LOS ANGELES— San Diego’s city attorney criticized a ballot initiative for a project to transform the former Chargers stadium into a master-planned community anchored by a soccer venue.

The initiative doesn’t guarantee San Diego a professional soccer stadium or a 34-acre river park and taxpayers could end up shouldering the costs of environmental remediation, City Attorney Mara Elliott said in a 27-page analysis.

FS Investors has proposed a master-planned community anchored by a professional soccer stadium at the site of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
FS Investors has proposed a master-planned community anchored by a professional soccer stadium at the site of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Gensler Sports

The analysis only contains an overview of the main terms of the lengthy and complex 3,028-page initiative and responds to questions received from the mayor and City Council, said Elliot, who recommended city leaders read it in its entirety.

“The initiative includes novel and untested issues, as well as seemingly contradictory provisions,” Elliott said. “If the initiative is adopted, there will be many details to clarify and resolve during implementation, and the parties or a court will need to interpret some of the terms.”

City leaders can negotiate agreements clarifying items in the initiative if voters approve it, but the council can’t made changes to the initiative itself; under city ordinances the City Council can only recommend it for the ballot or reject it. To make changes to the initiative itself, Elliot said, a new notice of intent would need to be published and signatures gathered again.

The upside for the city is a revenue base for the Qualcomm Stadium properties – vacated when the Chargers, a National Football League team, bolted to Los Angeles in January. Upkeep on the properties currently costs the city $12 million a year in addition to the $37 million in outstanding stadium bonds that mature in 2027.

The San Diego City clerk certified Monday that proponents had gathered the required number of signatures to place an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Michael Stone, founder of FS Investors, introduced the development plan in January within a few weeks after the Chargers exited. Stone, also the chief investment officer of the $2 billion social impact fund Rise, has applied for a Major League Soccer expansion team. The league has plans to add several more teams between now and 2018, but there is no guarantee San Diego will be one of them.

The development involves 233 acres of city-owned property, at or near Qualcomm Stadium, and 20 acres of city-owned property on Murphy Road near the Charger’s former practice facility.

Though FS Investors is the developer, the actual initiative proponent is Catherine April Boling, a former chair of both the San Diego Taxpayers Association and the Convention Center Corp.

The initiative allows for, but would not require: a 34-acre river park, 12 acres of sports fields, nine acres of parks, a stadium with up to 32,000 seats, an option for a 16-acre stand-alone professional football stadium, 4,800 residential units, 2.4 million square feet of office space and 740,000 square feet of retail. It also includes a proposal for practice facilities, soccer fields, team operations and lodging for visiting reams at the former Chargers practice site in Murphy Canyon.

The developer would be required to set aside 34 acres for a park, Elliott wrote, but would not be required to build or construct parks that require regional, state or federal permits. As the park would be built along the San Diego River, it’s almost a given that at least one of the governmental entities would require a permit, she said.

The city is undergoing an appraisal to determine how much to charge for the 99-year lease proposed by the developer, who wants to pay a lump sum for the lease. If the fair market value is determined to be a negative number, the developer would pay $10,000 for the 99-year lease.

The past presidents of San Diego State University have joined the university's current leadership in opposing the plan. The university's football team has a lease at Qualcomm University that expires next year.

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