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Civic San Diego approves community benefits policy

Civic San Diego’s board approved a community benefits policy Wednesday that spells out the spin-off impacts that publicly funded projects should provide to neighborhoods during and after construction.

Some board members also said during the meeting that while they support expanding the permitting and planning authority the agency possesses downtown to the Encanto neighborhood, they do not in City Heights.

The Civic San Diego board began discussing in 2013 a community benefits policy that would apply to developers in the neighborhoods the nonprofit corproration serves.

The policy approved 8-1 Wednesday was crafted through 20 weeks of community engagement. Most members of the public who addressed the board supported the result.

The policy lays out four objectives, including retaining local residents, businesses and services in the community and promoting economic prosperity in neighborhoods.

Two other goals are for projects to create vibrant, livable and balanced neighborhoods, and for Civic San Diego to serve as a conduit between the community and project sponsor to ensure benefits are achieved.

Each of the broader objectives contains components that will be evaluated as projects move ahead, such as local hiring, mixed-income housing and sustainability. Specific requirements for the components are not included.

“The corporation will strive to achieve meaningful community benefits while also promoting a strong investment environment,” said Civic San Diego President Reese Jarrett.

“This requires a project-by-project approach, taking into account the affected community and the benefits the project can provide.

“Moreover, we want to make sure that we do not make the development requirements so stringent that it may inhibit future development, especially in our underserved neighborhoods,” he said.

Board members and members of the public praised the policy for its flexibility, rather than mandates.

Board member Donna Jones said specific prerequisites that would have to be part of a community benefits agreement for a project could prevent worthy proposals from penciling out financially for developers.

“I think we all have the intentions of providing good jobs, providing a mix of housing, including affordable, and we need the flexibility with those goals in mind to adapt to the different community needs and projects as they move forward,” Jones said.

Kris Michell, CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, also expressed support for the guidelines.

“There is no one size fits all,” she said.

But those opposed to the plan — including union representatives and a lone board member — criticized a lack of specifics.

Tom Lemmon, business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO, asked why the document did not guarantee local hiring or prevailing wages.

“I think you have a paper dragon,” Lemmon said.

Murtaza Baxamusa, the only board member to vote against the policy, said he worked hard to get the agency to discuss the topic despite resistance, but was far from satisfied with the result.

“It is unenforceable,” he said to some cheers from the audience. “It’s toothless. It has no standards.”

Cynthia Morgan-Reed, who has clashed with Baxamusa in the past and was attending her last meeting before her resignation takes effect Friday, said she was disappointed with his critical remarks.

“It is very obvious director Baxamusa does not support this community benefits policy and never has by the fact that he has filed a lawsuit against this corporation,” she said.

Baxamusa sued the corporation earlier this month, seeking in part to determine whether the scope and oversight delegated by the city to Civic passes legal muster.

Morgan-Reed also said it was “unfortunate” no one from City Heights spoke in favor of the community benefits policy.

She said Civic San Diego has expressed a desire to expand its permitting and planning authority to that neighborhood as well as Encanto, but has not received any support from City Heights.

“It would be my contention that we don’t go into City Heights,” Morgan-Reed said. “If a community does not want us there, we shouldn’t be there.”

She and other board members thanked residents of Encanto for speaking in support of the community benefits policy.

Jeff Gattas, chairman of the board, also said he would like Civic San Diego to limit its planning and permitting focus to downtown and Encanto, especially because the corporation has limited resources since the dissolution of redevelopment.

“We have been successful when we are focused in our mission and in our geography,” he said.

Jarrett said he wanted to echo Gattas' comments.

"We have a request for qualifications out in the Encanto neighborhood," said Jarrett. "We are currently processing more projects in the downtown area than we ever have before. That is where we are going to focus our energies and our efforts."

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