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San Diego City Council Kills Funding For SoccerCity, Convention Center Expansion Special Election

But mayor says he will veto the decision

San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry speaks during a council meeting, Dec....

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.

San Diego City Council Kills Funding For SoccerCity, Convention Center Expansion Special Election

GUEST:

Claire Trageser, investigative reporter, KPBS

Transcript

The future looks grim for a new soccer stadium in Mission Valley and a convention center expansion. The San Diego City Council voted 8-1 Monday night to kill funding for a special election this November on both projects.

But, the election is not dead yet. Soon after the vote, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement he would veto the council's decision. The council would need six votes to override his veto.

"A City Council majority is supporting the unprecedented step of blocking a public election by stripping funding from the budget," his statement said. "This short-sighted move results in denying the public a vote and getting nothing accomplished for our city. The City Council majority wants to make San Diegans wait for more road repairs, wait to address the homeless crisis, wait to bring back tourism jobs, and jeopardize a chance to get a major league sports franchise."

The council will still vote on June 12 on whether to add the convention center expansion to a ballot this November, and then vote on June 19 on adding SoccerCity to the same ballot.

The majority of the council voted to remove $5 million for the special election from the fiscal 2018 budget, but offered different reasons for their decision. Four Democrats on the council, including Councilwoman Barbara Bry, said the money would be better spent on things like police overtime.

"I heard you say keep us safe and keep the arts, I heard you ask for more than what you got," she said. "I adhere to the law and the will of the voters and I endeavor to save the city $5 million."

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said she supports holding a special election, but would vote for the budget without the funding because she overall supports the spending plan.

Only Councilman Scott Sherman wanted to keep the funding for the election in the budget. He said removing it went against the will of the people who signed a petition asking for the special election.

"By taking that $5 million off the table for a special election, you are directly denying the people their right to vote," he said. "And our job as council members once the public speaks is to implement the will of the voter and not our own will."

If the council votes later this month to not hold a special election, voters will likely weigh in on the projects in November 2018.

Nick Stone, the developer behind SoccerCity, said last month that delaying the vote until 2018 would kill the project because it removes the chance for the city to attract a soccer franchise. His company, La Jolla-based FS Investors, will not pursue its development plan if there is no Major League Soccer team.

In addition to the stadium, FS Investors wants to build homes, commercial space and a river park on the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site.

Along with the soccer stadium proposal, council members were weighing a special election on the mayor's plan to raise San Diego's hotel room tax by up to 3 percent. The money would go towards funding an expansion of the convention center, as well as road repair projects and homeless programs.

The plan would need two-thirds of voters to approve it.

More than 200 people signed up to speak either for or against the special election, and before the council meeting supporters and opponents held dueling rallies.

On one side: a coalition of tourism groups and homeless service providers. On the other: the advocacy organization Alliance San Diego and union groups.

Tony Manolatos, a spokesman for the tourism coalition, said the tax increase would also go in part toward funding for the homeless.

"The plan right now is to secure the funding, and then you bring in the service providers, the experts like Father Joe’s and Alpha Project, who are with the coalition and supporting this effort, and you let them figure out, OK, here’s the priority," he said.

Opponents said a special election would fly in the face of Measure L passed by voters last year, which stated all city measures should be on November ballots when more people vote.

Jerry Butkiewicz with the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Union said the city’s growing homeless population is reason to slow down and wait for a general election.

"Right now, I think most of our citizens would say what we’re doing is not working real well," he said. "So let’s take a step back, being willing to dedicate time, and take a new look at this."

The budget will take effect July 1.

KPBS reporter Megan Burks contributed to this story.

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