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San Diego River Park Foundation President Talks About Mission Valley

August 22, 2018 2:15 p.m.

San Diego River Park Foundation President Talks About Mission Valley


Erik Anderson, environment reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: San Diego River Park Foundation President Talks About Mission Valley


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanagh the San Diego River Park Foundation's board is urging voters not to support the Soccer City plan to redevelop the Mission Valley Stadium site. Two board members Jack McGrory and Tom Sudbury are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat soccer city. But they still voted. San Diego River Park Foundation President Rob whatso joined Eric Anderson to talk about the board vote the initiatives and the vision for the River Park.

The vision has always been about 60 acres of the site should be dedicated to a river park. And what does that mean about 10 acres of that area should be for the river to heal the river. To give it allow it to breathe and to heal it with a habitat and some things like that just technical issues and 50 acres of public parks so that would include the regional San Diego River Trail which would go through the site and then all the parks the community really needs.

And the idea is that this is just a park in isolation. It's part of a system that is intended to run along the whole river.

That's right. That's right. So fifty two miles long is the river park the city of San Diego is about a third of that. But this piece of property is really going to be the jewel it's the most urban area. It's very exciting area where we want people to actually celebrate the river needs to have water and it needs to be a place where you can go down and go I'm along the river and you get it right away obviously November is going to be an important time.

Do you think that your closer now than you've ever been to realizing this dream of a river park in that area.

I think so because you know why both parties if you want to think of it that way are talking River Park. It's actually in their names right. And so we didn't have that when we started the organization 17 years ago. So we're really close. Now we just have to get to the finish line and I'll be an interesting process to watch. Why take a position on the initiatives. Our board felt strongly. We've worked with soccer city folks for a long time for over a year and working on how do we take their initiative and get it to work to our position of 60 acres. The reality is what we worked on they agreed to do that but it wasn't binding and we hope the lease would come done by then but we haven't seen a draft lease since so we really felt compelled to take a position on this. And at the same time many of our board members are just concerned about the initiative process for planning in itself. Issues and just community planning.

To your board members are known opponents of the soccer city initiative. How did you handle that conflict of interest.

Well part of its disclosure I mean the biggest part is let us know what the things are that either in reality or people might perceive as a conflict and so we we went through an exhaustive process where we had a committee meeting talk about it talked about all of them members of the boards and one of the things about our directors is they represent a really broad spectrum of people. They have conflicts. It's just the nature of what we do and we want those people at the table because if we can bring them together for common ground then we can move forward. Do you understand where there might be criticism. Absolutely. Absolutely. But you know the reality is these board members are civic leaders. They take positions on things and that's the sort of people we want for our organization to be on our board.

When do you think the vision for a river park in that stadium area will actually be realized.

Unfortunately I think it can be a long term. You know just if you look at both of the initiatives the process probably will be tied up maybe in legal legal battles. We're talking maybe five 10 years out. So you're not optimistic there will be two or three years. No I wish I could be. Erica I would be wonderful to say we're going to turn dirt in December. Gosh wouldn't it be wonderful I've waited 17 years for that. But the reality is we just know San Diego things don't happen that quickly. And what happens if both measures fail. I think we start over. But we started a new place. We've had a discussion in the community where both parties have said the river park is important. Both have agreed to the 60 acre number. So let's start from there then I think what we need to do is go back to the city council and say how do we shape this and go into the future and in fact the community plan for Mission Valley has a process where you must identify what are the public needs for that site and let's identify that the park is part of it. Maybe there's something else like a police station or fire stations or libraries the rec center that would be included in that as well.

Rob Hutz all president and CEO of the San Diego River Park Foundation thanks for talking with us.

Thanks Eric and Kate PBS reporter Eric Anderson joins me now. Eric welcome. Thank you very much Mary. Let me ask you a bit more about the possible conflict of interest of the two members on the river park board. Can you explain more about who those members are and how strongly they oppose the Soccer City plan.

Well you can probably say they oppose it fairly strongly. One of those members with a conflict of interest is Jack McGrory who's a former San Diego city manager. He's president I think of the Friends of SD as the group that put together the DSU West initiative that's designed to allow the San Diego State University to buy 133 acres of land in the Mission Valley site. So he has also funded that effort to a pretty significant degree. He's a principal funder for STDs us so clearly he has a position on what should happen in Mission Valley going into any meeting. The other gentleman that's a member of that board Thomas Sudbury is a developer in the Mission Valley region for the last two years. He has funded a group that was first called Public Land public vote. It changed its name to no soccer city this year but he's put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the effort to undermine public impression of the value of the soccer city redevelopment project. The interesting thing here is you know it's not technically a conflict of interest they can certainly the board can certainly do what they want in terms of making an endorsement. But one thing when I talk to Rob that he said that I thought was important to recognize is that they want to have these people on their board but they want to be completely public about who's a member of the board. And the fact that those people are there so they're not trying to keep that fact under wraps. But it's important to know who has an interest in that area and what their interests would be.

Now the river park board voted not to support the Soccer City plan for the stadium site because the soccer City's promises about the project were not binding. Do we know if the plans put forward by SGC West stadium plan for the River Park. Are those plans binding.

Well that's an interesting point and actually that's something that the board will have to discuss. They say they're going to take this issue up in the middle of next month and decide what they're going to do in terms of the DSU U.S. plan. But there is no binding commitment in the initiative that SDC West has put in that would compel them to build a river park. There's nothing that the board can look at and say you know this is the thing that's going to make sure that they build their park. They have discussions with the group. They've talked about what that vision would be for a park. But one thing that is a little bit different from the Soccer City proposal the Soccer City proposal proposes to buy the land from the city and lease the land from the city and then build the park there and maintain it. The DSU West plan basically proposes to improve city owned land and it's not clear whether or not that's something that could be done whether or not San Diego State University could make an improvement on land that's owned by the city of San Diego. So even though there is no binding guarantee for MSDS West and I think there is a legitimate question mark as to whether or not they would be able to build that park.

When you asked Rob Hodsoll how quickly he expected the stadium site to be redeveloped by one plan or the other. He said maybe five to 10 years not sooner because he knows how things work in San Diego. What do you think he meant. What obstacles stand in the way. Even after a plan is approved by voters.

Well I thought that was a very telling comment too because proponents of these ballot measures are suggesting that once the transaction once their measure wins and once the transaction starts to move forward that things will happen fairly rapidly and I think it's just an acknowledgment on his part that things in San Diego that are big that are important that involve a lot of people don't move quickly in that way and he's not optimistic that it's going to happen in a quick easy fashion. What he suggested to me was that he anticipates if one side wins or the other side wins that there will probably be legal action that will tie this issue up for some time in the courts. And how that affects the measure the winds you know has yet to be determined. And he's just kind of acknowledging that it's not going to happen quickly.

I've been speaking with PBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric thank you. My pleasure.