Aug. 24 2011 10:06 AM

Team owners worry the faithful and send the mayor on an impossible journey

Cheerleaders, circa 2009
SD Dirk, via Flickr

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders returned last Friday from a whirlwind, three-day trip—costing taxpayers about $2,500—to Kansas City, Indianapolis and Denver, where he found out what you could have learned in about 30 minutes with a few Google clicks.

He found out that it will be really hard to build a football stadium Downtown.

Scott Lewis of did a good roundup of how each of those cities managed to get a new stadium built for the Chiefs, Colts and Broncos, respectively. In short, he noted, each involved new taxes. But, he also pointed out, it's pretty much impossible to raise taxes for a special purpose in California because it requires two-thirds of the voters to say yes.

Back before redevelopment became a major news story up and down California during the spring, stadium proponents wanted to grab $500 million or so from San Diego's redevelopment coffers (that's money that's siphoned from public services and schools to eliminate blight and spur investment in rundown neighborhoods). But then the state reduced the amount of money redevelopment agencies could keep, and now the whole thing is legally entangled.

So, proponents are looking at other options. One is to hitch the stadium to a proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and get their hands on the hotel-room-tax revenue that the tourism industry hopes to raise to pay for it—although that plan will also have to go to a public vote (requiring a two-thirds majority) if a judge deems that it's a special tax. In any case, Sanders spokesperson Darren Pudgil told CityBeat Tuesday that the mayor views the Convention Center as a “standalone” project, although a stadium could be used for large-scale, convention-related activities.

As we've said before, the only reason we're talking about this, and the only reason Sanders went on his fact-finding journey to the heart of the country, is that the Spanos family can leverage civic pride in the Chargers to extort money from the taxpayers. Of course, it's not only the Spanoses; sports-team owners have long been capitalizing on fans' devotion by threatening to become some other city's passion.

But let's not pretend it's something it's not—unless a stadium is 100-percent privately financed, it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of a private business that doesn't open its books to the public and charges more for its product than many of us can afford. Given that the vast majority of San Diegans will never attend a game, we'd essentially be paying a private business to simply put “San Diego” in its name.

Fans are willing to do it for fear of losing their team to another city. Taking a stand against such extortion only works if the other city's starved fans do the same. But sometimes, the other city's fans aren't even asked to pony up for a shiny new stadium proposed to woo a team.

Chargers fans are understandably worried about the Los Angeles City Council's recent agreement in concept with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to build the (allegedly) privately financed Farmers Field in downtown L.A., not to mention developer Ed Roski's entitlements to build a stadium in the City of Industry.

Full disclosure: There are no big-time Chargers fans on CityBeat's editorial staff, so we come at this issue dispassionately and conclude that A) San Diego taxpayers can't afford a new stadium, even if it comes with promises of lavish investment returns, and B) a sports and entertainment complex that will largely benefit one business is not an appropriate use of redevelopment money, if indeed there's enough of it available in the first place.

Still, we feel for those who are in love with their team, the owners of which are demanding money with a gun to the fans' heads. Perhaps the fans can find hope in recent public sniping between AEG President Tim Leiweke and Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani.

Weirdly, we also feel a little sorry for Sanders, who, not so long ago, was rightly doing his best to avoid the Chargers topic altogether but has since spun in the opposite direction. Now, he's shilling for the Spanos family and wasting his time in flyover country—presumably because he at least has to look like he's doing everything he can to keep the team in San Diego.

The Spanoses should take the poor guy off the hook and buy themselves a new building.

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