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Lawsuit accuses Downtown San Diego Partnership of misusing assessment district funds

Suit alleges non-profit has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer assessments on non-permitted items.

Executives at the Downtown San Diego Partnership will have to defend what some say is mismanagement and misuse of taxpayer funds in court.

On August 12, government watchdog group, San Diegans for Open Government, filed a lawsuit against the downtown non-profit corporation responsible for administering the Property and Business Improvement District, also known as the Clean and Safe Program.

The lawsuit alleges that the non-profit, run by former Chief of Staff for ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, Kris Michell, has used the the $5.5 million in annual assessments with little or no oversight, spending as it sees fit on high-priced consultants and non-permitted services.

Established in 2000, Clean and Safe is funded by assessments levied on downtown property owners. The assessments pay for a variety of enhanced services such as tree-trimming, sidewalk cleaning, security patrols, and maintenance of water fountains and neighborhood parks.

Over the course of the past decade however, the non-profit Downtown San Diego Partnership has expanded the list of services in an attempt to turn downtown into the economic engine that drives the City and County.

It has done so by funneling hundreds of thousands in assessments to programs meant to cut down on "street disorder." In other words, spending money to rid downtown of panhandlers, people sleeping in entrances and on city sidewalks, public intoxication and public urination; issues that "detract from the business being conducted" in downtown.

The problem: those services cannot be found anywhere in the state law that regulates assessment districts.

Nor does spending $130,000 on local consultants to help run the program.

And, neither does the law allow for executives to spend money on a new business model and website for the non-profit.

The lawsuit from San Diegans for Open Government hopes to put an end to the Downtown Partnership's extravagant spending habits.

"Any agreement between City and Partnership or anyone else that purports to authorize or ratify the expenditure of PBID monies in a manner that violates California Streets and Highways Code...is illegal and unenforceable."

The groups asks that a judge order the non-profit to refund residents for all illegal expenditures.

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Executives at the Downtown San Diego Partnership will have to defend what some say is mismanagement and misuse of taxpayer funds in court.

On August 12, government watchdog group, San Diegans for Open Government, filed a lawsuit against the downtown non-profit corporation responsible for administering the Property and Business Improvement District, also known as the Clean and Safe Program.

The lawsuit alleges that the non-profit, run by former Chief of Staff for ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, Kris Michell, has used the the $5.5 million in annual assessments with little or no oversight, spending as it sees fit on high-priced consultants and non-permitted services.

Established in 2000, Clean and Safe is funded by assessments levied on downtown property owners. The assessments pay for a variety of enhanced services such as tree-trimming, sidewalk cleaning, security patrols, and maintenance of water fountains and neighborhood parks.

Over the course of the past decade however, the non-profit Downtown San Diego Partnership has expanded the list of services in an attempt to turn downtown into the economic engine that drives the City and County.

It has done so by funneling hundreds of thousands in assessments to programs meant to cut down on "street disorder." In other words, spending money to rid downtown of panhandlers, people sleeping in entrances and on city sidewalks, public intoxication and public urination; issues that "detract from the business being conducted" in downtown.

The problem: those services cannot be found anywhere in the state law that regulates assessment districts.

Nor does spending $130,000 on local consultants to help run the program.

And, neither does the law allow for executives to spend money on a new business model and website for the non-profit.

The lawsuit from San Diegans for Open Government hopes to put an end to the Downtown Partnership's extravagant spending habits.

"Any agreement between City and Partnership or anyone else that purports to authorize or ratify the expenditure of PBID monies in a manner that violates California Streets and Highways Code...is illegal and unenforceable."

The groups asks that a judge order the non-profit to refund residents for all illegal expenditures.

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