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Civic SD, city seek to dismiss board member's lawsuit

Civic San Diego and the city have filed motions seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against them by one of Civic SD’s board members, as well as a group of construction and trades unions.

Board member Murtaza Baxamusa, along with the San Diego County Building & Construction Trades Council, sued in San Diego Superior Court this spring seeking a judicial declaration on whether the power granted to the nonprofit by the city is legal.

The city has granted Civic SD the authority to oversee permitting and planning downtown, as well as handle economic development activities in targeted neighborhoods.

In their separate dismissal motions filed this week, both the city and Civic SD argued the petitioners did not comply with the applicable statute of limitations.

The defendants argued that the lawsuit is a direct challenge to the city’s delegation of authority to Civic SD's predecessor through the Planned District Ordinances, known as PDOs, for the Centre City, Gaslamp Quarter and Marina planned districts.

Civic San Diego, created in 2012 after redevelopment agencies were dissolved, was the successor to the Centre City Development Corporation, which handled planning and permitting for those three districts.

The defendants highlighted that there is a strict 90-day statute of limitations for challenges to zoning and land use actions by municipalities, such as the Planned District Ordinances adopted in 1992.

“Petitioners’ facial challenge to the PDOs is over 20 years too late,” according to the city’s motion filed by Chief Deputy City Attorney Meghan Ashley Wharton.

Civic San Diego’s dismissal motion also says that the suit references the June 2012 consulting agreement between Civic SD and the city that outlines the nonprofit’s roles and responsibilities.

A legal challenge to that agreement needed to have been made within 60 days of its approval, according to Civic SD.

“Any attempt by petitioners to challenge the 2012 agreement in this action is thus untimely,” Civic SD’s motion stated.

The city-owned nonprofit is represented by attorneys Shawn Haggerty and Matthew Green, of Best Best & Krieger LLP.

Both the city and Civic also argue that the petitioners did not allege specific facts to target the application of the authority delegated to Civic to mount a so-called “as-applied challenge.”

Steve Coopersmith, attorney for Baxamusa and the trades council, said that while he had yet to review the motions, he said the statute of limitations claim appeared to be “a rather desperate argument.”

He said his clients have specifically alleged that their problem is with how the city and Civic SD do business now, not in 1992.

They are concerned with the facts on the ground, not the theoretical delegation of power to Civic SD, Coopersmith said.

The petitioners have alleged in their filings that the city’s delegation of planning and permitting powers to Civic San Diego without adequate safeguards violates California law.

Coopersmith, managing attorney at The Coopersmith Law Firm in San Diego, also said some of the alleged facts at issue in the case occurred before the complaint was filed in April and before the amended complaint filed in May.

“In short, these motions are a waste of time and judicial resources, not to mention taxpayer money,” Coopersmith wrote in an email. “We look forward to opposing the motions and to a court ruling so we can get to the more important issues in the case.”

In their amended complaint, Baxamusa and the trades council requested an injunction at the conclusion of the case preventing Civic from making planning and permitting decisions until additional city oversight is provided.

The city argued in its filing that because the petitioners are not entitled to a judgment as to the lawfulness of the delegation of authority to Civic SD, they are not entitled to an injunction.

A hearing on the dismissal motions is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 19.

In the midst of the case, the city is working toward shifting from consulting contracts with Civic SD to operating and agency agreements that spell out the roles and responsibilities of the city-owned nonprofit, as well as oversight measures.

A City Council committee recently voted to forward drafts of the new agreements to the full council for later consideration.

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