Ruben Arizmendi and Peter Andersen
The ballot battle over the fate of the city-owned Mission Valley acreage formerly known as Qualcomm Stadium has been notched up again, this time by the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club, which has endorsed a measure that would turn the property over to San Diego State University for academic and commercial development.
In its February 27 endorsement, the group also took a swipe at SoccerCity, a competing ballot proposal backed by a La Jolla–based group of private investors. "SoccerCity is environmentally damaging, ballot box land planning,” says a statement by Richard Miller, the chapter's Development Associate.
"Sierra Club opposes development proposals like SoccerCity that use the initiative process to bypass environmental review and convert public land to private profit,” per the news release, which adds that the positions were "unanimously supported by the Sierra Club’s San Diego Chapter Steering and Conservation Committees."
The move could rekindle a festering argument over the motives of the respective champions of the competing measures, with some well-heeled backers of the SDSU plan already forced to deny that they would benefit financially from developing the school's real estate.
“We have a rival group of developers who are proposing their own plan,” SoccerCity's Nick Stone told the Union-Tribune regarding SDSU backers. “We know it’s a private development plan because one of the members of the construction team has said that all of the development will be done by private developers.”
In addition to questions of moneyed interests, institutional loyalties may also come into play, further clouding the political optics for the school. Peter Andersen, a professor emeritus at SDSU's School of Communications, is vice chairman of the local Sierra Club's steering committee, and lawyer Ruben Arizmendi, the committee's chair, is an SDSU alumnus.
Four years ago this month, Sierra Club headquarters in San Francisco suspended the San Diego chapter after chronic bouts of alleged "factionalized strife and contention."
"Some people on the ousted executive committee said the suspension was retaliation for their public disagreements with national headquarters," the Union-Tribune reported at the time.
"They highlighted two examples: their opposition to the national board’s call for greater development and use of biofuels, and their criticism of that board’s decision to endorse the Green Works line of products from Clorox."
Reached by phone this week, current steering committee vice-chair Andersen confirmed that the San Diego chapter is still under suspension and that he, as well as Arizmendi and the others on the seven-member governing committee, were appointed by the Sierra Club's national governing body.
That's set to change this coming June, Andersen says, when the four-year-old sanctions finally lift and members here will be able to vote in a governing board election. Current membership in the county is 16,000, he added.
As for the possible appearance of a conflict of interest stemming from his and Arizmendi's ties to San Diego State, Andersen says, "Being an educator, I believe in public education, but that was not the driving force" in the club's endorsement of the SDSU project versus SoccerCity.
Instead, he says, the signature-gathering initiative process in which SoccerCity is seeking to obtain the former Qualcomm Stadium site has been traditionally looked on in disfavor by the club. On the other hand, Andersen maintains, SDSU's measure, which is also an initiative, is written to be "completely compliant" with state environmental review laws.