Council president Myrtle Cole
The battle over city-owned Qualcomm Stadium has been joined by two old-line Mission Valley developers, virtually guaranteeing a costly political fight over the fate of a giant soccer-themed high-density commercial and housing complex on the 165-acre city-owned parcel being promoted by transplanted mega-millionaire Manhattan hedge-fund operator Mike Stone.
But whether the latest entry in what is quickly becoming the city's largest-ever big-money land-grab derby is good or bad news for taxpayers and the increasingly congested river valley may be in the eyes of the beholders.
"Public Land, Public Vote, a coalition of San Diego taxpayers, community planners, local businesses, and education, park, and environmental advocates," is the name of a campaign fund registered with the city clerk's office on Thursday (March 16), with "major funding by H.G. Fenton Company and Sudberry Properties."
The group's mission, according to the filing, is to oppose the so-called San Diego River Park and Soccer City initiative petition currently being circulated by Stone’s FS Investors, which, if it obtains sufficient signatures from the city's registered voters, would require the city council to consider a lucrative development deal for the stadium site drawn up by none other than FS itself.
The council could then either adopt the FS plan without a vote of the people or allow the proposal to go to the ballot.
Even if the council fast-tracked the plan, thereby keeping it out of the hands of voters, the FS deal could still be forced onto the ballot by another signature drive. Well-financed opposition by Fenton and Sudberry to the already controversial measure could force FS to come up with millions of dollars in campaign funds, significantly cutting into the firm's ultimate payoff.
As the stakes have grown, a key player in the ongoing stadium drama has become Fourth District city councilwoman Myrtle Cole.
The city-council president has been a longtime stalwart of Mission Valley development interests, which have poured cash into a legal defense fund set up to thwart a libel suit brought against Cole by fellow Democrat and campaign foe Dwayne Crenshaw.
Executives from both Sudberry and Fenton kicked in sizable contributions to Cole's legal fund in the months leading up to her July 2015 vote in favor of a taxpayer-funded $2.1 million environmental impact report, sold by Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer as the way to convince the Chargers to embrace the Mission Valley site for a new football stadium and accompanying densification.
"I own two L.T. jerseys," said Cole, referring to ex-Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson. "That's an investment and I want to wear those jerseys."
The team rejected the mayor's plan, leaving taxpayers holding the bag for the seven-figure environmental report, while Faulconer went on to endorse last year's ultimately failed Chargers ballot bid to raise hotel taxes for a stadium downtown.
Now, with the mayor pushing the FS proposal following a series of secret meetings with the developers, Cole, too, has begun saying good things about the deal.
"I’m very intrigued by the possibilities, particularly as it relates to thousands of jobs and economic development it will bring to San Diego,” she was quoted by the Union-Tribune as saying last month.
Adding to the intrigue, Cole has gotten an early start on her own campaign money raising, inaugurating the Re-elect Myrtle Cole for City Council 2018 committee on February 22, the same day that Stone and FS officially filed to circulate their initiative.