SoccerCity Media Push Targets San Diego City Council
Friday, June 16, 2017
Credit: FS Investors
UPDATE: 7:10 a.m., June 19, 2017
The San Diego City Council is expected to either approve the SoccerCity redevelopment project planned for the Qualcomm Stadium site Monday or put it to a public vote. Over 100 thousand voters signed petitions in favor of the plan to replace Qualcomm Stadium with a smaller facility for professional soccer and college football. SoccerCity also includes a park along the San Diego River, housing, offices and commercial space. If the council decides to send the proposal to a public vote, there is some question as to when that would happen. Last week, the city council rejected a plan to conduct a special election this fall.
Read story below.
Supporters and detractors of the massive redevelopment plan drawn up for the Qualcomm Stadium property are buying ads on television and on social media in an effort to sway public opinion. Such a campaign usually does not happen for an issue that lacks a scheduled election.
Supporters are featuring soccer player Landon Donovan in an ad that urges people to reach out to the city council to urge a November 2017 vote.
This ad and others have been on local television for more than a month and mailers were sent out to many San Diego residents.
Financial disclosure records show SoccerCity backers have contributed more than $2.5 million to the support the effort since the first of the year.
Nick Stone is a partner in the SoccerCity project. He said an estimated 82,000 valid signatures prove voters support the project, but FS Investors can not get a majority of the city council to agree to put the issue on a special election ballot this November.
"We're on TV right now because the single hardest vote for us is the city council vote. The people love this idea. We're massively, massively popular in the general populace," Stone said. "So the only things that's getting really decided, is the city council going to allow the people to express their overwhelming support for the project or not. And that requires the citizens in San Diego standing up and reaching out."
A November special election keeps San Diego in the running for a Major League Soccer franchise. The league will pick two cities from nearly a dozen for a expansion franchises by the end of the year. The final expansion teams will be picked sometime after that.
Soccer City backers argue holding a city-wide vote on their project in November 2018 could mean all the expansion franchises would already be picked. That is why opponents are pushing to hold off on the vote.
"There's a lot of sort of developer focused opposition out there and I think what you're seeing is all of those streams of opposition have all kind of revolved around the development community expressing a view with regards to this project. And that group is powerful," Stone said.
Those development-minded opponents are also on television with their own ad. Calling the project "Sucker City," the ad calls the redevelopment project a giveaway that will snarl traffic in Mission Valley.
Both control land in the valley that could be affected by the SoccerCity development. Financial disclosure forms show Fenton and Sudberry donated nearly $1.5 million to the group Public Land, Public Vote since the first of the year. That is the group's only recorded source of funding.
"I think that the ad raises several questions that the public needs to know about," said Laura Fink, a spokeswoman for Public Land Pubic Vote. "The fact that we are not inviting competition here, to this valuable piece of land, is a huge problem. That means we're not getting the best price."
Voters should not be distracted by the prospect of landing a soccer team, Fink said, because the project is about the future of a valuable piece of public property.
"So we knew going in that this was going to be a conversation had in the public square. And so we knew that when you spend multiple millions of dollars to get something on the ballot, we knew for certain the FS Investors would be selling their plan hard. And so our ad is a response to that," Fink said.
Fighting for public support over a controversial issue using the mass media and social media tool box is common. Having a full-blown media battle without an election day is not.
"A television campaign at this point in the year, a May television campaign, I can't really recall one," said Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego's Mesa College.
People are not conditioned to expect a heavily funded media battle this time of year, according to Luna, who also said it is especially difficult to mobilize the public.
"You had graduations all over the city. People are paying attention to their families and looking at summer vacations. This is probably the worst time you're trying to get a lot of public traction to influence a vote," Luna said.
The San Diego City Council will weigh in Monday afternoon. City officials can vote to approve the project outright, which is unlikely, or send the issue to the November 2018 ballot.
Moving the initiative to a special election this November requires a separate vote.
The city council has already voted 5 to 4 against the creation of a special election this year.
The San Diego City Council is expected either approve the SoccerCity redevelopment project planned for the Qualcomm Stadium site Monday or put it to a public vote.
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