A frivolous lawsuit has been filed against the city of San Diego by an environmental attorney in an attempt to stop all condo conversions.
At stake is potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits against the city of San Diego for, according to that attorney, incorrectly interpreting the California Environmental Quality Act and giving out hundreds of tentative and final condo maps to apartment owners looking to turn their property into affordable for-sale housing.
That attorney is trying everything in his power to shut down conversions. First, he filed environmental appeals on nearly every apartment owner who filed for conversion last summer and fall to turn their property into condos, many of which were not even filed timely within the guidelines.
Then in November, he filed a lawsuit against 57 properties that obtained permission (a tentative map) from the city of San Diego to proceed in turning their apartment properties to condos, forcing an immediate halt to proceeding for 57 innocent owners who did nothing wrong.
From there, we now have City Attorney Mike Aguirre working directly with him to put together an environmental impact report at taxpayer expense to determine what impact conversions have on the environment.
That attorney or his clients don’t even have to pay for their own report! Even worse, the judge who was set to hear the case put a stay on the case hoping for all parties to come to an agreement, thereby creating more delays.
The California Environmental Quality Act specifically excludes multifamily projects being converted to condos. Common sense knows there is no impact on the environment in vacating a property, updating it, and selling it to first-time home buyers, and the city attorney knows this. Their claim that the loss of affordable rental housing in turn creates more traffic, noise and air pollution is absurd. Not one county in the state requires an environmental impact report for conversions. Even the city’s environmental professionals and the city manager both agree that condo conversions are not subject to CEQA.
Recently, after more than a year of research and public testimony by the city’s Land Use Committee, the City Council voted to change the rules for conversions, just like many other cities in the county have done. Converters now have the rules for conversion on all future projects, including more stringent affordable housing guidelines. However, now we have the City Council considering to backdate these rules, thereby affecting dozens of projects already in process.
Already, some of these projects are completely vacant, construction crews are working on them and homeowners are already under contract to buy their first home, and the city wants to back-date the rules. This is like getting city permission to build a new house and when you are nearly done with the outside, they come by and tell you that the plumbing and electrical systems they approved four months ago are no longer usable according to new rules they just passed. Does this make sense?
If Aguirre and these social and environmental groups want “social” change, they need to get the changes done through the political process and their council members, not through an abuse of environmental laws. The meetings these people are having with the city attorney are nonsense as they attempt to find a middle ground.
There is no middle ground, as there is no basis for their environmental claim. And if the City Council does not intervene quickly to stop Aguirre from acting like a politician instead of our city attorney in this fiasco, thousands of local construction jobs are at stake, hundreds of first-time home buyers won’t get the condos that were promised, millions of dollars in tax and development revenues will be lost, and the city of San Diego may end up footing an even bigger bill if the council does not act fast.
This is not about whether you are for or against condo conversions. This is about fairness to countless people who have millions of dollars at stake, which is already invested into the upgrade and improvement of properties in our neighborhoods who now are getting slammed for just playing by the rules.
Strong mayor, we need you!
Steve Huffman is a partner with Hendricks and Partners and the owner of SanDiegoApartments.com.