Brigette Browning, executive secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and Voice of San Diego Editor-in-Chief Scott Lewis speak during Politifest, Oct. 8, 2022. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

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Earlier this year, we wrote about a dispute between San Diego State University and several of San Diego’s labor unions, in which union leaders claimed the university had failed to deliver promises it made to them during the campaign for Measure G, the ballot measure that mandated the city to sell the land to SDSU. 

The dispute has since been resolved, but Brigette Browning, the executive secretary treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and the longtime leader of Unite HERE, the hotel and service workers union, said during the Politifest Hot Tea panel that she regrets ever supporting SDSU West. 

“I still have a very bad taste in my mouth about what happened with that, and I think it was a big mistake that we didn’t do an organized effort to vote it down,” Browning said. 

Not only did they not organize against the measure, in 2018, labor unions were a big part of the support for Measure G. But Browning told Voice of San Diego in January that they were promised everything they wanted in return for their support, including the protection of 500 Qualcomm workers, which she says the university failed to do. 

She also told Voice that SDSU was unwilling to provide project labor agreements for ancillary construction around the property and the assurances it was providing labor unions were vague and unenforceable. 

“I don’t think most of the public understand that SDSU West is almost entirely private development,” Browning said during the panel. “I think we were sold a bill of goods that it was going to be student housing, faculty housing, lecture halls and the stadium, and that’s absolutely not the case.” 

SDSU is planning to partner with private developers to build assets both for the university and the public (like parks) and private profit. The university plans an innovation district, and about 4,600 homes – some reserved for students, faculty and families with lower incomes. But some will be sold or rented at market rate, as well.   

SDSU’s Gina Jacobs, the associate vice president, Mission Valley Development, for the has a different point of view.  

“We could not disagree more with that position,” Jacobs wrote in a statement. “SDSU Mission Valley is delivering on its promises and will continue to do so. Just since starting construction in August 2020, more than 4,000 tradespeople have been employed, working more than 1.2 million work hours on-site — these are new jobs created for our region.” 

She pointed out that the university had agreements with the stage workers, the carpenters union and even the hotel workers union that Browning still oversees as well.  

“We look forward to continuing to deliver on our promises for San Diego,” Jacobs wrote.  

Browning compared the process SDSU took to secure the Mission Valley site to what’s happening at the city’s nearly 50 acres of land at the Sports Arena site in Midway. She said every developer that bid on Sports Arena signed agreements with her and her colleagues in the labor movement. 

“I feel like it gave the city an opportunity to really think about what is in the best interest of the city, both economically and for the area. And we didn’t get that chance at SDSU West. We got it shoved down our throats,” she said.  

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8 Comments

  1. It was never simply a choice between Soccer City and SDSU West. The third and best way forward was simply to vote NO on both options. San Diego voters didn’t seem to understand that and will now live with the results — including a slow but steady walk back on all of those ‘promises.’ Best for voters to keep an eye not only on the Sports Arena project, but more urgently the recent movements of the Port of San Diego’s Seaport Village project to tap into public tax dollars for infrastructure improvements for a scheme many locals don’t want or need. Sigh.

  2. Amen, JL Duncan. Developers and their lobbyists have strong relationships with elected officials that the public simply doesn’t, causing officials to “give away the store” with no accountability for promises made. I shudder to think of what will happen with Midway/Sports Arena and elimination of the height limit “just this once.” Be careful what you wish for, San Diego.

  3. The city botched the mission valley land disposition from the start. Instead of the public voting between 2 special interest groups to decide who will own and develop the property, it should have developed project objectives and design guidelines and put those out (via a request for proposals) for anyone to bid on. In this case, once the public voted to approve SDSU, the city had no leverage to negotiate the details of the redevelopment.

  4. The leaders of this town seem to genuflect to SDSU as a standard response. Part of the reason may be that it’s run by so many alums.

  5. If voters of San Diego Unified bond measures knew what the district has been doing, they would feel exactly the same way. SDUSD promises student safety and security measures and school repairs, and instead it spends bond money on synthetic turf fields (that are defective), stadium lights (that communities sued the district over), big, expensive projects that provide opportunities for press-releases and ribbon-cutting events, and joint-occupancy agreements to develop commercial housing.
    But I don’t doubt that Ms. Browning is happy with SDUSD because, although the district mislead voters with prioritizing projects, the district kept its promise to Labor.

  6. It makes you think of all the great times spent tailgating at Tailgate Park at the new Petco Stadium.

  7. If anyone had paid any attention to SDSU’s history on just about everything, from agreements with the surrounding neighborhood or with students, they never were sincere. Most of us knew exactly that SDSU was going to use endorsements then slither away. It is what SDSU does. Labor, again, was foolish, and didn’t do the work, even on paper. Which is worse? I don’t know, but it’s disgusting and disappointing, again.

  8. Ms Browning is not good at her job. She should be fired instead of being allowed to get away with an “oops, my bad” apology.

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