"Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends."-Shakespeare
The best example of smash-mouth football last week didn't occur on a gridiron-it took place at City Hall.
Nobody donned mouth guards, shoulder pads or helmets for this particular scrimmage, although one candidate in the upcoming city attorney's race would have been wise to strap on at least a cup for the pummeling he endured. More on that later.
But first, it's important to understand the lead-up to that special San Diego City Council session of Aug. 7, a rare Thursday council pow-wow.
Just a day before, Mayor 1Goal, continuing his one-pronged pursuit of political self-preservation, stood before a bank of cameras and press folk to say that at long last, the city and its NFL bunkmate, the San Diego Chargers, had come to a mutual agreement.
"I am announcing today that I have scheduled a special meeting of the San Diego City Council tomorrow at 10 a.m. to consider a proposed agreement to extend the negotiating period between the city and the Chargers until May 1, 2004," the mayor bellowed as if he was declaring world peace. "I want to make it clear that this is a mutual offer."
Yes, after five months of negotiations involving some incredibly pricey attorneys and accountants, the city and the Chargers finally see eye to eye-on continuing the work of these incredibly pricey attorneys and accountants for nine months more.
"I believe this is in the best interest of both the city and the Chargers to continue discussions," Mayor 1Goal continued. "As a former judge and attorney, I think it's always better to talk than fight."
Spoken like a true talker-and someone who may need a new nickname. King Stall-man, perhaps? With apologies to the ubiquitous bail bondsman.
King Stall-man proceeded to push the right buttons, diplomatically speaking, insisting that the city wants "to keep the Chargers in San Diego in a fiscally responsible way that the public will support" while remaining "committed to protecting the city's financial interests and guarding our legal rights."
Ahhh, those pesky legal rights. Ever since the Chargers alerted the city five months ago that the team wanted to renegotiate its much-maligned 1995 Qualcomm Stadium lease agreement, nothing much in the way of good news has emanated from City Hall. Two weeks after the Chargers pulled the so-called trigger-based on a complex formula involving team salaries and benefits that only an accountant could love-the City Council voted 7-2 (with Councilmembers Donna Frye and Michael Zucchet opposed) to begin negotiations with the Chargers.
Those negotiations moved behind closed doors, and until last week the council had said zip about their progress, except to say that Murphy had recently met in private with Chargers President Dean Spanos.
That all changed the day after Murphy's press gathering, from which he departed faster than a Wile E. Coyote cliff plunge. As one local television talking head said after the briefing, "Didn't take long for him to get out of there. Pants on fire?"
Actually, he was off to a council committee meeting where reform of the city's underfunded pension system would be put off until next April. Hmmm, two major decisions delayed until after Murphy's re-election run in the March primary.
The following day, the council waited 20 minutes for the arrival of Councilmember Scott Peters, who was returning from a California Coastal Commission meeting in Orange County.
Assistant City Attorney Les Girard then laid out the city's take on negotiations, remarking that the City Council had agreed to negotiate "while not conceding the validity of the renegotiation notice" and that "we all know that the 1995 agreement has many well-documented flaws." Girard also contended that extending negotiations until next May "provides an opportunity to explore all options."
Only two members of the public asked to speak-not surprising considering the short notice residents received about the meeting. Up first, attorney Mike Aguirre, who is running to replace termed-out City Attorney Casey Gwinn. As he has for more than a year, Aguirre urged the council to go to court to test the Chargers' claim of economic hardship that led them to trigger.
"We're treating, by negotiating with them, the agreement as if they can trigger," Aguirre told the council. "Counsel may tell you that a judge isn't going to be affected by the... delay, but I can tell you, having tried many cases in front of many juries and many courts that those who sit on their rights find it very difficult to breathe much life into them two years after the fact."
After Girard expressed complete disagreement with Aguirre, frequent council critic Ron Boshun stepped up to the mic. Boshun, who likes to refer to the mayor and council as thieves and gangsters, held back little in his consternation with the city's perceived kid-glove handling of the Chargers.
"Murphy, you are about as loose with our money as you are with your morals," Boshun said. "You don't have the right to negotiate and meet in secret with the Spanoses. You can tell what somebody is by the company they keep. And you, sir, keep rotten company."
Following Councilman Jim "MadDog 2020" Madaffer's reference to Boshun as a "5150," police vernacular for a mentally disturbed person, King Stall-man opened the floor to Zucchet, who immediately asked Aguirre to approach.
What proceeded caught many city staffers by surprise. Zucchet, doing his best Perry Mason impersonation, laid into Aguirre over his contention that the Chargers first had to prove it could trigger, a requirement Zucchet noted that does not appear in the 1995 agreement:
Zucchet: "... [Y]ou said that under the agreement, we don't get the 90-day negotiating period unless they can prove they can trigger. Is that what you said?"
Aguirre: "Yes, well that's what I say..."
Zucchet: "I'm sorry, Mike. Is that what you said?"
Aguirre: "The period of time..."
Zucchet: "That's not what you said? That is what you said?"
Aguirre: "The period for..."
Zucchet: "That's not what you said."
Eventually, Aguirre suggested that Zucchet might be ducking a campaign promise to "stand up for the people of San Diego." That elicited another barrage from Zucchet.
Zucchet: "And what attitude do you think I'm taking with the voters?"
Aguirre: "I think that you're going along, it appears to me..."
Zucchet: "Oh really?"
Aguirre: "Yeah. It appears. Maybe I'm wrong."
Aguirre: "Maybe I'm wrong."
Zucchet: "Well, you do seem to know it all."
Aguirre: "I don't seem to know it all, but..."
Zucchet: "Oh, really? I've asked you a very simple question about a statement that you just made about five minutes ago, which you've refused to even acknowledge."
Aguirre: "I've totally..."
Zucchet: "There's about eight cameras here if you'd like to have your statement replayed for you."
After accusing Aguirre of grandstanding for political gain, Zucchet launched into a tirade about how the council has had to keep its collective mouths shut while the Chargers have freely availed themselves of media coverage on negotiations.
"What would be good for the politicians of this city would be for us to go to the courthouse tomorrow and sue the pants off the Chargers," Zucchet fumed. "And Dick Murphy could get up there and have foam coming out of his mouth, saying "I'm going to get him. I'm going to get Alex Spanos. We're not backing down to nobody.' That would be great, and we'd be heroes."
One City Council staffer called the exchange "a big swinging-dick fest."
A Zucchet staffer said the two later exchanged apologies, but the councilman insisted that he would continue to be "an equal opportunity corrector of the record" anytime someone "speaks gibberish."
The council did vote 8-1 to extend the negotiations (with Frye dissenting), but this week the Chargers offered a new proposal in which they would eliminate the ticket guarantee for the 2003 football season, pay $2 million in rent for the year and accept binding arbitration to determine who's right on the trigger question and how much the Chargers would need to pay should they terminate the lease, which currently runs through 2020.
In a release, Charger counsel Mark Fabiani said: "Our experience at the negotiation table has convinced us that reaching a deal will be virtually impossible until there is a final determination of whether or not there was a valid trigger."
Replied Aguirre: "Thank you!"