While one local long-in-the-tooth newspaper columnist considers Mike Aguirre a "glum watchdog," the public-interest attorney thinks otherwise. "I'm a very chipper guy," Aguirre responds, adding that the same columnist labeled him a "swashbuckler" only weeks before.
Which leads us to Aguirre's latest thinking on the city's predicament with the info-stingy Chargers. This week, he has delivered to the City Attorney's office-with a copy to the Chargers' mouthpiece, Mark "Fabio" Fabiani-a letter spelling out what he intends to do on behalf of his client, former county grand-jury foreman Peter DiRrenza, should the Chargers pull the "trigger" on renegotiations with the city.
The letter "allows us to take the moral high ground again, because we're not the ones that are going to court first," he explains. "We're not the ones that are risking this sort of automatic trigger thing. We're relieving the court of that obligation, or that potential embarrassment, and we're only going to court at the point that they're going to try to trigger anyway."
In a nutshell, Aguirre contends that the city has blown it. When the council voted 7-2 (with members Donna Frye and Michael Zucchet opposed) in mid-January to delay the beginning of the 60-day trigger window from Dec. 1 to March 1-when the Chargers could drop a renegotiation request on the city-"they realized a few days before that, holy shit, we don't have 30 days!" Aguirre says. "And that's a real problem. The basic thing is, they ran out of time."
Aguirre argues that the council majority broke-obliterated, really-a key rule governing cities, relying on its attorneys' seemingly self-serving opinion that the vote could be administrative in nature and, therefore, not legally challengeable. Conversely, legislative action by the council, which requires 30 days public notice, can be challenged in court.
Same problem with the council's narrow 5-4 vote last week on the so-called "saving clause," which should be renamed "ass-saving clause" because it allows the Chargers to seek renegotiations even if a court invalidates the earlier council vote. Our red-ink city would also have to pay its own legal fees, since the Chargers balked at picking up the tab.
"The actions taken by the San Diego City Council... fail to extend the time period in which the Chargers can "trigger' because the amendment and the adoption of a savings clause was not accomplished in accordance with California law and was untimely," Aguirre's letter states. "Recognizing this defect, the city attempts to classify their actions as administrative in nature. However, it is clear that the purported modifications to the agreement are legislative in nature and thus fail in light of the manner in which they were handled by the San Diego City Council."
Aguirre doesn't want to fall into the same trap that snared former councilman-turned-activist Bruce Henderson, who in the past has hurled numerous lawsuits the city's way-all subsequently shot down.
"I've discussed this with every legal expert I can find and others, and I think this is the best position for us," Aguirre says. "I don't think we lose anything. As long as they're not triggering, it doesn't hurt the city. And if they choose to trigger, I've preserved our full legal rights to have it litigated."
It should be noted here that city attorneys have said publicly that they think Aguirre's legal assertions are bunk. Aguirre said it's not surprising the city legal-eagles are sticking to their guns. Referring to the 1995 agreement with the Chargers, Aguirre notes, "It wasn't a done deal in 1995. People don't realize that. The ticket guarantee didn't go into effect until 1997, and that was [Assistant City Attorney] Les Girard and [City Attorney] Casey Gwinn who really brought this thing to a conclusion.
"And [Gwinn backers] try to say that the... city attorney didn't have anything to do with it, but he did and he continues to.... So, they're having the same person that committed the original malpractice continuing to represent us."
As for talk about finding room downtown for yet another stadium, Aguirre merely laughs. "We've just moved from the fringes of the non-fiction section deep into wild-and-crazy fiction," he says, none too glumly. "It's too expensive, and it doesn't work. We need another stadium downtown? My God! Maybe we could stack one stadium on top of the other."
So, why seek the moral high ground here? Let Aguirre's word explain: "This is gonna sound crazy, but I was watching this documentary on Lincoln the other day. When he first became president, the South Carolinians left the Union, and they threatened Fort Sumter. And they were egging him on to send in reinforcements to take it back. Lincoln didn't want to do that, because if he did, then he would be the one introducing hostilities first. So, instead Lincoln simply sent food and medicine with no arms and no additional troops. They opened fire on him, and in that way he was able to maintain the moral high ground."
If Aguirre is glum, he's showing no signs of it. There could well be political war ahead within city borders, but this former assistant U.S. attorney will be smiling all the way.
He thinks the Mission Valley stadium redo is dead on arrival, although a certain large publication in town can't bring itself to admit it.
"I'm thinking of having a news conference to declare that the Charger issue is over for this year," he says impishly. "We've all had fun with it, and now we've got to get into the Padres issues. It's not fair to the Padres for all their wheeling and dealing to let the Chargers steal the show completely."