Housing prices spiral ever upwards and city streets are overwhelmed by unsheltered vagrants, but big money sports venues craved by the politically-connected super-rich continue to dominate the covert agenda at San Diego's city hall.
Of late, the controversy has been focused on San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and his closed-door push on behalf of campaign donor Morgan Dene Oliver for so-called Soccer City, whose La Jolla promoters are seeking to seize ownership of the 165-acre publicly-owned Mission Valley parcel otherwise known as Qualcomm Stadium.
Now another wealthy city hall suitor is quietly waiting in the wings, harboring as-yet-undisclosed plans for a costly venue to house his professional hockey team and expected commercial and high-end residential development.
Ex-UCLA engineering professor Henry Samueli, who made his bundle with computer chipmaker Broadcom bought the Anaheim Ducks from the Walt Disney Company in 2005.
Three years later Samueli copped a guilty plea to charges he'd lied to federal investigators about backdated stock options. The government's case against him was thrown out by a sympathetic federal judge in December 2009, and he was allowed back into the NHL.
Now worth $3.8 billion and ranked the 214th wealthiest American by Forbes, Samueli and his Orange County-based hockey venture own the San Diego Gulls farm team, which plays in the city-owned Sports Arena in the Midway district, whose relocation or redevelopment has long been a 44-acre goal of unrequited desire for innumerable would-be wheelers and dealers.
Last November, with the Chargers in the final stages of leaving town, the Union-Tribune quoted sports arena general manager Ernie Hahn as saying, "It’s time to start talking about a new arena.”
The paper added that a downtown 18,500-seat venue being pushed by Hahn and arena operator AEG Management "would meet requirements for teams in the NBA and NHL interested in moving to San Diego."
“We have a pretty progressive mayor (Kevin Faulconer),” Hahn was quoted as saying. “He wants to make it happen. But right now, the Chargers are more important than a new arena for the city.”
Per the newspaper’s account, "Hahn said a new arena would cost between $250 million and $300 million, and one financing possibility envisions AEG San Diego paying half while the other half is subsidized by city bonds."
Hahn added that his "company has owned land since the late 1990s adjacent to what is now the Padres’ tailgate park." The fate of the current venue, known as Valley View Casino Center as a result of a naming rights deal, went unaddressed.
Though nothing has emerged from the famously secretive Faulconer, a lobbying disclosure report filed May 17 by California Strategies and Advocacy reveals that Samueli's H & S Ventures, LLC of Corona del Mar recently hired the well-wired influence peddling outfit founded by ex-Pete Wilson honcho Bob White.
The assignment: to lobby city officials for "improvement of Valley View Casino Center/Sports Arena" or "entitlement of a facility in the San Diego region to host the San Diego Gulls, an American Hockey League team."
In the same document, California Strategies said it was no longer representing H.G. Fenton the giant local real estate development outfit that had retained the lobbyists to battle the SoccerCity project.
California Strategies staffers have been major fundraisers for Faulconer and city councilmen Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman, and Chris Ward, disclosure reports show.
In addition, three Los Angeles-based AEG executives contributed a total of $4200 to the mayor's reelection bid in 2016, with Hahn giving $1050 the year before. Hahn and his father contributed a total of $3000 to Faulconer's 2014 mayoral campaign, the records show.