“Papa Doug’s” Got a Brand New Bag: the UT Goes All In For Big and Shiny Downtown San Diego

by on January 24, 2012 · 10 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, Media, Popular, San Diego

Artist rendering of Papa Doug's master plan for San Diego's waterfront: new stadium and expanded convention center. Published in U-T on 1/23/12.

There was little doubt in anybody’s mind that developer Doug Manchester’s purchase of San Diego’s daily newspaper would result in a new wave of grand plans and big box economic boosterism. And this last Sunday’s newspaper, replete with a front page editorial and a special opinion section (printed on higher quality paper for those who might want to preserve the words of wisdom contained therein) did not disappoint.

Clearly the visionaries in Papa Doug’s planning sessions for this outburst of expansionist thinking heeded the call to go Bigger, more Badass and Bolder at every turn. Take a look for yourself here.

New football stadium? Check. Bigger Convention Center? Check. New Sports Arena? Check. Concessions for Organized Labor? Check.  Sops to the Coastal Commission? Check. New home for the San Diego ‘Wings’ sculpture that nobody seems to want on the waterfront? Check (I think). Vague promises about how this project will improve life for people living in communities of color? Check. The only two things I couldn’t find in the plan were a location for the urban SuperWalmart that we urgently needed so badly last year and a new City Hall building. I’m guessing if that City Council President Tony Young endorses this plan, they’ll find a place for the Walmart.

What the SDUT’s plan does is take a bunch of ideas, dial them up a notch and roll them into one. Of course just how this will all be paid for is another question, but the answer seems to lie in combining a series of “revenue measures” that lie just outside the realm of what the Taxpayer Association would term as tax increases. Assumption after assumption (so many ifs!) are piled on top of each other leaving the casual reader with the impression that the funding for this is completely doable as long as we trust in the creative financing plans of America’s Finest City’s powerbrokers. Do take the time to peruse the details here.  Scott Lewis over at Voice of San Diego also ponders the money question here.

I don’t know if the term “house of cards” exists in the lexicon of Papa Doug’s financial advisors for this project, but it should.

One example: IF the City can prevail in its lawsuit over the polluted (can you spell Superfund?) soil under Qualcomm Stadium, assuming that the defendants don’t declare bankruptcy, and the real estate market makes a strong recovery, then San Diego might find itself with a hundred million or so left over after it pays off the existing debt on the stadium.

Another: IF the City can find a buyer for the land underneath the old Sports Arena, persuade Viejas to give up their lease (no cost mentioned here) and the Coastal Commission agrees to suspend the 30 foot limitation on new developments for that project, then there could be more money for the grand plan.

Then there are the unannounced costs and questionable assumptions that go along with each of the components of this vision.  Take any version of the San Diego Convention Center expansion, for instance. Despite mounting evidence that this kind of development often bases its promises of returns on flawed or falsified date (good examples here), and that the taxpayers are ultimately directly or indirectly subsidizing these deals, we are just asked to accept by the SDUT that the Convention Center Expansion is desirable or even needed.

And I’ll go one step further by making an educated guess that many infrastructure related costs are not even included in the Papa Doug “I have a dream” scenario. To their credit, the editorial gang at the SDUT admits that there are likely some unanticipated problems with this plan. But we’re asked to buy into the vision anyway, for the good of our fair city, as these problems are just speed bumps of the road to progress. As they say in their editorial:

 Within our reach is a world-class city with a downtown that is both aesthetically striking and economically thriving — an engine for growth and jobs, a magnet for tourism and new investment, and so much more.

 As the risk of being defined by Manchester’s minions as being in the class of  “naysayers obsessed with the city’s rocky recent history and by skeptics who think this recent history has trapped us in mediocrity”, let me say “hold your horses!”, “Whoa!” or even “Are you kidding me?”.

Let’s back up all the way past the first assumption made by our newly enfranchised Grand Planners, the one that says that we all agree that further mega development downtown is such a great idea.

We don’t all agree that Bigger, More Badass and Bolder are they way to go for a Better San Diego. We see our streets filled with potholes, our libraries operating at diminished capacity, our public employees being scapegoated for past bad financial practices and we have to wonder just how it is that putting up big shiny structures is gonna solve those problems–especially when promises of past “windfalls” from additional property tax revenues have been consistently diverted from City services.

The absence of any informed discussion about whether further public support of developing downtown is just the start of questions that need to be posed here. How about: “Is this really a viable economic model, given the restructuring of our retail economy that’s underway?”  What about the thought that local clustering and/or neighborhood based micro economies can be a viable developmental model?

The point here is that I think it’s wrong for a developer, even one without overtly vested interests, that should be allowed to cheerlead a developmental plan for this City that does not look at the needs of the Whole City and just not Downtown.  (The article contained this disclaimer–Editor’s note: U-T San Diego Chairman and Publisher Douglas F. Manchester, a hotel developer and owner, no longer owns the hotels adjacent to the existing Convention Center and has no interest in any hotels or other components proposed in this editorial.)

