The San Diego Chargers have thrown out lots of claims about roadblocks to building a new stadium in Mission Valley since the mayor’s task force recommended that location.

Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani, the team’s longtime stadium wars point man, has repeatedly included a gas plume under Qualcomm Stadium and its parking lots on his list of the team’s beefs with building in Mission Valley.

We’ll tackle his claims about the plume one by one.HucksterPropaganda

Statement: The (Qualcomm) site is polluted by a huge plume that has leaked from the gas tanks there,” Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said in a March 16 KPBS interview.

Determination: Huckster Propaganda

It’s true that there was once a gas plume under Qualcomm Stadium.

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

Here’s what I wrote about it a couple weeks ago:

A site just north of the stadium, known as the Mission Valley tank farm, has served as San Diego County’s gas hub since the early 1960s. More than 20 years ago, petroleum seeped out of the site’s pipes, some of it in small amounts that were initially untraceable.

That petroleum and its byproducts flowed south, traveling 25 feet underground beneath Qualcomm Stadium and its parking lots, around the San Diego River and almost to Interstate 805.

But after years of push-pull over who was responsible for getting rid of the contamination, Texas-based gasoline giant Kinder Morgan began a cleanup effort it says has cost at least $75 million.

The San Diego County Regional Water Quality Control Board gave the company’s soil contamination cleanup its full seal of approval in December 2013.

It’s likely to sign off on the groundwater portion of the decontamination effort, which involved different cleanup methods, in coming weeks.

Sean McClain, a Water Board geologist who’s been overseeing the cleanup, has said maps and the agency’s reviews show just how far the property’s come.

“This is probably one of the most successful cleanups that we have in the county,” McClain told me earlier this month.

This before and after map, included in a recent Kinder Morgan report to the Water Board, makes it clear the effort has come a long way.

MTBE at Qualcomm Stadium, 2002 and 2014 (slide the cursor across the map to see the levels change)

Kinder Morgan included the above maps, produced by consulting firm Arcadis, in its latest monitoring report to the Water Board. To download the original 2002 image, click here; to download the original 2014 image, click here.


We dub a claim huckster propaganda when a statement is not only inaccurate but it’s reasonable to expect the person who made it knew that and said it anyway to gain an advantage.

Fabiani’s claim that there’s a plume under Qualcomm Stadium fits the bill.

There’s not a gas plume under the stadium anymore – and the Chargers are almost certainly aware of that.

I’ve reported on it multiple times in the last month (see here and here) and U-T San Diego’s also mentioned the current status of the plume in a couple recent stories.

And the Chargers have no doubt been monitoring the cleanup, too.

In an email to Voice of San Diego, Fabiani said Chargers lawyers believed the land was developable more than a decade ago – before the cleanup was complete. It’s unlikely that the Chargers have stopped monitoring those efforts, which have led Kinder Morgan to install dozens of wells on the stadium property and to produce voluminous reports on the status of the cleanup.

But arguing otherwise benefits the Chargers. Fabiani’s repeatedly said the Chargers prefer a downtown stadium proposal and emphasized the challenges associated with the Qualcomm site. References to the massive spill that plagued the Mission Valley land about a decade ago – and got lots of news coverage – are convenient when you’re trying to throw cold water on the task force’s current proposal.

But there isn’t a huge plume polluting the Mission Valley site anymore. For Fabiani to claim otherwise is huckster propaganda.

♦ ♦ ♦

Now let’s take up a claim Fabiani made in a recent interview with U-T San Diego.Unfounded

Statement: “The Department of Toxic Substances Control would have to conduct a study of which mitigation measures are necessary, and depending on the DTSC’s findings, the costs could be significant,” Fabiani said in a March 14 U-T San Diego story.

Determination: Unfounded

What Fabiani’s suggesting here is highly unlikely.

For one, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control doesn’t usually handle petroleum spills because the state doesn’t consider gas a hazardous waste.

Then there’s the fact the Water Quality Control Board is already on the case.

The two state agencies have a memorandum of understanding that says once one of them has been designated as the lead agency overseeing a cleanup, the other shouldn’t get involved unless there’s a special request.

“The bottom line is the Water Board is (the) lead on this case and has issued a cleanup order,” said McClain, who’s been overseeing the Qualcomm site cleanup. “No other agency will be involved unless the Water Board requests assistance from another agency.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Toxic Substances Control confirmed the agency has no record that it’s done any work on the site, or that its assistance has been requested.

