If nothing else, the intensifying war of words between the San Diego City Council and the Chargers is great theater. And for that, we journalists thank both sides. It ain't easy to make a three-hour conversation interesting, and on Monday the City Council unleashed a discussion that was absolutely fascinating. It showed who backs up their rhetoric with meaningful votes.
City staff and the Chargers agreed to a tentative deal this week that would delay the so-called “trigger” deadline. The trigger is a set of economic circumstances involving player salaries and National Football League revenue that allows the Chargers to reopen negotiations on the team's long-term Qualcomm Stadium lease with the city. If the Chargers pull their trigger, they can shop the team around to other cities while renegotiating with San Diego.
The deadline for the Chargers to pull their trigger is Jan. 29. But some say that wouldn't give the mayor's ad hoc Chargers task force nearly enough time to finish its job, which is to advise the City Council on what to do about all this, so the mayor, his task force and the Chargers all agreed that the trigger deadline should be extended to the end of April. Of course, no one believes the Chargers want to extend the deadline out of the goodness of Art and Dean Spanos' hearts. It gives them more time to get a better sense of the relocation climate in L.A. or wherever else they're thinking of going.
Then the Chargers suddenly realized they needed protection, so they added a side request, which they called a “saving agreement,” that goes like this: If a court strikes down the deadline extension for whatever reason, let's all just pretend the team pulled the trigger before the original deadline. And you can certainly understand why they wanted that protection-there was trouble-making attorney Mike Aguirre on Monday, brandishing a thick lawsuit and promising the City Council he would file it if the council voted for the saving agreement. What fun!
Councilmembers Donna Frye, Jim Madaffer and Michael Zucchet-and to a lesser degree, Scott Peters, Charles Lewis and Brian Maienschein-took turns pummeling the Chargers and their hired gun, Mark Fabiani, for not dealing in good faith, not providing enough useful information and talking trash about the city in public. Despite the tough talk, Councilmember Ralph Inzunza suggested extending the deadline and voting yes on the saving agreement, but then, apparently realizing he may not have the votes, changed his mind and separated the two actions.
The council voted 7-2 to extend the deadline (pending agreement by the Chargers) but delayed voting on the saving agreement. The idea now is to have the task force mull over the saving agreement on Thursday, Jan. 16, the same night it's supposed to entertain the Big Presentation by the Chargers that was supposed to have happened a month ago. Then the City Council will consider the saving agreement again on Jan. 28, the day before the original deadline. Oooh, the suspense.
Here's what's probably going to happen: the Chargers won't give the task force nearly as much information as it wants and needs for the team, but regardless of how that influences what the task force thinks of the saving agreement, the City Council will pass the agreement, giving the Chargers exactly what they want. Then the Chargers will pull their trigger in April.
If councilmembers are going to talk tough with the Chargers, they should vote accordingly. Frye and Zucchet, for better or worse, did so. Maienschein, Peters and, particularly, Madaffer managed to beat their chests and look like they were being tough on the Chargers, but they escaped having to cast a negative Chargers vote-for now.
Some weeks back, CityBeat said the city should stop messing around with the Chargers and let the team do what it's going to do. That position hasn't changed. The trigger's going to get pulled sooner or later. Might has well be now. Don't approve the saving agreement. The task force can evaluate the Chargers' proposal for a new stadium and advise while the city's legal team is responding to the trigger.
Meanwhile, the city can get on with more important, albeit much less entertaining, business.