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UC San Diego lobbies City Council to remove deed restrictions on about 500 acres

The Geisel Library on the UC San Diego campus.
(File)

The city is concerned the change could be an illegal gift. The university says projects it would allow have strong public benefits.

UC San Diego officials say they can’t move forward with a series of ambitious campus projects until the San Diego City Council agrees to lift deed restrictions covering roughly half the university’s main campus in La Jolla.

The projects include a hotel/conference center, a wellness center, a translation research clinical space, a technology/life-science research space and intergenerational housing for retired faculty.

The city contributed about 510 acres between 1960 and 1969 to help the University of California add a San Diego campus, but the agreement stipulated the land must be used for a “university purpose” or it would revert back to the city.

University officials say the series of upcoming projects would clearly serve a university purpose, but they say developers can’t secure financing for the projects because of a perceived risk that the city will deem them non-compliant and take the land back.

Developers also would struggle to get property titles for the projects while the city’s deed restrictions remain in place, university officials say.

There is no “sunset clause” for the deed restrictions, so they will remain in place unless the council votes to void them.

City officials have previously raised concerns that voiding the deed restrictions could be an illegal gift of public funds, but lawyers for the university say that concern is countered by the public benefits of the projects they are planning.

“Because of the many benefits to the city and to the public from lifting the deed restrictions, the city need not be concerned that lifting the restrictions would constitute an unlawful gift of public funds,” chief campus counsel Dan Park wrote last fall.

A recent university analysis estimated that the projects, all of which are slated to be constructed in the next eight years, would create 11,000 total construction and permanent jobs.

The analysis also estimated the city would receive $85 million in new revenue from property taxes, hotel taxes and other sources between 2025 and 2044.

While the request to lift the deed restrictions pertains to projects east of Interstate 5, university officials say the move also could help pave the way for additional projects on the west side of campus.

The La Jolla Shores Association voted to urge the University of California Board of Regents to postpone a decision on UC San Diego’s planned Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood, following a La Jolla Community Planning Association decision to make a similar request.

The Navy, which provided an additional 435 acres for the UC San Diego campus, is lifting similar deed restrictions.

In September 2018, Congress directed Navy officials to void the deed restrictions. University officials say that process is expected to conclude next year.

Last year, San Diego County voided its deed restrictions on UCSD’s medical center campus in Hillcrest, which will allow that site to be turned into a mixed-use project with high-rise housing surrounding the hospital.

The City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee is slated to discuss the university’s request Thursday, Sept. 17, during a meeting scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

The committee will be asked to recommend that City Attorney Mara Elliott and city staff draw up documents that would void the deed restrictions if the full council eventually approves. ◆