Soccer City: There are More Questions than Answers

 

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Craig Bennedetto, File Picture

 

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Soccer City looks like a great idea. Take prime real estate, transfer to private developers and get the land developed. However, the plan should raise many concerns. For starters, if you have the feeling that this looks like it is moving too fast, you are correct.

So it is time to ask some serious questions. The first thing to understand is that the land on which Qualcomm stadium sits is city property. It is very valuable land, which also has a potential issue. This is fuel. On the other side of Friars Road sits the regions fuel distribution facility. Whether you fuel your car at Shell, Valero, AM PM, or any other gas station, it is first stored there. The farm has a little problem, which is actually well known. It has leaked for decades. The Environmental Report filed by the Chargers, as rushed as it was, did point to this major issue. Anybody who seeks to develop that land will need to do some cleanup. None is sure of the extent.

The Voice of San Diego said that in 2915 it should not doom a new stadium. This is true. But none is sure if the extent of the cleanup.

However, the draft Environmental Impact Report did not paint this rosy of a picture. It did some significant questions to the cost of the cleanup, and the extent of it.

FS Investors does not seem to be phased by this. During the hearing in Mission Valley, before the planning group, they even made the claim they could avoid these reports altogether. (Link to RSD story).

The Office of the City Attorney, led by Mara Elliot shares some of those concerns.

 In a 27-page opinion released last week, Elliott said the SoccerCity initiative doesn’t guarantee a new stadium or a park, could make taxpayers liable for expensive environmental cleanup, contains conflicting provisions that could lead to court, and might not be binding on other developers brought in to handle construction.

 

This has been disputed by the firm representing the developers. However, this is a critical question. What happens if the contamination is found to be far more serious than it is believed?

When the first hints that the San Diego Chargers intended to move, the idea was that the city would transfer this land to San Diego State University. SDSU and their needs.

In January the UT suggested some solutions to the area.

 San Diego State University could build student dorms and faculty housing and create a west campus that takes pressure off Montezuma Mesa and solves the College Area minidorm problem.

And traffic and circulation problems in the valley could be lessened with new freeway onramps, river crossings, bikeways and expanded mass transit — a demonstration project that could serve as a national model for post-automobile urban planning.

Dottie Surdi, chairwoman of the Mission Valley Community Planning Group, said a draft for the area’s first plan update since 1985 is due early this year.

“One of the things holding us back is the decision on Qualcomm,” she said. “We’d like to see a mixed-use community there. We desperately need more park space in Mission Valley. Obviously, we need more housing.”

These were questions raised from the beginning. Moreover, SDSU had reasons to prefer a use that word allow the university to meet present and future needs. This would be a plan for the next 50 years. It is also an investment in future generations of students and researchers.

Enter the Mayor, FS Investors

The idea of bringing a Major League Soccer expansion team is not a bad one on the surface. It is when we enter the timeline required. FS Investors, a La Jolla based company, needs to have a stadium ready by March of 2020. It is not just in the planning stages, It has to be ready to receive a team. If not, the MLS will not award San Diego an expansion team.

The second caveat is that the MLS will not take a renovated stadium. They are requiring a smaller venue. Meaning, in theory, there is a lot of regulatory work that has to be done on an expedited basis. During the March 2 meeting before the planning board, Craig Benedetto said they were on an expedited calendar due to these reasons, and that they were relying on new legislation.

The plan includes housing, as well as some business and should be transit friendly. Moreover, they say that this will not affect traffic in the valley. However, this is disputed by others. During that March 2 meeting, the issue of heavy traffic on Friars Road was raised by residents. There are others who have raised this issue.

Then there is the matter of environmental impact reports. The developers claim that these will not be needed. However, any development of that size usually requires both an environmental report and a California Environmental Quality Act review (CEQA). The stadium site is right by a very delicate environmental zone, that would the San Diego River.

Then we come to the private meetings. The San Diego Reader is reporting the secrecy involving this, including meetings between Mayor Kevin Faulconer and FS Investors.

Aiding the talks, the documents show, was developer Morgan Dene Oliver, a longtime Faulconer campaign giver, whose OliverMcMillan development firm hosted a January 5 lunch prepared by Oliver’s personal chef in a dining room at his downtown offices.

In addition, records show repeated private contacts between Faulconer and the FS group in the mayor’s office, including on May 9 and November 30.

This information puts a new light into the rush for the project. Not only does it seem to be rushed. It also puts the push for a special election in a new light. Not only did San Diego voters passed an initiative that could be read as a way to stop these special elections. But the special election has been used historically to pass unpopular measures.

Prop L read in part:

If the measure is approved, the Charter would require citizens’ initiative and referendum measures to be placed on November general election ballots. This means that an initiative or referendum measure that qualifies in time to be heard for the June ballot would not be heard at that time, but in November. The amendments would give the Council the power to decide if a qualified initiative or referendum measure would be submitted to voters earlier, either at the June election or a separate stand-alone election; however, the Council is not required to consider that option.

 

The council is considering having an earlier special election this coming November, that will also include the Transient Occupancy Tax to fund the Convention Center expansion. The reason for this is simple. The electorate that shows at special elections is tiny, trends older and whiter, from mostly north of the 8. This measure would benefit many of the developers, and it stands to reason that they would like to have such a self-selected group.

When one considers all these factors, the Soccer City plan starts to look far more like a deal for a few people that will benefit a few people. It also includes those who have donated to the Mayor’s campaign.

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