In coming weeks, the San Diego City Council will make a landmark decision that impacts the legacy of our city: whether to approve FS Investors’ SoccerCity plan to develop the Qualcomm Stadium site outright or put it on a future ballot.

I will vote to place the initiative on the November 2018 ballot and, at that time, I will vote no on SoccerCity. In the meantime, I am advocating for a fair and transparent process in which developers submit proposals for extensive public review and input.

Commentary - in-story logoDetermining the future of the Qualcomm Stadium site is a once-in-a-lifetime gift for San Diegans. I want to ensure that this valuable piece of land in the heart of San Diego is utilized to the maximum benefit of our city and region. This 166-acre parcel is centrally located and includes access to public transit. It provides opportunities for expanding the San Diego State University campus, creating park space along the San Diego River, developing affordable and middle-income housing, recruiting a professional sports team and other uses that SoccerCity would prohibit us from envisioning.

Ballot-box land-use decisions bypass important environmental and fiscal reviews and limit the city’s ability to negotiate a fair deal for taxpayers. This sort of arrangement sidesteps government oversight where it is most critical.

Recent columns and news articles have outlined the many flaws in the initiative, including potential traffic gridlock and at-best hazy details about the developers’ obligations. City Attorney Mara Elliott recently opined that the SoccerCity initiative provides no guarantee that a professional soccer stadium or river park will ever be built and that taxpayers may end up on the hook for significant environmental contamination cleanup costs.

Ultimately, San Diego soccer lovers might turn out to support a plan that does not even guarantee us an MLS team. Without a stadium or a professional sports team, SoccerCity becomes just another development in Mission Valley.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

The recent news that SDSU ended negotiations with FS Investors is alarming. SDSU is well on its way to becoming a top 50 public research institution, and leadership is clear that this proposal does not meet their academic nor athletic needs. Consider that in the 1950s, the city gave land to UCSD and zoned the surrounding area for research and development. Over the decades that followed, UCSD and the surrounding research institutions laid the groundwork for our innovation economy. I wonder what San Diego might look like in 50 years if we took the time to thoughtfully shepherd a project that is economically beneficial, socially responsible and affirms our city’s identity as an international hub for innovation.

Competition is essential to good business, and we must solicit multiple proposals. It is never a good idea to sign on the dotted line when someone is pressuring you with the threat of now or never. It would be a calamity to approve a plan because we were swindled into believing it is our only option.

My approach requires that a competitive process be done expeditiously. We must act swiftly, but with full comprehension of the fine print and the informed buy-in of the community. I urge the city to support a fair and transparent process. Most of all, I look forward to seeing a once-in-a-lifetime project, with community input and buy-in, take root in Mission Valley and create a legacy that our grandchildren can be proud of.

Barbara Bry is the city councilwoman representing District 1.

    This article relates to: Opinion, SoccerCity

    Written by Opinion

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    29 comments
    Daniel Smiechowski
    Daniel Smiechowski subscriber

          Here is my scoop. I don't see the NFL in San Diego's future. I do see soccer in our City. The social and demographic trend is toward soccer. Let the voters decide in November 2018. San Diego can wait and we must not be held hostage to time constraints. I am a candidate for D2 SD City Council. I will be on the ballot next year and need your support. Having a second home in France with many overseas contacts, I will bring foreign soccer to our City if only for guest venues. I believe in soccer. Thank you, Group of 1000 to elect Daniel "Danny" Smiechowski to SD City Council    

    craig Nelson
    craig Nelson

    David Dunbar is not an uncommon name, so I will assume he is a concerned citizen who is really excited to (maybe) see minor league soccer.  The cynic in me can't help but wonder if it's not the same David Dunbar who works for the Private Equity firm FS which stands to make hundreds of millions on this sucker city land grab?? Surely if it were he would disclose that ...then again FS didn't think it important to disclose at least 25 clandestine meetings with the Mayor, so perhaps it's none of our business. 

    For disclosure, I am an SDSU Alum and I don't stand to make millions. 

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    It will be interesting to see what FS Investors do if its initiative cannot be put on the ballot until November of 2018. After arguing that its proposal has to be addressed by voters this year in order to get an MLS team, will they withdraw their initiative once its too late to get an MSL team, or keep working to force it onto an early special election ballot. Once the issue of obtaining a soccer team evaporates, SuckerCity will be revealed for what it has always been, a land grab by rich La Jolla hedge funds manager trying to make a bundle at the city's expense. Vote no on this Sucker, when and if it ever goes on the ballot.

