"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."
If you've lived in San Diego longer than a decade, you might have noticed the circular nature of our city's political leadership. Issues that one day seem urgent—water conservation, public safety, sewage treatment come to mind—invariably wind up back on a dusty shelf when hard decisions about spending big money need to be made.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer— thought by many to have political aspirations beyond the 11th floor of 202 C St.—may have entered office at just the wrong time for anyone with a penchant to hedge, as this mayor seems inclined to do when the governing gets tough and political courage is required.
This is why the assembly of a group of Faulconer supporters to hash out in private how to build a new stadium and keep the San Diego Chargers from bolting to greener pastures to the north should come as a surprise to no one. It's classic risk-averse Faulconer.
As has been widely reported, Faulconer has put together something he calls the Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group (sporting the unfortunate acronym CSAG), a nine-member panel of seemingly whip-smart business types given a fall deadline to put an actual plan to actual paper to get the Chargers a new home either Downtown or on the current Mission Valley site.
"They will explore all possibilities to finance the project, with the clear direction that it must present a good and fair deal for San Diego taxpayers," Faulconer said during his State of the City address last month. "This is my commitment: For the first time, this year, we will have a real plan to consider for a new stadium."
If you've lived here for a while, this all might sound like déjà vu.
Flash back to 2009. The city's then-redevelopment arm, the Centre City Development Corp., hired a New York consultant for $160,000 to lay out all the financing options for a new Downtown stadium. The consultant, stadium-finance expert Mitchell Ziets, presented some information to the panel that alluded to the probability that taxpayer funding would be required, a prospect that every mayor since Jerry Sanders has publicly rejected.
But no formal report ever surfaced.
Then, in 2011, Sanders hired another financial adviser to help draft a plan to finance an $800- million East Village stadium. New York-based Lazard Ltd. was given a contract of less than $250,000, "most of it to be paid contingent on a deal being worked out with the Chargers," according to a U-T San Diego report at the time.
"We can't keep just saying we really want to keep you," the U-T quoted Sanders as saying about the Chargers in the story. "We really have to present something. They've got some big decisions coming up, and we need to say, Hey, here's another piece of the decision.'"
But three sources have confirmed that report never saw the light of day, because the Chargers objected to the "x hundreds of millions" of taxpayer dollars the report suggested would be needed to make the plan work, as one source put it.
"My understanding is the reason they didn't release it is because the Chargers were extremely unhappy with the findings," the source said. "But it basically answers all the questions that are being raised about this task force, at least insofar as it relates to the financing option."
Added the source: "Fabiani went ape shit when he saw the first draft."
That, of course, is a reference to Mark Fabiani, special counsel to the Chargers, who, of late, has been pooh-poohing Faulconer's idea of yet another task force swooping in to find the magical silver bullet no one has ever found to keep taxpayers and the Chargers happy.
Spin Cycle reached out to Fabiani unsuccessfully. Spin also reached out to Aimee Faucett, who one source said was in the early 2012 meeting with Sanders when it was decided not to make the Lazard report public.
If Faucett's name sounds familiar, it should. A former staffer to both Faulconer and Sanders, Faucett now works alongside Sanders at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. She was also tapped by Faulconer as one of the nine member of his Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group.
Faucett also did not respond to inquiries from Spin, but it might be helpful for her friends on this new panel to find a copy of the Lazard report. On the flip side, it might not be what Faulconer in the end wants to hear.
One source said that during the early-2012 meeting, Sanders' advisers—including Faucett—debated the report's release. While some urged public divulgence, it was decided that the city officially would not take physical receipt of the report, lest someone request it through public-records law.
One source who argued for public release recalled learning "it'd be left to [Bob] Filner to decide." Hence the question remains: Is there a copy of the Lazard report floating around City Hall somewhere?
Therein lies the rub with this new group cobbled together by Faulconer that will meet in private. As it proceeds from its first meeting this Friday until its completion in the fall, how will the public know what these nine fine people are talking about?
Arguments have been made that the voters in the end will have the final say, so why sweat the sausage-making?
Spin thought it would be helpful to reach out to someone who knows a thing or three about mounting successful ballot initiatives proposing big projects.
"Our experience with the first Convention Center expansion and Proposition C for Petco Park was that the task-force approach with open meetings helped build public trust in the recommendations," longtime campaign consultant Tom Shepard told Spin.
Faulconer held his press conference announcing his new panel in front of Petco Park. Considering the uphill climb his stadium dream faces, the mayor might want to consider shedding a little more light on the subject.