Monday, July 7, 2008
San Diego Appeals Ruling on Blackwater Training Facility
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The City of San Diego on Thursday filed an appeal challenging a federal judge’s ruling last month permitting military contractor Blackwater Worldwide to operate a counterterrorism training facility in a warehouse along the Mexican border.
Arguing in a brief filed with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the city has land use regulatory authority over all proposed development within the city’s jurisdiction, and discretion to determine the type and level of land use review necessary to change the use of a warehouse into a military training center, San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre called the lower court’s ruling an usurpation of the city’s police power to regulate use of its land.
Blackwater filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California court alleging civil rights violations after the city’s Development Services Department informed the company that further permit processing and environmental compliance were necessary. The company seeks to force the city to issue a certificate occupancy that would change the building from warehouse to military training uses.
Used for training by Navy sailors, the facility includes an indoor firing range and a mock warship built out of cargo containers.
The city contends that such use is not fully consistent with the industrial zoning of the Otay Mesa Development District in which the facility is situated and its permitted uses, and that portions of the building have not been cleared for use as a military training center and are still being evaluated for building code safety compliance.
The city had previously granted several alteration permits to the warehouse owner and agents appearing to act on the owner’s behalf allowing the installation of office partitions, air conditioning units, and exhaust fans starting in September of 2007.
However, in February of 2008, a new entity applied to add an “indoor firing range,” making apparent for the first time that the warehouse was not going to be treated as a warehouse, the city alleged.
The city accuses Blackwater of unduly delaying the city’s awareness of the substantial changes in use of the warehouse the company proposed by using surrogates to obtain minor building permits on its behalf.
Pursuant to its municipal code, the city claims that whenever an applicant seeks multiple permits for a single development, the city has discretion to consolidate the applications and have them reviewed by a single decision maker at the highest level of scrutiny for the proposed development.
Once Blackwater’s overall development purpose became apparent, the city claimed entitlement to such a review and denied Blackwater occupancy permits for the facility as anything other than a warehouse.
Blackwater then filed suit, and the district court on June 4 issued a preliminary injunction allowing the company to operate the facility, concluding that Blackwater was entitled to the certificate of occupancy because it had applied for, and obtained, building permits.
The case is City of San Diego v. Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, Inc., 08-56028.
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