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    It’s More Than Just Soccer.


    Like the Chargers debacle, it’s another end-run around the will of the people by some rich guys looking to get richer.


    In this case, they’re younger than usual.They drive Tesla’s; wear Tommy Bahama.They have MBA’s.No Guido glasses among them.They probably drink craft beer.IPA?


    But the game is the same:


    Step 1: Buy backroom access to a measly mayor and his toadies.


    Step 2: Announce your plans with airbrushed soft-light renderings that leave out the blight of the freeways.


    Step 3: Focus your marketing on timely glitter to distract citizens from the money you’ll make at their expense:


    ·A riverfront park!

    ·A place for a college football team no one watches to play!!

    ·An entertainment district!!!

    ·And the latest local buzzword, drum roll please, affordable housing!!!!


    Step 4: Field a soccer team so the media can attract readers and ratings to boost its advertising revenue and give you editorial support to your plan.


    Step 5: Hire the homeless to gather signatures so you can put your idea to a public vote.


    Step 6: Subvert the will of the people by creating an artificial deadline for a vote.


    Step 7: Have the measly mayor give an empty, smiley, sun-drenched speech promoting the plan and ignoring how much money you’ll make.


    Step 8: Run slick TV ads featuring the glitter.Do not talk about how much money you’ll make.


    Soccer City may be a good idea or not.But one thing’s for sure, it’s another soak-the-taxpayer scheme advancing under the premise that money can subvert the democratic process.


    Everyone knows it.Some are willing to say so.Others are willfully turning a blind eye

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    The urgency of this vote is one that is totally fabricated by the proponents who obviously stand to make a lot of money from this public land, as evidenced by the money they were willing to pour into the signature gathering process. It is well documented that MLS is in on very shaky ground financially. The canard that we must make a decision now or will lose a golden opportunity is just that. MLS will be just as interested in having a team in San Diego in 2018 as now, perhaps even more so, assuming they are still in business. As for some of the comments here, it certainly appears to me that there are quite a few well coordinated messages pushing the proposal, which hearkens back to the well coordinated signature gathering.

    Daniel Smiechowski
    Daniel Smiechowski subscriber

    Let the voters decide in November of next year when there will be a larger turnout. I attended the Mission Valley Planning Group meeting with FS investors and quite frankly like the river park, housing and soccer stadium but remained concerned over SDSU not being a partner. We ought to encourage SDSU to return as a viable partner. Our City Fathers must have more vision and this in part is why we lost our San Diego Chargers. It seems to me, City Councilmembers lose sight of the greater whole.    

    Jeremy Hansen
    Jeremy Hansen

    Very disappointed in my representative, Ms. Bry. I can see it now - still a parking lot 10 years from now, with the public having thrown away $200 million just in the annualized cost of owning the property, not to mention the immense opportunity costs lost versus having it developed and generating revenue. Finally it will get developed into more generic mission valley apartments and condos and hotels, at triple the density proposed today because development costs continued to rise while nothing happened for 10 years. How many times must we watch history repeat itself?

    David Sintetos
    David Sintetos

    A lot of misinformation and negative light being shine on a project that when read makes so much sense for this city. Please see these facts in the link here. https://i.imgur.com/hM9WoEn.png


    These are  are summed up list of facts, which are backed in their proposal. If there is any ambiguity left, which I am sure there is in proposal of this magnitude, it comes down to if you trust FS or not. YES they are investors. Does that make them some con artists, which is what some lead us to believe? NO it does not. Watch local news interviews, go on their facebook page, or website. There is a ton of local pieces of media to look at and discern if these guys are trustworthy. I see nothing but good guys who want to do right by San Diego and give everyone from Oceanside to Tijuana something to bond together and benefit in. Will they make money yes. Does that make them bad? No.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    @David Sintetos I keep hearing and seeing the word "trust" being thrown around on this Soccer City debate.  I don't know the Soccer City group or the SDSU group from a hole in the wall, so it's not for me to trust anyone. I am going to assume there are honorable people on both sides of the debate.  I have nothing against the profit motive or the philanthropic one either.  Trust is not the issue.


