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Does mayor's big money game verge on a crime?

Trading public money for council votes could void SoccerCity deal

Kevin Faulconer has ripped the cover of gentility from the obscure practice of tax-fueled mayoral favor-giving in exchange for city council votes, employed over the years to boost the political careers of council members, including the mayor himself when he represented Point Loma's District 6 on the council.

But did Faulconer violate state initiative laws in a way that could ultimately void the November electoral victory hoped for by his big money backers?

That's the megamillion-dollar question being asked by city hall insiders in the wake of Republican Faulconer's move to cut off public money for city projects favored by two Democratic council opponents of a $5-million special November election being sought by advocates of so-called SoccerCity, the venture seeking to privatize 166 acres of public real estate in Mission Valley currently occupied by Qualcomm Stadium.

After a June 2, 8-to-1 council vote to defund a $5-million special election this November for SoccerCity's privatization initiative, Faulconer struck back late Friday, June 9 by strippping a total of $580,780 in "unallocated discretionary funding"for the districts of council members Barbara Bry and Chris Ward, according to his website.

To reinforce his message, the mayor also removed $413,000 that had been previously budgeted to pay for a new roof for the Bay Bridge Community Center in Barrio Logan, in the eighth council district of Democrat David Alvarez, another opponent of Faulconer's special election plan. In addition, the mayor cut "$66,086 for a consultant for the newly-formed Homeless Committee as this temporary group is only scheduled to meet four times and sunset in 2018." The committee is a pet project of Democrat Ward.

“This City Council can stand in the way of progress or give voters the chance to create more jobs, fix our roads, reduce homelessness and build a world-class development that will generate millions of dollars for neighborhood services and public safety," says the online statement by Faulconer in favor of the SoccerCity plan and an unrelated hotel tax increase measure being pushed by the mayor for the same ballot.

But Faulconer and his top staffers — who hail from the world of public relations, not the law — may have misread their hand, say those familiar with the complex jumble of state initiative law by which SoccerCity proponents hope to end-run the city council and gain control of the lucrative Qualcomm property for a massive commercial and residential development project.

The key to the project’s ultimate legality, if it is ever approved by voters, will lie in whether the costly petition drive organized and paid for by SoccerCity's Mike Stone and his wealthy associates was really a project of private citizens — as required by state law — or instead was actually a measure propelled by the mayor's office through the back-door use of city staff time and tax money, including the mayor's threats and blandishments.

"It would be considered campaigning for City staff to provide input intended to make a voter initiative more or less appealing to voters or use City resources to the advantage of the proponent. Using public resources to provide an advantage to the proponent of a voter initiative is campaigning because it amounts to 'taking sides,' even when the activity is not directed at voters," opines a March 31 legal opinion from the office of Democratic city attorney Mara Elliott.

"If City input gives proponents of a voter initiative an advantage over opponents or other measures, a court may decide that the process is no longer neutral. Opponents could challenge a voter initiative, arguing that it was really a City measure and therefore invalid for not complying with procedures like [the California Environmental Quality Act]. There is no case, to date, that has so ruled, but the courts have not given clear guidance."

As first reported here in February, Faulconer held a string of closed-door meetings with Stone and his backers, including the mayor's campaign funder-in-chief, downtown developer Morgan Dene Oliver, regarding the SoccerCity initiative.

After Stone and fellow SoccerCity proponents went public with their controversial initiative bid in late January, Faulconer showed up at an endorsement rally, saying, "It’s so much more than an opportunity for a new sports team. It’s an opportunity to create jobs, to revitalize Mission Valley and see it become an economic driver.”

As the city attorney's memo notes, the mayor's words in favor of the project alone don't break the law, with an important caveat. "City staff can campaign as private citizens, but no City resources can be used to campaign for a voter initiative."

In addition to Faulconer's use of public money to incentivize the city council to call for a costly snap special election widely believed to favor the electoral chances of SoccerCity developers, there may be another rub.

Emails retrieved from the city following a request under the California Public Records Act show that representatives of the SoccerCity project were given an inside track and city staff time by Faulconer and his staff to gather information from city offices during preparation of the initiative.

"I would like to include a review of the City Real Estate Assets documents to make sure that we have any off-record encumbrances that may have been filed with the city clerk’s office but not recorded." FS consultant Gary Hus wrote city real estate assets chief Cybele Thompson last December 1, a day after Faulconer's meeting with SoccerCity representatives.

Notes Elliott in her legal opinion, "City staff must always be careful to preserve a neutral process in executing official City processes, such as compliance with City rules and regulations."

If the SoccerCity plan ever passes muster with voters, it is considered likely that the measure’s well-heeled opponents, who have already anted up more than $1 million to defeat it, will use the city attorney's rationale regarding Faulconer's well-documented use of city money for the measure to ultimately torpedo it in court.

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Kevin Faulconer has ripped the cover of gentility from the obscure practice of tax-fueled mayoral favor-giving in exchange for city council votes, employed over the years to boost the political careers of council members, including the mayor himself when he represented Point Loma's District 6 on the council.

