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The university is motivated by expanding higher education opportunities and its campus, while the investors have an entirely different motivation. This critical difference led directly to failed negotiations over the Mission Valley site.
This post has been updated.
As San Diego voters learn more about the San Diego State University/SoccerCity negotiations, I’d like to further explain SDSU’s choice and help them understand why the university walked away from those negotiations. Scott Lewis’ story is right — SoccerCity and SDSU were close to an agreement on the redevelopment of the SDCCU stadium site. But as negotiations continued, it became evident that the two visions for the site could not be more different, something that can be seen more clearly today in comparing the plans presented by SDSU and SoccerCity. SDSU is motivated by expanding higher education opportunities and its campus, while the FS Investors group has an entirely different motivation. This critical difference led directly to failed negotiations. In the end, SDSU ultimately refused to agree to a deal that was antithetical to the university’s growth potential.
I accepted the interim president appointment at SDSU in spring 2017, shortly after talks between FS Investors and SDSU ended. While I wasn’t a participant in the discussions, I oversaw the fallout. I knew that SDSU leadership — led by my predecessor, Elliot Hirshman — and the other SDSU parties involved participated in good faith with the intention of coming to an agreement with FS Investors. Nevertheless, frustration with FS Investors’ refusal to negotiate some of the terms of the deal, combined with a lack of transparency, began to overshadow the discussions.
Lewis accurately portrays the three main reasons this partnership didn’t succeed. However, it was never SDSU’s intention to “block the deal,” as SoccerCity’s lead organizer suggested. Instead, it became clear to SDSU leadership that FS Investors had no intention of being an equal partner. Not only did they attempt to get SDSU to pay for campaign costs, which as a public agency it is not permitted to do, they demanded a 50/50 split on all costs while only offering the university unusable land parcels in exchange. Further, while attempting to continue negotiations, SDSU representatives asked to review the text of the actual SoccerCity initiative — the legally binding document forming the foundation of the entire project. Those requests were repeatedly ignored by FS. With no explanations forthcoming, university leadership decided that they could not sign on to a plan they hadn’t even seen, let alone one that didn’t benefit SDSU’s current and future students, or San Diego residents.
Seeing the door swinging closed on SDSU’s opportunity for expansion if SoccerCity moved forward, community leaders and university supporters came to me with an idea. The group was exploring the pursuit of an alternative ballot initiative, which would provide SDSU and our region with the best overall design for the best and highest use of the Mission Valley land. It was the only way the university could acquire the site, a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The article is correct; I did not object. I could not envision a situation where the university stood by as a group of investors forged ahead with plans contrary to the best interests of our city and the university. However, as a public institution, SDSU could not draft and campaign for a competing initiative.
As a result, the Friends of SDSU came together to craft a straightforward initiative that provides San Diegans an opportunity that is transparent, requires public input and enables the university to grow while protecting the surrounding community from unmitigated environmental impacts. These are all things missing from the FS initiative.
Our SDSU team worked diligently to produce SDSU Mission Valley, a visionary plan for a vibrant campus expansion on the Mission Valley stadium property dedicated to the future success of our student body and the region. I’m honored by the overwhelming community support to make this vision a reality.
When I took office, more than 34,000 students and families had chosen to invest their futures in SDSU. I believed, and still do believe, it was imperative to ensure that same opportunity would be available for future generations. That’s what it comes down to for me — supporting a plan that best serves the public good and is the best choice for current and future San Diegans. I am proud of and inspired by the integrity with which SDSU and its champions, the Friends of SDSU, have conducted themselves throughout this process. I look forward to supporting Measure G, the SDSU West initiative, on Election Day.
Editor’s note: The SoccerCity partners have produced undisputed evidence that they provided SDSU officials with both the municipal code changes and the specific zoning plan well before the initiative became public. Those parts would comprise the most important, legally binding part of the SoccerCity initiative. They acknowledged, however, that they never sent the full, page-by-page initiative to the university as it would appear in public and now on the ballot.
Sally Roush is the former interim president of San Diego State University.