As the big-money politics behind the drive to turn over the Qualcomm Stadium site to a secretive syndicate of La Jolla money men mounts, one of the city's mightiest pro-developer lobbies has jumped into the fray, raising fresh questions about the motives behind the putative land-grab.
“Inaction in Mission Valley is costly for taxpayers, so our elected leaders should be appropriately deliberative, but also decisive," says a February 13 statement from Haney Hong, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.
Just the day before, two ex-chairs of the self-styled taxpayer advocacy group made clear their desired destiny for the property.
"Simply put, a Major League Soccer team makes many public benefits possible that are unlikely to be offered in any other scenario because this investor group is the only one in San Diego with the exclusive right to pursue an MLS franchise,” asserted April Boling and Mike McDowell.
"In an ideal world, we could spend years talking about what to do with Qualcomm Stadium, as we did in the past," they write. "In the real world, an opportunity sits in front of us today that will expire if we do not act."
Then the pair came to the payoff: the choice public land could be turned into a high-dollar developer’s dreamland.
“We know San Diego is in a housing affordability crisis that leaves many San Diegans unable to own a home, or worse, living on the street and in shelters. Adding housing along the existing trolley line at the Mission Valley site is exactly the kind of smart growth development envisioned by the city’s Climate Action Plan.”
Besides Boling — a longtime campaign treasurer for Republican causes and a former city-council hopeful — the so-called watchdog group is controlled by a board of powerful city hall influence-peddlers, including representatives of Sempra Energy; San Diego Gas & Electric; SeaWorld; Kilroy Realty; the GOP Lincoln Club; Westfield Corp; and Pardee Homes.
The board is also populated by representatives of government agencies whose interests do not always coincide with those of San Diego's taxpaying and ratepaying public, including the San Diego Regional Airport Authority; San Diego County Water Authority; and the L.A-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Another member is Michael Zucchet, the ex-city councilman and interim San Diego mayor forced to resign from office following his federal criminal indictment during the Cheetahs strip club influence-peddling scandal of the early 2000s.
Convicted by jury in 2005, he was subsequently acquitted of seven counts of fraud and extortion by a judge who cited inadequate evidence. Prosecutors later dismissed two remaining counts.
In May 2009, Zucchet became general manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, a public employees’ group representing a swath of city workers that last May spent $12,613 on a direct-mail piece supporting the reelection of Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer, city disclosure records show.
The taxpayers association is also a major political money player, its political action committee spending at least $92,591 last fall to defeat Measure D, a ballot measure sponsored by ex-Padres owner John Moores that would have allowed the Mission Valley stadium site to be sold for education and park uses.
City records show that the anti-Prop D efforts of the taxpayer association’s PAC were funded by the San Diego Hotel-Motel Association Issue Advocacy PAC, which came up with $13,750 on October 26, and the San Diego Lodging Industry Association PAC, which kicked in a total of $49,000 during October and November.
On November 7, the day before the election, the Lodging Industry PAC received $4475 from an entity called SD Stadium Hotel LLC — Portofino Inn and Suites, San Diego MV/Stadium. Other donors paying for the taxpayer association’s anti-Prop D PAC through the Lodging PAC included Hilton Worldwide of Memphis, Tennessee, with $8500, and Evolution Hospitality, with a total of $18,525,
For its part, the hotel-motel association funded its contribution to the taxpayer association PAC with money from donors including the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, and the Bahia Hotel, operated by the Evans family on city-owned Mission Bay real estate.