It isn’t necessary to see a good tackle. You can hear it. —Knute Rockne
There comes a time in every politician’s shelf life when it’s a good idea to check the expiration date. Or at least the “sell by” numbers. In the case of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, this appears to be happening now.
For some time, Spin Cycle has made the case that while Faulconer is a personable enough fellow, his sweet spot in governing lay not in the grimy ditches of everyday, sleeves-rolled-up sausage making but rather in the rarefied air of ribbon cuttings, repeated mantra pronouncements and economic boom-time largesse.
A man who cut his teeth in the back-patting world of public relations prior to his ascension to the San Diego City Council a decade ago, Faulconer seems more attuned to a highball clinking, private suite kind of environment than the raucous realm of the bully mosh pit.
His official calendar, which Spin has observed over the last few months, says little about any particular passion, other than a penchant for staff meetings, photo-op-appearances and light-Fridays.Compared to his disgraced predecessor, Bob Filner, Faulconer follows a much more choreographed dance pattern.
As this edition of CityBeat hits the streets, National Football League owners will have converged on Dallas for a much-ballyhooed meeting that sports pundits gallantly predict will either settle the Los Angeles “mega-market” sweepstakes once and for all, or do nothing of the sort.
On this topic, Faulconer has been nothing short of robotic for months. “Productive” meetings with NFL executives and owners. Repeated calls for the Chargers to “return to the negotiating table,” ignored since June. Forever “working hard” on a “plan that is fair.”
But thanks to the efforts of Voice of San Diego, the curtain has been pulled back on this little dance routine to reveal…well, let’s give the floor to San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Dan Swain regarding Faulconer’s recent claims of dogged negotiations with NFL honchos.
“Now we know better. The intervening months have been mostly theater, the negotiating equivalent of a half-time show; the kind with a marching band, not Beyoncé,” McSwain wrote in a scathing indictment published Saturday.
Why was this such a big deal? This was the local Gray Lady speaking, the muscled arm of the San Diego mainstream media that in the past has been, shall we say, hesitant to spray vinegar in the direction of a sitting Republican pol.
But when Voice revealed recently it had pried from the mayor’s hands the 24-page, blank-filled “term sheet” the city had offered the NFL back in September—and the NFL’s withering two-page response— Faulconer’s easy glide into re-election may have hit a speed bump.
“McSwain’s article could be a catalyst for increased (and deserved) scrutiny of not just his Chargers stadium charade, but also his failure to confront neighborhood infrastructure needs and Convention Center expansion, both priorities he promised to address,” emailed long-time political consultant Tom Shepard.
To date, Shepard has no dog in the burgeoning hunt to succeed Faulconer. But Shepard is the consultant behind Faulconer nemesis/activist attorney Cory Briggs’ hotel-taxreform initiative that is circulating citywide for voter signatures and a spot on the June ballot. Nonetheless, Shepard smells blood in Faulconer’s chlorinated pool.
“The strategy employed by Faulconer’s handlers of superficial political posturing while avoiding a substantive response to this and other key issues could cause voters to turn against him if and when it’s exposed,” he wrote Spin.
McSwain’s column drew the attention of Mighty 1090 sports-radio jock Dan Sileo. In a brief interview Monday, McSwain eased up slightly on the mayor, arguing that Faulconer “has been fairly nimble politically” on the matter and rightly sees little value in “negotiating with myself” while the Chargers focus to the north.
But McSwain noted that politicians in St. Louis have taken a different tack, “making a pretty specific offer” to the Rams, another Los Angeles suitor, “and taking political heat for it. That’s something the mayor of San Diego has not been willing to do.”
In contrast, as McSwain pointed out, San Diego’s offer in its term sheet has moved little at all in recent months and remains elusive—literally, there are blanks— on many levels, from the number of parking spaces to what the city expects the Chargers to pay in rent for a new stadium in Mission Valley, Faulconer’s preferred location.
In their Nov. 10 response, NFL executives lamented that “specific proposals on financial terms, currently undefined in the term sheet, would be necessary for a meaningful evaluation of the proposal. Those terms include such critical economic issues as base rent, facility rent, capital reserve obligations of the Chargers, and whether there would be ticket and/or parking surcharges…”
Protection of parking spaces in relation to future development “also need to be better understood,” the NFL wrote. “How these terms are addressed, plus any improvements to the proposed financial obligations of the Chargers, will be material in affecting the attractiveness of the proposal to the club and, by extension, the membership’s evaluation of the proposal.”
The NFL’s letter also noted that “the steps needed to achieve project certainty (or to understand that project certainty is not achievable) and the timing for doing so remain unclear,” including “the inherent uncertainty of a [stadium] referendum vote,” the potential for litigation over both the city’s fast-tracked environmental impact report and possible sale of lease-revenue bonds to finance the city’s portion of stadium construction costs, and “any potential impacts” of the proposed Briggs ballot measure.
Spin has learned that the city has responded in a letter to the NFL concerns, but by press time the mayor’s office had been unresponsive to requests for its release.
Without the letter, Spin can only speculate about the sunshine-y prognosis proffered by the ever-optimistic Team Faulconer.
The mayor’s office will no doubt flick away questions about the viability of the new stadium EIR and bond sales, having mentioned frequently Gov. Jerry Brown’s October decision to certify the project for expedited environmental review and the city’s recent Fourth District Court of Appeal victory allowing the bond sales (a decision Briggs has said he will appeal to the California Supreme Court).
Regarding a stadium ballot vote as proposed by Faulconer in June, the city assuredly will point to the mayor’s approvalrating polling that shows he can persuade a majority of voters to side with him (a scenario likely emboldened should the Chargers get on board).
As for the Briggs referendum, well who the hell knows at this point, since the mayor’s office and his financial backers among the hotel crowd have said little one way or the other about the proposal—only that it is complex and in its early stages of gestation.
Perhaps in Faulconer’s world of perfect intervention, the Chargers would miraculously come out against the Briggs plan, which in a nutshell would raise the city’s hotel-tax from 10.5 percent to 15.5 percent while eliminating the legally murky 2 percent surcharge that hoteliers voted amongst themselves to impose. I
ndeed, who knows? If NFL owners put off a decision on the L.A. market for a year, maybe a downtown venue re-enters the discussion—and a substantive mayor’s race is born!