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City Council committee wants to advance all 5 Sports Arena proposals

A San Diego City Council committee on Thursday recommended advancing all five proposals for redeveloping the 48-acre Pechanga Arena property in the Midway District, after city staffers had sought to narrow the list to three finalists.

The five development teams are all vying for a deal with the city to build a mix of affordable and market rate housing, commercial space, parkland and an entertainment venue on the property, commonly called the Sports Arena. Two of the proposals seek to renovate the existing arena, while the rest would replace it from scratch.

The city's Department of Real Estate and Airport Management asked the committee for permission to shortlist the three proposals that would build a new arena. Officials said their preference was based on their understanding of a state law that requires the lease or sale of public land to prioritize low-income affordable housing.

But several residents told the committee that they wanted to see more details on each proposal before thinning out the competition.

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"Removing any one of the options on the table today is shortsighted," said Dike Anyiwo, who chairs the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group.

Councilmember Vivian Moreno agreed, saying she preferred the city do a more thorough analysis of all five proposals.

"I do not want to rush and miss an opportunity to pick the right project for this site," Moreno said. "We have a recent history under the prior mayoral administration of rushing through real estate deals at the expense of proper due diligence and full and transparent analysis."

Former Mayor Kevin Faulconer had selected a development partner for the arena property. But state housing officials rejected that selection because the city had not followed the state's Surplus Land Act, which requires the city to offer its real estate to affordable housing developers before pursuing other development options.

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Councilmember Joe LaCava cast the only vote against the committee's motion, saying an analysis of all five proposals would add time to the process without necessarily changing which proposal would pass muster with the state.

"It is not of my interest to rush this, (and) it is not of my interest to unnecessarily slow it down," LaCava said.

Another layer of uncertainty is overshadowing the arena property's redevelopment: None of the proposals will be feasible if the city is unable to raise the 30-foot height limit in the Midway District. A judge last year blocked the city from implementing a voter-approved ballot measure to raise the height limit, saying the city should have analyzed the measure's environmental impact before putting it to voters.

The city is appealing that ruling while also preparing an environmental analysis that would comply with the judge's order. After that analysis is complete, it would have to hold another referendum on whether the height limit should be lifted.