City council votes against special election

SAN DIEGO - The City Council Monday rejected a plan to conduct a special election for this fall that potentially would have included Mayor Kevin Faulconer's plan to expand the San Diego Convention Center, along with the proposed SoccerCity redevelopment of the Qualcomm Stadium property in Mission Valley.

The 5-4 vote by the council likely pushes public consideration of those issues to the next regularly scheduled general election in November of next year.

The council had two issues before it -- whether to call a special election for this year and whether to place the convention center plan on the ballot. Since the special election was voted down, the convention center question couldn't be considered.

"This isn't ready to come forward, it just really isn't," Councilman David Alvarez said about the convention center proposal. "Shovels can't be ready, and cranes can't be ready, because the land doesn't belong to the city."

Faulconer proposed increasing San Diego's hotel room tax to raise funds to expand the facility by 400,000 square feet, and at the same time provide funding streams for homeless programs and road repairs.

Opposition came from backers of a voter-passed City Charter amendment that directs initiatives to general election ballots and organized labor. A major hitch in the mayor's plan is that the leasehold for land the center would expand onto is no longer controlled by the city, but rather an entity that's required by contract to build a hotel project. In the past, the mayor's office expressed confidence that the obstacle could be overcome.

In defending his plan, Faulconer told the council members that the city has passed on "far too many opportunities over the years."

In a statement following the vote, he said San Diego deserves better than what it received in the council vote.

"There is nothing more democratic and fair than holding an election so voters can make their voices heard," Faulconer said. "But the City Council majority has made the irresponsible and politically-driven decision to deny a public vote. Council members who say they share the community's priorities were given a chance to act, but they chose to do nothing."

Last week, the council members removed $5 million in funding for the special election from the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but Faulconer responded by restoring the money, which he has the power to do, and slashing the office budgets of council members Barbara Bry and Chris Ward.

The council scheduled a Tuesday vote on overriding the mayor's action, which would require six votes.

While the convention center plan is going back to the drawing board, the impact on SoccerCity is less clear. Well over 100,000 registered voters signed petitions in favor of the plan to replace Qualcomm Stadium with a smaller facility for soccer and college football, so the council next week will be tasked with deciding to adopt the plan or put it before voters.

The question of when it would go before the public would be determined at another time, according to the City Attorney's Office.

SoccerCity also envisions a park along the San Diego River, housing, offices and commercial space.