Lawsuits, Housing and SANDAG: San Diego Summarized | 6-18-18
Welcome to San Diego Summarized where each week we examine headlines from around the city:
This week we kick off with Friday’s revelation that the lawsuit filed against the City Clerk of San Diego and the San Diego County Registrar of Voters has failed. The suit itself was aimed at preventing the SDSU West initiative from being added to the November election, and with its failure, voters in San Diego will have two ballot measures to choose between come election day.
Although this suit has been decided for now, there are still two additional lawsuits being brought forward by the office of the San Diego City Attorney that will also impact the future of the Mission Valley.
In the release from the City Attorney’s office dated May 11th 2018, the new lawsuits are described as a request for “seeking pre-election legal review of two competing citizens’ initiatives that seek control over City property in Mission Valley. The two initiatives are the San Diego River Park and Soccer City Initiative (commonly known as the Soccer City Initiative) and the SDSU West Campus Research Center, Stadium and River Park Initiative (commonly known as the SDSU West Initiative).
Both initiatives have qualified for the ballot and can be placed before voters in November 2018. The SDSU West Initiative proposes the sale of approximately 132 acres of City-owned real property, which includes the site of SDCCU Stadium, formerly Qualcomm Stadium, to San Diego State University or an SDSU auxiliary organization for development purposes.
The Soccer City Initiative proposes the 99-year lease of approximately 233 acres of City-owned real property, which includes the stadium site as well as noncontiguous property in Murphy Canyon, to a “qualified lessee” for development purposes. (The Initiative defines a “qualified lessee” so narrowly that only one entity currently meets the definition -- the same entity that is a major supporter of the Initiative.)
The right of citizens to act through initiative has long been construed to extend only to legislative acts and not to administrative or executive acts. Essentially, citizens can use the power of initiative to guide policy, but they cannot use it to mandate how policy is enacted. Among other issues, the petitions ask the court to determine whether the initiatives impermissibly exceed the power to act through an initiative, and whether they impermissibly conflict with State law and the San Diego City Charter.”
Reading between the lines, it is clear that this particular segment of the stadium saga will rumble on for at least another month until a determination is made regarding these other two lawsuits. The framing of this new complaint is not to be neglected. While Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil‘s decision to let SDSU West remain on the ballot for the time being was based on his definition of the “standing” of the plaintiffs to file suit in the first place.
Judge Wohlfeil doesn’t dispute the legality of the violation of Ca Educational Code 89005.5, but was able to deny the intended action of the plaintiffs nonetheless.
“By seeking pre-election guidance from the courts, the City hopes to avoid a situation where voters act on measures that are later found to be legally invalid,” City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said. “Even if the court finds no problems with the measures, it may narrow post-election issues, which will save taxpayer money and potentially expedite City actions to implement a successful measure.”
The suits filed by the City Attorney will set a new precedent for how citizens’ initiatives are employed in the future. Stay tuned. SDCCU Stadium isn’t going anywhere any time soon…
In other news, forces are mustering to coordinate for maximum impact in the November election by prioritizing a proposed hotel-tax increase over a separate housing bond that would muster $900 million specifically for housing.
According to Lisa Halverstadt, “supporters of a hotel-tax hike to expand the Convention Center, bankroll homeless services and road repairs have been quietly urging backers of a separate $900 million housing bond to stand down. The coalition behind the tourism tax fears voters could reject both measures if each makes the November ballot.”
The expanded Convention Center proposition has long been a golden fleece for Mayor Kevin Faulconer to chase. There have been several bumps and bruises along the way, not least the embarrassing achievement of the city of San Diego to surrender land it controlled where the Convention Center could be expanded, at the 5th Avenue Landing site, only to re-acquire it some months later in an eye-watering deal that costs over $33 million.
At this point it stands to reason that the backers of this initiative would want to do everything in their power to ensure that the measure is approved at the ballot in November. Currently, specific tax increases, like the one that would fund the Convention Center expansion, require a 2/3 majority approval by voters. There is a chance that that threshold will be lowered to a much more attainable simple majority.
The state Supreme Court agreed with the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which determined that the California Constitution’s restrictions on tax increases applied to local governments, not to citizens.
Thus, if the San Diego City Council wants to raise taxes for a stadium, it still needs two-thirds of the vote. But if a citizens’ group wanted to do it, it would only need a simple majority.
San Diego is gambling on two fronts. First, that splitting these two measures increases the likelihood that both pass independently, and second, that 50%+1 will be enough to see the expansion of the Convention center over the line.
More to come on that front for sure.
Lastly, the change that enabled a weighted vote at SANDAG based on the population of the different cities represented has emboldened San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer it seems.
SANDAG recently used its newfound authority under AB 805 and called for a weighted vote, which allows a minority of board members, who together represent a majority of the county population, to overrule the rest of the board.
The move didn’t go over well with mayors from some of the region’s smaller cities.
Now, as VOSD’s Andrew Keatts reports, it turns out that was actually the second time the controversial weighted vote was put into play.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer called for a weighted vote in a May 11 closed session meeting. The mayor effectively used the authority to block the board of directors’ attempt to hire a new executive director.
Why did Faulconer do that? The SANDAG director vacancy was created when the longtime agency head stepped down last year in a scandal revealed by a Voice of San Diego investigation. Before Faulconer blocked the move, the board had wanted to hire the agency’s acting director. But she was closely involved in the agency’s response to the investigation’s revelations.
Why this matters: There are big changes underway at one of the most powerful government bodies in the region.This is all very new for SANDAG. Prior to this, the agency had operated with a bewildering unanimity. Also of note: Faulconer had for the majority of his mayoral tenure almost never even attended SANDAG hearings. He has now in successive meetings made a major play to change the direction of the agency’s decision-making. It is a new day.