As cleanup efforts move ahead, the proposed ballpark still faces challenges in court.
One of the issues concerns the Centre City Development Corp.’s handling of the environmental cleanup.
The Polanco Act, enacted in the early 1990s, enables a redevelopment agency to force the cleanup of properties within a redevelopment area, said David Allsbrook, manager of contracting and acquisitions for the CCDC, which acts as the city’s Downtown redevelopment agency.
“This can be accomplished by the (redevelopment) agency and charged to the owner, or under the direction of the agency, the owner can do the cleanup,” he said.
The CCDC has set aside about $5 million to pay for the cleanup of the ballpark, hotel and retail site, said Allsbrook.
As properties were condemned, property owners were offered the appraised value of the property. The cleanup funds were deducted from the money and set aside, he said.
The estimated level of contamination determined the amount withheld from each property owner. The funds are used on a site-by-site basis and each owner is only charged for the cleanup on his or her property, he said.
Any money that is not used will be returned to the property owner with interest, he added.
“We are carefully tracking the contamination that comes from each individual ownership parcel so we can provide an accurate accounting to the property owner,” Allsbrook said.
For those properties with underground storage tanks, the CCDC is helping property owners seek reimbursement for cleanup costs from the state’s underground storage tank funds, he added.
Some property owners believe the CCDC should not be able to withhold funds and that they should be billed for the property cleanup after it is done, said Frederic Gordon, a partner with Gordon & Holmes, a law firm in Downtown San Diego.
Gordon said that the CCDC is trying to expand its powers of eminent domain.
While the Polanco Act allows for certain types of environmental cleanup, he believes that the city is trying to clean up more contamination than is authorized by the act.
In addition, the act does not provide any type of authority for the hold back of funds meant as compensation for the property, he said.
Because the CCDC is holding back some of the money that owners are receiving for their property, some business owners may not be able to afford to keep their business open, he said.
While the money may be returned with interest, it may be returned too late for some, he added.
In addition, some owners still don’t understand why they have to pay for the cleanup. It would not have been required had the property been sold to someone who was retaining the use of the site, he said.
As owners, Allsbrook said they are responsible for the property to be cleaned up according to the law.
If the ballpark project had been voted down, the area would have probably been redeveloped with a different use that would have most likely required higher levels of cleanup, he said.
While only the courts can solve the issue of withholding funds, Gordon said this approach makes it more difficult for a property owner to dispute costs related to the cleanup since the work has already been completed and the bill has been paid.
Despite these and other issues affecting the ballpark, for now the project is going on as planned. Cleanup of the future ballpark site is scheduled to be completed May 1 and other areas of the project are in various stages of preparation.