After Inaction by Mayor and Zapf, Bry Requests City Attorney Investigation of North Chapel and Liberty Station

by on November 19, 2018 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

Display on side of chapel.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry has joined the ‘pile-on’ going on over Mayor Faulconer’s inaction on the North Chapel and Liberty Station. And thank goodness! She joins Congressman Scott Peters in making demands on the City to look into how McMillin Co. has managed the North Chapel in Liberty Station.

Bry has asked the City Attorney’s Office to investigate the McMillin Co.’s handling of its lease at Liberty Station, after Peter’s similar request garnered no action by the Mayor or by Councilwoman Lorie Zapf’s office. Liberty Station is within Zapf’s District 2, but her office could still be shock after losing the seat during the mid-terms; at any rate, lame-duck-ness is a real thing.

Peters – who represents much of San Diego – had called on Faulconer and Zapf in a letter dated November 5 to submit a formal request to City Attorney Mara Elliott to investigate whether McMillin has complied with all of the terms of its lease. McMillin Co. has signaled they plan to convert the historic house of worship into a restaurant venue and have evicted the 2 congregations that utilize the chapel for religious purposes. There have also been complaints by artists about the management of the ‘artists’ district’ of Liberty Station.

But nothing apparently came of Peters’ request – other than more paper. Faulconer’s office did issue a statement saying he has directed staff to review the concerns raised in Peters’ letter. Zapf’s Donna Clearly said, “The council member is opposed to it being used for anything other than a place of worship.” Neither said they would formally request an investigation.

Other groups – such as SOHO (Save Our Heritage Org.) – and constituents have also joined the chorus of demanding accountability by the city as to how McMillin is complying with its lease.

So, on Friday November 16, Bry made her move. In a single-page memo, she directed City Attorney Elliott to look into a number of legal issues connected to how publicly-owned Liberty Station is being managed. She stated:

“After numerous residents voiced their concerns about the uncertain future of the historic North Chapel, I decided that it was important to ask the City Attorney’s Office to investigate the situation. Transparency is crucial when it comes to public trust and our residents deserve to have their questions answered.”

As reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Specifically, Bry wants to know if the city can compel McMillin to keep North Chapel open to the public after Dec. 31, when it plans to close the church to two congregations, and if a federal historic designation protects the building from renovations or being used as a restaurant or retail space. …

It was not clear Friday how much time the City Attorney’s Office might need to research the legal issues presented. A spokesman for Elliott said in an email that the office would work quickly to respond to the councilwoman’s legal questions.

“Please note that our office does not conduct investigations,” wrote the spokesman, Gerry Braun. “It’s our understanding, however, that the mayor has already assigned staff to address some, if not all, of the non-legal questions posed by the council member.”

Here’s what the Mayor’s office said in response:

“While we appreciate that an investigation could help this effort, the mayor has chosen a more direct approach to address the questions and concerns raised by the community and in the letter. Mayor Faulconer has directed staff to proactively work with the lease holder to ensure that the chapel remains open to the public for assembly purposes and any future use respects and maintains its historic elements in accordance with the law.”

Bry’s memo to City Attorney Elliott covered more than North Chapel. Bry is also requesting Elliott determine whether the nonprofit managing the Liberty Station arts district is subject to state open-meeting and open-records laws. There have been complaints from art district renters the NTC Foundation is not being transparent in its dealings with them. Rent increases are not explained. Board meetings are closed to the public. Restaurants get preferences over artist-run leases.

In her memo, Bry asked: “What specific monitoring has been done to ensure that NTC is complying with the agreement signed with the city of San Diego?”

She is also asking for Elliott to look into whose behind certain entities set up by the NTC Foundation to take advantage of federal tax benefits available to historic properties.

“How many limited partnerships and LLCs are taking advantage of the historic tax credit program administered by the U.S. National Park Service at Liberty Station? Once Measure J has been chaptered with the California Secretary of State, what are the disclosed names and identities of all natural persons of the limited partnerships and LLCs?”

