Jeff Clemetson | Editor
In November, San Diegans will have the opportunity to profoundly affect the future of Mission Valley when they go to the polls to vote on two competing proposals for the old Qualcomm Stadium site — either choosing SoccerCity’s Measure E proposal to build a sports and entertainment district that will hopefully lure a Major League Soccer franchise to the city, or SDSU West’s Measure G proposal to expand San Diego State University’s campus and build a stadium for the Aztecs.
At its Oct. 3 meeting, the Mission Valley Planning Group (MVPG) weighed in on the proposals, voting to oppose Measure E and support Measure G.
Before the discussion on the proposals, the MVPG board went over rules involving recusals. Two board members — John La Raia and Marco Sessa — are outspoken critics of Measure E. Bylaws for the planning group state that members should recuse themselves if they would receive a direct benefit from a project they are voting on. The board may also vote to sanction a member’s vote if it feels that a member should recuse himself but does not.
“I’m happy to make a motion for this group to take a position as to whether you think I have a conflict or not,” Sessa said, adding that he does not have a “direct economic interest” in either measure, but has raised his concerns about Measure E’s impact on traffic affecting property values of homes sold by Sudberry Properties, where he works.
La Raia also said he does not have a direct interest, but he and the company he works for, H.G. Fenton, have the right to express opinions about proposals in San Diego.
The board did not hold a vote to recuse either Sessa or La Raia, but board member Andrew Michajlenka did recuse himself because the firm he works for, Gensler, developed the design plans for SoccerCity.
The SoccerCity vote
Kaye Durant, who chaired a MVPG subcommittee on both proposals, said that questions about planned and proposed land use, timelines of development, and other issues were sent to both SoccerCity and SDSU West. Durant said the SoccerCity answers had “more negative information than positive information” in them.
“Most of the responses we got were, ‘We’re going to do this, but SDSU West is going to do that.’ And that’s not what we asked for,” she said. “We asked for direct answers to our questions, specifically on their measure.” Kaye Durant.
Board member Johnathan Frankel gave a concise rundown of the SoccerCity proposal, saying that the initiative authorizes the city to enter into a 99-year lease with FS Investors, the group behind the SoccerCity plan. That lease includes an option to purchase up to 79.9 acres, which avoids a city charter rule that would require another vote if 80 acres or more were sold.
Rent for the leased land would be set by the mayor. FS Investors would be allowed to sublease sections of the property to other builders or investors.
The site-specific plan would not require a full environmental impact report and would allow up to 4,800 housing units, 2 million square feet of office space and 750,000 square feet of retail space. It also calls for the building of a stadium that could house a soccer team and be used for Aztec football games.
Frankel said the plan also calls for funding a river park on the site but pointed out that language in the proposal makes it unclear how much FS Investors would contribute — a range of $20 million to $40 million, or perhaps none.
“The creation of a river park cannot happen without the concurrence of a number of state and federal agencies,” he said, adding that the initiative states that the city would only have 18 months to get permits for creating a river park from those agencies, otherwise FS Investors would not have to contribute the money.
“The initiative is replete with instances which FS has the ability to modify these requirements at the discretion of the mayor,” Frankel continued.
Frankel also pointed out that the SoccerCity proposal would limit city council from changing any aspect of the proposal and that the price of the land sold to FS Investors is set at a certain date, has a capped value, and doesn’t consider the value it would increase by once it is zoned for residential, retail and commercial uses — which would be four to five times the amount it is valued at now.
FS Investors did not send a representative to speak to the planning group, but City Councilmember Scott Sherman spoke in favor of the project. Sherman, along with Mayor Falconer, have both endorsed SoccerCity.
Sherman said his constituents want a stadium built, but with no tax dollars spent on it. “Measure E provides that for us,” he said. “This is the chance to get [the stadium site] out of the hands of politicians who have been mucking up that site for 40 years. Taxpayers own 166 acres in the geographic center of the eighth largest city in this country and we lose money on it because of politics.”
Sherman said the city loses $6 million a year on operational costs alone. He also said that the SoccerCity plan is better for the city because it will generate tax revenue and the SDSU West plan will not since the property will be owned by the state.
Joe Cavallo from the No on E coalition urged the planning group to oppose the initiative, saying it was written by FS Investors “behind closed doors … by themselves and for themselves.”
He also pointed to neighboring planning groups that voted to oppose Measure E, including Navajo Community Planners, Serra Mesa Planning Group, Linda Vista Planning Group and the North Park Planning Committee.
City Councilmember Barbara Bry said she opposed SoccerCity because is terrible for the city long term — and said she paid a “political price for it.”
“The mayor took money out of my council budget and money that would have gone to nonprofits in my community,” she said.
Bry also pointed out that the city attorney issued a report saying SoccerCity does not guarantee a park or soccer team to come, and the city would be on the hook for any environmental cleanup.
Durant then motioned that MVPG oppose Measure E. The motion passed with only one opposing vote and one abstention.
Discussion on the SDSU West proposal began with comments from the audience.
“This land in Mission Valley is a perfect place for [SDSU] to expand,” said Bry, arguing that the college is currently “landlocked.” Bry also argued that San Diego’s investment in UC San Diego, which gave the school the land it was built on with no strings attached, was a smart decision that has paid off in the long run. In contrast, she said, Measure G calls for SDSU to negotiate a deal with the city to pay fair market value and have an open and transparent process. If passed, SDSU would take over responsibility of the site.
Sherman argued against the SDSU West plan, saying that the proposed river park would be paid for by the city, and he reiterated his point that it is foolish to sell a taxpayer asset to a state entity that won’t pay taxes. He also blasted the brevity of the proposal.
“SDSU [West] is 13 pages of ‘trust us,’” he said.
Sherman also criticized the SDSU West proposal for not having a traffic plan and likened it to SDSU’s proposed Adobe Falls development, which was sued by Del Cerro residents to mitigate traffic.
But Sherman saved his harshest criticism for former city manager Jack McGrory, a sponsor of the SDSU West plan, as “the same guy who negotiated the Chargers ticket guarantee.”
Durant brought the discussion back to the planning group and reported that SDSU West returned “positive” answers to the subcommittee.
Frankel also broke down the SDSU West proposal. A problem he saw with the proposal was that control of permits for the site would go to the CSU Board of Trustees, although it would still be consultated with local officials. Another issue is that there are not a whole lot of details in the current proposal.
City council will determine price and terms of any agreement with SDSU, Frankel said, and the terms for the river park and traffic will be negotiated with city council later.
“They could determine, for example, that we’re not going to allow you to move forward with a certain amount of development prior to the river park being constructed,” he said. “They can assure other guarantees and we can work with our elected representatives to make sure that happens.”
Frankel said another significant difference in the SDSU West proposal is a commitment to environmental review as well as to public process, although with a caveat. Environmental review may disclose impacts, but the Board of Trustees could decide to ignore any mitigation recommendations, he said. He suggested the city council “bake into” the purchase agreement any needed traffic mitigation.
“We can put all sorts of parameters in that agreement,” Bry responded.
Katy Temple, a spokesperson for Measure G, urged support for the measure and pointed to the positive impact an expanded campus would have on the area.
“Sixty-one percent of SDSU alumni are in the San Diego region,” she said. “That means they are creating jobs and they are paying bills.”
The planning group then voted in favor of supporting SDSU West’s Measure G with only one member abstaining.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.