As questions continue about why San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer has endorsed a hike in the city’s hotel tax to pay for a new $1.8 billion Chargers downtown stadium and meeting venue, the controversy has cast a spotlight on Kris Michell, a onetime aide to Republican mayors Susan Golding and Jerry Sanders, as well as an ex-Padres executive.
Michell departed as chief of staff to Sanders in January 2010 to become president of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a group that says it “serves as downtown’s watchdog,” but also acts as a business lobby, specializing in development and real estate interests. This year’s board chairman is Frank Urtasun, regional vice president of external relations for utility giant Sempra Energy. He succeeded Keith Jones, scion of the Ace Parking dynasty, expected to get a lucrative exclusive parking concession if the stadium is built.
The partnership has long been cozy with GOP mayors, including Faulconer, whose chief operating officer Scott Chadwick is married to Christina Chadwick, who was the partnership’s vice president of communications until becoming Faulconer’s deputy press secretary in September of this year. In 2012, two years after Michell took the reins of the group, the partnership set up the San Diego Jobs Political Action Committee to back Republican Steve Danon in his failed race for the county board of supervisors. These days the partnership relies heavily on funding from downtown’s so-called business improvement district collected by Faulconer-run city hall.
All of which may have something to do with Michell’s recent announcement that her group has endorsed the controversial Chargers plan. “A joint-use football stadium and convention center facility will put San Diego on the world stage and contribute to the year-round vibrancy enjoyed by world-class urban centers,” Michell said in a news release.
The words resembled those Michell used when she was vice president for public relations for the Padres in 1998, touting a public subsidy for the baseball team that now costs taxpayers over $13 million in annual debt payments.The Padres deal was championed by Michell’s previous boss Golding. For her service to the downtown partnership during the 12 months ending in June of last year, Michell was paid $220,000, according to a disclosure report filed with the IRS.