Lorena Gonzalez
San Diego assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. Courtesy photo

Updated at 5:45 p.m. April  23, 2015

A San Diego assemblywoman Thursday released an opinion of the state legislative counsel that says Civic San Diego does not have the authority to make final land use decisions.

Civic San Diego, formed three years ago when the state abolished redevelopment, handles many development projects for the city. It replaced the former Centre City Development Corp. and Southeastern Development Corp.

Members of the City Council have recently been questioning the scope of the agency’s powers, prompting Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, to seek an opinion from the Legislature’s lawyers.

“Civic San Diego’s authority is comparatively new, unique in the state of California, and has not been sufficiently examined legally or legislatively,” Gonzalez said. “This opinion is an important step towards clearly defining a legal and responsible role for Civic San Diego that protects the city while continuing to facilitate effective efforts to revitalize our communities.”

Civic San Diego officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine and Deputy Legislative Counsel Joanna Varner opined in a memo last Friday that a city conveying land use decisions to a nonprofit public benefit corporation is akin to giving away its police powers, which is unconstitutional.

However, a city can delegate administrative functions to such an agency, “if it retains ultimate control over administration so that it may safeguard the public interest,” the state lawyers wrote.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith subsequently released a memo in which he said the city can delegate to another agency “to perform certain land use- related governmental functions within specific areas of the city, provided that the city’s delegation is limited and specific, accompanied by appropriate controls and safeguards to protect the public, and properly authorized by the mayor and City Council.”

The city has the sole discretion to terminate its agreement with Civic San Diego, but the deal could be improved to strengthen the oversight and reporting requirements by the agency, according to Goldsmith.

In a statement, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the city of San Diego “provides the appropriate safeguards for Civic San Diego to serve our communities. Sacramento’s interference with San Diego will jeopardize park and public safety improvements, threaten our local economy and limit affordable housing opportunities for our neighborhoods.”

Faulconer’s office said the city is not surrendering its police powers because the City Council set up the rules under which Civic San Diego operates, and the mayor performs oversight of the agency.

—City News Service