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Mover/shaker dreams of avoiding public vote on proposed new City Hall

July 1, 2010 - 5:43 pm

In an e-mail to a gaggle of other movers and shakers in San Diego, real-estate developer Perry Dealy wondered on Wednesday if it’s possible that the decision on a new City Hall can be made by the City Council, rather than voters.

“Given the discussion today concerning the Nov vote,” Dealy wrote in the e-mail, obtained by CityBeat, “is there any chance of having Council move this forward like the Library without a public vote???”

By “the discussion today,” Dealy was referring to Wednesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Rules Committee, during which Councilmembers Ben Hueso, Todd Gloria and Tony Young questioned the need for the proposed new City Hall development to go to the ballot.

By “like the Library,” Dealy was referring to Monday’s approval of a new main library by the City Council, a project that didn’t go to the ballot because Mayor Jerry Sanders and the City Council believe that it can be built without the use of general-purpose taxpayer money.

Dealy’s e-mail was in response to an e-mail blast from Jack Monger, a lobbyist working for Gerding Edlen, the Portland-based developer proposing to build the new civic center. In his e-mail, Monger reported what happened at the committee hearing, announced a tentative date—July 13—when the full City Council would be taking up the matter and urged the recipients to show up at the meeting to speak in favor of the project.

“Interesting that Councilmembers Gloria, Young and Hueso all questioned the need for a public vote on the item, noting that they felt that voting on challenging issues was what the public expected of them,” Monger wrote.

Last October, developer and longtime San Diego business activist Malin Burnham stirred controversy when he said that less than 1 percent of Americans understand the complexities of large-scale developments well enough to make decisions on them. Burnham was among 33 recipients of the e-mails from Monger and Dealy.

Monger also noted a remark by Gloria about the need for an election campaign in favor of a new City Hall. “The one question that was asked but not answered: Who will run the campaign if this goes to the ballot?” Monger wrote. “As Todd Gloria pointed out, the future of this important project may rest on the effectiveness of the campaign. Of course, the City is precluded from spending any taxpayers funds on such a campaign. Consequently, I suspect that there will be questions from Council members at the upcoming Council meeting on this topic. Even though many business leaders spoke against the need for a public vote on the Civic Center, the question we will all be asked is how are we going to help this measure pass in November?”

Gloria had also noted that there would certainly be a campaign run by people opposed to the project, the most high-profile of whom is City Councilmember Carl DeMaio.

Sanders, who says the project will save the city money in the near- and long-term, is nonetheless committed to taking the matter to the voters. In February, Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer, Donna Frye, Sherri Lightner and DeMaio issued a memo insisting that the voters decide. So, unfortunately for Dealy, even if Councilmember Marti Emerald were to side with Hueso, Young and Gloria, four votes wouldn’t be enough to avoid the ballot.

What’s that you say? You want my opinion? I thought you’d never ask!

I’m with Gloria and Co. This is precisely the sort of decision we elect representatives to make. They will read all the financial studies (I hope!); most voters—dare I say 99 percent of them—will not.

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