New Hurdle Challenges Involvement of S.D. Unified Port District
A Superior Court judge ruled last week the city’s environmental report for the Padres ballpark was legally sufficient and dismissed two lawsuits that stood in the way of the project’s construction.
Yet three other legal challenges to the ballpark remain, casting some doubt about when the city can issue bonds and start erecting the stadium in the East Village section of Downtown.
Assistant City Attorney Les Girard said the March 6 ruling by Superior Court Judge Judith McConnell is a key victory.
“It’s a big one because the validity of the EIR goes directly to the city’s ability to issue bonds,” he said.
Representatives for the plaintiffs challenging the EIR’s adequacy say they are still considering filing an appeal, but Girard said McConnell’s ruling was both fair and should withstand any appeals to a higher court.
“We think the city would prevail on any appeal,” he said.
Cindy Ireland, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Advocating Redevelopment Excellence, said she was disappointed by McConnell’s ruling, and that an appeal is something the group is still weighing. The plaintiffs have 60 days to appeal.
“We still feel the city is lacking in any accountability on this,” she said.
In lawsuits filed last year, CARE and attorneys for the Clarion Bay Hotel at Seventh Avenue and K Street, right across from the planned ballpark, contended the city’s EIR was inadequate and violated state law.
The suits alleged the five-volume EIR contained a great amount of data about the project’s impacts, but practically nothing on how the city intended to deal with those impacts.
Meeting Environmental Codes
McConnell ruled the city’s EIR was sufficient, and rejected claims that the city violated state environmental codes.
“There is no substantial evidence in the record to suggest that the city abused its discretion and failed to act in the manner required by law in approving the ballpark and ancillary development, certifying the EIR, and making finding under the California Environmental Quality Act,” McConnell said in her ruling.
Girard said McConnell agreed with the city’s argument that the city was under no obligation to provide detailed mitigation plans for such things as traffic and parking.
“The judge acknowledged that for some things, we won’t know what the traffic patterns will be until the (ballpark) is up,” he said.
With the most recent court victories under their collective belts, the city’s legal team is now focused on three other legal challenges to the ballpark.
Former San Diego councilman Bruce Henderson is involved with two of those actions. The first centers on the city’s plan to issue up to $299 million in lease revenue bonds for the city’s share of the now estimated $450 million ballpark.
Henderson contends the agreement between the city and the Padres explicitly states the city’s share is capped at $225 million and any change requires a public vote.
The second suit revolves around the failure of the city clerk to formally accept signatures collected on a referendum challenging the city’s ballpark finance plan.
Henderson said when he was told the city couldn’t formally “accept” the signatures, he decided to take them back and get a court order to force the issue.
Girard said Henderson is playing games with the legal system in his apparent strategy of doing everything he can to delay the project.
A third action was recently filed by ballpark opponent Harvey Furgatch, who challenges the involvement of the San Diego Unified Port District in the project.
The port committed to contributing $21 million toward the ballpark project in the form of a tailgate parking area on four lots. Furgatch, a heavy contributor to the Stop Proposition C campaign in 1998, is a retired Del Mar developer.
Girard was unable to give an estimated date when the pending litigation would be settled. But he noted the city could not issue the necessary bonds until the courts ruled on the suits.
The city planned to issue bonds by March, but it is impossible to determine when that will happen at this time, Girard said.
The ballpark is part of a $1 billion redevelopment of the East Village, and includes the 46,000-capacity stadium, three hotels, office and retail space, and residential units.
The city’s agreement with the Padres for the project was ratified by voters in November 1998 by nearly 60 percent of city voters.