By Doug Porter
Timing is everything for the overlords of America’s Finest Tourist Plantation. Two seemingly unrelated stories published today at Voice of San Diego provide insight into how controlling the pace of things gets played locally.
Got a sweet deal for your investors? Play the hurry up game before anybody notices warts and wrinkles, as is happening with the SoccerCity proposal for redeveloping the Mission Valley stadium site, along with a scheme to raise taxes paid by hotel guests to expand the Convention Center packaged with bandaids for failures in governance.
See some bad news coming down the line? Slow walk it while you muddy the details and hope public interest wanes, like what happened with the San Diego State University study on the bias of police.
City Councilman David Alvarez penned an op-ed for VOSD calling out Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s rush to get twin ballot measures considered in an off-year election.
The District 8 Councilman’s question is simple: Why are we hurrying up two ballot measures for a special election right after an overwhelming public vote (Measure L) revising the city charter saying such things are best considered in general elections?
The framers of Measure L left a back door open –allowing the City Council to expedite the process– in case funds needed to be raised in response to a natural disaster or other emergencies. Alvarez is right to question the need for speed.
Both ballot initiatives are major, long-lasting public policy decisions: a 40-year tax increase, and 99-year leases of public land. Decisions that will impact our great-great grandchildren are the very sorts of decisions that should be made when the most voters participate.
He goes on to deflate the arguments being offered up by proponents of Soccer City and Convention Center expansion, noting the innate ability of sports franchises to change the criteria for expansion, along with the legal and property hurdles necessitating a decade-long window built into the ballot measure for the start of construction on the waterfront.
The Mayor’s twenty-five meetings behind closed doors with proponents of the proposed Mission Valley development is the subject of recent investigative reporting at the Union-Tribune.
The city says the meetings were simply part of “due diligence regarding the future of Qualcomm Stadium.” Others aren’t so sure, including former Councilwoman Donna Frye, who pointed out the sheer number of meetings merited public disclosure.
Critics say the public should have been told about the meetings and future plans for the stadium property should be a matter of open debate.
“The process seems like it has been geared to the SoccerCity folks right from the beginning,” said William Sannwald, a San Diego State University management professor and former assistant San Diego city manager.
“The thing that bothers me is there are probably other developers out there who would like to have an opportunity to suggest a plan for the site,” he said. “Competition always makes things better. Maybe nobody else would come forward but at least we would have other people take a look at the property and propose something.”
The UT article does point out Faulconer met with competing developers Sudberry Properties and H.G. Fenton in February 2017, after the SoccerCity concept went public.
Those developers funded a campaign opposing the multi-billion dollar project and San Diego State University, whose name was used in the sales pitch for SoccerCity, has backed away. (And was never really on board.)
Curiously, there’s been no opposition based on the (600+ page) length of this proposal, as there was with the downtown centered 77 page 2016 ‘Citizens Initiative’(Measure D). It would have prohibited a waterfront expansion of the Convention Center and encouraged San Diego State University and UC San Diego to build a research center on the Qualcomm Stadium site.
This year’s Faulconer-backed Convention Center proposal is now the subject of a public relations push, with backers touting a poll by Competitive Edge Research finding that “two-thirds of those likely to vote in a special election would support the plan to raise the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT).”
The poll was conducted back in late February/early March before news broke about SDSU not playing along and questions being raised about the details of the proposal. As I recollect, those were the days when we were being offered a fútbol team to ease the shame of losing our football franchise.
@tonymanolatos Why is a Feb. 27-March 4 poll relevant on May 30?
— Michael Smolens (@MichaelSmolens) May 30, 2017
The promise of funding for street repair and services for the homeless served to make the Convention Center expansion appear like a win-win-win deal.
The 392 San Diego City voters surveyed hadn’t heard there might be some downsides to the concept. There were, according to the pollster, four focus groups conducted in addition to the landline, cell phone-only and e-mail-only survey.