Here’s one example by the San Diego Foundation of some forward thinking about our City’s future that takes a passing interest in what the citizens of our city think. Visit the link and give them your input.

And let us know what you think in the comments below.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Swink January 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

Hey, Doug. A slight correction to one comment you make in your article: the Coastal Commission cannot waive the coastal 30′ height limit. That was due to a citizens’ initiative, adopted in 1972. As much as many developers might wish otherwise, the only way to obtain waivers to the limit is through a ballot measure.

This has been accomplished only twice since 1972. Sea World barely squeaked by with their private initiative, in 1998 (I forget if it was 50.3% or 50.7%), and the waiver applies only within the Sea World leasehold. Reconstruction of the historical chimney and wind vane at the Mission Brewery building (1912, Washington & Kettner) easily gained voter approval because it had existed previously (removed because of structural issues with the chimney) and did not constitute massive visual blockage to the coastline.


doug porter January 24, 2012 at 11:15 am

You’re right. I must have been overwhelmed with Papa’s wishful thinking.


Jack January 25, 2012 at 7:48 am

Don’t concede this point so easily Doug. We all know it is a pay to play system. With enough golf junkets and tickets to the superbowl and international public administration conferences bought and paid for I am sure the Coastal Commission will find a way around the will of the people.


nadin abbott January 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Oh and let’s not forget the secondary plan for the stadium, smack dab on the MTS yard. Where is the Trolley supposed to go? Oh and did I mention the trolley benefits the people RIGHT NOW?


La Playa Heritage January 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm


Manchester Resort Cited for Land Use, Environmental Violations
By Matt Potter | Posted January 24, 2012, 10:35 a.m.


john January 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I’d like to open up the can of glue and sniff enough to convince myself the motivation for all that development would be a grand, sweeping vision of San Diego becoming a world class urban destination visitors would rant about and our image and prosperity would thrive for generations to come.
Since I tried that once at around age 16 in the ’70’s and found it wasn’t my thing, I would soberly (and pessimistically) observe it’s the same old same old: Build it and they will come, and if they don’t who cares as long as you got your name immortalized on a public edifice and lined the pockets of yourself and your cronies. The prior is something most people really don’t consider the value of, but it really is what most “magnates” and power brokers seek as they age and have amassed more wealth than they know they can ever spend. They provide for their children and theirs, then seek to put some imprint on the community that will last far after their presence has vacated this world. There is an intrinsic value to such immortality that really is priceless.
It’s not always bad, many endowments, scholarships etc in the name of philanthropists benefit so many. It’s not always so clearly selfless and if it’s a heartless boondoggle it is nothing noble at all.


imominous January 25, 2012 at 7:55 am

I’ve noticed in all the whoop de doo in the UT about this noxious proposal, Manchester’s name is never mentioned. Reference is made to the UT support, but nowhere is Manchester’s name mentioned.

I have a real problem with the only mainstream paper in SD being owned by this rat bastard Manchester. He is part of the problem we have here; big developers gobbling up San Diego resources for personal enrichment. That waterfront stadium is stupid.
The waterfront is a limited resource. You can put a damn sports facility anywhere.

I seriously wish we could break up this cabal of politicians, developers and rich team owners. Nothing short of a firing squad is gonna do it, too many voters here have swallowed the red state koolaid. They’re making our sweet, laid back San Diego into a nightmare for citizens and a cash cow for the 1%. How we gonna stop this trend that has really ballooned since Susan Golding’s time as mayor.


doug porter January 25, 2012 at 8:59 am

Sadly, this “trend” goes waaay back before Susan Golding’s time as Mayor. C. Arnholt Smith–“Mr San Diego of the Century” and sidekick John Alessio dominated the mid-20th century, and you can go back to the Sprekels and Marston families before that.
In fact it’s safer to say that San Diego has always been a plaything for the ultra wealthy looking to leave a legacy.


imominous January 25, 2012 at 9:15 am

My dad, Mike Graham, was Assistant City Manager, he retired in the mid-70s.

As you might imagine, he had a lot of stories. As we watched the years progress and the ‘good old boys’ network solidify between the County Board of Supervisors, city government, and the extremely wealthy, his point was that the trouble really started with Golding. He cited Mayor Frank Curran as an example of a guy who really had no political ambitions beyond mayor, and who really cared about the people.

These days there is not even a pretext that they give a damn about the citizens of San Diego, putting us second to tourism, mega-yachts, the cruise industry, the sports/convention/hotel/restaurant money.

Our current mayor favors a stadium we can’t afford, while spending thousands to remove (and then replace) fire rings enjoyed by the residents of the city he’s supposed to serve. GRRRR.


doug porter January 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

this report takes issue with the “job creation” claims of Convention Center expansion supporters– bottom line: a few jobs, mostly shitty ones. http://goo.gl/LYWAc


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