Back in 1997, Chargers owner Alex Spanos didn’t have anything at all good to say about voter referendums. That was when the multimillionaire developer was waging war against San Diegans who were seeking to put taxpayer financing of a $78 million addition to Jack Murphy Stadium on the ballot. Spanos lost that battle when thousands of citizens lined up to sign petitions in record time to put the project before voters. He went on to win the war when the city council — led by then-Mayor Susan Golding, a beneficiary of Spanos campaign cash — killed the public vote by canceling $18 million of the public financing and selling the stadium naming rights to Qualcomm for the same amount; a judge later upheld the backstage deal.
But now, in his hometown of Stockton, Spanos is mounting his very own referendum drive. Last month the city council there reached a settlement with state attorney general Jerry Brown, who threatened a lawsuit challenging the city’s Spanos-favored general plan allowing urban sprawl and a doubling of the city’s population by 2035. The deal with Brown calls for “green standards” for new buildings and other ways to reduce greenhouse gases. In response, Spanos has formed a referendum committee to put the settlement on the ballot.
Called the Alliance for Responsible Planning, the group is running newspaper ads claiming that “the public was shut out of the process that led to the dramatic changes that have just been made to the Stockton General Plan.” That drew an incredulous editorial response from the Stockton Record: “Come on, the Spanos Cos., one of the most savvy, aggressive and deep-pocketed developers around, was cut out of the process? If so, it likely would be a first. No, the Spanos Cos. liked the developer-driven General Plan approved earlier but does not like what it perceives to be the green-leaning, in-fill-promoting settlement the council worked out after being sued by the Sierra Club and threatened with a suit by Brown.”