Politics Report: What Comes Next for Sports Arena - Voice of San Diego

Politics

Politics Report: What Comes Next for Sports Arena

Here’s the process for deciding the future of that old arena and large parking lot. Plus, how this year’s election will be different (and may still include a property tax hike choice).

Valley View Casino Center / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Go take a look at the two proposals to redevelop the Sports Arena site. Let the renderings wash over you. Imagine that you are the young urban professional posted up at the craft beer courtyard, and that it is your son holding a red balloon by a water fountain. OK, done?

Here’s how the city’s selection process will unfold from here.

  1. The City Council and the general public are encouraged to respond to the proposals over the next few weeks. They can emphasize their priorities, indicate which proposal they prefer, whatever.
  2. A selection committee of city employees will combine that feedback along with their own evaluation of the two proposals, and recommend the winning bid.
  3. The mayor will announce the winning bid as early as late July or early August, and begin formal lease negotiations with the winning developer.
  4. Voters will decide whether to increase the coastal height limit in the Midway area, including the Sports Arena site. Both proposals include buildings taller than 30-foot height limit. The team behind the winning proposal is expected to be heavily involved in the ballot measure campaign – if the measure fails, the whole thing basically falls apart.
  5. If the measure passes and lease negotiations go well – and the global economy doesn’t crater from the pandemic or any other horror we might experience in the coming months – the City Council could have its first and only chance to approve the deal as early as next spring.

That’s that.

Neither Wants to Tear Down the Sports Arena

The Brookfield Properties and ASM Global proposal / Image courtesy of the bidders

Two teams are competing for the chance to go through that gauntlet to get the deal. Neither of them, however, wants to take down the old arena on the property, now known as the Pechanga Arena.

David Malmuth, who’s leading the Midway Sports & Entertainment District team that includes the Loyal soccer team, said they looked into taking down the arena but a new one would cost up to $300 million.

“People we talked to who were interested in a new arena said the city was going to have to pay for half of it, and that’s just not in the cards,” Malmuth said.

Their team says they want to put in $125 million to renovate the existing facility, the bowl inside of it and add concourses while “wrapping it up with a new look.”

The other team, the Brookfield Properties and ASM Global proposal, doesn’t include any specific commitments on the arena, though the rendering makes it look different. ASM has been managing the arena for 12 years. In a written statement, the team said it wanted to see a modern arena in the district eventually.

“The RFP is specifically for the lands surrounding the existing, city-owned Sports Arena. Our team has proposed a variety of options for the property and is committed to working with the City and community members to determine what is ultimately delivered on the property,” ASM Global’s Chuck Steedman wrote.

A Soccer Stadium Too?

The other plan, Malmuth’s team, imagines a temporary soccer stadium on the land to house the San Diego Loyal, the USL team that was hyping a big launch before COVID-19 got in the way.

The idea is to stand up a temporary 15,000-seat stadium immediately on the parking lot while everything else is cooking. The Loyal would play there until they’re so popular they could play in the new SDSU stadium or somewhere else, and the developers could finish building something else on that spot.

“We love the idea of activating the site immediately,” Malmuth said.

The Midway Sports & Entertainment District team’s plan / Image courtesy of bidders

The 2020 Dem Priorities, Based on the New Dem Priority Machine

When Will Rodriguez-Kennedy ran to lead the San Diego County Democratic Party, he promised a new and less capricious system of prioritizing the various local races each election cycle.

The idea was that a formal system could maximize policy victories by adopting a clear long-term strategy, and also minimize the role of personal relationships in prioritizing one race over another.

Rodriguez-Kennedy called it the SANDAG strategy, because it would rank the races that could give the party control of mayor’s offices or city councils that would translate into a seat on the board of the regional planning agency. From there, elected Democrats could pursue progressive policy goals.

We circled back with Rodriguez-Kennedy this week to see which local races had risen to the top this election cycle, thanks to that change.

San Marcos, Vista, El Cajon, Oceanside and La Mesa, Rodriguez-Kennedy said, are the cities where the Democrats see a chance to win seats and flip the representative at SANDAG.

In San Marcos, Mayor Rebecca Jones has been one of SANDAG’s most vocal board members. She has been an ally of County Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar as they’ve argued the agency’s early outline for a new transportation system in the county are too punitive of drivers and residents of the rural and North County areas, as the agency pushes for a transit system that’s competitive with driving. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city – 17,576 to 15,411 – though as in most of the county, the behavior of independent voters (12,499 of them in San Marcos) is a bigger deal than the scant partisan advantage.

In Vista, Mayor Judy Ritter has also aligned with the North County and rural area representatives. There, Democrats again outnumber Republicans, 17,621 to 13,910, but again the independent share is significant, at 12,554.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells has likewise been a reliable vote against SANDAG’s new direction. There, Democrats hold a slim registration advantage – 16,108 to 15,308 – with another roughly 12,000 independent voters.

