The plan to redevelop the Qualcomm Stadium site had already provoked a lot of opposition from titans in local politics. But things got impressively worse for supporters last week when labor union leaders started bashing it.

The same goes for the mayor’s plan to expand the Convention Center and put up a special election this November. In the last 10 days, labor union opposition to the special election has solidified.

Probably not coincidentally, a steady stream of San Diego City Council members has come out against the special election, even while some maintain their support for an expanded Convention Center.

Now the special election that once seemed easy for the mayor to get on this year’s ballot is hanging by a thread, dependent on Republicans supporting it in a block and wooing Democratic Council President Myrtle Cole.

Cole is not talking.

If the special election doesn’t happen, SoccerCity is in terrible trouble. Boosters say it must happen this year for Major League Soccer to consider it.

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

Union leaders say they’re facing both projects with a solidarity unlike anything in the past — they are going to bat for one another and for community groups to secure specific deals and pursue higher ideals.

The bottom line is that they may have killed SoccerCity and upended the mayor’s carefully laid out plan for a November election that would have shaped his legacy and the city for decades.


Carol Kim, political director of the Building Trades Council, a coalition of construction unions, said SoccerCity’s investors approached her group about supporting their plan to build housing, an entertainment district, large riverfront park and soccer stadium at the Qualcomm Stadium site.

They initially talked to Building Trades about constructing the stadium.

“It became evident that there were going to be hotels and many other local workers who could be impacted by the development,” Kim said.

So Kim and her colleagues decided to stand together with unions that might represent those workers.

“That’s what labor is. We stand together on these things,” Kim said. “There were some meetings that happened, and as far as we could tell, it wasn’t going to go anywhere in terms of those type of community benefits we want.”

Kim said that when San Diego State University walked away from negotiations, they decided it was not a good deal for the public and that it should be on the 2018 ballot, when more people vote.

Nick Stone, a partner in the investment group pushing SoccerCity, declined to comment on the negotiations, saying conversations were ongoing. He has said 2018 would be too late for a vote on the project.


The mayor is at his wit’s end. He’s gone on a flurry of media appearances.

He called me. He’s as fired up as I’ve ever seen him. And for the first time, he’s very much alone on some giant proposals that would reshape the city forever if they succeed.

Most important to him right now is to get the special election scheduled for November. A City Council meeting next week could make that very hard to do if the Council doesn’t approve a budget to pay for the election.

He says he’s most perplexed about why people who normally support tax increases and want money dedicated to support homeless services are not coming aboard.

“How do you argue, ‘Yeah, it’s a crisis but we don’t want a dedicated revenue source for it — for the first time ever — until at least another year goes by?” he said. “Waiting a year makes absolutely no sense.”

Friday, his office put out an analysis.

“A new financial breakdown shows a projected revenue loss and cost impact of more than $75 million if a public vote on the tourism ballot measure is delayed for a year,” it reads. The total is a summation of the higher costs for building the expansion of the Convention Center the more time goes on and the opportunity cost of not spending on homeless and streets needs now.”

Faulconer said he went to bat for the measure and “spent a lot of political capital” bringing his Republican allies and the hotel industry along on the plan to invest in streets and homelessness.

“Big cities, when you have an opportunity, you move, man,” Faulconer said.


Faulconer dismissed the emerging criticism from labor and its allies that there should not be a special election because of last year’s Measure L, which requires new ballot initiatives to go on general election ballots in November.

There’s an exception for special elections that the City Council decides should go before voters sooner than the next general election. The mayor says that’s an easy call here, pointing to the homelessness evident on San Diego streets and the need to provide certainty to major conventions considering long-term deals with the Convention Center.

But he brought stakeholders together too late, said Carlos Cota, the leader of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which has members at the Convention Center.

Cota said his union supports an expansion of the Convention Center. But the mayor only brought labor to the table in recent weeks, and there wasn’t enough time to grapple with thorny issues.

And the biggest of those is the fact that there is no longer a contract for the expansion of the Convention Center.

And thus, there’s no project labor agreement like there was before. A project labor agreement is a contract in which a labor union guarantees that a construction effort will have the workers it needs. In exchange, the contractors on the job have to hire workers through the union and pay into union benefit systems.

On May 23, Deputy City Attorney Brant Will sent a memo to the mayor and City Council communicating that the city could not put anything on the ballot guaranteeing that the city would do such an agreement. It would be illegal and a lawsuit would derail the tax increase even if voters approve it, the memo said.

The memo indicates there was a move to put something like this on the ballot. And it may help explain what provoked labor to start vociferously opposing the measure.

But it’s not as simple as that, Kim said.