    I did not read the 3,000 page proposal but I did read the City Attorney's letter and from what I can tell it raises legitimate concerns about the project.  I am mindful that no matter what project  gets built on the Qualcomm site there will most likely be glass tower office buildings and Archstone-like apartments and condos, just like pretty much every other development in town. A concern of mine is the Citizen's Initiative process which bypasses normal city review.  Also it allows for signature gatherers to say anything they want to get a name on the line as it is dollars in their pocket.   I was approached once and was told about the soccer portion.  Nothing  was mentioned about the offices and condos.  Others were pitched on the idea that SDSU would be able to play football despite the fact that wrongly or rightly, no agreement had been reached regarding SDSU's involvement.


     I am also bothered that a third party is dictating when the vote should take place.  I really wonder about the "deadline".   In Miami, David Beckham has been given extension after extension to get his project done. MLS credibility is a bit strained when it comes to telling communities when it has to get something done.


    FS Investors may have a wonderful plan.  But ramming it through is not in anyone's best interest, except maybe themselves.

    Jon Adams
    Jon Adams

    Let us, the city residents decide.


    Also, you are misinformed. Without a soccer team the land goes back to the city and FS walks away and you can have your RFP that would likely see SDSU without a home for football since nothing in this city seems to get done and especially not within a 2 year time frame (they have no home in place after 2019).

    craig Nelson
    craig Nelson

    @Jon Adams The City Attorney disagrees with you. According to the City Attorney , FS can control the land without coming through with either a park or a soccer field or team. Not my opinion, City Attorneys. 

    SDSU has multiple options on where to play football, including QCOM and PETCO. Holiday Bowl has already signed contracts to play in PETCO. 

    Jon Redick
    Jon Redick

    Councilperson Bry categorizing SoccerCity as a "calamity" is irresponsible rhetoric that hints her interests may run deeper than a personal opinion.

    San Diego has an opportunity to add a valuable franchise in the world's fastest-growing sport, with the greatest American player of all time as co-owner and operator.

    The "other options" she suggest holding out for are the usual lineup of conservative billionaires--Manchester, Fenton and the like--and their shopping centers and high density condo developments.

    Do you honestly believe that moving on from the SoccerCity proposal will bring parks, jobs, and SDSU expansion?

    There is an irreplaceable cultural impact to this opportunity. San Diego children could grow up with a new generation of sports heroes. Our city could host international tournaments. The entire Tijuana/San Diego region has overwhelmingly shown support of soccer.

    This isn't about what to do with Qualcomm in the public's interest.

    Councilperson Bry (and others), this is about you fighting for your wealthiest constituents and donors. The SD county developers. Period.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Jon Redick  --A valuable franchise?  One that has been predicted--by FSI, no less--to operate at a loss?  (And a sizeable one at that)  A valuable franchise in a league where 10 of the teams lost money last season (according to Forbes), which include 6 teams that have been in MLS since 1998 or earlier?

    craig Nelson
    craig Nelson

    Well put Barbara Bry!  Don't let San Diego fall prey to another carpetbagging developer. San Diego is like Charlie Brown hoping that Lucy (Spanos/FS Group) wont pull out the football yet again. 

    Let's have these New York City corporate raiders compete for the Mission Valley land against people who have successfully built projects in San Diego - John Moores (Petco Park, the Omni, Tony Gwynn Stadium) , PaPA Doug ( Marriott towers, Hyatt, Del Mar Grand) , Dennis Cruzan ...heck even invite these Pirates from the East Coast to bid for the project ...but make them compete , not be handed the keys to Mission Valley for $10,001.  

    By the way , 25 secret meetings with the Mayor is not competition. 

    David Dunbar
    David Dunbar

    Councilperson Bry is using ambiguous and misleading rhetoric to basically argue that her speculation that there may be a better offer in the future is a good reason for killing a very good offer that exists right now. There is nothing in her approach that requires that a competitive bid process would occur “expeditiously” when the Soccer City opposition supporting her position, developers, Sudberry and Fenton, and SDSU all have an interest in letting the property sit idle for years in the future while the developers market their existing Mission Valley projects, and SDSU crawls toward their 35-year build-out plan.Government provides many benefits for us as citizens, but speedy decision-making processes are rarely one of them.Meanwhile, the site is costing us $12 million or more every year it sits in its present condition.The Soccer City proposal was announced as soon as the Chargers announced their plan to move in January.We now are in June of this year and no other credible developer has come forward and said we have better plan for the property and we need some more time to finish it up.Based on the reports of meetings with the Mayor and other City representatives, the Soccer City group had the foresight to be working on this for two years before the Chargers announced their departure.If Councilperson Bry means 5 to 10 years from now when she says “expeditiously” then I would believe that. 

