SoccerCity's open special influence money frenzy

With D.A. looking other way, pre-city council vote fundraising surges

Chris Cate, left, on March 21 was the beneficiary of a $33,581 fundraiser co-hosted by influence peddler Richard Ledford.
  • Chris Cate, left, on March 21 was the beneficiary of a $33,581 fundraiser co-hosted by influence peddler Richard Ledford.

As a city council vote draws nigh for getting taxpayers to fund a $5 million special November election sought by the city's hotel moguls and backers of SoccerCity — a plan to privatize a big chunk of the 166 acres now occupied by Qualcomm Stadium — the race by council incumbents to raise campaign money has grown ever more heated, if not to say unseemly.

Cole fundraiser at Eclipse Chocolate

Cole fundraiser at Eclipse Chocolate

Democratic council president Myrtle Cole has set yet another lobbyists-backed bash to gather funds for her 2018 re-election bid, this one scheduled for Thursday, June 8, at Eclipse Chocolate on Fern Street in gentrified South Park.

Cole fundraiser at the Madaffer home

Cole fundraiser at the Madaffer home

The party is to be hosted by an array of former and current city hall influence peddlers and seekers, including ex-Jerry Sanders media handler Rachel Laing; police union lobbyist Humberto Peraza; and Stephanie Saathoff of the Clay Company, whose clients include apartment developer Garden Communities, owner of University City's La Jolla Crossroads complex, site of last month's controversial mass shooting.

Notes the invitation: "City law permits only personal contributions and limits contributions to $550 per individual for the primary election and another $550 for the general election. A couple may contribute $1,100 per election per couple from a joint account if both parties sign the check, credit card authorization form. or an accompanying letter."

As first reported here, Cole held a campaign money-gathering event last week at the Tierrasanta residence of Republican ex-city councilman Jim Madaffer and his second wife Robin Munro Madaffer, both registered to lobby city hall for an array of clients — in Munro Madaffer's case including Mission Valley and University Towne Center shopping mall owner and developer Westfield, LLC.

Cole isn't the only council member out raising campaign money in the weeks before a crucial round of council decisions regarding whether to spend $5 million in tax money to place the SoccerCity measure on the ballot or wait until November 2018, as desired by foes of the project and advocates for considering such major issues only at regular election time.

One way or the other, the SoccerCity proposal must go before voters as a result of a successful mega-million-dollar initiative drive mounted by the project's La Jolla-based financiers. An unrelated visitor tax increase favored by hotel-owning backers of GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer would appear on the same special ballot under the mayor's plan for November, justifying the multi-million election costs, Faulconer and his campaign funders assert.

Per a June 1 tabulation of council votes by the Union-Tribune, Cole and Republicans Lorie Zapf, Chris Cate, and Mark Kersey have yet to take a position on whether to conduct a special election. Democrats Barbara Bry, David Alvarez, Chris Ward, and Georgette Gomez oppose the plan, the paper says, with the GOP's termed-out Scott Sherman already having endorsed it.

A council vote on matter of budgeting the $5 million is scheduled for Monday, June 5, with a decision on whether to actually call the November election for the convention center measure following on June 12, and a SoccerCity ballot-scheduling vote on June 19, the paper reports.

Because any one of the undecided council members could make or break the special election's fortunes, each is widely seen by city hall insiders as wielding unusual clout with campaign donors on both sides of the issue in the relatively brief window of time leading to the council's ultimate decision.

Explicitly exchanging cash for council votes is illegal, but laws regarding political money are complicated and loopholes in state and federal law, along with the state of ethics enforcement in San Diego county — where District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’s handpicked successor Summer Stephan is a closely-tied client of Faulconer political consultant Jason Roe — have observers voicing skepticism about the efficacy of the region's official campaign watchdogs.

In addition, cash raised at the series of Cole's and fellow council members' pre-vote fundraising activities doesn't have to be disclosed to the public under state law until July 31, well after the political dust has presumably settled.

Another professedly undecided council member taking advantage of the current campaign money frenzy is the Sixth District’s Chris Cate, also facing reelection next year, who on March 21 was the beneficiary of a $33,581 fundraiser co-hosted by influence peddler Richard Ledford and a group of unnamed associates, according to Ledford's first quarter lobbyist disclosure filing.