Labor unions had asked City Attorney Mara Elliott whether the city could even do a project labor agreement. (A 2012 measure banned such agreements. Later, in the face of pressure from the state, the city acquiesced.)

Cota confirmed that a project labor agreement will have to happen to get labor’s support for the construction project but said he doesn’t know how the city could even provide that assurance at this point.

“We’d have to work on it and find a solution that takes time and a lot of work. You have to build trust, and labor doesn’t have complete trust in the mayor’s office,” Cota said. He’s a member of the Labor Council’s executive board.

Cota said the mayor was working hard with them when they finally did sit down to negotiate. “He was being straight with us but frankly, we ran out of time,” Cota said.

But he said the concerns about Measure L are real. And he, like Kim, pointed to a new coalition on the left of civil rights and progressive activists vowing to stick together. Alliance San Diego, for instance, was a major backer of Measure K, a 2016 measure similar to Measure L that says contests for elected citywide offices must be decided during a November general election.

It is one for all, all for one, he said.

“We’re as united as I’ve ever seen.”

    This article relates to: Convention Center, Homelessness, Kevin Faulconer, Must Reads, Politics, SoccerCity

    Written by Scott Lewis

    Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    Bruce Higgins
    Bruce Higgins subscriber

    The opposition of Labor Groups is classic Green Mail.  It is the typical, and very cynical negotiating tactic used by unions to extort a Project Labor Agreement out of any new project.  The unions will raise all sort of objections to a project - bad for the community, traffic, serious environmental impacts, etc., etc. Amazingly, once a PLA is signed all those 'serious concerns' evaporate and the unions are now strong supporters of the project because 'it will bring much needed, high paying jobs to our region.'  This unfortunately, is one of the reasons it is so hard to get anything done in California, these sort of slimy tactics are known and encouraged by both local politicians and the courts.

    Molly Cook
    Molly Cook

    It's offensive to hear Kevin Faulconer play the "homeless and infrastructure" card as a way of promoting this project.  Homelessness and infrastructure problems have been on the table for years and should have been attended to long before this.  Adding them here and trying to sell this huge and unattractive project with a promise of funding for basic human needs is nothing less than tawdry.  The city, under Faulconer's "leadership" has created every possible way to avoid taking responsibility for both homeless and infrastructure problems. 

    How about this?  How about Kevin Faulconer and those wealthy community leaders who want to saddle San Diego with Soccer City (a cheap name to begin with and more suited to a place far from San Diego), come forward and show their money and good intentions by funding homeless housing and infrastructure up front to perhaps gain some traction and support for their grand plans.

    No, I didn't think so. 

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Time for Myrtle Cole to show her true colors. Given that she began her reelection campaign with a big contribution from FS Investors, and the face that she won the city council chair with support from the republicans on the council, I suspect she will throw in the mayor and vote for a special election, regardless of the fact that the city doesn't have the money needed to hold one.  On the other hand, she has kept her seat on the council with a lot of help from the local labor movement, which she would have to throw under the bus in order to go along with the mayor and her republican contributors. If she does, expect to see labor field a strong candidate to take away her seat on the council. She has to decide whether she is really a democrat, or just a DINO. Either way she votes, she is going to make some strong enemies, and may not be able to survive and keep her job.

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    It seems plainly obvious that Faulconer is an ineffective strong mayor.Not surprising given he was elected by only 1/3 of those who voted -- in a primary -- and his blandness appealed to those frightened by the aggressiveness of his predecessor.

    It seems just as obvious that the people who sell big projects in San Diego can’t figure out how to simultaneously work in a way that is both transparent and of benefit to the broader community.Their behavior contributes to the perception that developers and the politicians who love them can’t be trusted, and to voter unwillingness to support their ideas.

    The issue right now isn’t necessarily whether to develop the old stadium or expand the convention center, although there are merits and demerits to each.It is how those who wish to persuade us that these are good ideas go about doing their work in relation to gaining our support.

    Here, I think, Faulconer has failed or at least repeatedly missed the chance to succeed.

    The rich guys who develop big projects have failed as well.Mostly because of their arrogance and dishonesty, by which I mean they’re unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious: they’re in it for the money; they need the taxpayer to subsidize their making of the money; their proposals are designed to maximize their profit; and the wealth that will result from their projects will accrue far more to them than to anyone else.

    Even worse, they think no one will notice, or that their civic genius is self-evident, or all that’s really needed is to con voters with some added number of fashionable and excitable baubles and beads to distract us from the screw job buried in the fine print.

    So Spanos offered a Comic-Com museum; and FS partners include a soccer team; the convention center comes with money to fix potholes and the homeless problem; and the Port keeps proposing silly, if not downright goofy, iconic architectural elements that will “put SD on the map of world class tourist destinations”; of course everything rests on the forever promise of “civic pride.”

