Ethics violations prompt lawsuit seeking to block southeastern San Diego housing project

A watchdog group has filed a lawsuit seeking to block construction of a large housing and commercial project in southeastern San Diego because of ethics violations by a member of the Civic San Diego board.

San Diegans for Open Government, a group led by attorney Cory Briggs, contends the City Council’s June approval of the project is null and void because of the violations, which the city’s Ethics Commission called “extremely egregious.”

Civic San Diego board member Phil Rath in August paid the commission a relatively large fine of $11,000 because he voted in favor of selecting Affirmed Housing to develop the project without disclosing his financial relationship with the company.

The developer had previously paid Rath’s communications firm $122,000 for help with a separate project in San Marcos.

The commission said such violations of San Diego’s ethics law undermine public confidence in the integrity of the city’s decision-making process. Rath agreed to pay the fine rather than demand a hearing to dispute the charges.

The lawsuit seeks to block construction of a project that would include 113 rent-restricted apartments, 47 market-rate condominiums and 8,500 square feet of retail space on a vacant lot at Euclid Avenue and Hilltop Drive in Chollas View.

In addition, the lawsuit seeks reimbursement to the city of all money paid to contractors and others associated with the project since the council approved it in mid-June. The lawsuit, filed Aug. 13, also asserts that additional illegal activity is likely to be uncovered during the case. (Read more…)