Carmel Valley planning board says No on SoccerCity

For the last several months, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board has heard pitches from both SDSU West and SoccerCity, two measures that will appear on the November ballot to develop the Mission Valley site, former home of the departed Chargers and SDCCU Stadium.

CV Planning Board Chair Frisco White said he felt like a parent, with two children asking for his attention— two developers fighting over the same piece of land.

“I’m sort of against planning by initiative and I feel like both of them are,” White said. “We’re giving up our planning rights by letting the initiative process take over.”

After some discussion the planning board voted unanimously to support the “No on SoccerCity” effort. While the board voted 6-3 to support the SDSU West plan, the board needed seven affirmative votes for the recommendation to carry weight, which they could not get as board members White, Barry Schultz and Steve Davison were fundamentally opposed to the process, not necessarily SDSU’s plan.

The planning board members who voted in favor of SDSU West wanted to have a say in the “big picture planning” for what they want for Mission Valley.

“You think about people like Ellen Browning Scripps and the spectacular land in the Torrey Pines Reserve and Balboa Park where past leaders took what might have been land that produced huge tax revenues to the city and they said ‘We’re building a great city here and we want parks, we want educational institutions,’” Billings said. “I think that it doesn’t even make sense to talk about (this site) in short-term dollars and cents, it’s really about building the city and looking forward to the future and I’m very strongly in support of SDSU West.”

“I hate the whole process but don’t want to miss the opportunity to do this for SDSU,” said board member Annie Glenn.

With its vote to oppose SoccerCity, Carmel Valley voted alongside its fellow planning groups Ocean Beach, North Park, Serra Mesa, Midway and Eastern Area (El Cerrito Heights, Rolando, Oak Park). The Mission Valley Planning Board has not taken a position yet and Navaho Community Planning (which represents Allied Gardens, Grantville, Del Cerro and San Carlos) is expected to vote in September.

The No on SoccerCity contingent also includes the Sierra Club, the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, Congressman Scott Peters, Assemblymember Todd Gloria and San Diego City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry.

“I opposed SoccerCity very early because I believed it was very bad for our city over the long term. It really is ballot box planning, it’s very detailed and actually prohibits public meetings,” said Bry at the Aug. 23 meeting. “SDSU West merely asks that the city try to negotiate an agreement with San Diego State and we will have a lot of latitude over what goes into that agreement and that would be an open and transparent process. Education is the best use for this precious land in Mission Valley and this is the best way for our city to go build something that will benefit our community for generations to come.”

Speaking on behalf of SoccerCity, Craig Benedetto said SoccerCity promises a “feasible, fiscally and environmentally responsible” path for developing the existing stadium site using no taxpayer money.

“Measure E stands for Everybody,” Benedetto said. “SoccerCity does provide for San Diego State’s long-term growth, student housing and football program but it also provides for taxpayers.”

It could also draw a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team to a new stadium on site.

SoccerCity’s specific plan includes a 34-acre river park, nine acres of neighborhood parks and 12 acres of active use playing fields in addition to a mixed-use development with retail and homes and a 33,500-seat stadium for a MLS team and Aztec football, with the option for a stand-alone pro football franchise stadium.The former 20-acre Chargers training center on Murphy Canyon Road would be used to support a potential MLS team’s operations, including practice facilities, team operations, media and lodging for visiting teams.

“We have a full plan out there. I will admit planning groups don’t like what they have described as ‘ballot box planning.’ But that’s the way the initiative process works,” Benedetto said. “I would argue it’s the most transparent process you have because all 3,000 pages of the plan, environmental and traffic analysis, are there in the public domain and have been for year and a half. That’s far more than the California State University system will bring.”

If approved by voters, the SDSU West initiative would allow the university to purchase the Mission Valley site at fair market value and develop it for the region’s educational, economic and recreational benefits.

SDSU’s plan for Mission Valley includes transforming the existing site into a campus environment with housing, classrooms, a research park, hotels, retail and a stadium, featuring 90 acres of public open space and a river park. The initiative requires a 35,000-seat stadium that must accommodate football, professional soccer and be adaptable for the NFL. It must also be built within seven years at no cost to the city.

SDSU’s plans do not include the Murphy Canyon property, which proponents say could enable the city to sell the site for an estimated $29 million.

Steve Doyle, a proponent for SDSU West, argued that their initiative sets forth an open process after the city sells the property to SDSU that will include a complete environmental review that will allow the public to provide feedback leading to mitigations for the project’s impacts.

White was doubtful about the transparency of the California State University Board of Trustees’ public input process.

“Once the state takes over the property, the state can do whatever the heck they want to do, I’m not buying that,” White said. “I’m still not confident that planning process will be adhered to.”

In his opposition to both measures, board member Davison said the city should decide what is best for the valuable property by issuing a request for proposals (RFP) and selecting the best choice out of all the alternatives.

Speaking frankly, Bry said: “I don’t trust our current mayor to do a fair RFP process and the mayor controls the RFP process.”

She said if Measure G passes, she would do her best to ensure a public process.

Schultz said it was “unfortunate” that the board and the public has been placed in this position.

“What we’re listening to today is a lack of leadership.This has been a problem for a long time and we've never had the leadership to get the job done. To me this process is flawed…I’ve sat through presentations just throwing out facts. It’s not vision planning, we’re not really sitting down and saying what is really best for this property,” said Schultz. “Here we have the best piece of property that we’re ever going to have and we’re just going to throw it out to an initiative.”

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