San Diego

City Pays More Than $341,000 to Soccer City Attorneys

City attorney led push to keep measure from appearing on November 2018 ballot.

The City of San Diego paid more than $341,000 in legal fees for its decision to fight the placement of competing stadium measures, SDSU West and Soccer City, on last year’s ballot.

Both proposals sought permission from voters to redevelop the land that currently houses SDCCU Stadium, once the home to the San Diego Chargers.

The Soccer City proposal would have allowed construction of a professional soccer stadium as well as adjoining housing and commercial space. A rival measure, SDSU West, proposed razing former Qualcomm Stadium to make room for an expansion of San Diego State University which included classrooms, housing, retail, a public park, as well as a new college football stadium.

NBC 7 obtained the payment in a Public Records Request to the City of San Diego. 

Supporters of both measures collected enough signatures to place the proposals on the November 2018.

However, City Attorney Mara Elliott, with support from the majority of city councilmembers opposed allowing a third-party to develop public land through a ballot initiative.

In May 2018 Elliott announced her office had filed a lawsuit.

“By seeking pre-election guidance from the courts, the City hopes to avoid a situation where voters act on measures that are later found to be legally invalid,” read a statement from Elliott. “Even if the court finds no problems with the measures, it may narrow post-election issues, which will save taxpayer money and potentially expedite City actions to implement a successful measure.”

A state court judge ruled in favor of Soccer City and SDSU West.

Elliott was unconvinced. In July 2018, the city attorney requested that city council appeal the decision. Five councilmembers approved her request.

A state appellate court ruled against the city in August 2018, allowing attorneys for the ballot measure to recoup their costs.

In November voters approved the proposal from SDSU West.

Councilmember Scott Sherman opposed the initial court challenge as well as the subsequent appeal.

In a June 26 interview, Sherman had an “I told you so” moment.

“In my opinion it was a giant mistake,” Sherman told NBC 7. “You never want to sue the citizens who vote you into office, essentially telling them that their signatures don’t count.”

The $341,000, added Sherman, could have been put to much better use.

“Three hundred thousand is a couple of cops. It’s some park renovation, street lights; it’s all kinds of things that we need and rely on everyday,” added Sherman. “It’s a good chunk of change.”

In an email, a spokesperson for Mara Elliott confirmed the payment to Soccer City’s attorneys and also stated that Soccer City had initially requested $505,847 in fees.

According to court filings, attorneys for SDSU West only requested $1,042 in fees and costs.

Attorney, and candidate for city attorney, Cory Briggs was also paid $579 for filing as an “intervenor” in the case.

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