Sometime over the summer, the mayor, city attorney and county supervisor spearheading the work to keep the Chargers in San Diego decided to switch from trying to mollify the Chargers and owner Dean Spanos to trying to persuade the NFL to force Spanos to stay.

Last week, that effort reached its bitter end. They failed.

The NFL, led by Commissioner Roger Goodell, concluded in a special report to owners that the city and county and its negotiators had left too much uncertainty on the table.

“The primary sources of uncertainty include that the proposal requires a public vote, which would not occur until June 2016 at the earliest. Failure to receive voter approval would prevent the project from moving forward,” Goodell’s report reads. This section was provided by a source who asked for anonymity as the sensitive talks continue.

It was an ignominious end to perhaps the most frenzied and productive collaboration the city and county have mounted in decades.

Goodell also cited concerns about the environmental impact report the city had rushed to complete for the preferred Mission Valley site the mayor and friends had settled on. The NFL even hired its own environmental lawyers to verify the Chargers’ concerns.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

This must have come as a surprise to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who once said on KUSI that his legal efforts would terrify the Chargers.

“If the Chargers are going to go to their partners and say, ‘Hey we need to move to Los Angeles because it’s not doable in San Diego,’ their worst nightmare is that we’re actually doing it,“ Goldsmith said.

The message for all of 2015 to Chargers fans was a simple one: “Relax, we’ve got this.” Every meeting they had was great.

It even became a social media meme.

It was a strategy they played out to the last minute: Convince the NFL owners and staff that they had done all that could be asked of the city and the Chargers were being unreasonable.

Goldsmith’s nightmare scenario never haunted the Chargers. The team was easily able to convince its counterparts it was eligible to move.

This should have been apparent. The idea that the NFL would, when facing this decision, send the Chargers back hat in hand to work under the mayor’s vision was always fanciful. It could still happen, I guess.

We seem more and more likely, however, to see an announcement the Chargers will move to Los Angeles. If we do, let there be no mistaking that it is the NFL, its economics and the Spanoses’ own fears fueling the decision.

The Chargers have been disingenuous about how many proposals they’ve tried to carry out in San Diego only to have the city shut them down. Some of the proposals weren’t even in the city and one was not rejected by the city, but withdrawn by the Chargers after the economy showed signs of trouble a decade ago.

The Chargers, however, are not wrong that the city’s plan is uncertain.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, admirably, did not succumb to the pressure and eliminate that primary source of uncertainty for the Chargers and NFL: his commitment to let the public vote. The NFL clearly invited him and the city to just approve a stadium and its financings — including $350 million in public funds — and he refused.

I’m not sure he could have done any differently. It’s hardly clear the proposal has enough support at the San Diego City Council and the County Board of Supervisors to pass without a vote of the people.

This did not stop the city from implying otherwise.

Check out this statement in the executive summary of the colorful, professional report the city submitted to the NFL:

“Within his first year in office, Mayor Kevin Faulconer began working with Supervisor Ron Roberts and the elected City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to put together a realistic plan that includes a significant funding commitment toward the construction of a new stadium facility – representing the largest public commitment to a multipurpose sports and entertainment venue in the history of the State of California,” the report — purporting to be from the city of San Diego — reads.

The proposal, however, was not a significant funding commitment. It was not a commitment at all except from three influential individuals: Faulconer, Roberts and Goldsmith. It was just their promise to ask voters for such a commitment.

The city cannot tell people it committed to offering the largest public subsidy to a stadium in the history of California. In fact, the uncertainty is one of its salvageable qualities. The mayor is saying to residents, “Don’t worry, this isn’t a firm, certain move. We have not made any commitments. You get to approve it before we do.”

Later in the letter to the NFL, the city touts support it received from the speaker of the California Assembly, Toni Atkins.

But Atkins herself will not say she supports the mayor’s proposal. In fact, she does not support spending taxpayer dollars on a stadium, let alone the most ever spent on one.

It’s actually quite hard to find a politician in San Diego who does. Even the biggest supporters hide behind something like “Well, if the voters support it … ”

That’s a giant “if.” San Diego simply wasn’t ready to play the NFL’s game. The mayor knew that the biggest danger to him politically was not to be seen as the one who lost the Chargers but as the one who bent over too much for them.

And the Chargers, for many years, have recognized this paradox.

