by Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / Dec. 16, 2011
A tentative ruling issued yesterday (Dec 15) in Superior Court could provide a significant blow to the proposed Jacobs Plan to redesign Balboa Park. In the tentative ruling, taken under submission after a hearing today, a judge said that the Memorandum of Understanding between the City and Irwin Jacobs to support the plan, agreed to before the legally required environmental review, is illegal — tripped up because it “effectively constitutes an approval of the project as proposed.”
In essence, it boils down to Jacobs and the City agreeing to a specific version of planned park redesign, without sufficient allowance for changes based on the pending environmental review. Not that anyone who’s paid attention should be surprised. Jacobs cut off funding in the past when the MOU for his proposal failed to move forward, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll use the tactic again this time.
This mirrors the public-comment process where different, well-vetted proposals were nominally considered but not incorporated into the plan (raising a broader question about the point of public comment if leadership is openly hostile to public feedback and it’s pretty much disregarded). The city has been sued over and over and over again for a continuing refusal to adhere to the state’s core environmental rules, and this looks like just another example of a willful disregard of those rules for political expedience. More broadly, it is reflective once again of San Diego’s general deference to it’s rich, private benefactors and commitment to finding not the best plan under the law or for the city overall, but the plan that is preferred by the narrow group of influential elites who hold sway over City Hall.
Not unlike the recent deal for Convention Center expansion, negotiation has been largely focused on how much risk and liability the city is willing to take on in order to compel a finite, risk-proof private investment. In this case, it’s $15 million in bonds that would supposedly be covered by a parking fee, but it’s far from certain that the projected revenue from parking fees would come through. The gamble on future revenue, though, is taken on entirely by the city.
Meanwhile, the intentions of the city council has been made clear already via approval of the now-sticky MOU: The city is on board with taking on long-shot debt to ensure Jacobs gets his plan. The City has clearly ceded all control of public policy to him, and is on board with the functional disregard of public input or legal process, and that part remains the same. So the issue isn’t whether support will change, but whether environmental review will force too much change for Jacobs to swallow. Not exactly the stuff that instills confidence in process or the city’s nominal leadership.