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San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s chief operating officer has reversed testimony he provided under oath earlier this year, and now says he never directed a top assistant to provide a host of Ash Street-related materials to the landlord’s lobbyist.

In a February deposition, Jay Goldstone testified that he asked one of his deputy chief operating officers, Alia Khouri, to respond to a request from lobbyist Chris Wahl for records related to the former Sempra Energy headquarters at 101 Ash St.

But late last month, Goldstone submitted a sworn declaration amending his February testimony to say he did not tell Khouri or anyone else to turn over the requested materials, including privileged legal advice.

The city’s chief operating officer said in an email that he only realized his mistake after reviewing the transcript and double-checking his records.

“Upon returning to my office following my deposition, I looked further into this matter and learned that I had not asked Ms. Khouri to respond and ultimately never provided Mr. Wahl with his requested information,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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“I made the correction to the deposition and forward(ed) this back to my attorney.”

Goldstone said making changes to a deposition to correct the record is “a common and expected practice.”

The sworn declaration cites a total of 20 changes to the transcript of Goldstone’s Feb. 24 deposition. Most of the amendments appear to correct typographical errors and phonetic misspellings in the initial transcript.

But some of the changes undermine key details Goldstone provided when he was deposed as part of a taxpayer lawsuit filed over the city’s lease-to-own deal for the 19-story Ash Street high-rise.

Goldstone said in his declaration amendment that he never directed Khouri to respond to Wahl’s request, which included documents that were not released to the public.

The change in Goldstone’s deposition testimony is important because the email and Goldstone’s response to it have become key evidence in the lawsuit filed against the city by taxpayer John Gordon.

More specifically, Wahl asked Goldstone to provide detailed records related to a consultant’s report from 2020 that found the Ash Street building required at least $115 million in repairs before it could be safely occupied.

Wahl said his client, Ash Street landlord Cisterra Development, was conducting its own review about what remediation was needed at the high-rise and “what is required, if anything, to update the building systems.”

The lobbyist also requested details about potential insurance claims and a legal opinion produced by a private law firm hired by the city related to potential insurance claims.

“Once our analysis is complete, we would like to request a meeting with you to compare notes and discuss potential next steps,” Wahl wrote to Goldstone. “If you have any questions, or would like to discuss further, please let me know.”

Goldstone also changed his answer to a question about whether Khouri reported back to him that she had provided Wahl the materials he had asked for.

During the deposition he responded “I do not recall.” He amended the transcript to say “no” to that question.

Later in the deposition, when asked if he had spoken to Cisterra majority partner Steven Black about terminating the Ash Street litigation, Goldstone replied “no.”

In his declaration, that response was changed to “I cannot answer the question.”

The Gordon complaint alleges that the lease-to-own contract the city approved in 2016 is illegal because it violated the state constitution by indebting the city without a public vote.

Gordon lawyers Michael Aguirre and Maria Severson asked Wahl about his email to Goldstone during his own deposition earlier this year.

But the lobbyist declined to respond to many of the questions because he represents Cisterra in a mediation effort and the information was protected by the related privilege, Wahl and Cisterra attorneys argued.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys went to court last month to ask a judge to compel Wahl to answer the questions.

Judge Joel Wohlfeil ruled that the mediation privilege began later in January 2021, when the mediation agreement was signed. The decision meant Wahl could be deposed again, although the judge later issued a stay on that order to consider the arguments more closely.

A hearing is scheduled Thursday to consider the Gordon lawyers’ request to compel Wahl to testify again.

Aguirre questioned why Goldstone changed his testimony weeks after his initial testimony.

“A witness who takes an oath to tell the truth cannot justify changing a ‘yes’ answer to a ‘no’ answer by claiming it’s a standard practice,” he said.

The Gordon lawsuit is not the only legal complaint filed in response to the troubled Ash Street lease, which has cost taxpayers more than $60 million for a building that cannot be occupied due to asbestos and other issues.

The city sued Cisterra, its lender and real estate broker Jason Hughes, alleging they defrauded the city by withholding information about millions of dollars in secret fees included in the $128 million “as-is” lease.

The defendants rejected those assertions and countersued the city.

Records show Wahl has been lobbying city officials to resolve that litigation out of court at the same time he and his firm have raised tens of thousands of dollars for San Diego elected officials.

Last month, just before the City Council was scheduled to meet in closed session to discuss a potential settlement, Goldstone called Wahl to set up a meeting with Black, the Cisterra principal.

The meeting took place without any lawyers or the hired mediator.

Councilmembers discussed the lawsuits for four hours but did not reach any agreement on potential settlements.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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