Latest on the Briggs-Sunroad-San Diego legal case
A view of the south side of Centrum Park in Kearny Mesa in 2013. Photo by Sam Hodgson.

Latest on the Briggs-Sunroad-San Diego legal case

inewsource published a story in April about a lawsuit San Diego environmental attorney Cory Briggs filed against the city of San Diego and Sunroad Enterprises in 2013 alleging a “pay-to-play scheme.”

The city, the suit contended, gave away public property in exchange for a $100,000 donation from Sunroad to then-Mayor Bob Filner’s “pet projects.” At the time, Sunroad was building a commercial-residential development in Kearny Mesa, and the property in dispute included nine-foot wide strips of land on either side of an adjoining park.

The lawsuit was eventually settled in August of 2014 between Sunroad and Briggs. The settlement required:

  • Sunroad to pay $10,000 to a city park acquisition fund with “with priority for parks located in Kearny Mesa and then Clairemont.”
  • Sunroad to pay Briggs Law Corp. $135,000.
  • Sunroad to work with the city in hiring an appraiser to place a value on the land, then pay the city that value “with a request that the City deposit those funds into the appropriate identified City account associated with purchases of public property used as a park.”

inewsource has since learned the city received the $10,000 check from Sunroad on Sept. 5, 2014. According to city spokesman Tim Graham, the money was put into the Parks and Recreation donations account.

“The money has not been spent yet,” Graham told inewsource, “but would be earmarked to buy park furnishings or fund maintenance projects for parks in Kearny Mesa/Clairemont.”

Examples might include benches, plants, or basketball court resurfacing, according to Graham.

inewsource has also learned that the appraisal, which was supposed to have been completed shortly after the Aug. 21, 2014 settlement, is ongoing. Tom Story, a consultant for Sunroad, sent an email to inewsource on April 29 confirming “an appraiser mutually accepted to both parties has been selected.”

“I believe that because of his current workload/backlog,” Story wrote, “that it may be up to 90 days before the appraisal will begin.”

Lastly, Briggs did not respond to questions about his $135,000 settlement, but Sunroad Vice President of Development Andrea Contreras Rosati confirmed the company paid Briggs that amount.

Contreras Rosati worked as a deputy San Diego city attorney until June 2014 when she took a job with Sunroad. After a review of court documents, inewsource found she defended the city in three Briggs-related Sunroad disputes, including:

  • The 2013 San Diegans for Open Government lawsuit challenging the Sunroad easement.
  • A 2013 lawsuit filed by CREED-21 challenging the same city council action related to the Sunroad easement. The case was eventually merged with the San Diegans for Open Government case that settled in August 2014.
  • A 2011 lawsuit filed by CREED-21 against the city of San Diego, Calumet Real Estate Holdings LLC, Tom Story and Aaron Feldman challenging the city’s use of an emergency exemption of the California Environmental Quality Act for the reconstruction of a home in La Jolla. Calumet Real Estate Holdings purchased the property and Calumet is owned by Sunroad Holding — which is owned by Feldman. Sunroad settled with Briggs for $60,000 and the court found the city had misused the emergency exemption.

We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Brad Racino:

Brad Racino
Brad Racino is a senior investigative reporter and assistant director at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email bradracino [at] inewsource [dot] org. You can contact him securely on Signal (845-553-4170).

About Brooke Williams:

Brooke Williams
Williams is a veteran award-winning investigative reporter who specializes in data-driven journalism. She is currently a contributor to The New York Times, and her work has appeared in the Center for Public Integrity, inewsource, the San Diego Union-Tribune, KPBS, ABC World News and the New Republic.