Hours after Mayor Kevin Faulconer stood with FS Investors in support of their Qualcomm redo ballot initiative, the developers received a far less friendly reception at the Mission Valley Planning Group.
The company has proposed leasing the city-owned 166 acres around Qualcomm for $10,000 a year, and building a soccer stadium, 4,800 units of housing, commercial buildings and parks on the site. They've taken the unusual step of qualifying the project for a public vote through a ballot initiative, which circumvents part of the normal development planning process.
"To me, this sounds like an old-fashioned land grab," said Tom Schiff, who noted that he'd rather see a football team at the Q. "I asked last month as I did a year ago, what about the refurbishing of the Q — that seems to be slipping away."
The group was faced with a yes or no decision on the plan — which will avoid the normal California Environmental Quality Act review because it's a ballot initiative — and they didn't like it. While the wanna-be developers stood with Faulconer on Wednesday morning and promised $40 million for a park, by mid-day the promise became a little vague. "What is locked is $40 million," said Nick Stone, from FS Investors. "What's not locked is how we spend it." Similarly, the commitment to housing is locked, he said, "What is not locked is where we put it."
As proposed, the developers would owe $51 million in parks or in fees for parks anyway, an analyst asserted. Stone defended the ballot initiative, saying the land belongs to all of San Diego and "It's the people's asset, it's the people's city and we're taking it to the people to decide."
The initiative and the hype surrounding it begs the question how viable a soccer stadium is likely to be, given the mediocre draws soccer has had up to now.
The normally decisive group struggled with how to deal with the project, which will not go through a normal review process. Rob Hutsel, who is the executive director for the San Diego River Park Foundation, wanted time to look at the proposal that promises the river park an expansion it has long sought. But they don't get to do that, they were cautioned.
"Don't go in there thinking you can negotiate — you can't," former La Jolla Planning Committee chairman Joe LaCava said, urging the Mission Valley group to take strategic action. "If you vote no, they will sweeten the deal...Make them come back and sweeten the deal."
One speaker said she had read the 3,000-page plan, and found troubling information, including that FS Investors will have 10 years to deliver the affordable housing proposed. She said that the zoning changes in the initiative will more than double the value of the land to $500 million. "That's a public subsidy," she said.
But it was the ballot initiative that most frustrated the group. "Citizens initiatives trivialize this group," said group member Marco Sessa, from Sudberry Properties. "I'd like to send a message to the city council and the planning commission that citizens' initiatives circumvent the public process that we have all committed to."
The planning group had seen the proposal before, and the La Jolla investors had apparently challenged whether or not Sessa should recuse himself. since he works for a competing developer — Sudberry developed Civita in Mission Valley. Stone asked if Sessa would recuse himself and got a firm no.
"We spent money on attorneys to decide I don't have to recuse myself," Sessa said.
The group voted 14-4 to write a letter to the council and commission saying just that; and voted to set up a subcommittee to study the FS Investors plan, and bring the information back at a later meeting.