La Mesa’s City Hall is home to two Democrats – Councilman Colin Parent and Councilwoman Akilah Weber – though Councilwoman Kristine Alessio is an independent, after leaving the Republican Party in early 2017. Alessio had sided with liberals on the board, on both housing and transit issues, but she was recently replaced on the board by Councilman Bill Baber, a Republican. Democrats’ recent success in Council elections in La Mesa is reflected by their registration edge – 15,514 to 9,623 – though the 9,012 independents can still sway any election.

  • There were fireworks at SANDAG this week and – amazingly, after sitting through many years of impressively boring meetings – we missed it. But many of the contentious issues that have dominated the agency in recent years boiled over Friday, with Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey and others walking out of the board meeting over them.

The agency was taking the final step accepting state housing requirements. Many smaller cities have been appealing for a smaller number of homes they need to plan for over the next eight years. When they failed, thanks to a maneuver granted by a recent state law that allows a few large cities that represent a majority of the county’s population to overrule the rest of the board, they walked out.

That’s all we have for now. We’re sorry. We’ll have more on the dust-up next week. Promise.

Five Ways the November Election Could Be Odder Than Ever

Michael Vu, the registrar of voters for San Diego County, talks to reporters at Golden Hall on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Time flies when you’re in a pandemic. Just over four months have passed since Super Tuesday, and now there are just about four months until we vote in November. It’s going to be a mighty strange election. Just how strange? To get the answer, we checked in with VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga, our resident expert on all things weird. Here’s what he found:

  1. You’ve Got (Vote) Mail!

Thanks to an order by the governor, election officials will send mail ballots to every registered voter in the state. (Never mind what the president said. Only registered voters will get ballots, not everyone.)

You might assume this is normal if you regularly get a mail ballot and vote at home. In fact, many voters, about 25 percent in San Diego County, normally don’t get mail ballots because they haven’t signed up to be permanent mail voters. For them, getting a mail ballot – and being able to vote by mail – will be new.

This election is also one of the first that won’t cost you a dime (or, more accurately 55 cents). Mail ballots are now postage-paid, so you won’t need to dig around your junk drawer for stamps. Yes, stamps. Young people: Ask your grandparents.

  1. No More Voting With the Dead (or in Your Neighbor’s Garage)

I used to vote at a polling place in a Clairemont mortuary, where I never failed to make a joke about how it was just like Chicago. You know, where the dead regularly vote. Graveyard humor! Poll workers love that.

Anyway, there won’t be voting at mortuaries this November or at your neighbor’s garage or the pizza parlor or pet groomer’s down the street. That’s because of new rules about where we can – and can’t – vote if we still want to vote in person on Nov. 3.

In another executive order, the governor called on election officials to consolidate polling places while still making sure there’s one for at least every 10,000 people. San Diego County will shrink the number of polling places from 1,548 to 235, and there’s likely to be few, if any, in private buildings.

That’s because each polling place must in a space of at least 2,000 square feet to allow for social distancing and deal with any surge, said Michael Vu, the registrar of voters. Also, officials don’t want to take the risk that the owners of a private building will make a last-minute decision to not host a polling place due to pandemic fears.

  1. Look! Down the Street! It’s a School. It’s a Rec Center. It’s … Superpoll!

The 235 consolidated polling places, known as “superpolls,” will include big spaces like school gymnasiums and recreation centers. Each will be open for voting and staffed by about 15 people for the four days before Election Day. The staffers have more to do this time around and will be paid instead of serving as volunteers. Hundreds of thousands of masks, gloves, face shields and hand sanitizer bottles will be on hand to protect them.

Why would anyone want to vote in person when they could just stay home and vote without even needing to lick a stamp? “Some will be dead-set on a physical polling place,” Vu said, “and some may need to if they’re a person with a disability.”

It’s also possible, in some cases, for voters with disabilities to vote from their car with assistance from a staffer. And homeless voters may find it easier to vote at a polling place than by mail.

Bonus explainer: Yes, the homeless can register to vote. They can use the mailing address of a friend (or relative or homeless shelter) and provide their equivalent of a residential address by pinpointing the cross streets where they live.

  1. You Might Need to Wear Protection to Vote. No, Not That Kind

Touch-screen voting will be available at polling places for certain voters such as a blind person who needs to hear the ballot choices read aloud or those who lost or messed up (“spoiled”) their physical ballot.

But who wants to touch a germy touch screen these days? The registrar is figuring out what to do. Styluses are being considered (I use one to press elevator buttons), as are finger coverings. You know, like a mask but smaller and without all the political brouhaha.

If you’re a longtime local, you may remember getting to stab punch-card ballots with a metal pin. That was fun since you could really let it rip to vote against someone you hated. But Vu says these ballots went away circa 2003.

