By Doug Porter
Surprise, surprise, surprise! Those friendly folks collecting signatures for the billion dollar SoccerCity development to replace Qualcomm Stadium are being–how shall we put it?–less than honest.
Today’s Union-Tribune includes a story involving an informal survey of 25 signature gathering locations around San Diego. Petition bearers are reportedly being paid $5 per signature and are making promises with little connection to what is actually contained in the document they are pushing.
The hope is that the San Diego City Council, with visions of $2.8 billion in economic benefits dancing in their heads, will vote to enact the ‘citizen’s ordinance’ without the need for an actual ballot measure.
The reality of what’s being proposed is, according to today’s UT reporting, a far cry from what’s being pitched to the general public from sidewalk tables.
It was almost exclusively being pitched as a soccer project at the tables observed; the petition campaign officially is called “Goal SD.” Nearly every signature-gathering site had a sign referencing Major League Soccer or a soccer stadium, including one with two soccer balls on the table as props. Signature gatherers at some two dozen tables rarely discussed the development or its intensity, which, FS Investors estimates, would add 71,000 daily trips to Mission Valley.
Only two of the 25 locations surveyed characterized it as a redevelopment project. Six signature-gatherers, in fact, said there would be no other development beside the new stadium. Five said Qualcomm Stadium would merely be renovated, not demolished, including one who pointed at the prospective site for a future NFL stadium in one of the initiative’s renderings and said that was where the Q would remain.
Twenty-three of the 25 said the project was for an SDSU football stadium.
Just to be clear, SDSU has not bought into the project. And, of course, those paying for the signatures say they have trained their petition-bearers to be truthful.
The SoccerCity Vision
I have to admit to initially having positive thoughts about the concept of a Major League Soccer stadium-anchored redevelopment of the site. While I’m not personally wild about soccer, I can see where it would fit into the idea of a transnational economic identity. (Sans the stupid wall of Trumpf.)
The pitch about San Diego State University having some part of the deal was attractive. Higher education complexes produce higher paying jobs and have a strong multiplier effect.
I understood the trade-off would involve profits via retail and housing developments at the site of the present-day concrete colossus.
Here is the deal, as described in the Union-Tribune:
La Jolla-based FS Investors is circulating a voter petition to lease the property for 99 years and buy 79.9 acres at fair market value. The proposal, prepared last year, unveiled in January and backed by more than 3,000 pages of legal language, specific plan details and environmental and traffic analysis, calls for a stadium of 18,000 to 32,000-seats, expandable to 40,000, to host a new MLS team and SDSU football; 4,800 housing units, including 800 aimed at students and 480 for low- and moderate-income households; 3.1 million square feet of commercial space, two hotels with a total of 450 rooms; and 55 acres of park land, including 34 acres for the long-planned San Diego River Park; and 16,400 parking spaces.
Qualcomm Stadium would be demolished and 16 acres set aside immediately west for an NFL franchise to buy within five years and build a new football stadium. SDSU is asked to contribute $100 million toward a $200 million, 22,000-seat joint-use stadium, which it would receive as a donation in five years.
FS did not pursue a more traditional planning process because it says it is under tight deadlines to submit a stadium plan to Major League Soccer, which aims to award two expansion franchises by the end of the year. FS has the exclusive bid to locate a stadium in San Diego. Eleven other cities are in the running for both the immediate expansion and two more in a second phase. MLS currently has 22 franchises and two approved but not yet active.
By limiting FS Investors’ land purchases to 79.9 acres, while permitting a 99-year lease of the remaining 86 acres, the plan avoids a city charter mandate requiring voters approval on sales of 80 or more acres of public land.
The ‘fair market value’ of the purchased land would be reduced by the costs of tearing down the present stadium and constructing the park.
These guys clearly did their homework.
‘Hold That Thought,’ Says SDSU
San Diego State University, however, has a plan of its own.
The SDSU seven-point plan covers 230 acres in and around the Qualcomm site and includes the football stadium and room for expanding the campus, which they estimate will be needed to accommodate growing enrollment by 15,000 students over the next three decades.
