SoccerCity lawyers dispute findings in City Attorney’s report

SAN DIEGO — Lawyers for the developers of the proposed SoccerCity project in Mission Valley Friday disputed the findings in a recent City Attorney’s report on the plan for a massive makeover of the Qualcomm Stadium property.

Their three-page letter, assorted appendices and other supporting documents, sent to City Attorney Mara Elliott, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council, comes at a critical stage. In a few days, the council could vote on adopting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes $5 million for a special election in November.

The developers, led by FS Investors of La Jolla, contend that a November vote is needed in order to acquire a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. That team would play in a smaller stadium on the site, which could potentially host college football games, as well.

FS Investors collected far more signatures than necessary on initiative petitions in support of their plans, so the City Council is required to adopt the project outright or place it before voters.

Several council members have expressed reservations about setting a vote for this fall because voters last year approved a City Charter amendment that calls for initiatives to be scheduled in conjunction with general elections — in this case November of next year.

The SoccerCity plan calls for the stadium, a river park, housing, offices and retail space on the Qualcomm Stadium property, which became available when the Chargers decided to leave for Los Angeles.

In a 27-page opinion released last week, Elliott said the SoccerCity initiative doesn’t guarantee a new stadium or a park, could make taxpayers liable for expensive environmental cleanup, contains conflicting provisions that could lead to court, and might not be binding on other developers brought in to handle construction.

The reply, from the San Diego office of the law firm Latham & Watkins, includes responses to questions posed by the City Attorney and various statements made about the project in her report.

Among other things, a series of commitments made by FS Investors in a letter to Mayor Kevin Faulconer could be made binding by placing it in a lease, Latham & Watkins lawyer Christopher Garrett wrote. He said the city attorney is empowered to approve the final lease, according to terms of the initiative, and the mayor and city attorney can clarify lease terms to remove conflicts.

The lawyer asked that “an updated and more complete report” be prepared by the city attorney.

“We’re reviewing the letter, as we do with all correspondence, and will advise our client of any new or relevant information or issues,” said Gerry Braun, Elliott’s chief of staff.

SDSU officials, who covet the property for campus expansion, have come out strongly against SoccerCity, saying that offers made by the developers don’t meet the school’s needs.