Other lobbyists co-sponsoring the Cate event, billed as a "campaign kickoff" per May 1 disclosure reports, included James Lawson of Presidio Public Affairs, the lobbying shop founded by Faulconer political guru Roe; Clarissa Reyes Falcon; Paul Robinson; Sherm Harmer; and Ildiko (Lani) Lutar, former head of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association now associated with Responsible Solutions, LLC, who "helped organize" the fundraiser.

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City Council members can milk the lobbyist cash cow all they want, as far as I'm concerned, but then they should unanimously get behind replacing the vacant Qualcomm behemoth: they should do their duty and place Soccer City's qualified proposal for a small soccer stadium, residential and commercial development and a river park (!) on a special election ballot for November 2017.

Infernal caviling about process, propriety, and other niceties of elusive ideal political life in San Diego have never paid off for the citizenry. Private conversations and secret deals have been cut in this town forever for personal profit and ugly densification. Not long ago there was even a useless $2 million environmental "study" commissioned for an obsolete Qualcomm Stadium. Nobody had any problem with that.

Suddenly there are hypocritical scruples all over the place as Soccer City visionaries try to do something both historic and fun: bring Major League Soccer to millions of fans in this perfect metropolitan melting pot of San Diego and Tijuana. Soccer is a sport with a future and San Diego is the perfect venue.

Soccer City's push to bring a major league soccer franchise to our area depends upon an expression of public support for MLS to consider making it happen here. This City Council needs to suck it up, embrace the risk and vote to put the already-qualified measure on the ballot for November 2017. In this instance City Council's job is to facilitate, not to obstruct. For once, can't we get behind a wonderful idea that deserves a modest boost?

The Soccer City proponents are learning that proposing a plan that crosses both the entrenched old-time SD Republican developers and the currently dysfunctional SD Democrat labor unions is not a great recipe for achieving civic betterment. When the insider developers want to kill it (and insider developers Jack McGrory and Fred Pierce are claiming to "speak" for SDSU) to keep the opportunity for themselves for the future, and the labor unions want to kill it because the Soccer City people won't agree to exclude non-union construction workers from every aspect of the development, the odds of the voters getting to make a meaningful choice are extremely small. We will be hearing City Council members cynically and piously explaining how they are using procedural tricks to prevent a vote by us because they are afraid of the collective wisdom of the voting public. Looks like I won't see a River Park built in my lifetime.

What you describe would be criminal if it weren't so commonplace here. City Council seldom has a chance to do anything so unequivocally simple, hopeful and positive as voting this week to put Soccer City's measure on the November 2017 ballot.

Then Council should get out of the way and let the people of San Diego decide if the idea has merit. Once the matter is on the November ballot, developers and Labor doubtless will try to influence the public's choice. That's okay. It's how the system works.

Unfortunately Councilmembers, as noted here, take and take and take campaign money from developers and labor, and get sidetracked in their purpose. But City Council's first duty is to the electorate. The Soccer City proposal has qualified for the ballot with its sgnature-gathering. Council is obliged to do the right thing and put Soccer City's proposal on the November ballot for the people to decide.

First to the point of the article: it's precisely because of flimflam plans like SuckerCity that San Diego voters last fall overwhelmingly passed Measure L, "requiring citizens' initiative and referendum measures be placed on a November general election ballots, unless the council decides to submit them to voters earlier." That it didn't specifically call out holding off-year November special elections rather than "June primary elections" should not be considered a gimme by the city council, as it was clear the measure was intended to stop frivolous, costly, and presumptive special elections in general.

And as to monaghan's initial comment: there are two fatal flaws with taking a jaded attitude to the corruption around us. Not only is it a logical fallacy to say that because things have always been corrupt they should remain corrupt. But also being blasé about corruption doesn't make one sophisticated and above it all; instead, it makes one complicit and practically no different from the perpetrators—with the exception that they at least are getting some lucre out of it, while all the apologist gets is a bad reputation.

Finally, if this proposal is so good and so worthwhile, why can't it stand up to scrutiny for long as November 2018? Unless, as The Reader has repeatedly pointed out, so many unsubstantiated claims and false urgency have been attached to this proposal that its proponents know that the only way they can get it passed is to do an end-run around the turnout of a general election.

You're wrong about a few things here, Cassander.

