Bad week for San Diego soccer after Sierra Club back SDSU plan for Qualcomm
Last week was yet another bad week for hopes to bring top level soccer to San Diego.
The rejection of the NASL appeal against the US Soccer Federation left 1904FC searching for a league to start their life in. Clearly with foresight, they had a Plan B and now appeared headed to the USL for the start of the 2019 season.
While that is a diversion from the original plan, the USL has a strong Western Division which will alleviate some of the travel costs and wear and tear on players associated with that. What 1904FC has done successfully is avoid making any enemies despite the ill feeling surrounding the NASL/USSF debate and there seems to be a general aura of goodwill around their bid, especially in their intended home town of Oceanside.
The same cannot be said of SoccerCitySD, the generic name for the land improvement plan to attract Major League Soccer to San Diego. Since the investment group FS Investors began their quest, they have met with opposition from more entrenched local developers who long had their eyes on the Qualcomm site once it had been vacated by the NFL San Diego Chargers.
Initially FSI wanted to have the SoccerCity plan on the November 2017 ballot. Approval the would have dovetailed neatly with MLS’s scheduled calendar for expansion franchises which had been to announce two slots in December of that year.
That was stymied at a San Diego City Council meeting when the block of five Democrat Councillors on the nine member Council opposed the attempt to put the SoccerCity plan on the 2017 ballot.
Their public rationale was connected with a local initiative called Measure L which heavily restricted the number of initiatives that could be put to the voters in non electoral years. Older voters with their more Republican leaning views are more likely to turn out in odd number years and the move was an attempt to restrict the right from ploughing through their more ideological agenda on low turnouts.
After the failure to have SoccerCity on the November 2017 ballot, MLS began to slow its expansion schedule announcement timeline.
The soccer community was expecting two new franchises to be announced in December but in the end, and to the frustration of bidders in Cincinnati and Sacramento, only Nashville was awarded a place.
SoccerCity began a “Wait for San Diego” campaign to urge MLS to keep a franchise available should the November 2018 vote go their way.
The national soccer media largely failed to notice the connection between the slowing down of the expansion process and events in Southern California, as attention focused on Kevin Nagle’s role in the Sacramento bid and joy at Nashville’s success.
Still, with MLS slowing down the process, it appeared that SoccerCity was still vibrant although no-one was publicly admitting the connection.
Meanwhile, FSI’s rival developers had coalesced around another plan. San Diego State University (SDSU) had also had its eyes on the site.
THE FIGHT IS ON
So the fight is on and the two rival plans are now competing for the support of voters in San Diego City on November 6th.
The outcome is hard to predict. The soccer community tends to lean left in most cities in the USA, but here you have Republican Councillors generally supportive of MLS and the Democrats and their trade union allies firmly against it.
Both sides are active online and both are obviously well funded.
Last week, SoccerCity received another blow when the local branch of the San Diego Sierra Club backed SDSU West. Their views were damning:
“SoccerCity is environmentally damaging. Ballot box land planning and the Sierra Club opposes the development and proposals like SoccerCity that uses the initiative process to bypass environmental review and convert public land to private profit,” said a statement by Richard Miller, the chapter’s Development Associate.
Miller added “the (SDSU) initiative requires San Diego State University to be compliant with CEQA and will include a comprehensive and full environmental impact report, and will be holding open public hearings.”
The announcement was stunning and negated two short term victories SoccerCity had won in the PR war. Firstly it was shown that the SDSU plan was indeed expecting a contribution from the taxpayer contrary to previous claims.
A second negative story in the San Diego Union Tribune centered on an alleged conflict of interests between those on the Committee claimed that 14 of the 24 original members of the Friends of SDSU Steering Committee had a vested financial interest.
The Sierra Club announcement reignited a dispute the local chapter was having with Sierra Club headquarters in San Francisco who suspended the San Diego chapter after chronic bouts of alleged “factionalized strife and contention,” according to the website sandiegoreader.com.
Despite that, the Sierra Club backing is bound to feature heavily in SDSU’s advertising campaign. Negative attacks on its personnel and status with national HQ are unlikely to assist SoccerCity in its campaign, anymore than the persistent online attacks on SDSU have. The Sierra Club San Diego has more than 15,000 members and people who join are generally people who vote.
SoccerCity clearly needs a rethink if it is to spread its vote beyond those who are already pro soccer, a big enough constituency in San Diego but maybe not enough to fight both SDSU alumni and progressives, although some current SDSU Aztecs are not supportive of their leadership. Landon Donovan who had been a great asset to the campaign is now focused on playing in LigaMX for Leon in the upcoming months.
Furthermore, national political factors may have unintended consequences for SoccerCity. More than ever, it seems that left leaning voters have been enthused to turn out to vote this November by the Trump presidency. If the early voting numbers from Tuesday’s Texas primary are any indication, the progressive turnout will break records with the Republican voters staying at home or find themselves reluctant to be forced to support either a Trump loyalist or a more moderate Republicans after a bruising primary.
Anywhere else in the USA, a more left leaning electorate would assist a soccer plan in a battle with a college whose main focus is gridiron American football.
San Diego however seems to be different, where a combined force of the local Democrat organisation, trade unions and the Sierra Club are now all aligned behind the traditional land developers and the SDSU plan against FSI and their desire to bring Major League Soccer to San Diego.
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