Voice of San Diego files suit against SDSU

After seeking public records from SDSU for many months, the outlet asserts the university has shielded them illegally

Rendering+of+the+SDSU+Innovation+District+in+Mission+Valley.
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Voice of San Diego files suit against SDSU

Rendering of the SDSU Innovation District in Mission Valley.

Rendering of the SDSU Innovation District in Mission Valley.

Rendering of the SDSU Innovation District in Mission Valley.

Rendering of the SDSU Innovation District in Mission Valley.

by Bella Ross, News Editor

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After a months-long battle to obtain public records from San Diego State pertaining to its plans for the Mission Valley stadium site, local nonprofit media outlet Voice of San Diego has responded to their unmet requests with a lawsuit.

In a Feb. 19 story on its website, Voice of San Diego reporter Ry Rivard detailed how SDSU failed to release a number of documents that would shed light on how the university plans to fund the expansive stadium project without raising student tuition and fees, one of SDSU West’s central campaign promises. After pushing for contracts SDSU had with numerous consultants, Voice was still left without a significant model that could potentially answer the question of how likely students are to get pegged with the cost of the project.

Voice of San Diego Managing Editor Sara Libby said they were able to speak with the consultant who made the model, however, the university failed to budge on releasing the document publicly.

“At one point, (SDSU) did make available a consultant who had done work on the project who gave us information about projections and calculations he’d done for the project, yet the university continued to withhold those documents,” Libby said. “So, we knew they existed, their own consultant had told us they existed and they were simply arguing that they weren’t public records which is a position we disagree with.”

This case is considered an active lawsuit so SDSU declined to offer specific details regarding the litigation. However, a university statement said SDSU has been compliant with Voice’s requests and that more documents relating to the project will begin to surface as the planning process furthers.

“The university has in recent months provided a full and complete response to the Voice of San Diego, including a significant number of documents related to its retained expert consultants, as required by the California Public Records Act,” the statement said. “SDSU must balance its commitment to transparency with legal restrictions as it pertains to proprietary documents. With time, SDSU anticipates that significant amounts of information and documents related to the Mission Valley site plan, including financial models, bond issuances and the land plan, will be released through public meetings and hearings, including those to be held by the Board of Trustees of the California State University.”

Rivard’s story said the university is claiming the exemption of attorney-client privilege, despite the financial models having been prepared by real estate firm JMI Realty.

“The university signed a contract with the law firm of Gatzke Dillon & Balance that, in turn, subcontracted with JMI and other consultants,” Rivard wrote in the Feb. 19 story. “So, on paper, JMI is working for an attorney that is working for the university.”

Libby said SDSU’s response to a prospective lawsuit tells her the university is aware that withholding certain documents in this way is an illegal act.

“In the course of trying to secure these records, our attorney went back and forth with them a couple times and made it clear that we intended to file a lawsuit to obtain the records if they continued to withhold them and, at that point, they handed over some records that we had been seeking,” Libby said. “So, that to me seems like a big admission that they had been withholding them illegally that they only gave them up under the sound of a lawsuit.”

In discussing the public interest in having these documents released, Libby said the scope of the project and the fact it is occurring between public entities means San Diegans should be entitled to all the details.

“I think there is tremendous public interest on both sides because this is a public university and we’re talking about a public piece of land,” Libby said. “We just want to know how this is going to be paid for and other basic details we feel the public has the right to know.”

 

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