City Attorney weighs in on formation of downtown arts and entertainment district
Suggests a pilot program as a way to discover any future legal liabilities
Brighter lights; same city. That may be the case if the City decides to move forward with turning a 65-block portion of downtown into a new arts and entertainment district.
On August 1, 2012 representatives from Finwater Advisors, a Denver-based firm that specializes in such districts, pitched the establishment of an arts and entertainment zone to members of the Land Use and Housing Committee. The district would stretch north/south from Ash Street to Broadway and east/west from Ninth Avenue tio First. An array of brightly colored off-premise LED signs which feature art installations as well as a ton commercial advertising would be scattered throughout the district's boundaries. The goal would be to invigorate the area and bring some extra revenue into the City's coffers.
Just last week, eight months after the pitch and after months of lobbying efforts by lobbyists extraordinaire Hecht, Solberg, Robinson, and Bagley, the City Attorney has weighed in on the proposal.
In the memo, Deputy City Attorney Carrie Gleeson addressed concerns over the size of the area, the impact to the City's sign ordinance, determining which agency should administer the district, any environmental impacts caused by the influx of light to the area, and, of course, potential legal ramifications.
As for the size, Gleeson wrote that the district's proposed boundaries, which cover 65 city blocks, could pose a threat to the character of the community, to traffic, and the look of downtown.
If the City Council decides to create an arts and entertainment district to address the need, the City Council will need to make value judgments regarding the desired look and feel of the new district, whether the new district will conflict in some areas with an existing character, aesthetic, or use that should be preserved, and whether buffer zones leading into adjacent neighborhoods are necessary. For the purpose of maximizing sign revenue, which is an important aspect of the August proposal, the boundaries of the proposed district cover 65 city blocks and include heavily traveled streets such as Ash, A and B.
The next issue raised by the Deputy City Attorney was which agency would have oversight of the district. Among the groups mentioned in the memo were public/private powerhouse Downtown San Diego Partnership and the former CCDC, now Civic San Diego.
Lastly, Gleeson suggested the City examine any potential legal issues that may arise if the district is created. The issues, according to the memo, include the determination of the correct ratio of artwork to advertising and how and where the revenue from that advertising could be reinvested back into the district.
And while the memo listed an array of issues, not many answers were provided. In the end, the City Attorney's Office suggests that the City start a pilot program in order to determine the issues that may come with the formation of a downtown entertainment district.
The concept, purpose, and overall program for a downtown arts and entertainment district should be further developed to better define the problem being addressed, the important governmental interests that support the program, and the manner in which those interests will be furthered through the program. For the protection of the City, risk mitigation measures should also be explored. For example, the City could begin with a limited and temporary pilot program, including strong defense and indemnity provisions in contracts and permits and comprehensive insurance coverage. As the program is developed, this Office will be able to better analyze the legal issues, assess the risks posed, and provide input regarding the legal structure of the program.
For more background on the district and the lobbying efforts read Matt Potters earlier articles here:
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