    But it’s all fluff, and based in insecurity, like spraying new car smell into a used car.San Diego’s big-project sellers want us voter-buyers focused on the momentary thrill and not the persistent oil leak under the hood.

    A special election, whether to meet a wished for deadline put in place by a second tier professional sports league (Has anyone said no and gotten a response?), or a rebuilt convention center sold as a way to spend money now in order to save money later, is simply too dishonest to bear.

    The sellers should come clean starting with Faulconer, although I’ll guess he’s not capable of genuine authenticity. And the rich guys need to realize they’re neither the smartest guys in the room nor essential to our economic future.Both should learn humility and integrity goes a long way in San Diego.

    Pat Seaborg
    Pat Seaborg subscribermember

    I cannot speak for others who are concerned about homelessness, but I can speak for myself as to why the convention center expansion plan will not receive my vote.

    The way to make strides on reducing homelessness is to support a comprehensive plan that uses elements that have worked in other cities.  I know the Regional Task Force has contracted with some consultants that are working on that now. What is needed is for the Mayor to expend his influence capital to advocate for a strategic plan's implementation.  What he has done instead is to say "here will be some money to be spent on homelessness, and you all can figure out how to spend it." Without a commitment to a plan, I see a high potential for that money to be wasted. Wasted money = citizens becoming cynical about funding homeless efforts = no future funding for plans that are well thought out and comprehensive.

    And between you and me, I don't think $5 million is sufficient, given that the lack of affordable housing is a root cause of the increase in homelessness.

    craig Nelson
    craig Nelson

    Scott Lewis, would you ask Nick Stone NYC Robber Baron , since he has stated "2018 would be too late for his land grab" will he confirm that if a special election is not called then he will remove his ballot initiative? 

    He can't have it both ways - it's either too late or it's not.  

    He keeps saying "trust me" , yet it's apparent nobody does. 

    Pretty sure this was the same guy who said City Council must give him the land or it would be too late to get a minor league soccer franchise.

    His lips are moving , you know what that means.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Nelson: My impression is that MLS will be happy to wait. I would guess the initiative will be withdrawn if polling tells them they can't win in 2018; and vice versa.

    John Porter
    John Porter subscriber

    Let me be clear.  All items the city wants will get my NO vote until they fix my road - Cowles Mt. Rd between Jackson and Navajo.  It's fragmented and destroying cars.  The city if failing in it's basic functions.  We need a new administration that focuses on peoples needs instead of huge projects that only enrich the wealthy.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    To put things in context: Comic-Con represents less than 1% of San Diego's annual tourist spending ($150 million of $10 Billion). Do we REALLY need to spend $600 million for a Convention Center expansion to keep 1% of total tourist spending each year -- or could we simply promote all our other fantastic attractions to make up that 1%?

    How 'bout spending $300 million on the deferred maintenance for our tourist magnet, Balboa Park, which generates 6 times as much annual tourist spending as Comic-Con? ("Support(s) the local economy with direct expenditures of $280 million each year" and "Generate(s) a total annual economic impact of $885 million to the San Diego regional economy")

    How 'bout spending $300 million to build 1000s of innovative (and quickly online) low income housing for the 1000s of service workers who make our tourism economy happen?

    SAN DIEGO: We CAN Be Smarter Than This!

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    Solution:  Forget Sucker City and Amend the Petco Park Ballpark Lease titled "Joint Use and Management Agreement  (JUMA)" dated February 1, 2000, and JUMA Amendment 1 dated May 21, 2012 to allow a new Major League Soccer (MLS) team and SDSU Football to play at Petco Park forever.  Easy. 

    The JUMA Lease for Petco Park includes:

    Section 5.2.4.  The Padres shall not hold or sponsor any Football Game at the Ballpark Property.

    Section 5.4.4.   The City shall not hold or sponsor any Football Game at the Ballpark Property.

    The Padres already have a Sublease Agreement with SDSU to allow College Football for 2018-2019, and a separate Lease Agreement for the College Football's Holiday Bowl.  

    Thus the Padres have violated the JUMA Section 5.2.4 outlawing Football games by their side agreements with SDSU and the Holiday Bowl.  Great news. 

    Therefore the City can violate the JUMA Section 5.4.4 and allow SDSU Football for 2020 and beyond. 

    Petco Park has already allowed Soccer, Rugby, Tennis, Supercross, etc.

    The No Football Sections were added to the JUMA Lease in 2000 "partly because of safety concerns with the field layout... The main reason... was because one of the end zones would have been only a few feet from the outfield wall and there was a fear of increased injury risks."