The Union-Tribune editorial board, which supports the convention center expansion, raised some serious questions about the practical path forward:
The plan sounds great, in theory. If you’ve driven city streets in recent years, you know they’re a mess. If you’ve walked city streets in downtown, you know homelessness is bad and getting worse. If you’ve been to Comic-Con, you know it’s a huge economic engine for San Diego and could clearly use more convention space to contain its super heroic sprawl.
Yet critics worry about walling off the bayfront and homeless advocates say the proposal’s homeless funding isn’t enough. And then there’s the biggest issue of all: The city doesn’t control the land it needs to expand the convention center. The site is owned by the state and controlled by the San Diego Unified Port District and for decades has been leased to businessmen who are now planning to build a 4-star, $300 million hotel in the space coveted by the city.
Coming back around to the need for speed on these two ballot measures, I return to David Alvarez’ argument in Voice of San Diego:
There is a final reason to respect the will of the voters and refuse to schedule a special election: We can’t afford it. The mayor has emphasized the difficulties San Diego’s budget is facing this year by proposing large cuts to the San Diego Police Department’s budget. More officers have left SDPD for other law enforcement agencies so far this year than in any year since 2011, and overall police staffing is falling to dangerous and unprecedented levels. Even with the San Diego police officer retention crisis deepening, the mayor proposes to cut recruitment and retention by $4 million and overtime by $3 million. Shockingly, he also proposes budgeting $5 million to pay for a special election that in all likelihood will actually cost close to $10 million. Just by following Measure L, we can have enough money to restore our recruitment and retention budget and expand police overtime. Sometimes respecting the will of the voters is not just the right thing to do, it saves money too.
Councilman Scott Sherman says money’s not a problem in a recent Union-Tribune article:
Sherman said the $5 million is already included in the mayor’s proposed budget and that delaying the votes, especially SoccerCity, would be unfair.
“The people who signed the SoccerCity petitions didn’t expect it to be pushed out a year and a half,” he said. “You’d be going against the will of all of those people.”
I’m sure the various agencies facing cutbacks and the people they serve will be thrilled to know the Mayor was holding on to money to stage an election for local developers and hoteliers.
The City put its finger on the scale when it came to the weighing out of insights and critiques in the San Diego State University study of police profiling and bias released last February. At least that’s what I make of Kelly Davis’ report in Voice of San Diego.
The report was repeatedly delayed. A November 2015 release date was pushed back to February 2016. And then again, to October 2016. Final release came on Wednesday, November 23–Thanksgiving Eve. I suppose if I wanted to bury some bad news, the eve of major holiday would be a good choice.
The VOSD story lets us in on the degradation of the language used to critique police performance in the area of racial profiling–all in the interests of good science, of course.
An October 2016 draft of the report obtained through a public records request shows the word ‘bias’ being replaced with ‘disparities.’ A threshold for what was considered significant in determining racial profiling was raised from 90 to 95%. And there were other changes.
Joshua Chanin, professor of public affairs at San Diego State University and the study’s lead researcher, said: “his team believed the revisions were necessary in order to persuade SDPD to take the study seriously.”
Here are three other points from Davis’ story: (emphasis mine)
- An early draft recommended the department stop making traffic stops for minor violations unrelated to public safety, and instead simply issue citations by mail — something, researchers noted, other departments are exploring.
- Also cut from the final draft was the finding, via police survey, that the majority of officers felt they wouldn’t benefit from additional training in fair and impartial policing.
- The final version of the study found that black drivers were more likely than white drivers to be stopped in only one of the San Diego Police Department’s nine divisions, northeastern, which includes the largely white neighborhoods of Mira Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Peñasquitos and Scripps Ranch. A draft version reached a different conclusion, finding evidence of racial disparities in three divisions, not just one, and, in aggregate, all police divisions located north of Interstate 8, often considered to be San Diego’s racial and economic dividing line.
The City Council, with dissent from Georgette Gomez and David Alvarez, voted to accept the report in February but declined to implement any of its recommendations.
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