A lawsuit that challenged a key source of funding for the construction of the $454 million Petco Park has been settled in favor of the plaintiff, a former port commissioner who has demanded , and is receiving , payment from the city of San Diego to cover his attorney’s fees.
The suit filed by Harvey Furgatch in 2002 essentially prevented the San Diego Unified Port District from contributing $21 million to construct the ballpark, a public/private partnership originally estimated to cost $411 million.
City Hall and the Centre City Development Corp., the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, put up $275 million and the San Diego Padres and private partners put up $115 million, while the port was to contribute the final $21 million in a complicated transaction.
The city was to sell four blocks next to the ballpark to the port, which would then lease the land for a parking lot.
Furgatch argued that the deal was illegal, and said the sale was essentially a gift of public funds.
The port deposited $11 million with the city after signing an agreement in 2002, prompting Furgatch’s suit against the port. The city was later added as a defendant.
In May 2005, the City Council voted to end the deal with the port. The following year, the city returned $16.8 million in deposits, including interest accrued.
Furgatch said the city abandoned the sale because of his lawsuit and demanded attorney fees.
In January, Superior Court Judge William Nevitt agreed with Furgatch.
On March 12, the CCDC board voted unanimously to pay $308,500 in fees as its share of fees demanded by Furgatch’s attorney.
Deputy City Attorney John Riley said more than a year earlier that Furgatch had estimated attorney fees of $765,000.
Without the agreement, the city and port could have been liable for much higher fees because it was a public interest lawsuit, Riley said.
Furgatch declined to comment last week, saying only that an April 11 court hearing on the case before Nevitt would reveal more details.
Furgatch’s attorney, Stanley Zubel, did not return calls by last week’s deadline.
Spokesman: Port Hasn’t Settled Case
John Gilmore, a spokesman for the Port District, said the port has not settled the case, and its seven-person commission continues to hold discussions about the case with its attorney.
After the city returned funds to the port, CCDC made up the funding gap by using tax increment money, said David Allsbrook, agency assistant vice president.
Tax increments are taken from areas declared blighted, and allow local governments to retain property taxes to fund improvements within the redevelopment zone.
Petco Park, owned by the city but operated by the Padres, opened in April 2004. The ballpark’s total cost was $454 million, according to Frank Alessi, CCDC’s chief financial officer. Of that, the city and its redevelopment agency provided a combined $301 million, while the Padres invested $153 million.