SoccerCity signature-gatherers are all over town telling people that the Qualcomm development deal  will add a stadium for San Diego State University and bring a Major League Soccer team to San Diego.
The team of private investors behind the deal have been constantly hitting the news and social media with their message. They say San Diegans can be assured there will be no public subsidies. They are telling us it will create tens of thousands of jobs and bring in an estimated $2.8 billion. Residents are being asked to come up with the names for the soccer team.
These are bright and shiny baubles being waved in front of us right now. But just like any good magician, as one hand draws attention to the shiny objects, the other hand is manipulating the part of the trick that no-one is supposed to see.
The actual language of the SoccerCity ballot initiative is very long and dull, so people might be tempted to take these private investors at their word.
I did read the initiative, though, and to me the text does raise some concerns.
There is the promise that no public monies will be permitted in the deal.
The initiative essentially says the mayor is allowed to ignore any of the rules or requirements if the professional sports team doesn’t like them. I’m sure the professional sports team won’t like that there are no public subsidies. Think the team will like paying for infrastructure for the project, or mitigating for the traffic impacts? How about indemnifying the city?
The reference to a “sports league” is interesting. The language doesn’t say a soccer league – just a sports league.
Just in case the mayor wants an NFL team instead of a soccer team, the initiative says space is to be reserved so that he can accomplish that goal. If he chooses to bring in an NFL team, he can override any of the rules and regulations.
Putting it simply, the initiative makes it possible – even easy – for the mayor to bring in an NFL team and provide them whatever terms are needed to satisfy them in either their lease or purchase of the land. The deal could include public subsidies.
Regarding the river park mentioned in the title of the initiative, the proposal says the developer is required to pay $40 million for the construction of the park. If their lease is not signed, sealed and delivered by Dec. 31 of this year, just nine months from now, and one month from the election where this will be decided by the voters, then that amount goes down to $20 million. We must assume that the cost to build the river park will be around $40 million, so how will the park be built if they only have to pay $20 million? The initiative doesn’t answer that.
But even more important is the fact that if the lease isn’t signed, sealed and delivered by December of this year, there will be no requirement as to when the park will be constructed. The obligation of the entity will no longer be subject to any deadlines for the park’s construction. This would be a 99-year lease. It seems to say the developer could put off building the park until the 98th year of the lease. That would be the year 2116.
There is another big caveat when it comes to the river park. The initiative says that whoever signs the lease agreement, will construct the park using either the $40 million or the $20 million as was described earlier, but only if all permits from the state and federal governments are finalized within 18 months of the signing of the lease. If they don’t receive the permits by then, they don’t have to build the park. They just have to deposit the money into a city fund. The city can then choose to use that money for the river park or not.
Also in the initiative is the lease or sale of the former Chargers Practice Facility in Kearny Mesa. The Kearny Mesa community plan has a very sensible restriction on construction in the area around MCAS Miramar and Montgomery Field that ensures development is compatible with the use of those airports. But the initiative changes that community plan to say that hotels built at the former practice field won’t need to be compatible with the use of MCAS Miramar and Montgomery Field airports. I find that regulation to be strange. It would be unfortunate if this plan allowed for the disruption of activities at those two important areas of our city.
This is how I read the fine print in the initiative that is hiding behind the shiny objects being waved around in front of the public. There needs to be much more thought put into the initiative, many more public discussions and the voters need to be fully aware of what they are giving away with this fast-tracked project.
Theresa Quiroz is a planning commissioner and former redistricting commissioner for the city of San Diego. Quiroz’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here