As local experts, pundits and writers have publicly debated the SoccerCity proposal for the Qualcomm site in Mission Valley over the last few months, a cultural battle is looming in the background.

Commentary - in-story logoUnion-Tribune sports columnist Nick Canepa epitomizes one side of this battle. Canepa’s anti-soccer rants crystallize a larger, negative spin about SoccerCity that many locals have embraced. His March 26 column lamenting the loss of the Chargers lashed out at San Diegans now “content to read books like ‘Soccer for Dummies.’”  Canepa, a football guru, makes no secret about his scorn for all things soccer, claiming, for example, that Soccer City is “another community blunder waiting to happen,” since “we need another 30,000-seat stadium … like we need an ocean.”

Meanwhile, a phalanx of urban planners, designers and public policy experts has joined the chorus of SoccerCity critics. Former Center City Development Corporation chair Kim Kilkenny has argued for transparency and clarity over the many questions about the SoccerCity proposal.

City planning commissioner Theresa Quiroz opined that there are some “troubling issues hidden in the fine print of the SoccerCity Plan.”

Fair enough, but where were these prudent voices a year ago when a deeply flawed urban development plan called the Downtown Stadium Initiative, the plan for the Chargers’ convadium, was rushed onto the ballot box in the eleventh hour, making all sorts of dubious claims about being tied to downtown renovation and to the well-being of the East Village community? If ever a plan raised questions about land use, environmental impact or the use of public monies by a private entity, the Chargers’ Measure C was it.

Is there a cultural bias here? Would critics be parsing every minute detail or dissenting as loudly if the FS Investors’ SoccerCity plan were called Football City? I wonder.

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

Too many experts are missing the cross-border argument for SoccerCity.

Mission Valley sits just 16 miles from the Mexican border, the gateway to Latin America, where soccer is the most popular sport among 600 million inhabitants. Mexico is our third largest trade partner, to the tune of $500 billion.

We live in a globally connected world. What better way for San Diego to stake out its identity as a multicultural city-of-the-future than to build one of the region’s most innovative and largest urban development projects with a nod toward Mexico’s 5 million soccer fans in northern Baja, who – oh, by the way— live within a two-hour drive of Mission Valley?

Yes, SoccerCity must be carefully vetted, and the details of the development plan judiciously scrutinized. If those details lead officials to reject the plan, so be it. But let’s be clear on what we are actually criticizing. San Diegans need to tamp down on the apparent cultural bias against fútbol.

Tied to the expansion of San Diego State University, this mixed-use project could be an exciting regional destination, a pedestrian-scale urban village with widely spaced paseos, shops, offices, condos, apartments, vibrant Mexican-flavored mercados, outdoor corner bars, open plazas, roaming flower and taco ambulantes and cries of “Gol!” at the nearby fútbol stadium. SoccerCity should look and feel more like Mexico City and less like Kansas City.

Lawrence A. Herzog is an author/editor of 10 books on urban planning and design, received the 2017 Faculty Monty Award for his scholarship and teaching at SDSU, where he has taught city planning for over 25 years, and is currently also associate director of the Center for Latin American Studies. Herzog’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    Off the bat I'll say that I'm a soccer and a SoccerCity agnostic.  Having another sports franchise here would be nice, though I doubt I'll go to any games with the exception of one "let's see what it's like" type visit.  Having said that I take issue with Mr. Herzog's assertion that no voices were raised against the Chargers' plan for downtown.  I recall many voices being raised in protest including the architect of the downtown library.  It was near unanimous that the Chargers' plan was oversized, and a bad use of the site.

    Mr. Herzog also dreams of paseos, mercado's and all sorts of other romantic-type stuff.  All I can say is look at the plan as is Mr. Herzog.  Under the citizen's initiative law as I understand it, the plan that is being presented and put up for a vote is the project that will be built.  It has to by law.  Not much room for modifications or other grandiose plans.  City planners will have to be "hands off" on this one as the design will be mandated by a majority vote.  To repeat one of the most recent obnoxious cliches in the English language, "it is what it is".

    This whole citizen's initiative scheme is very troublesome.  Rich folk eyeing a nice piece of property devise a plan, pay signature gatherers to put it on the ballot, and campaign to get a 50 plus one vote.  And avoid pesky city planning requirements to boot.  A pretty good deal to push through something that may or may not be in the city's overall interest.  But that's the world we live in now.  While I may be agnostic about the actual plan, most likely I will vote "no" because of the way the project is being rammed through.  Better read the plan more closely Mr. Herzog. Make sure you see those paseos listed because if they are not, you'll you just get a street.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Precisely correct, sir, in all these caveats. Ballot-box planning is NEVER a good idea. 

    Whether futbol is, or is not, the right answer for Mission Valley, this one proposal must not be blindly adopted. 

    Also, the city must not allow the argument of 'we have to do it now in order to get a team'. This is not a reason for civic planning, either.

    Please people, think with your brains. Not your feet.

    Oh... and Mr. Herzog: true futbol fans who want to support cross-border trade can simply go to Xolos games. After all, it's only 16 miles away. And, they are already a winning team.

    bgetzel subscriber

    The growing popularity of soccer in this country is undeniable. The team in Seattle, WA typically draws 40,000 spectators. Therefore, Soccer City is very likely to be successful. The problem here is that the City is being asked to make a decision on the disposal of valuable city land without having the foggiest idea of what other opportunities would be available for the site. Yes, sometimes marying the first person you have ever dated works out, but the odds are not good.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @bgetzel  --Seattle draws 40k due to the fact they play in an NFL stadium (and owned by the owners of the NFL Seahawks), and the Pacific Northwest has been a soccer hotbed for many years.  The overall average in MLS is under 22k per game, which coincidentally, is the size of the stadium FSI would prefer to build.

    Jeremy Hansen
    Jeremy Hansen

    San Diego has been a soccer hotbed for years.. the USMNT played a friendly here a few months ago and drew something like 20k - in crummy Qualcomm for an exhibition game. More than double what other cities have drawn in the previous year for similar events. I honestly believe the estimates of demand are low.

    Ron Hidinger
    Ron Hidinger subscriber

    So now that I find soccer boring, I'm a bigot?  Screw you.

    ScottinSanDiego subscriber

    Why isn't there an open Request For Proposals that is lead by the City and evaluated by an independent economic/design selection panel for this city-owned prime real estate? You know, like world-class cities do? Simar to the one for the redevelopment of Seahorse Village. This current 'process' just seems fishy.

    rhylton subscriber

    So Canepa is another one of those football bigots who call football soccer and the other game, where little or no kicking is done, football; so what? The name must be descriptive of the game. And, as I recall it, soccer was a high-brow name. The sports-writer may be in mourning; mourning for the Chargers. No one else will do. Nothing else will do. Boo hoo!

    Perhaps more than half the planet that plays the magnificent obsession, the beautiful game, futbol, so it is OK to call it so.

    Earle Wales
    Earle Wales

    Professor Herzog has touched on some compelling points. Pro Futbol will thrive in San Diego. The latino community is behind this initiative 100%. We are hard working families that will gladly spend our money in Mission Valley. It will be transformed into a true multicultural hub. I am so saddened by the developers that want to kill this project. I'm sure Sudberry and Fenton have children and grandchildren that play soccer. Why would they spend so much money to see pro soccer die in our city? We just got rid of the Spanos family. Are you their replacement? When the proposal wins the vote in November we will invite them to join our supporters club!

    Viva SoccerCitySD!!