Walter Mencken 4 p.m., Dec. 14
Downtown San Diego Partnership takes $100,000 in assessments for defense in lawsuit over misuse of assessments
The Clean and Safe advisory board voted to allocate $100,000 to fight lawsuit
Let's start with a general summary: A non-profit paid to administer an assessment district is sued for misusing assessments collected from local property owners. Members of the assessment district's advisory board, which includes the President and treasurer of said non-profit, approves directing $100,000 in assessments to the non-profit to pay an out-of-town attorney to fight the lawsuit.
Now the particulars: On Tuesday, September 10, members of the Downtown Property and Business Improvement District's (PBID) advisory board made a motion to authorize the "expenditure of PBID funds to defend the lawsuit filed on August 13, 2013 (case#37-2013-00062382-CU-MC-CTL), up to $100,000 of PBID expenditures" to the Downtown San Diego Partnership for legal fees.
Seven board members, including Kris Michell who heads the Downtown Partnership and is a longtime political powerbroker and former Chief of Staff for ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, as well as Bill Sauls, lawyer and Downtown Partnership treasurer, approved the use of taxpayer funds to fight the lawsuit. Three people, Luis Ojeda program manager in the City Planning and Community Investment Department being one of them, abstained from the vote.
As mentioned in the advisory board's motion, the Downtown Partnership was sued for mismanaging the $5 million annual revenues collected through the City's largest assessment district. Examples of reported misuse of cash include paying $110,000 a year for a homeless outreach position, hiring high-priced consultants without approval from the board, or using PBID funds to pay for a business plan, Downtown Partnership's new logo and website.
The firm hired to defend the non-profit is none other than Colantuono and Levin, a specialty firm based in Sacramento. If that name strikes a bell, it is for good reason. They also represented the Tourism Marketing District in their fight against former-mayor Bob Filner.
For now, it seems as if there is little stopping Downtown Partnership executives from digging into the PBID's cash pot, at least no one from the City will be stepping in.
When asked about the $100,000 expenditure during a weekly media briefing, Council President and acting Mayor of San Diego, Todd Gloria, said he supports the non-profit and was not aware of any vote by board members on Downtown Partnership's behalf.
"I am not aware of the vote you are referring to but I do support assessment districts as well as the Property and Business Improvement District Downtown. This has been critical to the renaissance seen in downtown and is a tool that should be available to every neighborhood. There's litigation and that litigation will be handled."
The City Attorney's Office did not respond to questions about the legality of the vote or use of taxpayer assessments. Representatives from the Downtown Partnership also failed to respond in time for publication.
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