A story in Tuesday's Union-Tribune said San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre had “turned up documents” showing that the same attorney hired by the City Council two weeks ago to help defend the city's affordable-housing ordinance in court helped draw up the problematic law four years ago.
Aguirre actually pursued the documents, submitting three public-records requests to the San Diego Housing Commission. In the requests, obtained by CityBeat, Aguirre asks for “any and all invoices, bills and/or receipts from all law firms working on the San Diego ‘Inclusionary Housing Ordinance'” between July 1, 2003 and Dec. 31, 2003. The requests targeted work done by Housing Commission attorney Charles Christensen. Christensen was hired May 30 by the City Council to be Aguirre's co-counsel in defending the inclusionary-housing ordinance in a current lawsuit.
At press time, Aguirre had not responded to CityBeat's questions asking why he put in the request.
Under the inclusionary-housing law, enacted in July 2003, developers must either sell 10 percent of the units in a for-sale project at a price affordable for a family of four with an annual income less than $64,000, or pay a fee to the city's affordable-housing trust fund.
On May 24, Superior Court Judge John Meyer ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional since it didn't provide developers enough opportunity to argue that the law shouldn't apply to their project. The lawsuit was filed by the San Diego Building Industry Association (BIA), and was similar to lawsuits filed by building-industry groups in other cities and counties that have inclusionary-housing laws. So far, San Diego's is the only lawsuit developers have beaten in court.
Last week, Meyers said he'd reconsider his decision in a July 14 hearing.
Shortly after Meyers' May 24 ruling, Aguirre said he'd ask the City Council to amend its ordinance. In an interview with CityBeat editor David Rolland last week, Aguirre said that's still his position. He believes a simple tweak to the law's language would solve the problem, and he thinks it could be made retroactive to cover the life of the law. In court, Meyer asked Christensen why the city didn't take that route. Christensen said doing so would amount to the City Council admitting it's been enforcing a faulty law. “It is our opinion that the ordinance is valid,” he said in an e-mail to CityBeat-a position Aguirre took prior to the judge's ruling.
Since the law's inception, roughly $9 million in fees have been collected. More than $1.7 million has gone toward affordable-housing projects. Fees, which have gradually increased each year, have been the preferred option to selling reduced-price units, with only 7 percent of developers opting to discount the price of units, according to numbers provided by the Housing Commission.
As for Aguirre's attempt to question his competence, Christensen said his involvement in drafting the original ordinance was minimal, limited to a total of 30 minutes of phone conversations with the city attorney's office back in 2003. “The portions of the ordinance where I responded to [then-City Attorney Casey Gwinn's] questions are not being challenged in this litigation,” he said.
“Somebody needs to effectively defend the city's position in this case, and that is what we are trying to do,” he added.