Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
In 1980, Paul E. Robinson became senior partner for Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg & Bagley, a practice that emphasizes land use, environmental and government law. Recently, Robinson was honored as the 2019 San Diego Land Use and Zoning Law Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers in America. This is not the first time Robinson has been recognized with the esteemed award — he received the honor both in 2014 and 2016 as well.
Robinson represents developers with the permits and entitlements that are necessary for them to develop their properties and represents San Diego’s redevelopment growth with his years of experience in negotiating with and appearing before all public agencies with land-use jurisdiction.
“It’s a very specific area, land use and planning,” Robinson said. “When I was in law school, a long-time real estate attorney came to speak to us and told us that there was one area in real estate that very few people practice in and it is the land-use field. So I decided that that was going to be me.”
In a meeting at City Hall, Robinson city officials and staff discussed replacing the current City Administration Building and plans to replace the building after the Convention Center expands.
Robinson came to San Diego in 1963 as a junior in high school. The following year, he toured City Hall for the first time back when the building was brand new.
“Little did I know that seven years later, I would begin my career there as deputy city attorney,” Robinson said. “I did things at the City Attorney’s Office that no one had ever done before, or that nobody has done since.”
Robinson was asked to work with the legislative department, working under former Mayor Pete Wilson, to represent the city in Sacramento and Washington D.C. He worked on legislation that created the six predecessors of agencies that today is known as the Metropolitan Transit Development (MTS) Board.
Robinson came back to the City Attorney’s Office and was in the process of becoming the first general counsel of the MTS Board. He left the City Attorney’s Office in 1978 to work as Wilson’s assistant for Programs and Policy Development.
“I learned a lot about land use, and in those particular days, we created the Centre City Development Corporation, which is the predecessor for the Pacific San Diego for Redevelopment effort,” Robinson said. “We created the Housing Commission and I traveled all over the state visiting housing commissions. The city was not doing a good job in creating low-income housing. We created the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, which is still today the marking tool for the city of San Diego.”
Robinson said amazing changes have happened in Downtown. When Wilson took office in 1971, Robinson testified before the City Council on redevelopment.
“I said, ‘If you would have told me in 1963 that I would have a West Broadway office address, I would have said you are nuts. That is the sleaziest area. On this block was a bowling alley, massage parlors, locker rooms …,’” Robinson said.
Horton Plaza opened in 1985, which was the catalyst for the marina and that area, similar to the way Petco Park is a beacon for East Village.
“I ran into Pete Wilson a couple of years ago at the University Club and looked at him and said, ‘This was your vision.’ [Wilson] said, ‘I know, but I didn’t think it would happen so fast.’ But it did because the governor got rid of redevelopment. For all practical purposes, we were fortunate to get that done quickly,” Robinson said.
Robinson said that through the years, there were many projects that he was exceptionally happy to be involved in, but for him a few stood out.
“The No. 1 for Downtown is creating funds for other parts of the city,” Robinson said. “Two is University City. I always projected it to be another Downtown hub. I represented all four corners of Genesee Avenue and La Jolla Village Drive. And Mission Valley. I was involved as what was considered the first San Diego River improvement project, which for the first time, created crossings because of the rain. Any rain would stop north and south crossings. We created a channel through Hazard Center and Reo Vista West and all of the major developments there.”
Hot on the topic of city development is the Convention Center expansion and the recent Soccer City/SDSU West development projects. He’s been very involved in the SDSU West and opposed the Soccer City development, which has now been defeated by voters.
“That’s not the way to do it,” Robinson said. “Every development needs to be vetted by everybody, including the public.”
Robinson believes that its expansion of the Convention Center is imperative to the growth of the San Diego tourism industry.
“For the Convention Center expansion, it looks like as of now there will be a special election sometime in March and we are best in trying not to put it on the same ballot as the short-time vacation rental issue, as it acquired the signatures needed for a vote,” Robinson said. “The Convention Center expansion is huge. It does block the waterfront but adding to it is not going to affect it. It is not about Comic-Con, it is for big conventions that are too big for what we have right now, and they will book, and it will expand the market. In my opinion, Comic-Con is better off spreading out and using the different venues. It opens up for the various hotels and venues surrounding the Convention Center.”
Robinson said the Convention Center is downsizing, refurbishing the existing hotel rooms, and adding hotel rooms. But there are also adding residential units so that there will be new residential housing right at the trolley stop.
Robinson said a good friend of his, Debbie Ruane, just left the Housing Commission to concentrate on workforce housing. He said this is a result of San Diego’s area median income. “And that is what we are lacking,” Robinson said.
“Everybody is calling for housing but we are building low-income housing and we are building very expensive housing. We are not building for the firefighters, the teachers or the police officers. People are going to Temecula because they can’t afford San Diego. Over 60 percent of our population can’t afford housing. And that is my primary purpose to encourage workforce housing.”
Robinson has been thoroughly engrossed in the growth of the San Diego International Airport and currently serves as chair of the Mission Bay Park Committee and the Mission Bay Park Improvement Fund Oversight Committee. He said the city operates Mission Bay, but it is still state-owned land. The environmental document is currently being prepared for the revitalization of Mission Bay. This revitalization will create revenue for the Port of San Diego and the city for the first time, Robinson said.
“It’s probably going to have a lot of camp land, more recreational vehicle use, and will create a lot more beaches and open space for the general population,” Robinson said.
Robinson said the new Federal Inspection Station for the $339 million remodel and expansion of the San Diego International Airport’s Terminal 2 to accommodate the rising international travel is state of the art, with elements such as facial recognition, increasing the processing of 350 international travelers in an hour to more than 1,000 travelers.
“We are actively looking for more international flights,” Robinson said. “We are working with Air France right now to try and get a nonstop [flight] from Paris to here. Los Angeles is too busy.”
Robinson said adding new international flights will not only improve the airport facility but also bring people to San Diego for international flights, with many of them spending more time and money in the city, making it a tourist destination.
In addition to Robinson, Best Lawyers designees also included the firm’s David W. Bagley II, honored for real estate law, and Darryl O. Solberg, honored for business organizations corporate law (including LLCs and partnerships) and real estate law.
Prior to forming the partnership, Robinson served as San Diego Deputy City Attorney for five years and worked for Mayor Pete Wilson for two years. Appointed to numerous government boards throughout the years, Robinson served as chair of The Lincoln Club of San Diego County; chair of the De Anza Revitalization Plan Ad Hoc Committee, tasked with transforming the 120-acre De Anza Cove in Mission Bay; vice chair and executive committee member of The San Diego County Airport Authority; and chair of the Downtown Parking Management Group.
Outside of zoning and planning, Robinson is very active at San Diego State University and on the Board of Visitors at the University of San Diego, giving a lot of his time and money to both institutions. Robinson said once he cuts back on the various boards that he serves on, he wants to get more involved in Alzheimer’s charities.
— Albert Fulcher can be reached at email@example.com.