Round one of a high-dollar lobbying war over who will control what was formerly known as the San Diego Sports Arena – for now named Pechanga – has concluded, with the win going to some of city hall's toughest influence peddlers.
Orange County billionaire Henry Samueli, owner of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team and its minor league offshoot, the San Diego Gulls, has come away victorious over incumbent leasee Anschutz Entertainment Group, the entertainment behemoth controlled by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz.
Doing the heavy lifting on the effort to persuade San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and staffers to greenlight the switch has been California Strategies, the Sacramento-based take-no-prisoners lobbying company founded by onetime Pete Wilson aide Bob White.
The firm is best known recently in San Diego for 2017's Soccer City leak scandal in which Republican city councilman Chris Cate quietly turned over a confidential June 15, 2017 city attorney's memo to Cal Strat's Craig Benedetto, retained by the would-be Mission Valley development project favored by Faulconer.
Just weeks earlier, Benedetto and colleague, Ben Haddad had hosted a reelection fundraiser for Cate that raked in $2850 for the sixth district councilman's cause, according to the lobbyists' subsequent disclosures.
Cate finally admitted he was the source of the leak to the lobbyist and reluctantly agreed to fork over a $5000 ethics penalty in December 2017, complaining in a statement, "I agreed to pay a fine to put the matter to rest,"
Since 2008, city campaign records show, California Strategies and its employees have come up with a total of $94,914 for city campaigns, including $11,780 for the 2014 mayoral campaign of Kevin Faulconer, along with $2600 to the GOP mayor's successful 2016 election bid.
California Strategies lists its arena lobbying client as H & S Ventures LLC, which has the goal of obtaining from the city "Improvement of Pechanga Arena/Sports Arena San Diego...or entitlement of a facility in the San Diego region to host the San Diego Gulls, an American League Hockey team."
H & S Ventures owners Samueli and his wife Susan maintain their investment office in Corona del Mar, according to a 2005 Los Angeles Times account. Anaheim Arena Management, a related Samueli entity, is the formal applicant for the San Diego sports arena lease.
To skeptics, the H & S lobbying disclosure suggests that an award of San Diego's arena lease to Samueli interests may signal the start of plans to grab a taxpayer subsidy for a future venue modeled after the billionaire's lucrative arrangement with the city of Anaheim.
An August 20 Union-Tribune dispatch says details of the proposed arena deal, calling for a three-year base lease with two year-long extensions, "have not yet been revealed," noting that city council signoff is required.
The Samuelis and H&S are major money players in Anaheim politics, coming up with $17,800 for city council and mayoral campaigns since 2013, per the city's disclosure filings. On the other side of San Diego’s arena lobbying effort is Southwest Strategies, working for AEG. Southwest employees have given a total of $24,100 to Faulconer's mayoral committees, filings show.