But did Faulconer violate state initiative laws in a way that could ultimately void the November electoral victory hoped for by his big money backers?

That's the megamillion-dollar question being asked by city hall insiders in the wake of Republican Faulconer's move to cut off public money for city projects favored by two Democratic council opponents of a $5-million special November election being sought by advocates of so-called SoccerCity, the venture seeking to privatize 166 acres of public real estate in Mission Valley currently occupied by Qualcomm Stadium.

After a June 2, 8-to-1 council vote to defund a $5-million special election this November for SoccerCity's privatization initiative, Faulconer struck back late Friday, June 9 by strippping a total of $580,780 in "unallocated discretionary funding"for the districts of council members Barbara Bry and Chris Ward, according to his website.

To reinforce his message, the mayor also removed $413,000 that had been previously budgeted to pay for a new roof for the Bay Bridge Community Center in Barrio Logan, in the eighth council district of Democrat David Alvarez, another opponent of Faulconer's special election plan. In addition, the mayor cut "$66,086 for a consultant for the newly-formed Homeless Committee as this temporary group is only scheduled to meet four times and sunset in 2018." The committee is a pet project of Democrat Ward.

“This City Council can stand in the way of progress or give voters the chance to create more jobs, fix our roads, reduce homelessness and build a world-class development that will generate millions of dollars for neighborhood services and public safety," says the online statement by Faulconer in favor of the SoccerCity plan and an unrelated hotel tax increase measure being pushed by the mayor for the same ballot.

But Faulconer and his top staffers — who hail from the world of public relations, not the law — may have misread their hand, say those familiar with the complex jumble of state initiative law by which SoccerCity proponents hope to end-run the city council and gain control of the lucrative Qualcomm property for a massive commercial and residential development project.

The key to the project’s ultimate legality, if it is ever approved by voters, will lie in whether the costly petition drive organized and paid for by SoccerCity's Mike Stone and his wealthy associates was really a project of private citizens — as required by state law — or instead was actually a measure propelled by the mayor's office through the back-door use of city staff time and tax money, including the mayor's threats and blandishments.

"It would be considered campaigning for City staff to provide input intended to make a voter initiative more or less appealing to voters or use City resources to the advantage of the proponent. Using public resources to provide an advantage to the proponent of a voter initiative is campaigning because it amounts to 'taking sides,' even when the activity is not directed at voters," opines a March 31 legal opinion from the office of Democratic city attorney Mara Elliott.

"If City input gives proponents of a voter initiative an advantage over opponents or other measures, a court may decide that the process is no longer neutral. Opponents could challenge a voter initiative, arguing that it was really a City measure and therefore invalid for not complying with procedures like [the California Environmental Quality Act]. There is no case, to date, that has so ruled, but the courts have not given clear guidance."

As first reported here in February, Faulconer held a string of closed-door meetings with Stone and his backers, including the mayor's campaign funder-in-chief, downtown developer Morgan Dene Oliver, regarding the SoccerCity initiative.

After Stone and fellow SoccerCity proponents went public with their controversial initiative bid in late January, Faulconer showed up at an endorsement rally, saying, "It’s so much more than an opportunity for a new sports team. It’s an opportunity to create jobs, to revitalize Mission Valley and see it become an economic driver.”

As the city attorney's memo notes, the mayor's words in favor of the project alone don't break the law, with an important caveat. "City staff can campaign as private citizens, but no City resources can be used to campaign for a voter initiative."

In addition to Faulconer's use of public money to incentivize the city council to call for a costly snap special election widely believed to favor the electoral chances of SoccerCity developers, there may be another rub.

Emails retrieved from the city following a request under the California Public Records Act show that representatives of the SoccerCity project were given an inside track and city staff time by Faulconer and his staff to gather information from city offices during preparation of the initiative.

"I would like to include a review of the City Real Estate Assets documents to make sure that we have any off-record encumbrances that may have been filed with the city clerk’s office but not recorded." FS consultant Gary Hus wrote city real estate assets chief Cybele Thompson last December 1, a day after Faulconer's meeting with SoccerCity representatives.

Notes Elliott in her legal opinion, "City staff must always be careful to preserve a neutral process in executing official City processes, such as compliance with City rules and regulations."

If the SoccerCity plan ever passes muster with voters, it is considered likely that the measure’s well-heeled opponents, who have already anted up more than $1 million to defeat it, will use the city attorney's rationale regarding Faulconer's well-documented use of city money for the measure to ultimately torpedo it in court.

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Comments
20

I hope Mayor Sunny's hardball pays off. The people of San Diego are entitled to vote on whether or not they want to have Major League Soccer here in a new Mission Valley soccer stadium where abandoned Qualcomm's vast concrete parking lots now stand. Soccer City's measure has qualified for the ballot with enough signatures. City Council -- always looking out for its own bottom line from campaign contributors -- is wrong to block a special election ballot from happening in November 2017. Let's settle the question with a vote.