    She also says the process “… provides opportunities for expanding the San Diego State University campus, creating park space along the San Diego River, developing affordable and middle-income housing, recruiting a professional sports team and other uses that SoccerCity would prohibit us from envisioning.”This is a rather disingenuous statement when all those listed things are included in Soccer City’s proposed development.Does she really believe that some developer is going to propose to pay more than fair market value for the property?Does she really believe that another developer will propose to build the River Park right away like FS Investors has when no other developer, e.g. Sudberry and Fenton, has ever done so previously. She also should know that the City's Climate Action Plan will force any other proposals to be merely variations on the theme that FS Investors have proposed, and, in my opinion, likely to be less desirable and greatly delayed variations on that theme.

    Why should her list of speculative “what ifs” be more credible than the very specific and well-researched and planned FS proposal.Does she really believe that San Diegans, Mike Stone, Steve Altman and Peter Seidler, the principals, who have quietly donated millions to charitable causes in San Diego (including SDSU) and other places, and have long since made their fortunes are now trying to “swindle” the community in which they and their families live?I hope that her comment that “It would be a calamity to approve a plan because we were swindled…” was no more than a careless effort at tryinhg to be persuasive and not her belief about these San Diego Citizens who previously have given generously of their money and time to important causes in San Diego.

    Councilperson Bry says nothing about disenfranchising the 100,000 plus registered voters who have affirmatively acted to request the right to vote on this while it still is a meaningful option, not after its opponents have convinced someone to kill it with procedural maneuvering.The cost for a meaningful vote in November of this year is far less than the cost of an extra year of maintaining an obsolete stadium, let alone another 5 to 10 years of doing so.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    @David Dunbar Well thought out.  I too was a bit surprised at Councilperson Bry's comment about attracting another sports team as, at least for right now, FS Investor's have the exclusive rights to MLS.  Not sure what other sports team she was talking about as the chances of the NFL returning to SD are between slim and none.  


    It does seem however that FS Investors has an inside track at City Hall.  Maybe not an improper inside track but one that does look somewhat suspicious.  I get that the neighboring developers are opposed to Soccer City for many self-serving reasons but I am sympathetic to their claim that they had to go through many years of planning, getting city approval and having to make changes because of the city approval system.  There is a reason we have city planners and if I understand this Citizen Initiative process correctly, the normal city planning process will be bypassed, and I'm not sure that is a good thing.


    I have stated in previous comments sections in VOSD that I am uncomfortable with the Citizen Initiative process.  It's meant to bypass environmental considerations and other important  aspects of civic development. I can see an initiative that wants to deal with a policy matter like legalization of marijuana, or something to that effect.  But to put into law a real estate development seems a bit fishy to me.   I'm sure the folks at FS Investors are decent people.  But to me if they want to build something at the Qualcomm site, they should have to go through what other developers have to go through and not "fund" their way to a short cut.  I realize this initiative process was done in Inglewood for the Rams/Chargers stadium and in Carson for the now defunct Chargers/Raiders stadium.  But San Diego is a major metropolitan area and it's real estate assets should be handled with due care.  Flashing a shiny object in front of the voters is not the way to go.


    And as to whether the initiative should go on the 2017 or 2018 ballot, one of the few things that has been passed by the voters in recent years, and by an overwhelming margin, was Measure L, which  would require such things like Soccer City to be put on a general election ballot.  It is my feeling that the spirit and the letter of Measure L should be respected and that November 2018 is the proper time for the vote.  I agree with Councilperson Bry that the city should not be forced to comply with a deadline imposed by an outside party.

    Hilary Nemchik
    Hilary Nemchik

    @David Dunbar,

    thanks for your thoughtful critique. I notice that Dave Dunbar is listed as a Partner at FS Investors. If you are the same David or are affiliated with him, I understand why you disagree with Councilmember Bry’s assessment of the SoccerCity proposal.

    Councilmember Bry believes in a fair and transparent process that upholds the law and the will of the voters. In November, 2016, Measure L passed by almost 2/3 – 305,638 San Diegans voted to place citizens' initiatives and referendum measures on the General Election ballot when voter turnout is substantially higher.

    Councilmember Bry wholeheartedly supports the right of everyone who signed the SoccerCity petition to cast their ballots in November 2018 in accordance with Measure L. The Councilmember also encourages FS Investors to participate in the proposed RFP process.

