A tsunami of political cash — driven by two measures that appear headed for a special election in November — has grown even bigger, thanks to $250,000 from Fifth Avenue Landing, LLC, the partnership battling city hall for the right to build a bay-front hotel where San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and his major campaign funders want to put a convention center expansion.
And where money flows at city hall, say local politicos, backroom intrigue can't be far behind.
The cash went into a new political fund, called No on Bayfront Convention Center Expansion Tax. The six-figure May 18 contribution is the first salvo by Fifth Avenue Landing against the Republican mayor and his city council allies in a struggle over public land and Faulconer's 2018 shot at running for governor.
In the regular course of business, both proposals being pushed by Faulconer — the SoccerCity takeover of Mission Valley real estate now occupied by Qualcomm Stadium and a hike in the city's tax on hotel room occupants to fund convention center expansion – would go on the general election ballot in November 2018, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in election costs.
But that would come too late to meet the mayor's political schedule and risk defeat of the two development schemes at the hands of a wider electorate.
“The mayor needs to be negotiating with Fifth Avenue Landing while we prepare for the election,” Faulconer's fellow GOP councilman Mark Kersey told the Union Tribune in a May 21 story.
"And I think that is a negotiation. In spite of some of the public comments that have been out there, I think that these are businessmen we are dealing with, and I think they are generally reasonable.”
So far no one is saying what form of public subsidy or other favor the mayor and his council allies are prepared to offer Fifth Avenue, which has been waging a legal battle targeting Faulconer.
Even before public hearings begin, GOP council members are said to be prepared to vote for the mayor’s special election; councilman Scott Sherman told the U-T, "I don't think it will be 9-0, but I think both will get more than the five votes needed to put them both on the ballot this November."
One fly in the ointment may lurk in the form of the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law.
"A series of private meetings or 'serial meetings' allow a majority to commit to a decision or engage in deliberation of public business is a violation of the open meeting requirement," notes a general advisory from the California League of Cities.
"Beware of ‘daisy chain’ contacts: A to B and B to C can lead to a collective concurrence," adds the guidance. "Beware of ‘hub & spoke’ contacts: one person is the hub who then feeds and receives information to and from other members."
According to a May 1 lobbying disclosure report filed by FS Investors, the group of La Jolla hedge fund mavens promoting SoccerCity, FS principals Nick Stone and Jon Dunbar, have directly lobbied Faulconer, Sherman, Kersey, Lori Zapf, and Chris Cate and city council president Myrtle Cole and fellow Democrats Barbara Bry, Chris Ward, and Georgette Gomez.
Democrat David Alvarez is the only councilmember not listed among those lobbied for what the disclosure described as “approval of Initiative at Council Level or Place on Ballot.”
Suspicions of serial decision-making outside the bounds of the Brown Act have shadowed a plan by the five county supervisors, all Republicans, to name Summer Stephan the county's district attorney when her boss, incumbent Bonnie Dumanis, steps down this summer in what is viewed by many as a GOP machine-driven deal to ward off undesired challengers in next year's election.
Per a May 18 Union-Tribune report, Dumanis and Stephen met 10 separate times behind closed doors with individual board members.
“When I met with Summer in September, she told me she was going to run for district attorney if Bonnie did not run and we also talked about the human trafficking work she was doing,” supervisor Greg Cox told the paper. “The subject of an interim appointment did not come up at that meeting.”
Skeptical political observers note that D.A. Dumanis is unlikely to initiate an investigation into the paper’s findings.