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Campaign Committee Contributions, Lawsuits and River Days: San Diego Summarized | 5-21-18

Campaign Committee Contributions, Lawsuits and River Days: San Diego Summarized | 5-21-18

Welcome to San Diego Summarized where each week we examine headlines from around the city:

This week’s summary initiates with inewsource’s fantastic reporting on the campaign contributions collected by committees seeking to influence the SDSU West and SoccerCity initiatives.

There are two groups opposing SoccerCity; The Friends of SDSU and No On SoccerCity.

Through March, the Friends of SDSU group has raised about $1.6 million with the No on SoccerCity group gathering another $2.1 million.

The official campaign committee supporting SoccerCity is called GOAL: San Diegans for the River Park School Funding Soccer and a Tax-Free Stadium. Filings show that it has raised over $3.7 million as of the end of March.

What is interesting is the source of where the bulk of the funds raised. With SoccerCity, La Jolla-based FS Investors' founder Michael Stone leads the effort, having given about $1.3 million. Nick Stone, a partner in the firm unrelated to Michael Stone, has given about $66,400.

Some of the other top donors to GOAL include San Diego Padres part-owner Peter Seidler, San Diego-based investment firm Bridgewest Ventures, founded by the doctors Masood and Massih Tayebi, and retired Qualcomm vice chairman Steven Altman. All of those individuals are direct investors in the SoccerCity project.

The two separate-yet-synchronized campaign committees that are working against SoccerCity have some common threads. H.G. Fenton Co and Sudberry Properties have both contributed to the Friends of SDSU committee as well as the No on SoccerCity committee. They’ve donated $99,000 each to the Friends, and another $1,000,000 each to the No on SoccerCity effort.

It’s no surprise that the Sudberry and Fenton groups would be so much more invested in defeat of SoccerCity over the success of SDSU West. Sudberry Properties is the developer for the Civita community located about two miles from the SDCCU Stadium site. The Civita development is comparable to SoccerCity, covering about 230 acres and topping out just under 4,800 housing units with additional space for retail, parkland and offices. If SoccerCity was to be victorious in November, the housing stock created there will likely negatively impact the demand for older housing nearby.

H.G. Fenton and Sudberry Properties holdings in Mission Valley

H.G. Fenton and Sudberry Properties holdings in Mission Valley

Many regular Green Line trolley-riders will recognize the Fenton Parkway stop that is just behind the IKEA store inside the Fenton Marketplace that is literally next door to the SDCCU Stadium. H.G. Fenton and its related LLCs own 23 parcels throughout the 92108 zip code, according to county parcel records and a company spokeswoman.

That zip code includes the stadium and stretches from western Mission Valley to Grantville, just east of Interstate 15. H.G. Fenton’s parcels include four apartment buildings that have a combined 1,247 homes. There are also several office buildings and retail spaces in the Fenton portfolio.

In other news, the 15th annual San Diego River Days celebration concluded on May 20th. Originally conceived during a discussion at a San Diego River Coalition meeting in 2002, River Days has grown into a two weekend event full of activities all up and down the river.

Local resident Karl Hurlbert recounted his experience volunteering for the Clean & Green River Cleanup: Mission Valley East event on the morning of May 19th.

The San Diego River holds a special place for me and my family. The first two years of our marriage we lived on Rancho Mission Rd often walking along the river walk; a place we visited almost daily during the last trimester of her pregnancy with our first child. Getting out of the car all those memories came rushing back and those matched with the smiling faces of the other volunteers quickly made the mood move from task-oriented to a ‘there’s no other place I’d rather be than right here’ mood...”

Read the rest here.

Lastly, in an update sourced from a section of the ever-excellent Voice of San Diego Politics Report, the lawsuit filed by the City Attorney against both SoccerCity and SDSU West gets a little more analysis.

Last week, City Attorney Mara Elliott announced the city is suing SoccerCity and SDSU West, the competing measures to redevelop the former Qualcomm Stadium property.

She asked a Superior Court to boot both measures from the November ballot because they infringe on the mayor and City Council’s authority.

The City Council voted in closed session last month to hire a private firm to pursue the suit.

  • Michael Colantuono, a high-profile municipal lawyer, thinks Elliott’s right. “I agree that a measure trying to force sale or purchase of property is not a proper subject of an initiative,” he wrote in an email. “In technical terms, it is an ‘administrative act’ not a ‘legislative act,’ and only legislative acts are subject to initiative.”

A statement from Friends of SDSU, the group backing SDSU West, caught our attention: “The Friends of SDSU provided the city attorney with a draft of the initiative, and then met with her and her senior staff,” they told the Union-Tribune. “Based on that meeting, Friends of SDSU revised our initiative to address issues raised by the city attorney.”

We asked municipal law experts when a meeting like that crosses into an illegal gift of public funds.

City attorneys can help initiative proponents by pointing out ambiguities to make implementing the measure easier, said Leslie Devaney, a private lawyer and former deputy city attorney.

“You don’t want to hand-in-hand work together, or go back and forth — that would be writing the initiative together,” she said.

But cities can also inform proponents of possible lawsuits, she said. Preventing litigation could save money.

Colantuono said informal consultations are common.

“Most city attorneys would prefer to avoid a lawsuit due to a badly drafted measure if they can get it fixed,” he said. “There is no risk of a legal conflict of interest as the city attorney clearly has only one client — the city.”

The city attorney’s office said it generally accepts requests for meetings since the mayor and City Council might ask for a legal analysis on the issue.

But it has ground rules in those meetings. It can’t and won’t provide legal advice. It can’t and won’t use public resources in a campaign. And the attorneys can ask questions to better understand an initiative, but no one should read anything into those questions.

“We warn that their presentation may be met with awkward silence, and that they should not take that to mean that the city attorney’s office has concerns, has taken a position, or is pleased or displeased with the information presented,” spokeswoman Cheryl Nolan wrote in an email.

Friends of SDSU said they never suggested they received legal advice from the city attorney’s office — which could have constituted a gift of public funds.

“We provided the city attorney with a draft of our initiative prior to finalizing, met with the city attorney and her senior staff, listened carefully to the questions they asked and afterwards using our own judgment made changes to the final draft,” they wrote in a statement. “It is our understanding that SoccerCity representatives were afforded the same opportunity.”

Chris Garrett — attorney for FS Investors, the group behind SoccerCity — said he met with Elliott in January 2017.

“We wanted to change or modify the draft initiative to address any legal concerns, issues or questions she might raise,” Garrett wrote in an email. “We offered to hand out a copy of the initiative to them, but I recall that they refused to take the copies we had … After our initial description of the initiative, we were told that no one in the room from the city attorney’s office could or would offer any comments or respond to any of the points we discussed, or provide any other information regarding the initiative.”

“I was very frustrated that we could not get any feedback or answers to questions I had about possible concerns they might have about the Soccer City Initiative,” he wrote.

I touched on these lawsuits in the latest Chronicles of San Diego Podcast. Listen here:

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

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