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News analysis: Planning group takes principled stand despite heavy pressure

Posted: September 11th, 2015 | Briefs, Calendar and Opinion, Opinion | No Comments

By Ken Williams | Editor

San Diego city officials, facing a number of time-sensitive deadlines in an attempt to get a stadium proposal on the ballot, came before the Mission Valley Planning Group on Sept. 2 seeking its approval of the 6,000-page stadium draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Despite heavy pressure from city officials and even a plea from Councilmember Scott Sherman, whose District 7 includes the Mission Valley stadium site, the planning group stood firm on principle and declined to issue a conditional-use permit for the projected 30-year life of a new stadium.

Sherman pleaded with the planning group to send a message to the National Football League.

“Does it make a difference?” Sherman asked. “Maybe it does. A vote here sends a strong signal to the NFL … that we are committed to building a new stadium.”

Many planning board members noted that they were in favor of a new stadium to replace the aging Qualcomm Stadium, but also worried that they had only seen conceptual plans rather than the final documents. They pointed out that they have never issued a conditional-use permit without reviewing documents that were finalized.

Randall Dolph, chair of the group’s Design Advisory Board (DAG), said the subcommittee only had time to review part of the 6,000-page document but came away with a long list of concerns. He listed things such as the new stadium’s proposed location on the northeast corner of the existing Qualcomm site, putting it near the Kinder Morgan fuel storage tanks located between Friars Road and San Diego Mission Road. He cited discrepancies between renderings and documents. He said the document did not address the new fire station, the proposed park along the San Diego River or the wetlands buffer zone.

When it came time to discuss passing the motion to approve a conditional-use permit for a proposed new stadium, planning group member Marco Sessa asked: “What are we supporting?”

Sessa said he sees the issue as “replacing A (Qualcomm Stadium) with B (new stadium)” and that “there is little environmental difference” between either one. “The monster truck jam will be as noisy as last year,” he said, illustrating his point. But he could not justify voting to issue a conditional-use permit based solely on concept.

Jim Turner appeared to speak for the planning group members: “We can’t lower our standards … or every developer hereafter will come after us for the same treatment.”

Dottie Surdi, chair of the planning group, agreed. “Yes, we all want a new stadium, but we have to be consistent. We have the responsibility to be consistent.”

In the end, the planning group voted unanimously to “endorse the concept of replacing the old stadium with a new stadium” providing the final document includes the community park and addresses the other concerns.

During the meeting, city planner Kris Shackelford went over an abbreviated version of the EIR, using a PowerPoint presentation. She noted that Qualcomm Stadium was built in 1967 on the 166-acre site, and the Brutalist-style of architecture designed by Frank L. Hope qualified the old stadium as “historical.” Nobody seems inclined to spare the Qualcomm from the wrecking ball.

Shackelford said the proposed stadium would seat 68,000 and could be expanded to 72,000 for special events such as concerts. The stadium would be smaller in footprint than Qualcomm but much taller. She said construction would seek LEED Gold Certification for the 1.75 million-square-foot structure.

The parking lot would be reconfigured to make it more efficient for traffic flow, she said, and there would be a pedestrian-friendly access way from the trolley station to the stadium.

Planning group members did not object to the additional height, but wondered why the stadium was placed so far back on the property and further away from the trolley station.

City planners said they would take under advisement the comments made by the Mission Valley Planning Group, which acts as an advisory body to the city’s Planning Department. Planning group members wondered whether a final document would be ready by the next meeting on Oct. 7 at noon at the Mission Valley Library’s Community Room and whether their input was even necessary, since the Planning Department can act as it wishes.

John Nugent, the group’s vice chair, noted that the mayor has issued a Sept. 11 deadline for the Chargers to come back to the table. The Chargers, though, appear bent on moving out of town to play in a stadium proposed in the L.A. suburb of Carson that would be shared by the Oakland Raiders.

Ken Williams is editor of Mission Valley News and Uptown News and can be reached at ken@sdcnn.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at KenSanDiego, Instagram account at KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.

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