Yes on Measure G / No on Measure E
In January 2017, the owner of the San Diego Chargers football team announced he was moving the franchise to Los Angeles, leaving vacant the City of San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium and the surrounding 180-acre parking lot in the heart of San Diego’s Mission Valley. Unbeknownst to the public, the Mayor of San Diego had, for months, been secretly negotiating with an investor group to redevelop the property to attract an MLS professional soccer franchise, as part of a shopping mall/entertainment project that included a new soccer-specific stadium. That plan was dubbed “SoccerCity.”
The “SoccerCity” investors then unveiled a ballot initiative to permit development of the project and dictate the terms of the lease and sale of this valuable City property to their private investment group. Using an army of paid signature gatherers, they were able to qualify the initiative in less than 6 weeks. After an initial wave of excitement, it became clear to knowledgeable stakeholders that the “SoccerCity” plan was actually a massive giveaway of public land that sidestepped normal environmental review, public input or City oversight. But the Mayor and his allies on the City Council pushed for quick adoption of the initiative by the City Council, rather than submitting the initiative to voters for their approval.
Our team began working with stakeholders opposed to the SoccerCity initiative in February 2017, with the initial goal of preventing direct adoption of the initiative by the City Council. We produced a television commercial (“Sucker City”), undertook an aggressive digital advertising campaign, lobbying and a community outreach campaign designed to persuade City Council members. That effort, and a subsequent effort to persuade the City Council to schedule the SoccerCity initiative for the November 2018 ballot rather than an earlier special election, were a spectacular success and laid the foundation for the subsequent campaign.
However, based on early polling our team came to the conclusion that we stood a better chance of defeating the SoccerCity initiative if there were a competing measure on the ballot, since SoccerCity promoters were trying to exploit public anxiety over long-term vacancy of the stadium site.
San Diego State University, the largest and most respected campus of the California State University system, is located on a landlocked campus just east of the stadium site. The university had been looking for options to expand the campus, already bursting at the seams with 35,000 students, but did not have specific plans for use of the stadium site. University leaders embraced the opportunity and began an accelerated process to develop plans for the site, but as a public university they couldn’t advocate for or finance a political campaign.
We assembled a citizens’ committee of university supporters, drafted a competing initiative that authorized sale of the stadium property to the university, raised $1.1 million to successfully qualify the initiative for the ballot, defended the initiative against two lawsuits seeking to block its placement on the ballot, and organized the broadest coalition ever assembled in San Diego’s history to advocate for “SDSU West” and against SoccerCity.
It became the most expensive ballot measure campaign in Southern California history, with our coalition raising and spending more than $8 million, and SoccerCity supporters spending more than $20 million. Despite early polling showing more than 60% of voters supported the SoccerCity initiative, SoccerCity went down to defeat, 33% yes to 67% no. Once SoccerCity supporters realized their initiative was in trouble, they shifted the focus of their campaign to attacking the credibility of SDSU West, spending millions on television, digital and mail advertising to discredit our initiative. Despite being outspent by a margin of nearly 3-to-1, Measure G prevailed in November 2018, 54% yes to 46% no, bringing a successful conclusion to a nearly 21-month odyssey.
Plans are now underway to start construction of the new university campus, transforming Mission Valley into an education and research hub, and cementing the university’s legacy as one of the region’s most valuable resources. Most importantly, this campus expansion will pave the way for generations of future students to access a world-class higher education from SDSU and, in turn, benefit the regional economy for the next century and beyond.
For the Yes on Measure G/No on Measure E campaign, our campaign was recognized by the American Association of Political Consultants as the “Ballot Measure Campaign of the Year” in the U.S.