OPINION | The High Price of Measure G
WRITTEN BY NICK STONE
Let’s dispense with the notion that a vote for Measure E is a vote against SDSU’s expansion. It’s not.
In fact, SDSU has reduced the number of California students enrolled on campus by 14% since 2007 and earlier this year just approved a plan for an 11,000 student expansion on their current campus. SDSU’s own environmental documents (which took 15 years to finalize) suggest that said 11,000 student on-campus expansion will take the university decades. Largely because, as President De La Torre said recently, growing enrollment requires dollars “from the state’s general fund, tuition and the support of the faculty”.
Campus expansion is not constrained by SDSU being “landlocked”. Expansion (enrollment growth) is constrained by the university’s insufficient funds. That is part of why SoccerCity is offering SDSU a $150 million gift towards the new stadium, which represents more than one half of the University’s total endowment.
It is unquestionable that SDSU can expand to Mission Valley with SoccerCity. The stadium was jointly designed by SDSU and SoccerCity, and the stadium costs for SDSU are substantially reduced with SoccerCity.
Regrettably, developers who don’t want to see SoccerCity move forward convinced SDSU to go it alone. In doing so, they put the full financial burden of a new quarter-billion-dollar stadium and speculative land development risk on the university and its students.
So let’s talk about what a victory for Measure G would mean, in practical terms, for the citizens of San Diego.
For starters, sports fans who recently lost the Chargers will also lose out on Major League Soccer, which has been waiting to see if San Diego is an option for its final expansion team to be awarded in the next several months. The League has all but said San Diego stands to get that team, but only if Measure E passes. And if Measure E’s 100 percent privately funded stadium and free river park aren’t sufficient for America’s Finest City, don’t expect the NBA or NFL to be knocking on San Diego’s doorstep anytime soon. Those leagues are notorious for looking for massive handouts from local governments. Remember 2016’s Measure C?
Taxpayers also lose, as the site will be sold to the university and its private development partners like JMI not at fair market value, but rather, at a price that’s “fair and equitable and in the public interest,” per the initiative. Unlike the $83 million offered for the site in Measure E, the land price under Measure G will be determined by the City Council based on political criteria. Just two years ago, that same site was offered to the Chargers for just $1.00 per year. As we just heard from the SDSU Athletic Director, $83 million is “the starting point” for the value discussion between the University, the developers behind Measure G and the City.
The next huge cost to San Diegans with Measure G lasts the longest and hits the hardest. Revenue from property taxes goes to funding our K-12 schools here in San Diego. SoccerCity will generate an estimated $31 million per year in property taxes. But if the university owns land, as it would under Measure G, it pays no property tax. When the land is leased to private development partners, the developers would pay something called possessory interest tax, which is significantly lower, because the value of the land that remains with the state is discounted from its taxable value.
Over time, this deprives our local schools of hundreds of millions of dollars. Ironically, Measure E is the choice that best supports San Diego schools – hardly the soccer vs. education decision the Measure G team has so aggressively pushed.
SDSU has not released any details of its plans to pay for the land development or the $250 million stadium. There’s good reason to fear SDSU is setting students up for additional fees, because revenue bonds on university facilities are guaranteed by students. That means students are on the hook if the currently secret revenue projections fall short.
The University has admitted it will pay $15 million per year to Wall Street bondholders for a new stadium, yet curiously, SDSU can’t even pay more than $1 million to the city for rent at SDCCU Stadium. With current average attendance of about 22,000 per game (just over 19,000 if you exclude the SkyShow), they’d have to sell every ticket for more than $100 each just to cover the debt payments — never mind the costly stadium operations, maintenance and insurance. It’s another Chargers ticket guarantee waiting to happen, but this time only students will be stuck with the bill.
Then there’s the river park, which under Measure G leaves the 34 acres for the park in the city’s hands, rather than requiring SDSU or its private partners like JMI to build and maintain anything. The SDSU West initiative actually plays a clever sleight of hand trick, promising that SDSU “will cause to be developed” a park, then tacitly admitting it is the city’s obligation by promising not to use the city’s general fund for its construction. Those in the know recognize that the city’s general fund is never used for park construction; funds to build parks come from the separate capital improvements budget.
So what Measure G actually mandates is for the city to raid neighborhood park funds. Measure G proponents have even been so bold as to say about the City’s neighborhood park funds are theirs for the taking.
“If we can get them, why shouldn’t we get them?” - Steve Doyle, Friend of SDSU
In contrast, Measure E would leave community park funds untouched, privately funding the park’s construction and its maintenance for 99 years. The Measure G park is a cynical deception hatched by the same powerful political insiders who’ve developed Mission Valley over the past several decades but left it with significantly less park land than the community deserves.
What else will San Diegans lose with Measure G? Let’s start with $200 million of tax revenue for the city, according to the independent analysis by the Taxpayers Association. That’s less money for library hours, helping the homeless, street repairs, first responders, and the rest of basic services — on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars taken from schools.
Finally, there is the loss of fun for all San Diegans – Major League Soccer and the sports-and-entertainment district surrounding the stadium with restaurants, breweries and live music venues that all San Diegans can enjoy 365 days a year.
All of the benefits we’ll lose if voters choose Measure G over Measure E are what motivated us at the start of this project – bringing a new professional sports franchise to San Diego after the Chargers abandoned us, helping SDSU grow and flourish without costing students, creating a river park for the community, and doing it all in a way that is fair to the city and benefits every San Diegan from both a fiscal as well as a quality-of-life perspective.
Don’t let a few well-connected Measure G developers take all these things from you when there is a better plan that delivers something for everyone.
Vote No on G and Yes on E.
Interested to learn more: please visit factcheckg.com for evidence supporting each of our statements above.