    The magnitude of the decision of what to do with the Qualcomm site warrants a thoughtful process and the input/buy-in of community residents. It is hasty to assume that we have already arrived at the best (and only) option for a site that will impact our City for generations to come.




    David Dunbar
    David Dunbar

    @Robert Cohen @David Dunbar It is always nice and usually a mild surprise to have a civil discussion about a political issue on a message board, even at VOSD.  I think you have articulated the competing policy interests more clearly than Councilperson Bry did.  From a theoretical perspective I would agree with your preference for avoiding the initiative process for most land use decisions.  However, I think this will be a circumstance where a better theoretical approach will lead to a worse practical result.  FS Investors has had both the good fortune and the forethought to avail itself of a process with the initiative that was not available in the past. For me, I have concluded that cost to the City and probable result of an RFP process followed by the usual development approval process will produce a far less desirable result than the immediate opportunity that FS has created with its initiative.  If someone had a good working crystal ball we would know what the right answer is.  Until that happens there is plenty of material in this over which reasonable minds may differ without impugning  the character of any of the presumably well-intentioned parties on both sides of the issue.

    David Sintetos
    David Sintetos

    @Hilary Nemchik @David Dunbar A 2018 election is too late though. MLS will decide on expansion teams by December. I get not wanting a special election and measure L. But there is a very real deadline for this opportunity that calls on a special vote and measure L has special provisions for such. 


    If soccer city fails at the vote it fails but it at least needs a chance for citizens to decide on, not a few council-members who were voted in when the Chargers were still around and without these unforeseen circumstances.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    Theoretically, it may be a good idea, but unfortunately there is nothing theoretical about the initiative itself.  If it passes, it's the law.  No changes can be made to what is in the proposal.  That is, among other reasons, why this process is troublesome to me.  Getting signatures based on the promise of a new stadium that,  oh by the way, will host SDSU football when no agreement has been reached; a third party imposed deadline, when in Miami, the MLS seems to give extension after extension; an early and well publicized promise by the FS spokesperson that fair market value will be paid for the property and then later saying well, fair market value after a myriad of deductions, and a circumvention of Measure L.  Just because FS Investors has a path that no previous developer has had does not make it the right path.  I'm sure  the investment group is honorable and I'm sure the folks at SDSU are honorable as well, but the way this process is playing out is not a good look for the project.

    David Dunbar
    David Dunbar

    @Hilary Nemchik @David Dunbar I am a little late back to the party, but I can assure you that I am not the David Dunbar of FS Investors, unless he also claims to be a retired senior citizen who has been a San Diego resident for 49+ years.  Also, sadly, I am not related to the David Dunbar who founded the Buick Motor Company.  I notice that you don't mention that you are Councilperson Bry's communications director. (When curious use google).  We all have biases that affect our analysis of the issues and should not try to hide them from others interested in the issues.  I see Craig Nelson also wonders if I am the same FS Investors person and am therefore interested in bring MLS soccer to San Diego and "making millions" in the process.  In fact, I am a fairly casual soccer fan and, after a lot of reading, am intellectually committed to the FS Investors plan as very good plan for the property, and very emotionally committed to having a River Park created there that I might actually be able to use and enjoy in my life time.  There are many areas in urban San Diego away from Balboa Park and Mission Bay that are woefully underserved with park land.  In the past we have made a mess of the San Diego river course and this is an opportunity to undo that and create a significant park now, not 10 or more years in the future.  My motivation for commenting on this is that I want to see a park there and I want to see it sooner not years later.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    Unfortunately, it IS the only option.  At least as of now.  This is where the city screwed the pooch, as the Qualcomm site should have been opened up for RFP's the day the NFL team that used to play here up and left for LA.  Fortunately, I still think the RFP process will happen, but the city will have lost almost a year's worth of time by not doing this in January like they should have.

    Jeremy Hansen
    Jeremy Hansen

    I keep wondering why the other developers don't stop crying like babies and funding opposition campaigns, and instead come up with their own plan. This proposal came out in January, and not another real proposal yet? I saw Manchesters white paper a couple months back, full of bad ideas. Maybe there just isn't a better idea out there, and we are making a huge mistake if we destroy this one.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Jeremy Hansen  --Perhaps if the city had opened up the site to RFP's, there might actually be other proposals.

    John Horst
    John Horst

    We need to do with the Q what we did with Liberty Station...