As Democratic Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, a talked-of candidate for governor, bans city planning commissioners from meeting privately with developers, San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, another putative aspirant to statewide office, is heading in the other direction, granting heightened secrecy and expedited treatment to favored projects and wealthy campaign donors who could boost his rise up the political ladder.
Such is the opinion of multiple inside observers of the ongoing battle for the city-owned Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley, currently in the crosshairs of a super-rich group of La Jolla men known as FS Investors, seeking to grab the 165-acre parcel from public ownership to build a high-density commercial and housing complex, featuring a professional soccer stadium that may or may not include a new football venue for San Diego State University.
Records previously obtained from SDSU under provisions of the state's public records act reveal that San Diego's Republican mayor repeatedly held secret closed-door meetings over the past year with FS principals.
Morgan Dene Oliver
Aiding the talks, the documents show, was developer Morgan Dene Oliver, a longtime Faulconer campaign giver, whose OliverMcMillan development firm hosted a January 5 lunch prepared by Oliver’s personal chef in a dining room at his downtown offices.
In addition, records show repeated private contacts between Faulconer and the FS group in the mayor's office, including on May 9 and November 30.
Now, documents newly released by the city following a February 21 public records act request reveal that Cybele Thompson, the Faulconer-appointed director of the city's Real Estate Assets Department, has also been in behind-the-scenes communications with FS and its consultants, providing inside information and non-public access to Qualcomm Stadium to aid the developers in their quest to obtain the city-owned property as quickly as possible.
"Our understanding is that there isn’t really a survey of the Qualcomm site available today," FS partner Nick Stone emailed Thompson on November 1.
"We were wondering if it would be possible to get your assistance to secure access to the location at convenient times to conduct the survey and potentially to ask for some help securing some old records."
Replied Thompson, "Hi, Nick – Sure, we would be happy to assist you with access to the site. Your primary point of contact at the stadium, Mike McSweeney, is copied here and his contact information is below."
FS consultant Gary Hus emailed Thompson on December 1, a day after the mayor met privately with the developers in his office, asking for further assistance with the project.
"We have acquired a significant number of documents affecting the site," wrote Hus.
"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."
In addition to Thompson, records show, Hus was also in regular contact with Greg Hopkins, deputy director of the city's engineering division.
"He mentioned that the city had put together some records recently for the site," Hus wrote Thompson.
"Is there someone I can meet with at your offices and take a look at what you have? I am flexible on time but sooner would be better if possible."
On February 15, Clif Williams, a land-use analyst with FS’s law firm Latham & Watkins, emailed Thompson with another request for expedited handling:
"We are trying to determine the end date for all leases of the Qualcomm Stadium site, including the end of all options for extension in those leases.”
Added Williams: "Can we get this information today."
Haste is not the norm at city hall, which often requires non-governmental parties to wait months for responses to public records act requests, note longtime observers of the city's development and planning processes.
Whether the repeated private contacts by the mayor and city staff under his control may draw legal fire or represent unauthorized costs to taxpayers that should be recovered from his campaign fund can't be determined until the city releases further promised details of the mayor's dealings with project developers,
The ownership of work product done with city advice and participation, including the FS site survey, might also be in question, say those with knowledge of the situation.
Meanwhile, would-be FS competitors for the land have expressed growing frustration at the way in which the FS project is speeding through city hall, thanks to the mayor's intercession.
"We just came up with this because we didn’t have much time since soccer came out of nowhere,” Perry Dealy, an aide to La Jolla's Doug Manchester, was quoted as saying in the Union-Tribune, adding, in the paper's words, that "instead of running with the FS plan, the city should stop, master plan the site itself and then invite more competition by issuing a request for proposals over the next two or three years."