Kris Michell
Kris Michell. Image from Downtown Partnership video

San Diego Chief Operating Officer Kris Michell announced Monday she will resign effective Oct. 2, leaving the city’s top bureaucratic position to be appointed by the winner of November’s mayoral election.

Michell is the third city bureaucrat tied to the lease-to-own deal of the former Sempra Energy headquarters — 101 Ash Street — to resign in recent months, following Deputy Chief Operating Officer Ronald Villa and Real Estate Assets Director Cybele Thompson.

After the city signed the deal for the building, it was found to have asbestos at unsafe levels, was quickly evacuated and has remained vacant since January. Mayor Kevin Faulconer said last month the city would suspend its payments for the monthly lease, which could tangle the city in the courts for years to come. A report on the former Sempra property claims renovations will cost an additional $115 million and take four years.

The city’s 20-year deal for the 19-story high-rise building downtown was made before Michell was appointed as COO, but she has twice had to explain how the disastrous deal was made in front of City Council, first in January and again in August.

She had previously served as chief of staff to former Republican Mayors Jerry Sanders and Susan Golding.

Michell also had served as chief executive officer of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a nonprofit organization focused on the interests of downtown San Diego businesses. Faulconer appointed her in January 2018 after Scott Chadwick’s resignation.

Michell did not cite 101 Ash Street as the reason for her resignation, which comes after she has overseen the city’s operations and employees for nearly three years.

“I’ve had the pleasure of serving in three mayoral administrations and, with a new administration set to take over in December, I’ve decided to step down so that I can begin the next stage of my career in the private sector,” she wrote in an email Monday afternoon to the city’s department directors.

With an election between City Council President Pro Tempore Barbara Bry and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, less than six weeks away, the winner will be able to appoint Michell’s replacement. The chief operating officer is San Diego’s most powerful unelected official. The appointment is subject to City Council confirmation.

In her resignation letter, Michell pointed to accomplishments such as the San Diego State University West land deal, the start of the Pure Water project and the city pivoting much of its operations to directly deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

— City News Service