June 11, 2017

Correct--they are entitled to vote on it. And it should be voted on. In 2018, saving the city, which is already running a budget deficit, $5 million. The FSI/MLS deadline is artificial at best, as 2 expansion teams will be named by the end of this year (already a "moving of the goalposts by MLS), and the final 2 expansion teams will be announced sometime next year. If MLS is so desperate to put San Diego in this league, they can wait until after November of 2018 to decide. MLS could even keep the expansion fee for the FSI investor group at $150 million, instead of charging an even higher expansion fee as has been discussed for the last 2 expansion teams.

June 11, 2017

The preceding sounds like a SoccerCity TV ad.

June 12, 2017

Wow. SuckerCity really has suckered people, when they think retaliation and extortion deserve to be graduated from gangland to government. Look at the projects that Kev-boy unfunded: they directly injure the most vulnerable and already least served among us.

The thuggish thinking that "hardball" by elected officials which targets innocent citizens is acceptable behavior, is unacceptable under any circumstances—most of all in the service of a scheme as laughable and obvious as this one.

June 12, 2017

"Retaliation and extortion...graduated from gangland to government?" I would say "reality bites," Cassander, in the world of politics on both sides of the aisle.

Recently several Democrats in the Democrat-dominated State Legislature were severely punished by leadership for voting against our Democratic Governor's incredibly regressive gas tax hike and an increase in all auto registration fees which even includes higher yearly fees for ultra-green electric cars. The game is hard ball whether you approve or not.

Unseemly hardball tactics can be avoided if City Council will do its job and place the legitimately qualified Soccer City measure on the ballot for a vote by the citizenry in November 2017, instead of stonewalling under the pretext of Measure L.

June 12, 2017

Are you a paid consultant for FS Investors?

June 12, 2017

Monaghan, let's be clear: Measure L was passed by 66% of voters (305,638 people) in a presidential general election, specifically to stop wasteful special interest special elections. But just seven months later, you want a tranche of signatures on a petition, gathered by paid collectors under false pretenses and in total ignorance of what the initiative's 600 pages really contain, to break this new law in order to hold yet another wasteful special interest special election. And just because you say so.

Have you even read the damn thing? (With attachments, it's 3,000 pages.)

Frankly, your glib and snarling dismissal of a popular vote, the rule of law, and basic civility for your own opinion on this topic, both now and before, is deeply disturbing.

June 12, 2017

I couldn't have said it better, Cassander.

June 12, 2017

Tough you don't like my position. "Glib and snarling?"I don't think so. Until you get rid of the Initiative in California, signature gathering (by paid solicitors) of legitimately registered voters still counts for something: in this case, he Soccer City measure has qualified for the ballot and it should appear before the voters for their decision in a timely manner. It's pretty simple. Again, I have to object to your name-calling, Cassander. With such a mindset, it is no wonder you feel deeply disturbed.

As for you, dwbat, carefully chiming in, no, I am not "a paid consultant for FS Investors."

I like soccer, along with many other adults and millions of kids. I would like to witness something future-oriented and positive happen here and I think this could be it: a major league soccer team for San Diego. Local enemies and competitors of the "outsider" Stones and righteous naysayers such as yourselves could combine to carry the day. But I will keep hope alive. It ain't over 'til it's over.

June 12, 2017

Just because you and others "like soccer" doesn't mean this is therefore a good plan for San Diego and for this valuable acreage of public land. You are arguing apples and oranges.

June 12, 2017

Apples and oranges are both fruit. I have never understood this expression as it makes no sense.

June 12, 2017

How about apples and soccer balls?

June 12, 2017

Now you're talking.

June 12, 2017

It makes perfect sense to most people. Apples and oranges are quite different, and cannot be compared. Duh! The fact you don't understand makes me see why you can't understand the Soccer City project is a scam.

June 12, 2017

Also, when you get greenspace over there in the "valuable acreage" that is Mission Valley instead of the Stones'muti-faceted plan that includes a river walk along with housing, commercial development and a soccer stadium, let me know.

June 12, 2017

I like soccer as well. I look forward to voting on the FS proposal. In 2018.

June 12, 2017

It appears everyone here, myself included, agrees with your saying this "measure has qualified for the ballot and it should appear before the voters for their decision in a timely manner." It's just that the rest of us aren't convinced of any reason why deciding in November of 2018, as we will every other qualified initiative, is not "expeditious" per the language of Measure L. (A measure which, it should be noted, no argument against was filed.)

So yes, we do support the "Initiative in California," because it put Measure L on the ballot and thus brought order to the chaos of allowing anyone with deep pockets to continually inconvenience the electorate and have taxpayers foot the bill for elections every half year for whatever crazy idea or scheme they want.

And at 600 pages, SuckerCity is literally a textbook of a scheme.

June 12, 2017

Doubtless you will take satisfaction from today's vote of the craven City Council. Nitpickers 1 Visionaries 0. I am disappointed and sad.

June 12, 2017

And it makes me disappointed and sad that you still can't see that nothing about this proposal justified breaking the law.

June 12, 2017

I am VERY happy with the vote. Hip hip hurray! Thank goodness for Democrats.

June 12, 2017

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