Tom Cody just isn't feeling the love.
The head of Gerding Edlen Development used to feel it, back when the idea of a new City Hall generated excitement in San Diego, from the people on the street to the City Council chambers. After all, not many people like the current City Hall: It's so small that the city has to rent space in two other buildings; it's in violation of fire and building codes; and it's so ugly it's been compared unfavorably to a Communist-era Polish housing block.
Cody's bid promised a bold start: an administration building with room to expand, a special auditorium for the City Council and redevelopment of the nearby blocks. And on top of it all, he promised to do it at a cost that would save San Diego more than $357 million over 50 years when compared with staying put. Gerding Edlen's proposal proved so convincing that Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC), which administers development Downtown, selected it as one of two finalists, and after an independent analysis of the finances was completed, the only other bidder dropped out of the competition. After a year of work and up to $2 million spent, Gerding Edlen had won, and most people seemed pretty happy about it.
But in July, scandal embroiled CCDC. The organization had to investigate all of its pending projects to sift out any possible corruption, including the civic center proposal. Politicians who had been expressing at least mild support for the idea of a new City Hall suddenly stopped speaking about it in public. CCDC tamped down its enthusiastic rhetoric. Other city leaders became very quiet. Cody abruptly found himself the only guy at the party, still holding a drink and wearing a pointy hat—and the rubber band was starting to chafe.
Sitting in a conference room last Wednesday at DLA Piper, just seven floors above CCDC headquarters, Cody spoke with passion and candor about the project. He's been willing to meet with absolutely anyone in hopes of regenerating momentum for a new City Hall.
“We're total whores—we'll meet with anyone,” he told CityBeat. “Don't think yours is the only butt that's been in that chair.”
Amid Cody's desperate attempts to generate excitement among San Diego's leadership, the only one talking about a new City Hall is City Councilmember-elect Carl DeMaio, and he hates the project.
DeMaio will be one of four new City Council members that take office in December. While the future holders of the other three seats won't be determined until Nov. 4, DeMaio won his election in District 5 (Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch) outright back in June. He raised a ruckus over the fact that the schedule called for the project to be decided on by outgoing City Council members. He accuses everyone from Mayor Jerry Sanders on down of trying to ramrod the project through without considering other options. Then, when the financial figures were revealed, he went out and did his own analysis and declared the project a boondoggle.
“We have agents of the city boldly proclaiming that we're saving money. The reality is not that we're saving money,” DeMaio told CityBeat, referring to CCDC's accounting. “They're using voodoo budgeting math.”
The rest of elected San Diego appears to be waiting for CCDC to complete a new analysis of the project's financing. The organization has recently accepted bids for a new accounting company to double check the financial calculations that suggested the Gerding Edlen proposal would save money.
“The mayor will only support the development of a new civic center if, in fact, it's a good financial deal for taxpayers and will save taxpayer dollars,” said Darren Pudgil, the mayor's spokesman. “But those numbers are being reviewed again, and we will wait for that analysis to be completed.”
City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, who represents the Downtown area, seems to be waiting for the new numbers, too, and he wants to see the City Council's Independent Budget Analyst, Andrea Tevlin, get involved.
In an e-mail to CityBeat, Tevlin said she will get involved, but she wouldn't say when.
DeMaio will accept nothing less.
“If the IBA does not do this analysis—if it comes from CCDC, it is dead on arrival,” he said. “CCDC is an advocate on this project; they are no longer an analysis arm. I want someone to look at the numbers who is truly independent.” Instead of getting upset about the criticism, Cody is thrilled that DeMaio is speaking out.
“To me, the only leadership is Carl,” Cody said. “Carl's my new best friend 'cause he's the only guy talking about the project. You know, I love the guy right now.”
Cody has no objection to additional analysis; he just doesn't want the city to take forever doing it. In particular, he'd like to see the IBA do her work while the new CCDC analysis is going on so the process can keep moving forward.The day before CityBeat met with him, Cody had done a presentation to the San Diego Rotary Club, where he'd learned that the timeline for the development had been completely derailed. Whereas before there were specific deadlines for each step, now everything had been slated for “early 2009.”
“Well, what do you think I think about that?” Cody said. “It's just, like, holy shit, you know, what is that, early 2009? Is that January, or is that May? What happens in early 2009?”
For Cody, the absence of a precise schedule puts the whole project in danger. He says he and his partners can't just hang around spending money, waiting for San Diego to get itself together.
“I don't care if I'm not hearing the support for the project—I just want to know where the fucking finish line is,” Cody said.
He wouldn't say exactly when he'd need to see some political leadership before he'd walk, but after some prodding from CityBeat, he said next July would be too late.
Problem is, CCDC's new analysis might not be finished until the end of 2008. If Tevlin doesn't start until 2009, when will she be done? And then what will be the process from there? And in the meantime, four new City Council members will take office. Will a new civic center be at the top of their to-do list?
“It's going to be a priority,” Faulconer said. “We have a lot of priorities.”
That's exactly what Cody is worried about: a new council waits for a new analysis, CCDC is paralyzed by its scandal, and, meanwhile, there's no leadership and no schedule. And if that continues, if no one, as Cody put it, “wakes up one morning and decides to lead this dialogue,” he's going to have to move on to other projects.
“This is not academics,” he said. “We're not going to sit around forever.”
In one moment of frustration in the middle of CityBeat's interview, Cody mentioned the architectural model for the project sitting in CCDC's information center for public viewing.
“If the deal dies,” he said, “it gets put in box No. 4, next to the three civic-center deals that have died in the past. Maybe we'll have a museum for them.”
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