A group of private investors is circulating the SoccerCity initiative, which would be one of the largest land transactions and development approvals in San Diego’s history.

Commentary - in-story logoThe initiative allows FS Investors to acquire the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site from the city of San Diego and redevelop it into 4,800 homes, 2.4 million square feet of office space, 740,000 square feet of retail space, 450 hotel rooms, three 330-foot high-rise towers, 55 acres of parkland and a joint-use stadium.

The City Council has already been asked by FS Investors to directly enact the initiative three months from now in June, without a public vote.

If that happens, the initiative avoids public hearings and expert evaluation triggered by the normal environment review and specific plan approval processes.

It also avoids the city charter mandate that voters approve sales of 80 or more acres of public land by limiting FS Investors’ land purchases to 79.9 acres while permitting a 99-year lease of the remaining 86 acres. Private uses will be placed on the 79.9 acres and public uses (parks and streets) on the rest.

The initiative would allow selection of the lessee, approval of the 99-year lease agreement and the sale of 79.9 acres without City Council approval or a public hearing.


Support Independent Journalism Today

It also states “public hearing(s) will not be held” to review “development within the plan area” even though the initiative’s land and facility plans are merely conceptual at this point.

So if the initiative is approved by City Council, opportunities for further public input will be severely curtailed, including decisions about the actual rent payment and the land sales prices. It is therefore critical that the public clearly understand the initiative before it is enacted.

Therein lies the problem. I have read the initiative in detail and don’t fully understand it, even though I have some advantages many others don’t. I am a retired land use attorney. I have drafted, negotiated and implemented documents similar to those contained in the initiative. I’ve even prepared a ballot measure for a private development project. I also served on the Centre City Development Corporation board of directors, which negotiated and implemented agreements for the sale and development of city-owned properties. Finally FS Investors was kind enough to give me an hour and a half of their time to address some of my concerns. In spite of these experiences, or perhaps because of them, I still have many questions.

Fortunately, FS Investors said one of its key goals is transparency, that all questions should be answered and that its wants people to understand the complexities of the initiative. Members of the group have even said publicly they look forward to a “robust vetting process.” Commendable!

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said it’s time to examine the plan in detail to make sure it makes sense for taxpayers. Meanwhile, the San Diego State athletic director has said the university wants to understand what exactly is in the plan. Terrific!

Thus, a common goal of all parties is clarity and transparency. But how do we get publicly accessible answers in a timely manner?

My proposal is as follows:

• Voice of San Diego or some other online site should host a page where FS Investors, the city and SDSU can answer questions from the public (here are my 54 questions).

• San Diego City Council or the Planning Commission should immediately schedule public workshops with FS Investors to answer questions posed by the public.

• Faulconer and/or the City Council should also direct the Planning Department, Department of Real Estate Assets and city attorney to evaluate the impacts of the initiative. The evaluation should be made available at the public workshops and posted online.

• The mayor, city attorney and FS Investors should immediately start drafting the initiative’s lease so that the draft agreement can be made available for public and City Council review prior to the date the Council is asked to act on the initiative.

Kim John Kilkenny is the former chair of the Centre City Development Corporation and executive vice president of the Otay Ranch Company, and is now retired. Kilkenny’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here

    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Opinion

    Written by Opinion

    Op-eds and Letters to the Editor on the issues that matter in San Diego. Have something to say? Submit a commentary.

    6 comments
    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Has the mayor and council members even identified all the partners who make up FS Investors as part of their “robust vetting process.”? WHO ARE THOSE GUYS? Will they divulge their whole membership? What previous deals and projects has the group invested in before? Did FS Investors comply with the law and carry out all their promises when it funded previous projects?  Do any of the partners in FS Investors have criminal records? The city charter has a section requiring that all companies and organizations doing business must fully divulge their membership. The city has never enforced this charter provision since the voters adopted it decades ago. Will the city enforce it in this case?  The voters adopted the charter change when it was discovered that the city hall politicians had been unknowingly been negotiating with a Maria Don. How do we know that history isn't repeating itself?

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    When the project was first announced, FS Investors went to great lengths to say that they would pay fair market value for the property.  It was only later that they defined fair market value as an amount reduced by the costs of  tearing down the present stadium, constructing the park, and other various add-ons.  I can see why they would want to reduce their purchase price by those amounts but they should have said that in the beginning.  A little bait and switch is going on.



    Also, these citizen initiatives are an odd way of enacting public policy.  Announce a plan, publish an unreadable supplement in a newspaper, pay signature gatherers who will say anything to get people to sign, allow the city council to ignore voters, and bypass the normal planning process.  Is this what the original intent of the folks who first started these initiatives were after?  I kind of doubt it.



    Barry Vague
    Barry Vague

    Whose statements do:  "FS Investors said one of its key goals is transparency" and "The City Council has already been asked by FS Investors to directly enact the initiative three months from now in June, without a public vote" sound most like:

    Nancy Pelosi announcing the vote on the Affordable Care Act "to know what is in this bill you have to vote for it"

    or 

    Barrack Hussein Obama in his pre-election mode talking about making his presidency "the most transparent administration in history" ?


    Everybody eagerly awaits Kevin aka "Winky" Faulkner's next words and winks on this initiative.


    Oh Winky, the voters put you in and the voters can stop you from rising. You must demand that the will of the people to be heard and prevail, no winking or crossed fingers behind your back.


    Okay WInky?

    Bruce Higgins
    Bruce Higgins subscriber

    I have found that if someone is pushing you to make a decision RIGHT NOW, usually the best thing to do is to walk away.  If it is a good deal then it will still be a good deal when everyone understands what is going on.  If it is a bad deal, they don't want you looking at it too closely.

    Lastly, the high density development so beloved by urban planners, does not lead to the formation of neighborhoods.  I would argue that above a certain density it is almost impossible to form a neighborhood and what you have is a rabbit warren.  Not the cute one depicted in "Watership Down," but the one with rules, schedules, no one caring about their neighbor or the common facilities, that is the other one depicted in "Watership Down."  The one people where trying to escape from, for good reason.

    vintagevoice
    vintagevoice subscriber

    Where is the text of the petition available? I couldn't find it anywhere on the soccercity website or elsewhere.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    I was told by the signature gatherer today that signing the initiative was to get it on the ballot. Only by pressing him did he say it was to get council approval without going to ballot