IS SOCCER CITY A BENEFIT TO SAN DIEGO?

Suddenly the news media changed its tune about the $4 billion SoccerCity proposal for the Qualcomm site in Mission Valley and leashed a vicious campaign opposing the ballot initiative. Since commentators from the city bureau, editorial staff and sports page took a stand against the proposal redevelopment endorsed by Mayor Faulkner, I decided to get my oar in the water and start paddling with the tide.

Taking a composite of the commentaries and columns primarily in The San Diego Union Tribune, it appears that the devil is in the details of the ballot measure which is pending approval for the November election. Based on my understanding from the various media reports, it appears that the SoccerCity project is primarily for the benefit of the developer, FS Investors of La Jolla. City Attorney Mara Elliott has presented the most comprehensive analysis of the 3000 page ballot initiative that obtained sufficient signatures for a vote by San Diego citizens.

The most glaring omission from the proposal is no specific requirement for remediation of traffic patterns and required environmental reports. Mission Valley and Friars Road encompassing the Qualcomm site are already in traffic gridlock during most of the day. Additional 4800 housing units, a 450-room hotel and 3 million square feet of commercial development will not help the traffic congestion. Every day would be like game day when the stadium is in use.

Even more critical is the potential of major soil contamination resulting from many years of underground leaks from the nearby petroleum storage tanks above the stadium site. When the Qualcomm Stadium was built 50 years ago, environmental studies were not as comprehensive as today. Most of the area was paved over for parking, not for residential and commercial development that would require remedial soil replacement.

According to the city attorney, the ballot initiative if approved would bypass the environmental impact studies for traffic flow and the soil contamination. The mayor and the city Council should be very cautious as the subsequent legal actions would not only cost the city great deal of legal fees but also require remediation, neither of which will be in the city budget.

At the beginning of considering proposals for redevelopment, an extended campus for San Diego State University was a popular and practical use for the Mission Valley site. Negotiations between the university and the developers failed to meet expectations and is not in the ballot initiative.

A powerful university alumni has risen in protest that could impact the voting. No doubt the developer saw little profit for them in allocating some of the land for campus use. The same applies to the river park proposal providing a portion of the land for public use. The ballot initiative does not commit to either development, according to the city attorney.

Taking all the uncertainties and vague commitments for the improvements into context, some commentators now call the FS Investors ballot initiative “SuccerCity.” I agree.

Most of the deficiencies cited above are documented in a series of written and oral concessions by FS Investors. However, the city attorney points out that they are not binding because they are not part of the ballot initiative. It’s like a handshake that can later be refuted.

The developer is requesting a 99-year lease for the site to be approved in the imitative. However, the city procedure requires council approval for any lease of city property of more than three years.

A key promotion for the SoccerCity plan is a stadium to replace Qualcomm. The city attorney points out that there is no commitment to build the soccer stadium if the developer fails to get the soccer-team franchise. So Qualcomm is gone, the developer makes its profit on commercial improvements and the Aztecs have no place to play football. Great!

Another environmental concern for the site development is the proximity to the San Diego River. Mission Valley is a flood plain, as we notice during a heavy winter rain when the malls’ parking lots flood. The present stadium is built above the flood level and has never been damaged by the river overflow, according to a study by a local group of architects and engineers. That’s good!

That would not apply to new development on the lower level current parking area. There will be another 100-year flood in Mission Valley, the last one was in 1916. Be aware!

If San Diego State University is cut out of the joint use of the Mission Valley site, what is the need for redevelopment? We have a stadium for the SDSU and holiday bowl football games. Negotiations with the Mayor and the developer terminated late in May for lack of a consideration for campus expansion.

I would suggest that the estimated 200,000 alumni residing in San Diego could kill the ballot initiative if they organized in protest of the land grab. I see more problems than advantages without the campus expansion and a commitment for a stadium.

Verbal agreements between FS Investors and SDSU ended up different in the written documents for the ballot initiative, according to a spokesperson for the university. Fred Pierce, the designated spokesman for the alumni group, was a member of the California State University Board of Trustees and is a developer of student housing.

Columnist Mark Ziegler points out that Mayor Faulkner is also an alum and past student body president of the University but is not inclined to side with the protesting alumni group. Pierce claims he has read page by page the 3000 page ballot initiative and declares that the plan is a “looting of the treasury of the city.”