A popular arguement from those who back Measure C is that raising San Diego’s hotel tax by four percentage points will get the city a billion dollars to spend on a new downtown stadium paid for on the backs of visitors. Boosters, sports columnists, paid mouthpieces, Rep. Scott Peters and Chargers owner Dean Spanos have all offered some spin on this twisted logic.
But don’t be fooled by the shell game. There are no free football stadiums, despite the straight-faced pleas otherwise.
“If you remember just one point, please remember this: If you are a resident of the city of San Diego, and you don’t ever stay in a hotel room in the city, you will not pay one cent for the development or operation of this facility.”
That’s from an opinion piece in The San Diego Union-Tribune titled “Chargers Stadium Pros and Cons,” with the pro half of the article carrying the byline of team owner Dean Spanos.
That sentiment is echoed in a “sizzle reel” video called “The Heart of San Diego” that promotes Measure C and is narrated by the great former Chargers quarterback and CBS-TV commentator Dan Fouts.
In the video, Fouts talks about his history of playing for the best fans in the NFL and how a new downtown stadium would benefit the residents of the region. Then he broaches the financing plan.
“This project would not impose any new taxes on San Diego citizens,” he intones, as the video sweeps across renderings of what a stadium could look like if it was erected in East Village. “Instead, it would be paid for by tourists, convention-goers and outof-town business people staying in local hotels. And what could be sweeter than Raiders, Broncos and Patriot fans all helping pay for the project when they pay their hotel bill?” The other memorable time Fouts read from a script that played loose with reality? When he portrayed himself as a frustrated college football announcer in Adam Sandler’s 1998 spoof The Waterboy, in which he turned to booth partner Brent Musburger and exclaimed, “Shut up, Brent!” It’s been well documented that raising the San Diego hotel tax to pay for a mixed-use stadium and convention center annex is not supported by tourism authorities and convention planners from around the country, including those from Comic- Con, which annually brings more than 130,000 attendees who spend tens of millions of dollars here.
Opponents of Measure C also talk about the other things that money from an increased hotel tax could be spent on—street repairs, increased safety measures (police and fire) and other local services.
But to see the real shell game in progress, you have to look at the larger playing field of the National Football League.
In Las Vegas, billionaire Sheldon Adelson—who owns The Venetian and The Palazzo and casinos all over the world—wants to build a 65,000-seat domed football stadium to lure the Oakland Raiders to the desert. But not with financing from his reported $30 billion empire. Adelson is calling for a $750 million subsidy from taxpayers. And where would that subsidy come from? An increase in Las Vegas’ hotel tax.
Sin City is a popular getaway destination for San Diegans who like to hit The Strip and try their luck at casino tables, watch elaborate Cirque du Soleil shows or eat at the latest restaurant owned by a celebrity chef. According to data from the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, nearly 100 flights arrive weekly at McCarran International Airport from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field. A 2013 Scarborough USA survey found that 22 percent of San Diego’s adult population had visited Las Vegas in the previous year.
The next question then for San Diegans: How would you feel about helping finance a new stadium for the Raiders every time you pay a hotel bill in Vegas?
The practice isn’t so “sweet” when the shoe is on the other foot. A hefty percentage of San Diegans don’t want to sacrifice locally collected tax revenue for a stadium. And it’s doubtful Chargers boosters and local stadium backers have any desire to subsidize a stadium for the Las Vegas Raiders. Where does it end? A look at the big picture shows that raising the hotel tax in San Diego to pay for a downtown stadium would be a sleight of hand that benefits the local billionaire member, and eventually the entirety, of the NFL cabal.