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Opinion | Why You Should Join Me in Voting Yes on Measure E

Opinion | Why You Should Join Me in Voting Yes on Measure E

Written by Paul Taupier:

By the time Election Day rolls around this November, nearly two years will have passed since San Diegans first learned of FS Investors and their plan to purchase and lease the Jack Murphy/Q/SDCCU stadium site in Mission Valley, along with the nearby former Chargers training grounds in order to undertake the transformation of those properties.

First announced in dramatic fashion from the deck of the USS Midway, the news came that Major League Soccer was courting FSI’s Mike Stone, Steve Altman and colleagues to become investor-owners of a professional soccer team and builders of a new stadium.

Rumors of the announcement had leaked beforehand via local podcasts and San Diego soccer enthusiasts turned out to cheer and chant as MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Mayor Faulconer, City Council Member Scott Sherman and San Diego sports radio personality Darren Smith took turns at the podium to usher in what seemed at the time like the dawn of a thrilling new San Diego sporting era.

Who then among even the most seasoned of San Diego political veterans and watchers could know just how muddled the following 18 months would become?

Close observers like myself have been since treated to a daily civics lesson which reveals who are the handful of powerful political players in our region, and the range of organizations they exert influence over as financial benefactors (and from within as board members and advisors) - all collectively working to undo what was, and remains, a simply breathtaking proposition to San Diego citizens.

Imagine a group of deep-pocketed investors (the kind most sports fans and redevelopment advocates only dream of) who want to pay $83 million for the Qualcomm Stadium site, raise it out of the flood plain, build a beautiful green space river park, construct a state of the art mid-sized stadium (intended to be shared with SDSU football) and to bring a professional soccer team to town. Open to a return of NFL football, they’ve also set aside sufficient land for a new NFL stadium.

 Bird’s eye view of a built-out SoccerCity

Bird’s eye view of a built-out SoccerCity

The SoccerCity plan surrounds the stadium with apartments and condominiums (not a new idea, and a good one as the site sits on a large trolley centered transit hub), a hotel, and an entertainment district and plazas for retail shopping, restaurants, San Diego microbreweries and live music. There will also be lots of office space suitable for professional, educational and research facilities (the kind SDSU’s developer “Friends” have touted but for which under the SoccerCity plan the Friends would not serve as principle developers, but likely sub-developers). Should SDSU participate, the educational and research facilities would be built specifically to suit their stated needs.

It’s a bold, smart and vibrant redevelopment plan for what is currently a blighted parking lot (the largest west of the Mississippi) anchored by a deteriorating stadium for which the city is currently spending upwards of six million dollars annually to keep open for use by the Aztecs football program (quite a subsidy considering ever more pressing issues like adequately funding k-12 education) and which is bordered by an obscured and polluted river basin.

The SoccerCity plan builds on the best of all prior concepts floated in recent decades. FS Investors will pay another $27 million for the former Chargers training facility just up the road, and there will build an international soccer training facility for San Diego’s own MLS team, to house a next-generation soccer academy and to host visiting teams from around the world.

All this development will generate an estimated forty two thousand constructions jobs and twenty six thousand permanent jobs, and much needed tax revenues for the City of San Diego ($200 million more annually than the rival concept). And all this would be accomplished with FS Investors’ money. There will be no public taxes levied (nor city funds creatively leveraged as seems likely under the rival plan). While San Diego and other cities have famously rejected proposals involving tax payer subsidies, here finally is a truly 100% developer-funded plan.

The SoccerCity plan is so well-conceived and detailed within its 3,000 pages, is so well funded, and it is the only plan that will bring a new major league sports team to town, so for me it’s the only plan.

The rival SDSU West plan was hatched hastily by flat-footed developers (some of whom are alumni) quick to characterize their ambitions as best for SDSU. Its 13.36 pages are as vague as they are brief.

Some of the “Friends” wish to develop the land themselves, sharing some of it with SDSU (who under the SoccerCity plan will likewise have all the space they’ve said they need to build top flight research facilities and student and faculty housing). Then there are the developers (specifically those behind the No on Measure E campaign) who benefit most if nothing at all happens on the Q site!

I see the opposition to Measure E primarily as the business as usual activities of entrenched San Diego elites. And my preferred November outcome is to see Measure E (the SoccerCity initiative) win the vote, rewarding the group with the foresight, vision and the willingness to spend their own money to bring it to life for the benefit and enjoyment of all San Diego citizens, tax payers, sports fans, and tourist visitors alike. There’s both room and a clear need for an infusion of younger, fresher blood to reinvigorate the life of our civic works.

 Detailed view of the San Diego River Park within SoccerCity

Detailed view of the San Diego River Park within SoccerCity

I’d like to see voters finally rebuke the painfully dysfunctional and entrenched San Diego power broker establishment with a resounding no on Measure G (the SDSU West initiative).

Should both initiatives fail at the ballot, I suspect we’re likely to stumble into an RFP process that will mean years (some fear a decade or more) before significant redevelopment begins (possibly sooner for a college football stadium), and easily 20-30 years before build-out is complete, if we accept the public statements of SDSU leadership.

If we’re to go that route I hope the cynical individuals behind Measure G will not be rewarded with rights to land or contracts to develop the Q site. An RFP is not necessarily the best process to redevelop City land. In the case of the Q site the comprehensive and well-conceived proposal by newcomers FS Investors offers the best chance for quick and compelling results.

Ultimately San Diego citizens are responsible to determine the future of the City land in and nearby Mission Valley. Sadly, the Mayor seems too cautious to lead boldly. And the City Council seems too mired in party politics, too preoccupied with individual political ambitions and too busy courting favor with special interests to execute any real planning, deal brokering, or to set and accomplish important goals. They’ve proven far more capable of preventing needed changes. In this vacuum of leadership the initiative process has become an increasingly important method of decision making.

In my view San Diego is a big enough town to have an energized, forward thinking government and citizenry, and deserves a circle of more civic minded, less selfish movers and shakers capable to at least occasionally solve big problems, to evolve, to envision and build good things, and to help foster civic pride and collective fun. It’s the twenty first century.

Our future is not our past. November’s calling. Let’s all make something big and good happen. Let’s vote for the promise of a new San Diego. Let’s vote Yes on E.

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The Chronicles of San Diego Podcast - John Lococo of soccerloco

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