A group of private investors is circulating the SoccerCity initiative, which would be one of the largest land transactions and development approvals in San Diego’s history.
The initiative allows FS Investors to acquire the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site from the city of San Diego and redevelop it into 4,800 homes, 2.4 million square feet of office space, 740,000 square feet of retail space, 450 hotel rooms, three 330-foot high-rise towers, 55 acres of parkland and a joint-use stadium.
The City Council has already been asked by FS Investors to directly enact the initiative three months from now in June, without a public vote.
If that happens, the initiative avoids public hearings and expert evaluation triggered by the normal environment review and specific plan approval processes.
It also avoids the city charter mandate that voters approve sales of 80 or more acres of public land by limiting FS Investors’ land purchases to 79.9 acres while permitting a 99-year lease of the remaining 86 acres. Private uses will be placed on the 79.9 acres and public uses (parks and streets) on the rest.
The initiative would allow selection of the lessee, approval of the 99-year lease agreement and the sale of 79.9 acres without City Council approval or a public hearing.
It also states “public hearing(s) will not be held” to review “development within the plan area” even though the initiative’s land and facility plans are merely conceptual at this point.
So if the initiative is approved by City Council, opportunities for further public input will be severely curtailed, including decisions about the actual rent payment and the land sales prices. It is therefore critical that the public clearly understand the initiative before it is enacted.
Therein lies the problem. I have read the initiative in detail and don’t fully understand it, even though I have some advantages many others don’t. I am a retired land use attorney. I have drafted, negotiated and implemented documents similar to those contained in the initiative. I’ve even prepared a ballot measure for a private development project. I also served on the Centre City Development Corporation board of directors, which negotiated and implemented agreements for the sale and development of city-owned properties. Finally FS Investors was kind enough to give me an hour and a half of their time to address some of my concerns. In spite of these experiences, or perhaps because of them, I still have many questions.
Fortunately, FS Investors said one of its key goals is transparency, that all questions should be answered and that its wants people to understand the complexities of the initiative. Members of the group have even said publicly they look forward to a “robust vetting process.” Commendable!
Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said it’s time to examine the plan in detail to make sure it makes sense for taxpayers. Meanwhile, the San Diego State athletic director has said the university wants to understand what exactly is in the plan. Terrific!
Thus, a common goal of all parties is clarity and transparency. But how do we get publicly accessible answers in a timely manner?
My proposal is as follows:
• Voice of San Diego or some other online site should host a page where FS Investors, the city and SDSU can answer questions from the public (here are my 54 questions).
• San Diego City Council or the Planning Commission should immediately schedule public workshops with FS Investors to answer questions posed by the public.
• Faulconer and/or the City Council should also direct the Planning Department, Department of Real Estate Assets and city attorney to evaluate the impacts of the initiative. The evaluation should be made available at the public workshops and posted online.
• The mayor, city attorney and FS Investors should immediately start drafting the initiative’s lease so that the draft agreement can be made available for public and City Council review prior to the date the Council is asked to act on the initiative.
Kim John Kilkenny is the former chair of the Centre City Development Corporation and executive vice president of the Otay Ranch Company, and is now retired. Kilkenny’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here