Most importantly, I believe there IS credible urgency for Soccer City backers to be able to demonstrate to Major League Soccer that San Diego is a perfect place for a franchise, that there is public enthusiasm and a huge market for a San Diego soccer team in a new soccer stadium in the heart of Mission Valley, at the nexus of freeways heading east, west, north and south. There are uncertainties and unknowns, no guarantees, but Major League Soccer needs to know we really want soccer here. Now, not "later." Timing matters in business transactions. City Council has the authority to move this qualified measure to a ballot and it should do so. The people have a right to vote this up or down and I think Council is obliged to make it happen.

Secondly, I am neither jaded, blase, sophisticated nor complicit in our comfortable corruption. But I am sick of its evidence at our Democrat-dominated City Council, especially when, for once, a remarkably future-oriented positive possibility such as Soccer City presents itself. Soccer City is designed by smart and successful risk-takers who are NOT our usual venal local suspects. And they are likely soccer fans, as am I, and as are thousands of other children and adults in this large metropolitan area.

I am also sick of dutiful reformist kvetchers blathering a great and fun new idea to extinction while soberly invoking rules like Measure L. Soccer City has qualified its measure for the ballot. City Council has the authority to make a special election happen this fall, consistent with the language quoted from Measure L. Delaying, waiting, putting off -- that's the real "end-run." It is unjust for Council to prevent the the people from voting this fall on a plan to bring Major League Soccer to our city.

Yes, several thousands would watch major league soccer. But San Diego metro is $3 million +, and the majority of us will never go to any soccer games in our lifetime. RE: "Timing matters in business transactions." Yes, and the SoccerCity backers are trying to rush it through ASAP, before the public fully realizes this would basically be practically a giveaway of extremely valuable public land to those developers so they can earn a ginormous profit.

are the promoter connected to the corrupt fifa in any way?

Why are the city council and the developers acting like children with a quarter at the candy store? The money (In this case a major undeveloped/redevelopable parcel of land in Mission Valley) burning a hole in their pockets. Being pushed to a artificial deadline set by business entities, MLS and FC Partners (?), for a lifetime project on an irreplaceable piece of Community Property just sets us up for the same situation we have with Petco Park, Qualcom Stadium (The Murph), the Chargers and any number of poorly planned developments in the city and county, many right there in Mission Valley.
We as San Diegans seem to have an all or nothing attitude about development. FC Partners (?) are not proposing "Soccer City" out of the generousness of their Hearts, they're going to make a S--T load of money off of the largess of the citizens of the City, County and Region.

If "Soccer City" is such a worthwhile endeavor, it would stand up to proper vetting, planning and schedule. If a MLS Soccer Franchise is such a good investment the partners would buy the land and build their own facility, not have it part of a scheme to scam the public, "We'll develop this if you give us that, oh, by the way we still control the Team, Land and get the profits.

While I am in favor of utilizing the Mission Valley site, there are much better "Public" and "Community" uses than this single use facility and gifting the rest of the site to FC Partners. The City Council should take a long look at future uses of the site with the benefit to the community (99%ers) in mind, not the 1% that wish to eat from the community trough. BBQ

Solution: Forget Sucker City and Amend the Petco Park Ballpark Lease titled "Joint Use and Management Agreement (JUMA)" dated February 1, 2000, and JUMA Amendment 1 dated May 21, 2012 to allow a new Major League Soccer (MLS) team and SDSU Football to play at Petco Park forever. Easy.

The JUMA Lease for Petco Park includes:

Section 5.2.4. The Padres shall not hold or sponsor any Football Game at the Ballpark Property.

Section 5.4.4. The City shall not hold or sponsor any Football Game at the Ballpark Property.

The Padres already have a Sublease Agreement with SDSU to allow College Football for 2018-2019, and a separate Lease Agreement for the College Football's Holiday Bowl.

Thus the Padres have violated the JUMA Section 5.2.4 outlawing Football games by their side agreements with SDSU and the Holiday Bowl. Great news.

Therefore the City can violate the JUMA Section 5.4.4 and allow SDSU Football for 2020 and beyond.

Petco Park has already allowed Soccer, Rugby, Tennis, Supercross, etc.


The No Football Sections were added to the JUMA Lease in 2000 "partly because of safety concerns with the field layout... The main reason... was because one of the end zones would have been only a few feet from the outfield wall and there was a fear of increased injury risks."

"According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the Padres are working with architects on stadium seating solutions to accommodate college football fans at their home venue."

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