Aug. 5 2015 12:09 PM

Stadium clouds poised over 2016 election cycle

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It's rubber-meets-the-road time for Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the Chargers
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb
Don't worry about polls, but if you do, don't admit it.

—Rosalynn Carter

You have to hand it to Mayor Kevin "All Smiles" Faulconer. He could be standing on a freeway with a hornblasting 18-wheeler bearing down on him, and you'd still expect him to beam while proclaiming, "Isn't this a beautiful day in can-do San Diego!" 

Of course, the Republican mayor who avoids the Republican label as if it were an odiferous pair of horse-stable boots has been on a roll of late, most notably the thick rolls of re-election campaign cash that have cascaded since June over the so-far unchallenged incumbent—to the tune of nearly $1.25 million in direct and indirect largesse.

Nothing says "Stay outta this race!" to opponents quite like a big, scary chunk of political Benjamins in the bank, as City Councilmember Todd Gloria demonstrated when he chose the smoother route to a seat on the state Assembly rather than wage war with Mayor Warbucks.

Several Democratic sources confirm that state Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who terms out next year, is conducting field polls to determine Faulconer's potential weaknesses in a June primary, but whether she jumps in is anybody's guess.

It was the appearance of Atkins at the much-analyzed meet-up last week between National Football League officials and city and county leaders that generated the most buzz about San Diego's prospects for keeping the Chargers from bolting to more lucrative pastures to the north.

In a press conference Atkins did not attend following the three-hour huddle at the U.S. Grant, Faulconer called the speaker's presence "a big shot in the arm." He later released a statement quoting Atkins as saying, "We want the Chargers to stay in San Diego if the right agreement can be reached. As I have said before, if an agreement is reached, I am committed to making sure San Diego can benefit from state legislation that is consistent with what other cities have received for their sports facilities."

The problem, of course, is San Diego has only the bare framework of a stadium plan to show off so far. Eric Grubman, who a San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist once described as the "NFL vice president in charge of stadium ramrodding," said as much following the meeting in a brief interview with The Mighty 1090 sports-radio reporter Marty Caswell.

"We're at the concept stage," Grubman told Caswell, "so the basic architecture has been put in place—the basic outline, I should say—and we really dealt with those aspects this morning for a couple of hours. We didn't negotiate, so I really can't tell you that concrete progress has been made or not made. We're not at that stage yet."

To the mayor's continuous point that the Chargers need to return to the negotiating table after turning its nose to Faulconer's expedited plan for environmental review of the Mission Valley site, Grubman's response to Caswell seemed contradictory.

"What's encouraging is that all the parties are at the table," he said, adding later, "So what I'm encouraged about is that the Chargers are open-minded and they're at the table. As to the specific points of view that they may have, I'll refer to the Chargers. We don't speak for them. We speak with them."

Regarding next Monday's meeting with a group of NFL owners in Chicago about relocation plans to Los Angeles, Grubman said he expects the city will "present the key elements of the outline of a plan and how they're going to bring that outline to the goal line."

San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who attended last week's meeting, said as an architect he was most excited about the two hours of the gathering spent detailing the physical nature of a proposed stadium, details of which he did not provide.

When the San Diego City Council recently approved the expenditure of $2.1 million in state reimbursement money to fast track the environmental-review process (the draft environmental-impact report is scheduled for release next Monday as well), $200,000 of that was dedicated to "conceptual" stadium-design work.

That role is now in the hands of Kansas City-based Populous, an architecture firm known for its stadium and arena designs. Spin Cycle requested from the mayor's office the contract for that work, and while a spokesman said on Friday he was "working on getting" a copy to release, communications after that went dark.

Mark Fabiani, special counsel to Chargers honcho Dean Spanos, told Spin Cycle that he requested a copy of the PowerPoint presentation given by Populous during last week's meeting, but was turned down.

Fabiani said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith declined the request because "they wanted to leave it in the hands of Populous in the event of PRA [Public Records Act] requests." A Goldsmith spokesman denied the claim, adding, "The City Attorney believes that the PowerPoint should be produced."

Whether true, such public-scrutiny fears would not be unprecedented. As Spin Cycle reported last February, the administration of former mayor Jerry Sanders did veritable backflips to avoid releasing the contents of the so-called Lazard Report from a New York financial consulting firm in 2012 that suggested $500 million in city and county general funds would be required to build a new stadium, a notion the Chargers determined was "politically impossible to achieve."

In November 2012 emails obtained by Spin Cycle in a public-records request, Sanders' then-chief of staff Julie Dubick, when asked by the incoming chief of staff for newly elected mayor Bob Filner for a copy of the report, replied, "We never received a final report from Lazard, and there are no drafts on the 11th floor."

When the chief of staff, Vince Hall, then asked where the draft report could be found, Dubick replied, "In NYC with Lazard as we don't have a copy. It's been reviewed by our office in meetings with Lazard but not retained. I am sorry I didn't make that clear."

One thing is clear: Concepts, like polls, are fine and dandy, but they provide little assurance that anything is certain—no matter how big your bank account.

Got a tip? Send it to johnl@sdcitybeat.com or follow John R. Lamb on Twitter @johnrlamb.

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