May 19 2015 09:12 PM

Task force should ask team to pay more than $300 million

CSAG financing plan
Photo by Ron Donoho

The mayor's stadium task force should have upped the ante in the proposal it released on Monday. The Citizens' Stadium Advisory Group recommended the San Diego Chargers organization contribute $300 million to the bottom line of a $1.1 billion new stadium construction plan. That's an increase from what the team said it would pay a decade ago, but way low for 2015.

The CSAG also incorrectly assessed that a viable deal could be reached between the city and the San Diego Chargers without two-thirds voter approval from the public. For the team to continue playing here in a new facility with any public subsidy, a public vote is inevitable, and would likely come in June 2016, after the 2015-16 NFL season. (There's no time to schedule a special election before the pro season starts in September, and it'd be madness to hold one in-season.)

In fairness to the CSAG, it was saddled with a can't-win/can't-win situation. It's easy to read between the lines that the high-profile members of the task force had grown tired of being a piñata for the jabs of Chargers spokesperson Mark Fabiani. CSAG chairman Adam Day appeared relieved when he stated at the recent press conference: "Our work is done." When Day quipped, "I'm sure the whole committee would love to continue working on this," his remark was met with universal laughter from the group.

Now it's time for real negotiations to begin. Fabiani's terse response to the CSAG report was that the team would have financing, legal and land-use experts review the proposal.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer says his negotiating team, which will include City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and representatives from the County of San Diego, is ready to sit down at the table as early as June 1.

Faulconer also reiterated that a stadium agreement would not move forward without a public vote. That's a foregone conclusion. A mayor up for re-election can't back away from that big a promise. As this situation moves forward, if the Chargers don't pull up stakes and flee to glittery promises of a new stadium in Los Angeles, the only question about a public vote here will hinge on whether it can legally be whittled down from passage by two-thirds to a majority of voters.

The CSAG proposal, as a reference point, calls for the city and the county of San Diego to each pay $121 million ($7 million per year for 30 years) for a stadium. It's being argued the city already pays that much per year in maintenance, so it's not a new tax. But local history shows that legal minds are already poised to go to court to point out that either the rollover city fund or the new county fund is, indeed, a tax

Here's the thing about the Chargers threatening to leave San Diego: For the team it's strictly business. But to local fans, it's personal. In The Godfather, Michael Corleone espoused that never the twain shall meet. The Spanos family shows no sign of wanting to negotiate on a personal level, so let's talk business.

The CSAG proposal is a hybrid that points to funding sources from at least a dozen sources. It calls for the Chargers to invest $300 million and to start paying rent ($10 million per season). However, the team would reap the benefit of naming rights (around $150 million) and half the profit from the sale of personal seat licenses (a projected $60 million take for the team).

All these numbers are hypothetical at this point, so it's inane to exactly compare revenue streams to expenditures. But just a glance shows that the Chargers' rewards, under the CSAG model, come close to equaling their risk.

A sweetheart deal is not going to pass public muster in San Diego. A third of the population here bleeds Chargers blue and would forgo all neighborhood services to build a house of worship for the team. Another third chant "not one dime" and would only ever finance a bus that would drive the team out of town. The middle third likes having an NFL team, but also recognizes civic responsibility includes paying for essential services.

If a stadium proposal can be dished up that's digestible to the middle third, and a majority vote is deemed legal (and that's questionable), then that's the path to the Chargers being allowed to stay in San Diego (note role reversal).

The diehard football fans are apoplectic about every detail that arises regarding the $1.8 billion Carson stadium proposal, purportedly to be built up north on a landfill that will be shared by the Chargers and the Oakland Raiders. That both teams have jointly hired Carmen Policy to lead the push for Carson should not lead to a knee-jerk reaction here that kicks open city coffers to sweeten a San Diego deal. 

That would be wrong in a civic sense, and would be political suicide for Mayor Faulconer. No, he doesn't want to have the team depart during his watch. But while some of the die-hards will hold it against him if the Chargers head north, that in and of itself won't cost him a re-election bid in 2016. Offering a weak deal to the team (whether the Chargers stay or go) would, however, create an opening for a San Diego-Now/Corporate-Welfare-Never mayoral opponent.

Mayor Faulconer needs to enter negotiations with the "not one dime" approach, and then forge a deal that's better than the one proposed by the task force. Standing up to the Chargers will eliminate the only roadblock along his path to re-election. And it's the most prudent plan for all the people of San Diego.


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