It wasn't long after San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced that he'd assembled a nine-person Citizens Stadium Advisory Group (SAG) to come up with a development and financing proposal for a new Chargers headquarters that some journalists found an issue to get riled up about: The SAG will do its business in private.
That didn't bother us. Not at first. To us, the issue isn't whether the public gets to sit in while the SAG decides whether to propose a new stadium for Downtown or Mission Valley and how it'll be paid for; the important part is what it comes up with, not how it comes up with it.
But then U-T San Diego published a story that had the most important news buried in the last sentence. At the end of an article about City Council members taking issue with the SAG's lack of transparency came this: "The members of the task force are unpaid volunteers, but the panel may pay consultants or financial analysts."
Whoa. Wait a second. We were unimpressed with complaints about the public not getting access to deliberations, but that all changes if the SAG starts using public money to pay consultants. Then, the problems becomes more than just lack of transparency; it becomes the fact that the mayor is using our money to pay people to help him come up with a way to get more public money to build a billion-dollar facility for a private business.
Let's deflate that ball right here and now. If that's the plan, the City Council must pass a resolution demanding not that the SAG's meetings be open, but that it be barred from spending taxpayer dollars.
Let's back up a bit. Did you hear the arrogant responses from the Chargers and the National Football League after Faulconer announced the SAG? Get a load of this quote from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "I'm glad to hear he's got a task force going. But they've been working at this for 12 years, and it's something we need to see tangible results sooner rather than later."
Oh really? We'll get right on that, Rog.
The tangible result that Goodell needs to see is San Diego and its citizens sending the Chargers and the NFL the message that a region that has trouble paying for basic services isn't going to frantically hand over hundreds of millions of dollars just because it holds some civic pride in its underachieving sports franchises. What the NFL should be doing instead of demanding action from local politicians is making it harder for franchises to relocate. But it won't do that, because then it would be damn near impossible to extort money from the public.
Faulconer's got this whole thing backwards. He's being proactive when he should be reactive. He's gathered a group of usual suspects to tell the Chargers, a private business, where and how they should build a new stadium. He should be telling the Chargers, "I and the City Council look forward to hearing your proposal for a new stadium, which you will pay for. Meanwhile, we'll be busy repaving streets, staffing libraries and parks and enforcing laws—you know, the public's business."
But there he was, at his news conference, reminding us that it was a "public-private partnership" that created Petco Park for the Padres and invigorated East Village. "And today we're going to use that spirit of cooperation to keep the Chargers right here in San Diego," Faulconer said. "It's time for us, as a community, to come together to decide the future of the Chargers in San Diego."
Ugh. Mission Valley doesn't need invigorating, and Downtown's already invigorated. It's time for the Chargers to decide the future of the Chargers in San Diego.
And there was Aimee Faucett, chief operating officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and a member of Faulconer's SAG, gushing about how amazing Faulconer is (the 2016 campaign has begun) and letting loose with the pro-stadium propaganda. "In my role at the chamber," she said, "I know that stadiums can generate revenue that helps our small businesses and neighborhoods thrive."
We're told that the SAG might surprise us and come up with a great idea that, as Faulconer has demanded, is good for taxpayers. Maybe. The best-case scenario is a plan that sites a stadium Downtown and replaces Qualcomm Stadium with a public-friendly development that includes a river park. But if there's money for a river park, we should be having a broader conversation about whether that's the best of use of scarce dollars, rather than worrying about what we can get in exchange for a truckload of corporate welfare.
We'll try to keep an open mind, but this thing is not off to a good start.
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