San Diego

Civic San Diego Sued Over Board Member's Conflict of Interest

Civic San Diego chairperson failed to disclose payments made by developer before voting on project

Civic San Diego, the agency responsible for planning and development in downtown and southeastern San Diego, faces a lawsuit over allegations that its chairperson was paid by a developer whose project he later voted on.

San Diegans for Open Government filed the lawsuit against the City and Civic San Diego on August 14, less than a week after San Diego’s Ethics Commission fined Civic San Diego chairperson Phil Rath $11,000 for conflicts of interest violations when voting on a large development of city-owned land in San Diego’s Encanto neighborhood.

The Ethics Commission found, as reported by Voice of San Diego, that developer Affirmed Housing Group paid Rath’s public relations firm $122,000 in 2013 to help secure funding for a project in San Marcos.

But when it came time for Affirmed Housing to gain approval for a mixed-use project at the corner of Hilltop Drive and Euclid Avenue, and seek $5.8 million in affordable housing funds from Civic San Diego and the City, Rath failed to disclose his work with Affirmed.

Development of the 8.5-acre lot in Encanto has been in the making for more than 30 years. Affirmed proposes to build a 150-unit, mixed-use development which would include 111 affordable housing units and retail space.

Rath served on Civic San Diego’s board, the entity responsible for approval of development projects, in June 2016 when Affirmed Housing was selected as the developer for the Encanto project. Rath did so despite not having disclosed his firm’s work for Affirmed.

“[Rath] participated in this matter, despite the fact that he had received more than $500 in income from Affirmed within the previous twelve-month period,” reads the Ethics Commission report. “In addition to voting in favor of the motion concerning the recommendation to the City Council, [Rath] participated in the discussion and opined as follows concerning the selection of Affirmed: ‘[I]t’s clear that this is the winner of this contest . . . and who I think we should proceed with.’”

The Ethics Commission fined Rath $11,000 for the violation.

And, now the City, as well as Civic San Diego, must answer to it as well.

The lawsuit filed by San Diegans for Open Government requests a judge rescind the approval for the Hilltop and Euclid development.

The non-profit advocacy group is also calling on San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan and San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott to look into filing a civil lawsuit against Rath. If they choose not to, then San Diegans for Open Government will sue Rath in civil court as well.

“The lobbyists who run city hall have again managed to break the law and walk away with a slap on the wrist,” says Cory Briggs, the attorney for San Diegans for Open Government. “When a developer gives $100,000 to a lobbyist masquerading as a public official, the lobbyist should not get off with a 10 percent ‘penalty’ and then welcomed back to work. He should be removed from office and thrown in jail. Time will tell whether law enforcement in this town protects the taxpayers from dirty public officials, or protects dirty public officials from the taxpayers.”

Civic San Diego did not respond to a request for comment.

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