Conflict of Interest Means Very Little to the San Diego River Park Foundation
“These guys have no history here,” Tom Dealy said. “They are not those you see out in the community, on boards and commissions, showing up for charitable organizations. I never see them.”
That statement, published in a piece written by the Voice of San Diego's Andy Keatts well over a year ago rings wry when read aloud today. It was part of a larger line of dialogue that described how to defeat the then-proposed special election that the SoccerCity team was pushing for last summer.
The piece itself detailed how San Diego's established developer community rallied against the SoccerCity project for a variety of reasons; ranging from pertinent to petty. Since its publication, the aptly-named swarm of developers have coordinated masterfully to shift the narrative surrounding the Mission Valley away from the empirical measurements that SoccerCity backers FS Investors built their plan to optimize and toward the tired yet truly terrifying tribal trope of "they aren't us."
Rob Hutsel, President and CEO of the San Diego River Park Foundation recently gave an interview to KPBS' Erik Anderson in which Hutsel explained the recent position that the River Park Foundation opposing the SoccerCity plan that aims to redevelop the SDCCU Stadium site in Mission Valley.
The full transcript can be read on KPBS, but some comments stand out more than others.
Q: Two of your board members are known opponents of the SoccerCity initiative. How did you handle that conflict of interest?
A: Part of it is disclosure. I mean the biggest part is let us know what the things are that either in reality or are people might perceive as a conflict. So we went through an exhaustive process where we had a committee meeting to talk about it. We talked about all the members of the boards. And one of the things about our directors is they represent a really broad spectrum of people. They have conflicts. It’s just the nature of what we do. And we want those people at the table because if we can bring them together on common ground, then we can move forward.
The two board members Anderson references are Jack McGrory and Tom Sudberry, two individuals with significant personal and professional conflicts of interest with respect to the proposed plans for Mission Valley. McGrory is the author of the roughly 14 page SDSU West plan that aims to enable SDSU take control of the same parcel of land that SoccerCity has designs for, and empower the university to contract out the development of the site to groups like say... Sudberry Properties, of which Tom Sudberry is Chairman.
Q: Why take a position on the initiatives?
A: Our board felt strongly. We’ve worked with SoccerCity folks for a long time, for over a year, and working on how do we take their initiative and get it to work to our position of 60 acres. The reality is, what we worked on, they agreed to do that, but it wasn’t binding. And we hoped the lease would become done by then, but we haven’t seen a draft lease and so we really felt compelled to take a position on this. And at the same time, many of our board members are just concerned about the initiative process for planning in itself. CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) issues and just community planning.
The above statement may require repeated reading, but what it says is that despite the fact that FS Investors agreed to terms with the San Diego River Park Foundation, the lack of a legally binding lease agreement somehow merited an opposition position from the River Park Foundation towards SoccerCity.
Amusingly enough, that same legally binding lease agreement that Hutsel says he hasn't seen would have been signed and sealed months ago. Assuming, of course, that SoccerCity had passed in the the special election that was so successfully blocked by McGrory, Sudberry and the rest of the parties identified in Keatts' piece.
Its becoming increasingly difficult to be outraged by these kinds of stories. Desensitization to delay and to waste and to context is a hallmark of San Diego culture it seems. Just weeks ago, the sky fell when we were rocked by the latest twist in a pension reform scandal that has plagued the city for years. Just days after that, the eternal quest for convention center expansion took a(nother) step back.
At the pace San Diego moves, we'll all be having the same Mission Valley debate for generations to come. Hutsel sure isn't getting excited just yet.
Q: So you’re not optimistic it will be two or three years.
A: No. I wish I could be. You know it would be wonderful to say we’re going to turn dirt in December. Gosh, wouldn’t that be wonderful? I’ve waited 17 years for that. But the reality is, we just know San Diego. Things don’t happen that quickly.