Former Director’s Lawsuit Against Civic San Diego Clears Major Hurdle at San Diego Superior Court


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 16, 2016                                     

CONTACT:     Steve Coopersmith: 619-238-7360 | [email protected]

SAN DIEGO, CA – In April 2015, Dr. Murtaza Baxamusa, then a sitting member of the Board of Directors for Civic San Diego (CivicSD), and the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council (SDCBTC) took what seemed to many to be the extraordinary step of filing a lawsuit against the City and CivicSD, a non-profit company to which the City had delegated planning and permitting authority in downtown San Diego. The suit alleged that the City had not exercised sufficient oversight, and that CivicSD was making discretionary decisions that would otherwise be constitutionally reserved to the City as a governmental authority, and asked for a judicial declaration and injunction that the City and CivicSD were violating the law through their actions, essentially for failing to appropriately and adequately serve the public interest.

The City and CivicSD challenged the legitimacy of this suit, and filed joint motions to dismiss, called demurrers, which had been pending decision through most of this year.  Today, the San Diego Superior Court agreed with Dr. Baxamusa and the SDCBTC and will allow the case to proceed through discovery, including depositions of key witnesses that will get to the heart of what the City and CivicSD are doing to protect the public in land use planning and permitting decisions.

Steve Coopersmith, of the Coopersmith Law Firm, representing Dr. Baxamusa and SDCBTC stated, “We agree with the decision of Judge Richard Strauss of the San Diego Superior Court, and are now ready to move this case towards trial. We already have substantial evidence to demonstrate that the City of San Diego is not protecting its citizens by failing to properly oversee and administer the delegation of its permitting and planning authority for development in the City.  We will be gathering additional evidence through depositions and discovery requests to the City and CivicSD.  This was an important decision for the right of the public to challenge the City and its way of doing business, and move towards transparency in government.”

Dr. Murtaza Baxamusa, the primary petitioner in the lawsuit noted, “It’s been a very long process advocating for Community Benefits and a voice for the public in the decision-making on development projects in their communities. I’m gratified that the Court has taken this first step towards providing residents of San Diego due process.”

Tom Lemmon, Business Manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council agreed: “San Diegans deserve transparency, oversight, and accountability for CivicSD’s activities if it’s going to continue to exist. In addition, if CivicSD continues to use public resources for planning and development, then it should provide some concrete benefits to local communities. CivicSD should adopt a Community Benefits Policy with defined goals for affordable housing development, creation of local good-paying jobs, and investments in community infrastructure.

Neither of the petitioners are seeking financial gain or awards through the filed complaint.  Rather, the petitioners seek to obtain a judicial declaration that the City has failed to properly administer its delegation of permitting and planning authority to CivicSD because it has: (1) effectively surrendered or abnegated control over certain discretionary land use planning and permitting decisions to CivicSD; (2) failed to clearly define CivicSD’s scope and authority; and (3) failed to implement and exercise adequate safeguards against CivicSD’s misuse of power, including proper oversight.  Further, the petitioners are seeking an injunction to prevent public expenditures to be paid to CivicSD until and unless the City complies with its required responsibilities.

The Court cleared these allegations to move forward, except for the addition of a short statement in the Petition.  The Court required a statement that these Petitioners are not seeking to unwind decisions made by CivicSD which were made outside its constitutional jurisdiction, although certainly to the extent the Court determines that the City and CivicSD have been acting unlawfully, aggrieved parties relevant to those decisions may have separate claims outside the scope of this lawsuit.