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San Diego panned on historic protection

State audit stemming from Walmart project says
city could do more

Written by Jeff McDonald
4/25/13 - San Diego Union Tribune - Original article

Protesters opposed the demolition of the old Farmers Market building. - Howard Lipin · U-T file

San Diego's development department has failed to enforce historical requirements for people seeking project approvals, according to a state audit sparked by the controversial Walmart construction at the site of the old Farmer's Market at the corner of Imperial Avenue and 21st Street.

The lapses were as basic as making sure applicants list the year a structure was built before gaining approval to renovate or demolish it.

"Development Services did not ensure that the property owners' or applicants' general applications contained accurate and complete information for it to assess whether potential historical resources exist on their respective project sites," says the audit released today.

"For five of the 19 projects we reviewed, the property owners or applicants did not include on their general applications the construction year for the structures on the project site. Because of this omission of the construction year, Development Services staff could not determine whether they should send these projects to the advanced planning and engineering division for review."

The Sherman Heights construction project gained approval even as Walmart was making donations to political causes favored by former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican, timing that was highlighted in a U-T Watchdog report in June 2012. The builder did not gain proper approval to destroy historic structures on the site, but did so anyway, activists claimed in a lawsuit that is still pending.

In response to the Watchdog revelations, state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, requested the state audit. Auditors did not weigh in on the Walmart dispute but instead looked at overall project approval processes by the city.

In addition to the historical protection lapses, the audit found the planning department failed to make certain that the public gets required notices about decisions on projects, and failed to make sure that each employee required to disclose financial interests on a Form 700 from the state does so.

"Form 700s submitted by four of the 15 employees we selected for review were between one month and more than 12 months late," State Auditor Elaine M. Howle wrote.

The audit said the city's Development Services Department generally followed requirements for reviewing permits but could do more to protect historical resources.

The old Farmer's Market was a collection of iconic buildings east of downtown that date back to 1920 and once served as the heart of the chicken and egg industry in San Diego County.

State audit of San Diego's Walmart approval (Download pdf)



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