  1. Results Could Come in Faster. Seriously!

California is notorious for taking forever to count ballots. San Diego County alone could have 1,000-plus races in a general election, meaning that a few nail-biters typically take weeks of counting to resolve. But this time around, things could be different.

The keyword here is “could.” Vu is careful to not be the registrar of predictions. Still, officials now have the ability to begin counting mail-in ballots in the 29 days before the election, not the previous 14 days.

“We still can’t report the results, and we can’t hit the compile button until 8 p.m. on election night,” Vu said. So no peeksies. But this extended process could – maybe, possibly, hopefully, please please please – give us results more quickly.

But the timing is up to you, Vu said. If we all wait to vote until the last minute, we’ll still have to wait for clarity on close races.

So here’s the deal: Vote early, but not often, so election watchers can get some sleep on the big night.

  1. Bonus List: Weird Polling Places

Turns out my former mortuary polling place has lots of company. I asked Vu about unusual polling places, and he responded with a list that includes several mortuaries, a crematorium, a laundromat, a fencing place, an equestrian center, a car showroom, a theater, the Humane Society, a doggie day care center, a grocery store and a Rodeway Inn (room 124, if you’re scoring at home).

And You Still May Vote on the Property Tax for Housing

Dispatch from Lisa Halverstadt: For about three years, housing advocates have hoped for a $900 million affordable housing bond measure that could help fund thousands of homes for homeless and low-income San Diegans. The possible ballot measure’s moment of truth will come Tuesday when the City Council votes on whether to put the property tax increase initially eyed for the 2018 ballot before voters this November.

Doing so will require six votes. Five City Council Democrats have been consistently behind the measure now championed by City Councilman Chris Ward.

City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, once a vocal supporter of the measure, has lately been far less certain since she began campaigning for mayor. She will be the decider of the measure’s fate. While Bry has voted to incrementally advance the measure multiple times, she hasn’t committed to placing it on the ballot. She shocked progressives last week when she voted against extending a moratorium on evictions through September.

The measure would increase property taxes $20.85 per year per $100,000 of value of property people own. So if the county assessor values a home at $500,000, the taxes would go up $104.25 per year. In recent weeks, Ward and housing advocates have argued the bond is more urgently needed amid the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic many fear could lead to increased homelessness.

At a Thursday press conference, the San Diego Housing Federation pointed to a new analysis of 2018 Census data that estimated the county needs 142,590 more affordable rental homes to meet regional demand – up 4 percent since last year’s analysis.

Advocates estimate the bond could fund 7,500 homes for low-income veterans, seniors, families and chronically homeless San Diegans if two-thirds of voters approve it in November, a high threshold for any tax measure to cross.

But first, the measure will have to make it on the ballot. The final measure the City Council will vote on Tuesday includes mandates to produce annual reports on collections and projects funded with bond money and to establish a citizens’ oversight committee partly crafted to try to pull in more supporters, including Bry or perhaps even more right-leaning City Council members.

“San Diego is in a serious housing shortage, one that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We need more housing and the political will to build it,” Ward wrote in a statement. “Considering this measure would inject over $900 million into the housing industry, it is appropriate to have strong oversight in place to ensure tax dollars are spent effectively as we work to bring units online to meet our affordable housing needs.”

Smear Calls Were Commissioned by Rival Republican, Telemarketer Says

Remember the story of a candidate for Assembly in North County, Phil Graham, the Republican who went down in part because of an allegation later proven false? The seat went to a Democrat after Graham came up short in the primary. Our Jesse Marx reported Friday that the man who spread vicious robocalls about it now says he was working for the family of another GOP candidate.

A Note on Last Week’s Report

From Scott Lewis: In last week’s Politics Report, I included a couple links to a tense back and forth that had broken out in the Black activist community, specifically between Rev. Shane Harris and Tasha Williamson. While we often highlight some of these social media moments in passing, this one deserved more context. It wasn’t something I should have sampled from like that and I apologize.

I got this quote from Williamson, whose Facebook post I quoted last week:

“We were two Black leaders having a disagreement over trauma that accumulated over a long period of time. I look to Voice of San Diego to do reporting on systemic changes that need to be made with your great style of investigative work – to get the facts. To drop in on this as you did felt petty, especially when there is a need to center Black people’s struggle with the long system-induced divide that white power structures have created between Black people for decades. White allies should step back unless asked for support.”

And here was a statement Harris sent over:

“My first priority is to acknowledge and converse with Black women who are ready, able and sincere about discussing ideological differences. What is unacceptable under every circumstance are white people jumping into our discussions to tell the Black community who is and who is not worthy of Black support. Being a true ally of our community means supporting our collective work to address longstanding trauma, not taking sides. The statement that the Voice of San Diego made on July 4th was tactless and opportunistic, acting as an instigator in community disagreement. This should not be the standard of reporting on our communities. I am happy to see this apology and look forward to seeing their demonstrated effort to make amends.”

If you have any ideas or feedback for the Politics Report, send it to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org. 

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