The university has a lease agreement with the City of San Diego extending through the 2018 football season, and they’ve recently asked for a two-year extension.
They seem to think Mayor Faulconer (an SDSU alum) will be able to broker a better deal than what FS Investors is offering, and, if not, are ready to proceed on their own. Given the Mayor’s track record of indecisiveness, I wish the university luck. They’ll need it.
I should also mention Papa Doug Manchester’s desire to redevelop the Qualcomm site, which is, of course, more fabulous than either of these paltry plans. He want remodel the current stadium ($600 million), plus a sports arena, plus a kagillion square feet for market rate office, retail, and housing (no poor people need apply, unless they’re looking for janitorial work), along with a park, free unicorn rides, and acres of additional residential and academic space.
Given that the SoccerCity vision for the Mission Valley location is more than just intentions and words, it’s the leading candidate in the quest for a do-over. And given San Diego’s history of being an easy mark for developers, it’s not surprising to hear somebody’s already calling ‘foul.’
Planning Commissioner Theresa Quiroz read the lengthy legalese–which somehow isn’t an issue now that Cory Briggs didn’t sponsor this plan–and expressed her concerns via an op-ed in the Voice of San Diego.
Although she misses the point that any citizen’s initiative must be vague in describing its would-be beneficiaries to qualify as such, she correctly points to the time restrictions pertaining to promises being made.
Regarding the river park mentioned in the title of the initiative, the proposal says the developer is required to pay $40 million for the construction of the park. If their lease is not signed, sealed and delivered by Dec. 31 of this year, just nine months from now, and one month from the election where this will be decided by the voters, then that amount goes down to $20 million. We must assume that the cost to build the river park will be around $40 million, so how will the park be built if they only have to pay $20 million? The initiative doesn’t answer that.
But even more important is the fact that if the lease isn’t signed, sealed and delivered by December of this year, there will be no requirement as to when the park will be constructed. The obligation of the entity will no longer be subject to any deadlines for the park’s construction. This would be a 99-year lease. It seems to say the developer could put off building the park until the 98th year of the lease. That would be the year 2116.
There is another big caveat when it comes to the river park. The initiative says that whoever signs the lease agreement, will construct the park using either the $40 million or the $20 million as was described earlier, but only if all permits from the state and federal governments are finalized within 18 months of the signing of the lease. If they don’t receive the permits by then, they don’t have to build the park. They just have to deposit the money into a city fund. The city can then choose to use that money for the river park or not.
I should also point out at least one of the big players in Mission Valley, namely Tom Sudberry, a developer and activist in San Diego Republican politics, has already told VOSD’s Scott Lewis he’s not happy with the way SoccerCity is proposing to skip over “a normal entitlement and mitigation process.”
No Football. No Soccer. No Nothing…until…
Finally, there’s the REALLY BIG PROBLEM facing San Diego. THIS should be at the front of the line for action.
We have hundreds–probably more–of humans who lack a most basic need: shelter.
Bring me a mega million dollar project with concrete promises to alleviate any significant portion of this suffering and I’ll support it. (And, no, vague promises of moderate and low-income housing don’t count.)
In the meantime, local activists are petitioning the Mayor to allow use of the parking lot at Qualcomm Stadium and/or the Chargers Park training facility for Homeless SafePark, SafeCamp and Sleeping Cabin Villages.
Let’s insist the City Council, the Mayor, and the Board of Supervisors recognize that the plight of our fellow humans is more important than any redevelopment issue. Councilman Chris Ward has an actual plan to DO SOMETHING other than hold hearings every few years.
Think I’m kidding about the “every few years” part? Consider this terrific story opening from Seth Combs at City Beat:
“This is the first time we’ve addressed this issue since I’ve been on the City Council and that’s been three and a half years. So it is urgent that we do this now.”
With those remarks, San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole opened what would be a nearly five-hour council meeting on Monday to discuss “Item 600,” or “Programs, Policies and Efforts to Address Homelessness.”
Let that number sink in for a moment: Three and a half years. Even with every major news outlet in the city beating the drum on what has become a truly dire situation and CityBeat’s own long history of covering homelessness, this is the first time in years that the City Council has thought to directly address the issue.
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