Big Fight Over Stadium Ballot in San Diego

     SAN DIEGO (CN) — A former city councilwoman sued San Diego, claiming it put misleading ballot language on her citizen’s initiative to revamp the Convention Center and build a pro football stadium, to favor a competing initiative drafted by the Chargers.
     Donna Frye sued the City Council, city attorney, city clerk and the county registrar of voters on Aug. 31 in Superior Court.
     She claims the language the city approved to describe her initiative, on the ballot and in the voter’s guide, is false, misleading or inaccurate, and wants it replaced with language she suggests in her complaint.
     Attached to her 16-page lawsuit are 148 pages of exhibits, including the voter’s guide and other documents.
     The city clerk and county registrar certified her “Citizen’s Plan” as Measure D on July 12. When the City Council voted to put it on the Nov. 8 ballot, it changed the title to “Tax and Facilities Initiative” though the name change was not on the council agenda, Frye said.
     Any initiative bearing the word “tax” is likely to be unpopular in Southern California.
     Frye says that her Citizen’s Initiative “reforms many aspects of the city’s tourism — and entertainment — facilities policies by ensuring that the tourism industry pays its fair share for municipal infrastructure and services and by imposing spending and other restrictions on politicians.”
     She claims City Councilman Scott Sherman, who was appointed to write the opposing argument to her plan, has repeatedly demonstrated his bias against it.
     For instance, she says, his opposing argument includes the statement: “Measure D Could Force Comic-Con to Leave.”
     Comic-Con is a wildly popular annual celebration of comic books and science fiction in all its genres, which brings thousands of people to San Diego each year.
     Frye claims that Sherman’s opposition argument selectively quoted from a Comic-Con statement, by dropping Comic-Con’s introductory sentence: “Comic-Con is not a party to the initiative and its passing will have no effect on the organization’s decision to remain in San Diego.”
     She claims Sherman is biased against the primary drafter of the Citizen’s Plan, Cory Briggs, who represents her in this lawsuit. Sherman represents San Diego’s District 7, which includes Mission Valley, home of the Chargers’ present stadium.
     Frye claims that Sherman demonstrated his bias again by telling the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the city’s only daily newspaper: “The Briggs initiative is just terrible and I don’t think it should see the light of day. I don’t know why San Diegans would trust a guy who makes his living suing the taxpayer.”
     Frye says the city attorney demonstrated his bias in an April 11 news release, under the headline, “Flaws in Briggs/Frye Initiative Put City at Risk.” The city attorney’s office issued the statement, though it knows or should know that the mayor’s office is legally required to remain neutral on ballot measures. A link to the news release is still posted immediately below the city attorney’s photo on his office website, Frye says.
     Mayor Kevin Faulconer is not a party to Frye’s complaint. He has neither endorsed nor opposed either plan, though there is mounting public pressure for him to do so.
     In her lawsuit, Frye says the city’s description of the Chargers’ initiative is the clincher, as the Chargers’ initiative does include “a special tax for the construction of a combined convention center and professional football stadium.” But the city calls it the “Downtown Stadium Initiative” omitting the word “tax,” which occurs on the misnomer the city gave her initiative.
     Frye asks the court to choose from a number of alternate names for her initiative, including the “Tourism Reform Initiative,” or the “Tourism and Financial Reform Initiative” or the “Tourism Reform, Tax and Spending Limits Initiative.”
     She also claims that the city approved a “confusing” and false statement in the voter’s guide, which states that her initiative would “prohibit on-site expansion of the existing convention center.” It does not, Frye says; it only prohibits the city from expanding the convention center in the coastal zone.
     She also claims the city-approved ballot question contains multiple errors on how hotels would be taxed and how the city would collect the taxes.
     Briggs said in a statement that Frye’s plan “would rein in politicians and special interests run amok” and that the City Council will “use every tool at their disposal to rig the outcome in their favor.”
     “As she’s fought for time and again over the years, Donna is once more trying to make sure the public has a level playing field leading up to election day,” Briggs said in an email.
     City Attorney spokesman Gerry Braun said the city attorney’s job is to “accurately state what the initiative does, which is exactly what we did.”
     Councilman Sherman’s office did not return emailed and telephone requests for comment.
     Frye seeks declaratory judgment that the city’s ballot question, and title, and summary, and legal analysis of her Citizens’ Plan are all false, misleading and inaccurate, and an injunction ordering the city to replace them.
     Frye was elected to the City Council in 2002 and 2006, after which she was termed out. She narrowly lost two races for mayor.
     In 2004 she appeared to have enough votes to win as a write-in candidate, but too many voters neglected to fill in the bubble by her name, or misspelled her name as Fry.
     Dick Murphy, who won that election, resigned in 2005 as the city faced funding crises, particularly in its pension program. Frye then ran again in a special election in July 2015 and placed first of 10 mayoral candidates in the first round, taking 43 percent of the vote, but lost the runoff to former Police Chief Jerry Sanders.
     Sanders, now chairman of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, supports the Chargers’ plan.
     In July 2103, Frye was one of the first city employees or former employees to publicly accuse then-Mayor Bob Filner of sexual harassment. The ensuing furor, and lawsuits, forced Filner to resign. He pleaded guilty in October 2013 to misdemeanor charges of false imprisonment and battery.
     Frye also seeks attorney’s fees and court costs. Briggs’ office is in Upland.

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