Approved by an overwhelming number of San Diego voters  (86%) during the mid-terms, Measure J requires the disclosure of anyone who owns more than 10 percent of a company that contracts with the city and those who collect 10 percent of the contracted amount.

For months, McMillin has threatened to bring down the proverbial wrecking ball on the current status of the chapel. Local Point Lomans and veterans jumped into the pushback fray. A petition was started and there seemed to be some movement to save the chapel. Zapf had seemingly negotiated a delay in the plans, but that has evaporated with McMillin again making noises about reconverting the site into a eatery – and as mentioned, has told the congregations they can no longer use the chapel after next month.

But the company refuses to publicly discuss their plans. They also claim no final decision has been made on what to do with North Chapel.

Not to mention McMillin has given a clue that it may wish to sell part or all the 66-year lease of Liberty Station it has with the city. Recently, the company had asked the Planning Department to review terms for a complete or partial sale of the company’s lease of the property. McMillin received a very sweet-heart deal back a couple of decades ago when they were handed the 360-acre former Naval Training Center. Actually, it was one of the largest public land give-aways in modern San Diego history.

As the U-T succinctly says:

In exchange for exclusive rights to develop much of the property — many of the homes at Liberty Station now sell for $1 million and higher — the company was charged with renovating and managing dozens of the historic buildings remaining at the former Navy installation.

Now, we’re playing a waiting game to see if City Attorney Elliott responds, and whether – faced with a super-majority of Democrats starring at him on the City Council – Faulconer makes a positive move.

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Chase November 20, 2018 at 9:20 am

I do not mind loosing a place for “2 congregations that utilize the chapel for religious purposes”; but the handing over of the NTC by the Federal Gov. to a private developer for profit is totally fucked up and wrong.
The San Francisco Bay area turned their Federal Dockyards and related properties into public municipal spaces to the benefit of the entire city.
That should have been done here.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie November 24, 2018 at 10:43 am

The city handing over NTC to a private developer was one of the greatest public land give-aways in modern San Diego history. Thank you to the Republican city leadership at the time.

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Vern November 20, 2018 at 10:19 am

This church could be converted to housing for the less fortunate.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie November 24, 2018 at 10:42 am

I’m an atheist but don’t believe in kicking religious people out of their places of worship for the almighty dollar. There’s plenty of other spaces that can be converted to housing.

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Vern November 25, 2018 at 10:49 am

And this place is one of the “plenty of spaces”. Close to transportation, close to jobs (in LS and surrounding areas), plenty of room to grow and with the immediate help of Christians who’d be given yet another opportunity to be Christ-like.
Let do-gooders do good.

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Vern November 20, 2018 at 10:22 am

Tis the season…

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Matthew 25:40

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Daniel Beeman November 29, 2018 at 10:42 pm

Save Our NTC worked for years to keep OUR Government asset & property from being abused while staying FULLY public. We worked hard to keep Naval Training Center Conference Center open for public use. It was being used by 50 church groups then and agreement suggested many would be able to continue use and 50%+ of days annually be used by public. Hotel was built and took control of taxpayer built convention center (by NTC landlocked training ship).
The California Coastal Commission said Officer Quarters Houses were supposed to be used only for arts & public non-profits. Many parts of 66 year low dollar lease agreement have been broken. Some historic buildings are still empty and not have been maintained leave dangerous conditions for the public.
The City of San Diego spent tens to hundreds of Millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements to area. McMillin sold homes built in south area of property for hundreds of thousands of dollars more than agreed prices, they were contaminated with mold, and sold to freinds rather than lottery list gathered.
Retail and commercial profits were given priority over public and community benefit.
We have been sold out! But it is still OUR land! It is time to march again, to deny our abusers and take back the public property WE PAID FOR with taxdollars, fighting warriors lives, and community gifts to government. Much of land was donated to military in early 1900s! We spent 100’s of millions to upgrade buildings, infrastructure and surrounding resources prior to giving over to McMillin. No one has held the leaseholders responsible or liable. Now is time to hold City, Leaders, Leaseholder McMillin, and retail/commercial leasees responsible!

Or will we roll over again?

Don’t let profit destroy our community heart!

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