    "According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the Padres are working with architects on stadium seating solutions to accommodate college football fans at their home venue." 

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @La Playa Heritage  --You are correct.  All those other sports were played there.  None of which were against the MOU.  However, soccer and rugby are no longer played there, and after the field modifications over the years, a football field will not fit within Petco Park.  Not to mention, many of the lower level seats are useless for trying to watch football, unless you enjoy going to a football game and staring at the backs of players on the sideline.

    While the Padres are indeed working with architects to alter Petco Park, do not be surprised if nothing comes of that.

    Further more, (apparently) the Soccer City initiative requires the city to keep Qualcomm Stadium up and running until 2020--even if the initiative passes whenever it get on the ballot, so there would be no short-term need to move either SDSU or Holiday Bowl from the Q.  Long-term, I fully suspect another stadium will be built in MV to allow SDSU and Holiday Bowl to stay there--and it will NOT be built by the city.

    craig Nelson
    craig Nelson

    @David Crossley @La Playa Heritage Padres owner Ron Fowler has stated he will welcome SDSU (he is a big supporter & donor) Football at Petco. They also have signed a contract to have the HOliday Bowl play in Petco , so your concerns about the facility while warranted , have been mitigated. 

    Can you elaborate on "another stadium being built in MV"  ? (and I agree, please don't let the city build anything!) - do you mean in addition to the sucker city proposal or instead of ?? If Sucker City gets its way it will be all condos , office buildings and 3rd rate soccer.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @craig Nelson @David Crossley @La Playa Heritage  --Yes, Fowler will "welcome" them.  For one year.  And Fowler still hasn't shown how he will turn Petco Park into a suitable facility for football.

    In regards to a MV stadium--I think SDSU will end up with what they want, which is additional acreage for campus expansion in MV, and a new stadium seating around 40,000 (and with that, the Holiday Bowl can be played there as well..  I believe there will be other development as well, but not to the extent that Soccer City has proposed.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    @David Crossley @La Playa Heritage The Padres can accommodate the Holiday Bowl more easily because the game is held in December, well after the baseball season (with playoffs) is over.  A temporary change within the venue in December is more palatable to the Padres.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Robert Cohen @David Crossley @La Playa Heritage  --Very aware of that, but I am curious as to how they plan to fit a football field into Petco (after all of the changes have been made over the years to shorten the OF fences), and how they plan to have enough seats available that can actually see the field, rather than the backs of all the people that would be standing on the sidelines.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    They have smart guys running the show at Petco. I'm sure they will come up with something. Maybe they will put advertising banners where the seats have obstructed views and place the field in such a way that 100 yards plus endzones will fit safely so receivers don't run into walls.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Robert Cohen  --Undoubtedly they will.  It just depends on how many million they want to spend to do it.  And should something get built in Mission Valley that can handle a decent crowd for football, say, a 40,000 seat stadium, Fowler and the boys will have just wasted their time and money, while ruining a great baseball park.

    Mystic Traveler
    Mystic Traveler subscriber

    SoccerCity is beginning to look more and more like a scam that San Diego taxpayers are being asked to pay for.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    “Waiting a year makes absolutely no sense.” Oh yeah? planning ALWAYS makes sense. planning is EVERYTHING!

    “Big cities, when you have an opportunity, you move, man,” Faulconer said. Hah. how long did NYC plan the WTC replacement?

    FAUX-con-er... what a maroon.

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    I'm not a big fan of what I have seen on the Soccer City plan.  So I'm happy if it does not get a special election.  

    I am also not a fan of the labor unions getting what they want before anything else can happen.  If Union labor is a good deal for builders and those who employ poeple, then it will be used.  If Unions only succeed when they hold the rest of society's needs hostage, then they are beginning to fail, and that is sad.  

    Just being good at politics does not add value to your members, or to the community that they live in.    

    John Horst
    John Horst

    In the light of One Paseo, Agua Hediona, and Lilac Hills Ranch, I was amazed that the Mayor would stake so much on SoccerCity.  He is apparently getting terrible policital advice from people who have their heads buried so deep in 'data' that they have no idea how deep in the hole the City is when it comes to credibility on projects like these.

    They will, of course, say this project is different from the others.  It does not matter.  Ballot box planning is ballot box planning and has been rejected over and again by the voters, and for good reason.  The City's track record on making sure developers keep their promises is beyond dismal.

    Fool us once, shame on you.  Fool us twice, shame on us.  Fool us over and over again; well, that just means we're all stuck on stupid.

    SoccerCity is a horrible deal.  Even if they get their special election, they will spend millions to get their butts kicked by lightly-funded opponents - again.  And if the City Council has any sense about them, they will stay far away from this hot mess.