“We have never believed that it was realistic to expect that voters would approve a significant public subsidy for a stand-alone football stadium. That had been one of the tenets of our 14 years of work,” the Chargers’ special counsel, Mark Fabiani, said in an email Monday.

We all recognized this. And yet, for a year, the city had to pretend that it didn’t; all because the mayor and county supervisor and city attorney were determined to outplay the Chargers at the NFL.

The Chargers might not be good at football, but we should have known this wasn’t a game we could beat them at.

    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Government

    Written by Scott Lewis

    Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    Mr. Roboto
    Mr. Roboto subscriber

    If you honestly think that the city lost in all of this then you are one strange cat Mr. Lewis. Last time I checked the NFL sent Dean back to SD with less leverage than he had before, and the Chargers have very clearly lost the PR war for public opinion on who is to blame for the Chargers potentially leaving. Also LA has made it clear that they don't want the Chargers either. At this point I think its more likely that Dean regroups and tries to move to a different City in the next couple years as opposed to moving to LA. I mean if Dean was really gonna get a good deal in Inglewood his best chance was at the Owners meeting, not in one on one meetings with Kroenke.

    You make a couple of assumptions in your article as well that you may want to rethink including the above reference to the NFL sending Dean back to SD hat in hand. By the way, I find it a little odd that you chose to write this line into the article after seeing you state the exact opposite on twitter, but I guess thats why you call these "narratives" since they are more op-ed pieces than journalism anyway.

    And at the end of the day, the City gave everything that it possibly could to move this project forward. All of the uncertain parts require a willing partner in order to move forward. A vote will never pass unless both City AND Chargers are endorsing it. A vote can never happen without a term sheet. A term sheet can't happen without negotiations. Negotiations can't happen without two interested parties. And so on and so forth. 

    At the end of the day, the city came out of this as well as probably could have been hoped for considering the team has clearly had no interest in anything other than LA.

    Tammy Tran
    Tammy Tran subscriber

    What if a new stadium built in San Diego would cost between $1.8B to $2.3B?

    Rick Smith
    Rick Smith subscriber

    It quite obvious that the Chargers were only going to stay in San Diego if a new stadium was going to be built at no cost them them, at their preferred location.

    If they don't move to LA next year I would hate to be a Chargers ticket salesman; "Buy your season tickets, get them before the Chargers move to the LA Memorial Coliseum"

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Rick Smith  --They aren't moving there, but the Rams are.  Actually, the Chargers could still be moving.  Spanos is not very happy.  Too bad, Dean.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    There is always hope and solutions.  Just lack of leadership. 

    Chargers fans have to come up with a New Revenue Source for a downtown, waterfront or East Village or Mission Valley, multi-purpose  NFL Stadium, and Convention Center Phase 3 Expansion. 

    An easy way to make an annual +$50 million Increase in New Revenues from the existing 10.5% Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) Rate  is to have a public vote to Redefine a TOT "Operator" to include "Online Travel Agencies (OTA), and Third-Party Agencies."  Voice of San Diego, and City lawsuits documented that the public is not reaping the full rewards of the existing TOT, due to the -25% reduction paid to Out-of-State Travel Conglomerate instead of the City of San Diego's General Fund, and the failure of the City Council to allow a public vote to fix the wording mistake/clarification. And instead pay outside council for a losing 6-year battle, that can easily be fixed by a public vote with No Local Opposition. 

    City of San Diego v. Priceline.Com, Inc., Travelweb, Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, Trip Network (, Internetwork Publishing ( LowestFare.Com, Travelnow.Com, Hotels.Com, Travelocity.Com and Site59.Com.

    Mayor Faulconer and the City Council refuse to admit failure with their ongoing 6-year old TOT lawsuits paid by taxpayers for private TMDs statewide. The only solution is a public vote to specify and redefine OTAs as TOT Operators.

    The earliest date to make these easy wording changes is a Public Vote on June 7, 2016.  Each 1% in the TOT Rate equals Revenue increases from $18.57 million to $23.2 million. For a Total $48.7 million just by taking control of the City's destiny.

    Wednesday morning January 13, 2016 9 am the City Council Rules Committee will hear a propose Ballot recommendation to fix this legal mistake. 

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    C’mom, Scott, knock off the gloom and doom and swipes at city officials.  We’re about to be rid of one of the worst ownerships in the NFL, and certainly the most inept.  We should be having a party, not a wake.  Spanos concluded, probably before the end of 2014 that the grass was greener in L.A.  When Kroenke unveiled his plan, and it’s hard to believe he didn’t tip the owners before going public, Spanos started panicking about the potential loss of 25% of his season ticket holders in L.A. and Orange counties, which tells you all you need to know about the Chargers competence in attracting and keeping local fans, not to mention their failure to develop the Tijuana market.

