the Republic reported in April 2012.
Though the new would-be developers are from out of town, they are tied to a famous local family of parking lot proprietors who are generous political donors to city campaigns.
“Stockdale Capital Partners has purchased a 241-stall garage at 350 Beach Street in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood,” said a Stockdale news release last September.
“This is the second parking acquisition completed by the Los Angeles-based investment firm for its institutional joint venture formed late last year with Grosvenor Group and San Diego’s Ace Parking Management