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Suspended Sierra Club's appointed leaders back SDSU

Ex-professor attacks Soccer City's "ballot box" planning

Ruben Arizmendi and Peter Andersen
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.

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Ruben Arizmendi and Peter Andersen
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.

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Comments
7

So we sell off this last huge parcel of public land away to either the mayor's cronies or SDSU's cronies? That's not even "the lady or the tiger"—it's all tiger.

We the people own this land, and rather than buying into this false choice that it must be handed over for private schemes, we need to demand the city create a master plan for it: one that ensures the residential component is overwhelmingly affordable, with commercial that fits, and the land adjacent the river dedicated for parkland, and then solicit bids to make this happen.

Feb. 27, 2018

That would require some leadership from a mayor and council who are unconcerned about the next election, and who want to do the right thing. Starting with Kev-boy and working down through the council seats, most of them are looking at the future political careers. The city blew it on Liberty Station, turning it over to a single developer who had no vision for the area. San Diego is running out of spots of that size that can be redeveloped into something the city can be proud of. I'm not sure which former mayor had a real vision of such things. Pete Wilson was taking some steps to control leapfrog development, and to put the infrastructure in place first. Most of that seemed to fly out the window shortly after he went to Washington. He had a vision for downtown that pivoted on the Horton Plaza shopping mall, a deal that never delivered the things they hoped for.

Feb. 27, 2018

When public land is properly put up for sale-public entity's get first opportunity to purchase some of it for their needs. So if you are saying we the people own this land-SDSU is the representation OF the people in University form. If you understand how this whole process has worked, you would see that the FS private Investors are trying to bypass that whole public entity purchasing process by their initiative. SDSU's plan is the only way here to truly represent what you are asking for-keeping the land FOR the people. I encourage you to take a stand for expanded research education, environmental & public real estate law, and civic pride in our local athletics. SDSUWest is the way to go.

Feb. 28, 2018

I gather you're referring to California Code 54222. In which case, the land should first be offered "for the purpose of developing low- and moderate-income housing" then next "for park and recreational purposes or open-space purposes." Schools are third after that. So, basically what I wrote.

Besides, who says SDSU is the only one whose "school facilities construction or use by a school district for open-space purposes" should be considered? SDSU alumni?

Since SDSU has admitted it is not going to directly make use of all this space, they shouldn't be handed the whole thing. They intend to "commercially develop" parts of it and use the profits to "benefit" the university, which is not as you say "keeping the land FOR the people" and is just as unacceptable as the SuckerCity ruse.

The idea that this parcel simply must be handed whole cloth to some group or another is the most pernicious lie of all.

Feb. 28, 2018

The SoccerCity folks are sneaky land-grabbing commercial developers who care nothing about the people of San Diego. They only seek ginormous profits, due to getting the land for a pittance, upon which these "Trumpsters" would likely build a crappy public river park along with over-priced condos and un-needed retail clutter.

Feb. 28, 2018

Wouldn't that be a great place for permanent housing for our homeless? On the trolley line, and the homes/apartments could be tailored to their needs. No nasty retrofits or tents. The NIMBY response would be minimal and there's easy access for service providers.

It's a crisis, right? So before we build any more luxury homes and stores - and that's what's really being fought over - let's use this public land to solve a public crisis.

And by all means, Canyonlands can do a river park - with all those developer impact fees for parks that haven't been created.

March 1, 2018

"The idea that this parcel simply must be handed whole cloth to some group or another is the most pernicious lie of all."

- Cassander

Exactly.

March 1, 2018

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