    Spanos public relations incompetence was matched by the team’s performance on the field for the entire time since he has been in charge.  Item:  During a period when the Pittsburgh Steelers had three coaches, the Chargers had 15.  What more do you need to know?  We lead the league in one category, “frequency of coaching turnover”.

    Whichever team gets stiffed in L.A., we should go after them.  If it’s the (hated) Raiders, the Q, even given it’s current condition, will look pretty good compared to their present digs.  We ought to be able to work out a remodeling deal without a tear down.  They did it in Green Bay, Kansas City and Chicago.

    Those who say “Good riddance, we’re different” may have a point, but let’s let the voters decide that one.  And, by the way, once the Chargers leave what do we do with the Q?  If we scrape it, we’ll still owe about 35 mil in remodel costs from the 90s (Assuming the Chargers don’t figure out a way to avoid the 15 mil they’ll owe us).And what do the Aztecs do, drop football? 

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw  Green Bay--over $400 mil in additions, which involved adding individual seats and boxes.  KC--a $375 million remodel of something that was already a football stadium.  Chicago--a completely new stadium built within the confines of the old Soldier Field, which cost $632 million--13 years ago.  A remodel of a facility that was built with baseball and football in mind?  We would be better off with a new facility, and the Raiders wouldn't move here without the promise of a new facility.  Besides, should 2 teams move to LA (and the Raiders aren't one of them), the league would never allow the Raiders to move to San Diego.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @David Crossley @Bill Bradshaw Thank you for confirming my contention that KC, Green Bay and Chi didn’t tear down their stadiums and start over.  As for the Raiders, I seem to recall that Marc Davis’ daddy moved at least once, maybe twice, without league permission, and I daresay Kroenke would have done the same if he hadn’t gotten his way.The last thing the league needs in the wake of bad player behavior, concussions and other P.R. problems is a congressional investigation or a lawsuit challenging it’s monopoly status.  If Davis wants to move here, he'll do it.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw @David Crossley  --They didn't tear down their stadiums since they were already football stadiums (even though Chicago probably should have since they spent more on building a new Soldier Field inside the old one--it cost more than the stadium the Chargers proposed to build 12 years ago in MV), and could fairly easily be updated.  Not so with the Q, and if the Raiders were to move here, I find it doubtful at best the Raiders would settle for playing in the current stadium for anything more than a temporary basis.

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    Goodell is paying San Diegans an enormous compliment. He’s saying we have the courage of our conviction and will say no to the NFL.  This qualifies us as unique among American cities. 

    It’s time our white-haired civic leaders recognize our uniqueness instead of belittling it, and stop trying to turn San Diego into something it’s not, which is their definition of “world-class city,” or what is derivative to what exists elsewhere. 

    The future of San Diego lies not in selling-out to the sameness of comparable post-World War II American cities, even if that includes pro-football.  It lies in how our city preserves what makes it special to its citizens, while also growing economically and attracting talented new residents, regardless of origin. 

    We dodged a bullet with the Chargers.  But the bigger opportunity is for a political movement to tap into the sentiment that sees past the ideas of the old boys club, to a future that turns what people want into a community reflecting what people want.  Ultimately, this is about access to the outdoors and the full breath of policies and activities that enable it.

    It doesn’t matter where this movement comes from.  But one thing’s clear, a political establishment comprised of car dealers, real estate developers and people who believe in public subsides whose primary beneficiaries are their closest friends, are not going to give San Diegans what they most want. 

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Bob Stein 

    And besides we still have a football team

    They're called the Aztecs

    Gregory Hay
    Gregory Hay subscriber

    There was never any GOOD reason to mollify the Spanos family. They wanted everything and to eat it, too. There is NO valid reason to subsidise millionaires and billionaires. The article implies San Diego should have mortgaged its future for a long, long time in desperation to keep a poorly run organization here. 

    Again, I ask… why?

    rhylton subscriber

    'The Chargers might not be good at football, but we should have known this wasn’t a game we could beat them at.' Yikes; but congratulations. You have made your way around to stating the most obvious of conclusions.  Perhaps, we shall see fewer attempts to blame the Chargers for what is local leaders' failure at deception.