Has the heavily city-subsidized San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation finally stepped on a political land mine? At least one local planning honcho thinks so.
David Potter, head of the Clairemont Mesa Planning Committee, thinks the EDC's Housing Action Network has become a “shill for developers,” as he told the San Diego City Council this week during the ongoing beg-fest for dollars from the city budget.
The EDC, whose top staffers make more than the mayor and City Council members combined, have been arguing that it needs $1.4 million from the city to subsidize about half its $3.1 million budget for 2004. Potter argues that the EDC should get diddly-squat.
“I strongly support the efforts of the city to encourage affordable housing for its citizens,” Potter wrote in a June 2 letter to Mayor 1Goal and his council compatriots. “However, I vehemently oppose any city subsidy to the [EDC] whose Housing Action Network (HAN) lobbies indiscriminately on behalf of residential developers.”
He pointed to a HAN letter sent to Councilmember Donna Frye and the city's Planning Commission extolling the virtues of a residential redevelopment proposal for the Clairemont Village Shopping Center on Clairemont Drive.
While Potter calls the proposal “ill-conceived”-his committee blew holes in the plan back in 2001-the EDC's Housing Action Network has unequivocally endorsed the project, which would pack 137 dwelling units into the existing commercial center and add no additional parking in an area already severely cursed by parking problems.
Potter thinks the EDC tipped its lobbying philosophy in a 2002 endorsement letter for the project, and he aired it to the council this week in arguing against further city subsidies for the EDC.
The endorsement letter, sent by former city architect Michael Stepner, who now serves as the EDC's director of land use and housing, says in part: “The greatest barrier to this kind of development is the intense community opposition that often emerges, not always unjustified, to these projects during the entitlement process.... The San Diego Housing Action Network is envisioned as a countervailing force in this debate.... [W]e hope to provide support to planners, planning commissioners, council members and supervisors who want to approve good projects but which fear the backlash from community opponents.
Chimes in Potter: “Public funds, whether from [hotel tax] or any other source, should not be used for such lobbying efforts, particularly when they are used against citizen organizations that are not supported by tax dollars. Please do not fund this inappropriate activity.”
Maybe the EDC should figure out what it wants to be before the city drops another dime in their kitty.
Watch it if you can find it
If you're like some San Diegans, chances are you make your television-viewing choices from the Union-Tribune's TV guide that's slipped in the Sunday paper somewhere between the slick Target throwaways and the classifieds-if it's there at all.
But activist Mel Shapiro, himself a supreme addict of all things politico, wonders why the U-T's guide makes no effort to list the goings-on of Channel 24, the County Television Network that runs City Council and committee meetings along with occasional profiles of city notables.
“They tell us they have no room,” said Marc Jaffe, the city's cable-TV program manager, of the U-T's plight. “It's not just us. They don't have enough room for everything they want to put on, and we're one of those things.... It's something we've been pursuing.”
Jaffe, who has worked for government-programming channels throughout California since the mid-'80s, said he came to San Diego in 1996 and found such programming here pretty darn lacking. “In fact,” he added, “when I got to the city, I don't even think they had a VCR.”
With a budget now hovering around $500,000, Jaffe keeps a four-member staff hopping, but he wishes he could do more-like cover live council meetings when they meet outside of the main council chambers. Right now, he can't accommodate “in the field” coverage, such as a recent budget hearing that took place in Mira Mesa.
“I made a promise... to the City Council that their next off-site public meeting will be live,” Jaffe laughs. “I don't have the capacity to do that yet, so that was quite a statement-but I'm working to make it happen.”
As for listings, the city's website does run down the week's television fare on Channel 24 (www.sandiego.gov/cabletv), although pin-pointing accurate times of broadcasts has proven difficult at times.
“Unlike someone who knows how long their programming is going to be, we don't have that luxury quite often. It can vary,” Jaffe said. “A lot of our programming is public meetings, which can be cancelled or run long. I can say we try.”
When he's not out hustling for more equipment or working on programs, Jaffe also deals with cable customers and their complaints as the city's cable enforcer. “My phone number is on the back of every cable TV bill that goes out to 350,000 subscribers every month,” he said with a sigh.
So, U-T, maybe make that TV guide just a bit bigger? At least that way, it won't get tossed with the K-Mart inserts.