"Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast."
That's Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, assessing things after a deadly rumble among rival news crews, but it could've been the average San Diegan this week, after some highly entertaining public bickering between two powerful, privileged men gave way to the announcement that the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders are planning a joint-use football stadium in the city of Carson.
Though it was a surprise announcement, it makes all the sense in the world. The threat of moving to the Los Angeles area is the only chip the Chargers and Raiders have to play in their high-stakes game against their current home cities, and the two teams are a couple of steps behind the St. Louis Rams on the road to L.A., the Rams having already proposed building a stadium in Inglewood. Two teams might be allowed to move to L.A.; three teams won't. At least one of these contestants will have to go home a loser.
No offense, but we're hoping it's the Chargers. The National Football League is just an awful organization in so many ways, but there's a sizable portion of San Diegans who love their Chargers, so, for their sake, we hope the team stays put—but only if taxpayers don't pay a dime for a new stadium.
Much of this will depend on which team or teams the NFL wants in L.A. and when it wants it or them there. If the Chargers lose L.A., their choices will be to figure out a way to privately finance a new stadium in San Diego, privately finance upgrades to Qualcomm Stadium or sell the team to a mega-rich individual or consortium who can afford to pay their own way—because it's not likely that voters would approve a tax increase.
For their part, the Chargers are claiming they can't afford to stay in San Diego unless the team gets a huge bailout; they say that's not the case in L.A., because, unlike San Diego, the larger market will kick down hundreds of millions of dollars for corporate sponsorships and personal seat licenses (PSL), which give the buyer the chance to purchase season tickets for specific seats. Sixteen of the 32 NFL teams make money on PSLs or something similar (some of them in markets smaller than San Diego). Without this extra revenue, the Chargers say, they can't remain competitive. However, there's no guarantee that the revenue will buy a winning team—a look at last season's standings shows no correlation between PSLs and success on the field.
The Spanoses want us to take them at their word when they talk about finances and competitiveness. The franchise is a private business that has no plans to let the public examine its books, which should be a condition for anyone who'd even consider voting yes on a taxpayer subsidy. CityBeat wouldn't support a tax increase for a new stadium under any circumstances—there are too many more important unfunded public needs—but those who would should at least want to see the Spanoses' income taxes.
This should be the attitude of all elected officials charged with minding the public's money. For his part, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is dancing on the head of a pin—telling the Chargers that he won't support a stadium proposal that the city can't afford while at the same time ushering a symbolic pro-Chargers resolution through the City Council. He has to be worried both about being the mayor who lost the Chargers and being the mayor who supported doling out a huge chunk of welfare to a wealthy family in a city filled with ragged streets and underpaid cops.
Now he has Councilmembers Todd Gloria and David Alvarez staking out budget-protection territory, jointly sending out a memo Tuesday that outlines the need for clarity on potential funding sources, PSLs and the costs of building a stadium either Downtown or in Mission Valley. Gloria, we'll remind you, is Faulconer's leading potential challenger for the Mayor's office in 2016.
The resolution passed by the City Council on Tuesday, expressing support for the Chargers remaining in San Diego, was completely unnecessary. It may have made some people feel better, but it also started to worry some of us that the mayor and the council might lose their heads and go squishy amid the Chargers' threat to leave. It doesn't have to get nasty between to the two sides, but the city does need to remain sober and tough in its negotiations with its football team, which has a history of getting favorable deals at our expense.
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