May 27 2015 11:55 AM

Decision time arriving on Chargers stadium

Mayor Faulconer channels Izzy Mandelbaum of “Seinfeld”
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb
After an era of confrontation, the time has come for an era of negotiation.

—Richard M. Nixon

A local sports-radio commentator recently asked—rhetorically—when Mayor Kevin Faulconer planned to put on his "big-boy pants" in the fight to keep the San Diego Chargers from leaving town.

Faulconer is by all measures, at least physically, a big boy. So the inquiry by the talking radiohead seemingly had less to do with a tailoring miscommunication than a lingering perception that this mayor flinches at any sign of confrontation.

Has any mayor in San Diego's history had an easier time of it in their first year of office, gleefully doling out the largesse from a resurging economy at endless scripted media events, like Robin Hood in reverse?

But now the mayor enters that phase of the game where not everyone in the room will have a smile permanently tattooed to their mugs. ("It's go time," as the mayor recently told The San Diego Union Tribune.) That's not to say Dean Spanos, ruling prince of the Chargers realm, and his right-hand man, Mark Fabiani, aren't capable of flashing the pearly whites like most hot-seat professionals can in the face of a challenge.

Like they say in those antiperspirant ads, "Never let them see you sweat," right?

But NFL football is a veritable tableau of sweat, blood and grimaces, beamed out in all its sparkling high-definition glory to fawning, growling fans. For teams, seeking an edge over one's opponent is as intrinsic to the sport as stuffing is to turkey.

So when Mayor Faulconer, upon last week's unveiling of a stadium financing plan by his appointed Citizens Stadium Advisory Group, threw down a June 1 date preference for the start of negotiations, might that have been a bit of "I'm in charge now" showmanship?

All Fabiani would say later about the timing of negotiations is, "I'm sure we will meet with the city's experts sometime soon."

Faulconer, in a carefully crafted statement issued via Facebook, deemed the plan: 1) "a framework," 2) "tangible," 3) "achievable," and 4) "won't raise taxes." The mayor could have also added, 5) "comes with a cherry AND whipped cream at no extra charge" for all that his pronouncements mean at this stage, but he did express his "continued commitment" to a public vote on a plan "if we reach a stadium agreement with the Chargers."

The mayor has long said San Diegans "deserve a good and fair deal," as he repeated again in his statement. Since then (at least as of midday Tuesday), there hasn't been a peep on social media from Hiz-zoner, a rarity. Spin Cycle checked in with the mayor's office to see if he had moved into the Cone of Silence Negotiating Cave, but his people would not comment.

Faulconer has garnered some pushback for holding to his public-vote promise, most notably in an op-ed piece last week penned by former mayoral contender, port commissioner and Downtown-redevelopment honcho Peter Q. Davis. A retired banker, Davis is no green-visor slouch. He helped negotiate the deal for Petco Park. But he argued that Faulconer "was voted into office to make the tough decisionsHe should state that there will be no stadium vote."

His argument is not unfamiliar, that since raising taxes for a stadium is off the table now, so, too, should the idea of an election-day "advisory" vote head into the dustbin of political promises.

"Instead of a public vote, the mayor should remind the citizens that they still will have a chance to vote—in the next mayoral election, if they do not like the results of his decisions," Davis wrote, adding that the prospect of such a vote would give the Chargers "wiggle room" to reject the plan by claiming "such a vote will fail, or take too long to hold" 

Sure, it's easy for an armchair, one-time mayoral wannabe to be so bold, but boldness is not what makes the Faulconer frame tick. Perhaps the mayor has taken the last week to immerse himself in boldness training. Again, who knows? His peeps aren't peeping.

About the only new thing his plan masters have found to make hay of is Mick Jagger's throwaway line during the Rolling Stones' tour-kickoff concert Sunday night. Mick told the crowd, "We are having such a great time in San Diego. It's so beautiful here. Why would anyone want to leave? Especially the Chargers."

Any time a major rock star has something nice to say about one's hometown, it's a day to celebrate. But come on, do NFL owners care what a spry, aging rocker has to say about a deal that incorporates the word "billion" into the discussion? (No mention of the band's decision to play "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as an encore on its set list.)

In the meantime, it appears the demise of the bayfront expansion of the San Diego Convention Center—extolled by many in the media shark tank—has been exaggerated, at least temporarily.

The corporate board running the center has called for a special meeting Thursday to consider, according to the agenda, "approval of Fifth Avenue Landing extension." As Spin Cycle readers will recall, the San Diego City Council recently expressed shock that the corporation had decided to default on a May 6 balloon payment of more than $13 million to purchase the lease on a 7-acre stretch of property earmarked for contiguous center expansion.

Details were sketchy at press time, but it appears the lease extension could run a year and be covered by corporation funds. At the extension's end, however, the city would have to find a funding stream for the actual leasehold purchase.

To make this happen would require some political capital by the mayor. On this one, the mayor's office directed inquiries to convention center folks. "The final deal points have not been agreed to, because our board has to agree to them," says center spokesman Steve Johnson. He added the port and City Council would also chime in.

Tough decisions requiring bigboy pants indeed. But the devil's in the details—no sympathy there.

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