San Diego voters to have say on city hall plans


City News Service

Voters in San Diego will decide in November whether to build a $293.5 million new City Hall.

The project, which would be developed by Portland-based Gerding Edlen, calls for a 19-story, 576,000-square-foot building with a 400-seat council chamber and a 1.25-acre public plaza. It would be built where Golden Hall now stands next to the current City Hall in downtown San Diego.

The City Council voted 7-1 on Monday to put the project on the Nov. 2 ballot, with Councilman Carl DeMaio casting the lone no vote.

DeMaio said given San Diego’s financial problems, now was not the time to build a new City Hall.

“This is the wrong project at the wrong time for San Diego,” DeMaio said. “At a time when our streets and sidewalks are in disrepair building a new City Hall is not an appropriate priority for our scarce infrastructure funds.”

At the start of the hearing, Mayor Jerry Sanders testified the city would save about $24 million in the first 10 years by avoiding significant maintenance expenses at the existing City Hall, and because San Diego would not have to continue leasing office space for workers at locations around downtown.

“The bottom line is this — this proposal saves money compared to all other options available,” Sanders said.

Sanders estimated it would cost about $37 million to maintain the current 13-story building, which would have to be replaced in 10 years regardless of what San Diego voters decide.

The existing City Hall, built in 1964, is deteriorating, has inadequate fire suppression systems, lacks necessary seismic retrofitting and is laden with asbestos.

“It’s outdated and unsafe,” Donna Jones of the Downtown San Diego Partnership told the City Council.

“City Hall is a reflection on the caliber of our city and how we do business and the one we are in today is an expensive, mid-century dinosaur,” Jones testified.

Others said the city should look at buying existing buildings for a new City Hall or refurbishing the current one.

“We can’t afford a new City Hall,” Jarvis Ross told the council.

Council President Ben Hueso and council members Todd Gloria, Tony Young and Marti Emerald reluctantly agreed to put the project before voters, at a cost of $250,000, arguing they were elected to make these types of decisions.

“My concern is that this will come down not to the business decision it ought to be, but it will come down to a political decision based on who ran the best campaign,’ Gloria said.

Emerald said replacing City Hall is a matter of public safety.

“I don’t want anyone being hurt in this building,” she said.

The project before voters in November is considerably smaller than Gerding Edlen’s original proposal, which called for a 34-story building, with nearly 1 million square feet, at a cost of about $440 million.

Sanders has said the project was scaled down due to economic circumstances and because the city has laid off about 1,400 workers in recent years and doesn’t need as much office space.

If voters approve the project, construction would be scheduled to begin in January 2012 and be completed in July 2014.