With fingers pointing to inside wheeling and dealing between Republican San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and a group of La Jolla hedge fund mavens promoting the transfer of Qualcomm Stadium to themselves for a massive commercial real estate development, city council members are getting into the act, mounting campaign fundraising efforts before a crucial vote on whether to call a $5 million special election sought by the developers.
As first reported here February 3, documents obtained from San Diego State University under the state's public records act revealed that FS Investors, backers of so-called SoccerCity — including Faulconer mega-campaign donor, developer Morgan Dene Oliver — held repeated closed-door meetings with Faulconer and staff in 2016 through early this year, including at least one in the private dining room of Oliver's posh downtown headquarters.
Further details regarding the extent of the off-the-record confabs emerged May 29, as the Union-Tribune reported Faulconer had released to the paper documents showing 25 contacts between the mayor and FS representatives.
Mayoral chief of staff Stephen Puetz, who financial disclosure records show moonlighted last year for Faulconer's political operation, the county Republican Party, and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, frequently attended the discussions, says the report.
But other relevant documents have yet to be made public, according to the paper. "The Mayor’s Office has not specified what was discussed or provided any of the email communications or other correspondence requested."
As first reported here last November 3, the city has persistently refused to release records, including emails and minutes of private meetings, detailing the mayor's closed-door contacts with both the Chargers and the FS group, asserting in the case of the mayor’s putative Chargers deal last year that "the public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure."
Faulconer is gearing up for what is widely believed to be a run for California governor next year, including a possible shift of city staffer Puetz to a campaign role after the current controversy dies down.
The mayor's push for a special election to benefit FS Investors may focus unwanted attention on the city's common practice of awarding lucrative contracts, development rights, and related perks to the friends and campaign donors of elected officials, including the mayor, after closed door maneuverings.
“The mayor reaching a backroom deal on this initiative is very inappropriate,” Democratic city councilman David Alvarez told the U-T regarding the string of private contacts between Faulconer and FS.
“Secret meetings and backroom deals made bad public policy.”
Another city council Democrat has not been outspoken regarding city hall transparency, according to the coverage. "Council President Myrtle Cole did not respond to questions about the FS meetings."
Last week the Fourth District councilwoman, who on February 22 set up a fundraising committee for her 2018 reelection bid, threw a campaign money-raising bash at the residence of Jim and Robin Madaffer. The GOP ex-city councilman and his second wife are both registered to lobby at city hall.
"I am very excited that Jim and Robin Madaffer are opening up their beautiful home to support our campaign,” says a message from Cole accompanying the invite. “I know it's a busy time for all of us but I appreciate your consideration in joining us for a fun evening! Details can be found below.
"If you are unable to attend please consider making a contribution in any amount -- $15, $20, $50, $100 up to the $550 per person limit."
Other special interest sponsors listed on the emailed invitation to the "street tacos and cocktail reception" included Jerry Butkiewicz, the ex-labor operative and Sempra Energy executive who recently took over as trustee of the troubled San Diego Imperial-Counties Labor Council; electrical contractor lobbyist Andy Berg; developer Douglas Wilson; developer lobbyist Chris Wahl, head of Southwest Strategies; Mission Valley landowner Steve Cushman; and ex-councilman and current contract lobbyist Tony Young.
As first reported here in August, 2015, Cole's legal defense fund against a libel suit brought by former electoral opponent Dwayne Crenshaw attracted big money from Mission Valley real estate interests in the months leading up to her yes vote for an environmental impact report to expedite a new Mission Valley Chargers stadium being pushed by the mayor. The project ultimately went nowhere, but San Diego taxpayers were stuck with a $2.1 million tab.
Whether wealthy partisans in the SoccerCity fight will deliver major political cash for Cole won't be known until the committee's legally-required six-month disclosure filing, due July 31, well after next month's expected council vote on Faulconer's proposed special election.
In addition to Cole, Alvarez has established a campaign fund to raise money for a 2020 bid for county supervisor, and Republican Lori Zapf, who is running for a third term on the council, escaping term limits through a redistricting loophole, is also out collecting funds for next year.