Last fall, after months of secret city hall meetings with representatives of the Spanos family, Kevin Faulconer, San Diego mayor and putative Republican gubernatorial hopeful, announced he was endorsing the $1.8 billion, taxpayer-subsidized downtown football stadium sought by the Chargers.
Faulconer insisted he had extracted certain promises from the team, including resolving "quality of life concerns raised by downtown groups and residents to the mayor’s satisfaction," as noted by the Union-Tribune.
For their part, opponents charged the mayor's endorsement was intended to leverage political cash from the Republican Spanoses, a suspicion fanned by the mayor's reluctance to divulge records regarding the private talks leading to his support of the deal.
The city refused to release details of the closed-door contacts, slamming the door on an October 3 request made under the state's public records act for the mayor's calendars, emails, and other documents regarding his private meetings with the Chargers.
"The public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure," concluded the November 2 denial.
Now, with the Spanos clan headed to L.A., Faulconer is vigorously promoting what critics fear may become yet another taxpayer giveaway to a professional sports franchise — and secrecy is again playing a part in his game.
"I am so excited as mayor of the potential this new franchise can bring to the city," said Faulconer of a plan by a group of super-rich La Jollans to plant a Major League Soccer venue and accompanying commercial development on the 65-acre site of Qualcomm stadium.
“It’s so much more than an opportunity for a new sports team," the mayor continued. "It’s an opportunity to create jobs, to revitalize Mission Valley and see it become an economic driver.”
But, as was the case with the Chargers proposition, documents show, Faulconer's open-ended endorsement of the soccer project — whose financials remain a dark secret — has been preceded by multiple closed-door meetings between the mayor and the project’s would-be developers.
Records of the discussions were produced not by the city but by San Diego State University — a would-be user of the new Mission Valley stadium — following a request made under the state public records act.
The documents show Faulconer and developers Mike and Nick Stone met on January 5 of last year at the downtown offices of developer Morgan Dene Oliver.
"RE lunch with the mayor," emailed Tracy L. Houdmann, executive assistant to Michael R. Stone, founder of FS Investors, to SDSU staff chief Megan Collins, on December 22. 2015.
"The lunch will be at noon at Oliver McMillan (they have a private dining room and chef in-house). I do not have an agenda and doubt there will be a formal one."
Added Houdmann, "Also, I can confirm the 7th from 3-5 at SDSU. Thanks again for all the help coordinating both meetings!"
Then, on May 6, Michelle Porras, Faulconer's director of scheduling, emailed an aide to SDSU president Elliot Hirshman setting up another meeting with the Stones.
"The other schedulers are eager to confirm Monday, May 9 at 3:30-4:30pm, here at the Mayor's office at City Hall. Please advise."
Yet another discrete meet-up regarding the putative development occurred in the mayor’s office November 30 between Faulconer, San Diego State officials, "plus FS attendees," according to the records furnished by the university.
What makes the repeated private contacts between FS Investors and Faulconer particularly intriguing has been the absence of an FS lobbyist disclosure filing under a city influence peddling code adopted after the Cheetahs strip club pay-for-play scandal that rocked city hall with federal indictments of three city councilmen.
"'Lobbying' means having a direct communication with a 'City Official' for the purpose of influencing a municipal decision," explains the city ethics commission's January 2016, lobbying guide.
"If you own or work for a business or organization, including a non-profit or charitable organization, and you lobby on behalf of your business or employer...then that business or employer may be an 'Organization Lobbyist,'" says the manual.
"It will qualify as an 'Organization Lobbyist' if its owners, compensated officers, or employees have an aggregate total of 10 or more lobbying contacts with City Officials on behalf of the business or organization within any 60 calendar day period."
Thus, if developers mindfully keep their city hall contacts to fewer than the legal threshold, they can avoid reporting the costs and contacts of their influence peddling efforts.
FS Investors finally registered as a lobbyist on January 24 of this year, identifying partners Nick Stone and Jon Dunbar as lobbyists for the developer, said to be seeking "entitlement of a redevelopment plan for Qualcomm Stadium site with the inclusion of an MLS stadium and mixed use development."
Project proponents are reportedly preparing to spend millions of dollars on a campaign to collect 72,000 valid voter signatures to force the city council to take up the matter.
Since 2009, Oliver and those associated with his OliverMcMillan development firm have given a total of $34,750 to Faulconer political funds, city disclosure filings show. Masood Tayebi, a partner in the MLS venture, gave the mayor's re-election campaign $1050 in July 2015, and his wife Surinder Tayebi, kicked in $1000 for Faulconer the year before.