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— The situation arouses feelings of déjà vu. In 2000, developer William Tuchscher also had an exclusive agreement to develop Zakkout’s bayfront property. Then, according to a February 11, 2002 Union-Tribune story, David Malcolm “began trying to influence Chula Vista and Port District officials.” The U-T story was published after Tuchscher had filed a lawsuit against Malcolm, the City of Chula Vista, the San Diego Unified Port, and Lennar Corporation, which was interested in building a commercial waterfront development and a complementary residential project. “In his lawsuit,” the U-T story says, “Tuchscher alleges Malcolm improperly influenced Chula Vista officials to allow [Tuchscher’s] development deal to expire in 2000 so Lennar could take over the project.” Charges were dismissed against Malcolm and the port; the City of Chula Vista settled with Tuchscher for $850,000, and Lennar had to pay $2.2 million.

When Cheryl Cox became mayor, David Malcolm was not the only person she began to consult with about the bayfront plan. On December 13, 2006, eight days after Cox took office, she met with Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani.

The Chargers have considered two Chula Vista sites for building a new stadium, one in east Chula Vista and the other, which they prefer, at the south end of the bay, on land the South Bay Power Plant currently occupies. Spanos has proposed financing the stadium by developing houses and office buildings in east Chula Vista.

This past January, the Chula Vista City Council indicated its interest in a Chargers stadium by voting unanimously to encourage the Chargers to go ahead with a financial feasibility study. The city attorney gave the vote a “thumbs up.” Mayor Cox speculated on a name change: “It would be neat if the team became the San Diego Chargers at Chula Vista.”

But the stadium is not a part of the master plan, nor has its impact on the environment been addressed in the master plan’s environmental impact report.

“It’s beginning to feel like bait and switch,” says Laura Hunter, who works for the Environmental Health Coalition and was a member of the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan Citizens Advisory Committee. “Why are they encouraging the Chargers? The language of CEQA is not benign. It requires analysis of projects that are reasonably foreseeable.” CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, is the law that requires an analysis of environmental impacts from proposed projects, which are often disclosed in environmental impact reports (EIRs). It’s no secret to anyone, including the California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission, that Chula Vista is considering a Chargers stadium. If the master plan is submitted without mention of the stadium and without environmental analysis of the stadium’s impact, the commissions may send everyone back to square one.

“They can’t get away with pretending that the stadium is unrelated to the rest of the bayfront development,” says Jim Peugh of the San Diego Audubon Society. “Trying to continue with the previous EIR without considering what impacts the stadium would have and then later doing a separate EIR for the stadium would not assess the cumulative impacts. That is called piecemealing, and piecemealing is called out in court cases.”

Peugh, who was also a member of the citizens’ advisory committee, says, “What the citizens’ advisory committee and the environmental communities have agreed upon was a careful balance with high-density development in the Harbor District and nonresidential development where the wetland resources are concentrated,” in the northern and southern areas of the bayfront.

He calls the economic feasibility study “silly and dysfunctional.” He argues that you cannot do a real cost study unless you look at what constraints the project will have to mitigate the environmental impacts. “How much area will you need for a buffer? What would it cost to prevent that light pollution to the J Street Marsh? What kind of trash handling and food storage will be required to avoid attracting feral animals that would kill the marsh wildlife? And what about the cost and the area that it would take to treat the runoff water from the huge parking lot before it goes into the bay. How much room will it all take? How can they compute the cost or what they could earn without knowing the answers to these basic questions?”

The bayfront area where the Chargers propose to build is next to one of the last mudflats in San Diego County. “An infinite number of animals and fish use it,” Peugh says. “It’s all life, it’s not inert. And the area is essential for migratory birds; they are dependent on it as a stepping stone during their long migratory flights.”

In a Union-Tribune interview on January 26, Fabiani displayed typical logic. He assumed that because Chula Vistans want to get rid of a power plant that is a source of pollution to the area, they would be happy to exchange it for Super Bowls, seasonal games, tractor pulls, motocross races, and swap meets.

Civic activist Sharon Floyd says that when Fabiani speaks of resident support he is primarily referring to a single town meeting on the east side of Chula Vista. Floyd points out that if the Chargers come to Chula Vista, they will “consume both sites, one for development income and the other for the stadium.”

Many people think the Chargers are using Chula Vista as a bargaining chip, a public flirtation in which Chula Vista would be the big loser. In a February 19, 2008 Union-Tribune story, sports writer Nick Canepa wrote, “All along, the Chargers have insisted they basically have given up on a new stadium within the San Diego city limits because of one man — City Attorney Mike Aguirre.… This is an election year, and Aguirre is being challenged by viable candidates. Would the Chargers consider holding back their current efforts to secure a new joint in Chula Vista and wait for the outcome of the city election? The answer, according to Mark Fabiani, the Chargers’ stadium point guard, is a resounding ‘no.’ ” A few days later, in his February 27 column, Canepa interviewed Padres owner John Moores on his “pet topic, the 96-acre Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal,” located in the city of San Diego. Canepa wrote that Mark Fabiani “has said the terminal would be an ideal spot [for a new stadium] because all roads, parking and infrastructure are in place.” Then Canepa quoted Moores on the subject: “ ‘Building a stadium on that site would be great for everybody.’ ”

For years when Greg Cox was mayor of Chula Vista, he wrangled with the Sierra Club over putting a 400-room hotel on Gunpowder Point, where the wildlife refuge now is. Later, he supported a proposal that included a shopping/entertainment corridor centered on a ten-acre man-made lagoon, with five hotels, 80,000 square feet of office space, and 150 acres devoted to a resort-style community. Mayors and companies have come and gone, politicians have been convicted, and land has changed hands. Meanwhile, Chula Vista’s residents have paid for countless studies, consultants, and lawsuits.

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Comments

iantrowbridge1 March 19, 2008 @ 6:20 p.m.

Excellent story and hopefully the Cox quid pro quo tag team will eventually be exposed for who they are before they bankrupt Chula Vista

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Susan Luzzaro March 22, 2008 @ 12:02 p.m.

The story is only the tip of the iceberg.

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eastlaker May 3, 2008 @ 8:37 p.m.

You are right that most Chula Vistans want the old power plant gone. And many are critical of the Gaylord project--essentially hijacking the Chula Vista bayfront, when the western part of the city really needs decent recreational space. I would like to think that it would be possible to see a reasonable, balanced development if that is what the people in city hall wanted. But that doesn't seem to be what they are looking for.

Chula Vista should be a POWERHOUSE in the development of solar energy; Chula Vista should work towards living up to the city plan, which has called for the building of swimming pools for years and has not followed through.

Chula Vista should work on water gathering, storage and saving.

Chula Vista should stop allowing other communities to look upon it as a joke and take itself and its future seriously. There is much good in Chula Vista, and things could be much better if the community leadership was truthful, trustworthy, visionary and honest.

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