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San Diego State Might Tap Taxpayer Funds To Expand Into Mission Valley

A rendering of the SDSU West plan to redevelop SDCCU Stadium is shown in this...

Credit: San Diego State University

Above: A rendering of the SDSU West plan to redevelop SDCCU Stadium is shown in this undated image.

San Diego State Might Tap Taxpayer Funds To Expand Into Mission Valley

GUEST:

Erik Anderson, reporter, KPBS News

San Diego State University officials unveiled their $3 billion vision for the Mission Valley stadium site last November.

The concept included a sports stadium, housing, commercial and office space, along with a proposal for a river park.

John Kratzer of JMI Realty said the school asked him to design a regional asset with a campus environment that develops the site through a transparent process.

It also had to meet one other standard.

“No reliance on tax dollars,” Kratzer said. “One of the very first things that Sally challenged me with is the fact that this plan has to be financeable on a stand-alone basis with no reliance on tax dollars.”

RELATED: SDSU Unveils Campus Expansion Plan For Mission Valley

Sally is Sally Roush, San Diego State University’s president.

“There will be no reliance on taxpayer funds or university funds is what we typically refer to them as,” Roush said to reporters asking pointed questions about public funding.

“The only bond financing we anticipate would be the stadium, which will be revenue bonds issued and those revenue bonds will be covered by revenue generated by the stadium,” Roush said.

But despite those public assurances, the initiative that allows the city to sell 133 acres of city property to San Diego State does not carry a prohibition on public funding.

The 14-page measure does prohibit the creation of any new or additional taxes to pay for the sale and it prohibits the use of city general fund money to build the River Park, but it does not stop developers from tapping already existing local or state public funds that might be designated for, say, building a park.

“If we can get them, why shouldn’t we get them? They’re there for park purposes,” said Steve Doyle, a prominent member of the SDSU West steering committee. He is helping pitch the sale of land to San Diego State in front of local planning boards.

RELATED: SDSU West Backers Press Public For More Signatures

Doyle makes some distinctions in what is and is not public money.

“It’s considered public money, but is it taxpayer money?” Doyle asked.

“When a developer pays a fee into a fund, into an account, that account has a project schedule for what it’s going to do. And one of those things that it’s going to do is build a park in Mission Valley. Developer money comes in and it sits in that account until there’s enough money in that account to build that park. So, if they’re already collecting dollars for that park, why wouldn’t they access those dollars which came in from developer fees to build a park? It didn’t come from taxpayers. It came from developers,” Doyle said.

Doyle, meanwhile, was one of four co-authors of a local newspaper editorial last fall urging the public to back the SDSU West Initiative.

Malin Burnham, Kim Kilkenny and Jack McGrory joined Doyle in saying to the newspaper’s readers that:

“This initiative would authorize the sale of the existing stadium site to SDSU at fair market value. This unlocks tremendous potential for 133 acres in Mission Valley and an opportunity to create a plan that would require zero city funds.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune, Oct. 13, 2017

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Friends of SDSU steering committee member Steve Doyle in the KPBS Studios on Jan. 24, 2018.

Doyle had this on-the-record exchange at KPBS:

Q: And you’re okay with hearing the president of the university say, we’re not going to use any public money on this project?

A: Yes.

Q: You don’t feel uncomfortable that some people might look at that and say but money from a city account, money from a state fund?

A: I am not uncomfortable with that.

Q: And you don’t think it’s inaccurate?

A: I don’t think its inaccurate.

Q: And you feel okay going to the voters and saying look, we’re not going to use taxpayer dollars?

A: That’s correct.

Q: Even though you may use taxpayer dollars?

A: Even though there may be taxpayer dollars coming from a state bond initiative, yes. We’re not going to raise your taxes. Those bond monies are already there.

Not everyone shares Doyle’s perspective on the public monies.

“I think the common sense definition that anyone would agree to is once it goes into the government coffers, the revenue goes into the government coffers from where ever it’s from is taxpayer money,” said Richard Rider, the chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters.

The group is concerned about taxes at the state and local level and calls itself a pro-taxpayer advocacy group.

“The idea that they’re not drawing from the general fund is ... subterfuge. It's dishonest because they’re by omission indicating they’re not using taxpayer dollars,” Rider said.

The tax critic argued that it does not matter whether dollars come from a developer, a special fund, a taxpayer-approved bond, or some other public account. Rider considers money from all those sources taxpayer dollars.

“If you’re spending taxpayer money, be honest, say so,” Rider said.

The SDSU West Initiative has not yet qualified for the ballot.

RELATED: SoccerCity Backers Blast SDSU West Plan For Mission Valley Development

Friends of SDSU submitted more than 100,000 petition signatures in a bid to get just over 71,000 valid signatures. Word is expected soon from the Registrar of Voters.

If there are enough valid signatures, the measure can be taken to the council which will likely put the initiative to sell the property to San Diego State on the November ballot.

If the measure reaches the ballot it will compete with a rival development plan that hopes to leverage Mission Valley redevelopment to lure a Major League Soccer franchise to San Diego.

The SoccerCity proposal has already qualified for the ballot.

KPBS is a service of San Diego State University.

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