As we shuffle through the wilting-hot days of late July, two things seem certain: 1) the San Diego City Council will be heading off for summer recess in roughly two weeks, and 2) the Chargers will be gearing up for a couple of August pre-season games at Qualcomm Stadium.
How are the two related? Well, like a good post pattern, it's all in the timing, friends.
As a Union-Tribune editorial pointed out July 20, city leaders and the Chargers are on a collision course over what to do about the team's Qualcomm lease, which presently runs through 2020. The editorial suggested that the two sides "drop their confrontational stances and get down to good-faith talks on a comprehensive plan to redevelop Qualcomm Stadium." In other words, a good group hug will save the team and city a whole lot of consternation and PR bickering and lead to the Promised Land of New Stadium Deals.
But the Chargers are still mounting a public-relations blitz like none seen since John Moores grabbed his bat, scooped up his balls and declared East Village his new playground.
At a Rotary Club luncheon July 17, the front men for the Chargers-General Manager AJ Smith and mouthpiece Mark Fabiani-continued their dogged pursuit of either a new stadium or a one-way ticket out of San Diego, depending on which way the hot winds are blowing.
Smith, according to folks who attended the function, played the role of cheerleader, promising fans that this year the Chargers would make the playoffs. Sound familiar? It should, but he's entitled to stoke the troops if he wants.
Then it was Fabiani's turn. He warmed up the suited crowd by playing not good cop, not bad cop, but something more akin to schmooze cop, saying no one really likes the current lease, particularly with the icky ticket guarantee that assures the Chargers sold-out money at home even if Aunt Tizzy and Cousin Bubba are the only ones buying home-field seats.
In a bit of intrigue, he told the crowd that the Chargers and Mayor 1Goal had agreed to a confidentiality pact for the duration of closed-door talks, but apparently that only applies to Murphy, who last week held his fourth news conference in two weeks but has yet to tell citizens anything about the city's negotiations with the Chargers. Meanwhile, the Chargers continue to sell to anyone within earshot their proposal to drop the ticket guarantee in exchange for a lease that the team could walk away from if San Diego voters in 2006 deny the Chargers a new stadium.
In the midst of Rotarians, Fabiani also indirectly implied that the city will have to come up with substantial dough to make a redeveloped Qualcomm site fly. Fabiani said the Chargers aren't interested in general-fund money but that they and the NFL are willing to invest $200 million into a $400 million project (do the math). He said most cities fork over half the cost to build new stadiums anyway with bond issues, and that the city could pay back those bonds with income from the new stadium site.
But whether any bond-payment sources would materialize is anybody's guess at this point.
The U-T, in its editorial, acknowledged that the whole thing has the potential to devolve into a mucky legal morass and, as such, suggested that the two sides take deep breaths and once again extend the negotiating deadline, which currently is set to chime on Aug. 31.
What the editorial failed to mention, however, is the council's annual summer recess, which this year runs from Aug. 11 through Sept. 1, Labor Day. As one insider put it, "The lit fuse is a lot shorter than the U-T thinks." If the mayor and council can't come to terms with the Chargers by their last meeting on Aug. 5-that's less than two weeks away-the insider believes the city will be strapped firmly over a barrel.
When the council returns from recess, the Chargers will have already played two pre-season games at Qualcomm, probably costing the city a couple million dollars for those typically low-turnout games (yes, the seat guarantee applies to the pre-season). In addition, Aug. 31 will have come and gone and the Chargers more than likely won't go for another negotiation extension, the insider said.
This puts Mayor 1Goal in yet another pickle. It appears he has three choices: 1) sue the Chargers into conforming to the current 2020 lease; 2) offer a revised lease along the thinking of the Chargers and sell it to the public by suggesting a ticket-guarantee waiver will save taxpayers millions of dollars; or 3) cancel summer vacation and continue working toward an agreement.
An insider said 1Goal, who appears to be running for re-election, likes the concept of No. 1 because it "removes the decision from his shoulders" and likely tables the entire issue until after the March primary election. Choice No. 2 would allow the mayor to blame the previous administration of then-Mayor Susan Golding for screwing up negotiations prior to the current 1995 lease agreement. One city staffer, who has vacation plans, said No. 3 would be dead on arrival, although the mayor could use it politically to show a fighting spirit that he rarely reveals publicly.
Some observers suggest that what Murphy should do is hold a press conference to explain the situation to the public. As one insider said, "It would be nice to know how much we have paid our consultants already."
That is, if Mayor 1Goal doesn't wilt from the heat.