INSIDERS PUSH SOCCER CITY VOTE
The debate continues over the future development of the Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley. The early prospects for a private developer to combine a soccer franchise stadium with housing and commercial space and an extended campus for San Diego State University showed possibilities.
Then came the reality that the developer used the SDSU campus to chum the plan into a ballot initiative. As the City Attorney, who bothered to read the 3000 page proposition, reports many major advantages for redevelopment are not specified or committed in the voter initiative. Most prominent is the omission of a joint use of the property with SDSU.
A soccer broadcaster, Nate Abaurrea of San Diego, wrote in May that the boosters for the SDSU extended campus “flipped the bird” to the developer, FS Investors of La Jolla. You can interpret that insult however you wish. I will just say it is a rude gesture that has been used since the days of Socrates in 400 BC Greece.
Another back-stairs rumor circulating is the switch by Mayor Faulconer to be cool over SDSU’s shared use of the land. After all, he is a SDSU alum and a past student body president. In my opinion, there are two possible incentives for his rushing ahead without the campus expansion – political ambitions and city budget.
It’s no secret that the mayor is looking at the vacancy coming up for governor of the state. A major San Diego project could enhance his candidacy as a visionary. Even more important is the financial support from big investors with bags of money for political influence, like developers.
With a consistent shortfall in the city budget, the big increase in property taxes (estimated at $21.6 million) from the commercial development of Qualcomm site would help. The university portion would be tax exempt as is the entire site now.
The latest complaint about the city government’s support of SoccerCity is the lack of transparency in dealing with the developer. Critics say that since it is public land, all negotiating meetings must be open to the public. Columnist Jeff McDonald reports 25 private meetings between the developer and its investors with city officials and university and major league soccer leaders.
Neither the press nor the public attended these meetings. The Mayor’s staff defends these meetings as collecting public input. There were private meetings with other prospective developers, McDonald reported.
Without the commitment to share the site with SDSU, the ballot initiative faces an uncertain passage. In all fairness, apparently the university leaders were not ready to jump aboard the SoccerCity project with a financial commitment. I assume that the university’s funding for a campus layout is still to be endorsed by its own authorities. That may take several years if they move in typical academic tradition.
For those San Diego citizens who believe the rush to a ballot measure is a land grab, the good news was the City Council’s omission of funding for a special election in November. This delay might cool down the developer’s urgency for voter approval of a defective ballot measure.
The mayor responded with notice that he will veto the budget cut for a special election. However, the Council has two more shots to stall the ballot measure. June 12 it votes to put the convention center expansion on the ballot and June 19 to approve the SoccerCity initiative for November.
The Council vote for the special election funding was 8-1 against. If the Mayor vetoes its cut, it takes 6 votes to override. It seems likely that a majority of the Council could stop the special election one way or another.
To receive a representative public ballot for SoccerCity and convention center, neither measure should be on a special election. Voter turnout is minimal. An organized support group could win the day with less than 20% of eligible voters. These projects must have a better endorsement from the public that is going to bear the financial risk for the next 99 years.