A rendering of SoccerCity San Diego / Rendering courtesy of FS Investors

The most persistent criticism of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is that he lacks decisiveness. He does not paint a vision for how the city should handle controversial issues and then drive consensus toward it, or a compromise.

The day-to-day operations of the city seem to be going well. But he has not tackled major problems very well.

One of those problems was how to keep the Chargers in town. The team did not stay in town.

Faulconer was prepared for this, sort of.

He saw an opportunity to steer the city toward a new vision for the land under and around the old stadium in Mission Valley: SoccerCity. It was a chance to buck his image as someone who stayed on the sidelines of big debates like this.

And he was on board with SoccerCity from the beginning. He thought it would help solve the stadium problem for San Diego State University, where as a student leader he helped with the promotion of a new basketball arena. Faulconer thought the plan would create much-needed housing and turn a financial burden – that land – into a windfall for a city facing future deficits.

Before the Chargers left, Faulconer was in discussions with FS Investors and San Diego State University. SDSU officials were not on board with the plan, but they had not rejected it when backers made it public.

And that’s when, this year, San Diego got to know Nick Stone, one of the FS Investors partners. He methodically and carefully explained the team’s vision for the land and spent hours with civic leaders and the media.

FS Investors’ partners include several prominent San Diegans. Stone, though, doesn’t live in San Diego and seemed to represent what a lot of detractors did not like about the plan: It was not theirs. It did not come from the normal network of local developers.

It felt foreign, hasty and was caricatured as a land grab.

One person who did not like SoccerCity was developer Tom Sudberry. Sudberry had spent many years working on approvals and infrastructure for Civita, a large housing development not far from the stadium in Mission Valley.

SoccerCity was not only potential competition but also an end-run around the kind of process Sudberry had slogged through to build Civita. He was a patron of the Republican Party in San Diego and in particular of Faulconer. It was a meeting at Sudberry’s house, in 2013, that essentially nominated Faulconer as the GOP’s choice for mayor after the meltdown of former Mayor Bob Filner.

Sudberry wasn’t alone in his frustrations. He assembled a coalition and began funding an organized campaign against SoccerCity. SDSU officials went from hesitant about SoccerCity to emboldened to prop up an alternative.

The resulting discussion has captivated many San Diegans. What happens to the land in Mission Valley will define a big part of the city forever. Voters will next year likely face a choice between two visions with many similarities.

Many people framed the public conversation about these choices but none more than Faulconer, Stone and Sudberry.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego in 2017.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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