When I told Fabiani I was looking into whether it’d be necessary for the Department of Toxic Substances Control to vet the Qualcomm site, he admitted he didn’t have “special information” on which agency would get involved.

And he added an additional clarification.

“I never said that (the plume) was an obstacle to development. In fact, our advisers back in 2001-2007 thought that the land was developable,” Fabiani wrote in an email. “What I did say, and what is indisputably true, is that if you change the use of the site, you have to run all of the regulatory traps again, including potentially DTSC, and that you may be required to institute further mitigation measures.”

So basically, he’s saying that if the city decided to build housing or retail stores – really anything more than a stadium and a parking lot, which are already there – it would force additional review.

Indeed, health standards are different for housing than stadiums and parking lots.

But McClain of the Water Board said Kinder Morgan assessed the area before the cleanup began and found no risk when the petroleum spill most permeated the area.

McClain acknowledged the Water Board could ask the gas company to do further analysis if developers proposed housing on the Qualcomm site but that doesn’t mean the Department of Toxic Substances Control would need to get involved.

“The cleanup most likely already mitigated any risk that may have existed,” McClain said.

That makes Fabiani’s statement about the need for Department of Toxic Substances Control to step in unfounded. There’s not any evidence to suggest that agency would need to review the Qualcomm site, though it could happen if the Water Board requested it, and Fabiani himself couldn’t point to anything to back up his claim.  And there’s also not any evidence to suggest that there would be a major new cost.

♦ ♦ ♦

MisleadingStatement: “The litigation (over the plume) continues, and the uncertainty over its resolution could be an impediment to developing the site. No developer is going to want to get tied up in a lengthy environmental cleanup process unless there is some solution in sight,” Fabiani wrote in a Feb. 26 web chat with fans.

Determination: Misleading

The city’s long fought Kinder Morgan, claiming it took too long to start cleaning up the Qualcomm site, that its work hasn’t been sufficient and that the city’s lost money as a result. Outside lawyers paid by the city have argued the company owes San Diego $246 million in damages. The case is now on appeal.

That lawsuit isn’t about Kinder Morgan’s soil cleanup or an inability to add new buildings on the Qualcomm site. It has little to nothing to do with development on Qualcomm.

The city’s focused on its ability to use the groundwater aquifer near Qualcomm Stadium as a source of drinking water. City lawyers say Kinder Morgan’s cleanup efforts haven’t sufficiently addressed that goal.

Multiple experts – including one who’s advised the city on Kinder Morgan’s cleanup process – say that the ongoing argument shouldn’t tie up unrelated construction work on the site.

Fabiani’s statement leaves another impression: that the city’s lawsuit could complicate matters or force a developer to spend significant cash on a cleanup.

A misleading statement takes an element of truth and badly distorts or exaggerates it, giving a deceptive impression.

That ruling fits here because Fabiani’s statement skims over the fact that the city’s lawsuit is focused on its ability to tap into the aquifer, not on whether the Mission Valley stadium site is developable.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section. Explain your reasoning.

    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Fact Check, Land Use, Must Reads, Quest

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Fabiani has been a Huckster Propagandist from his days with Bill Clinton.  Thank you so much for staying on his case.  VOSD could probably keep a person busy full time checking out everything this guy utters about anything.  He's a paid prevaricator, that's all.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    It's great news that the Chargers are fighting any stadium plan in San Diego.  We will be far better off when the Chargers leave San Diego and we can sell the 166 acres to developers at FMV.

    C J
    C J subscriber

    You just don't get it. Smh...

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    Mark Fabiani also emphatically stated that his client Lance Armstrong never took PEDs or cheated in his Tour de France victories.  The Master of Disaster is just that.  By calling him a Propaganda Huckster is an insult to all Propaganda Hucksters.  Hucksters have feelings too you know.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    Pardon me, but you'll have to excuse the Chargers. They say and do a lot of stupid things.


    Ryan Leaf

    Nicole Larson
    Nicole Larson subscriber

    Before dismissing the claims of contamination at the Qualcomm site, you really ought to take a look at the County Grand Jury's report from two years ago, available here:

    One thing to remember is that all the data coming out relating to the clean-up is based exclusively on what's been collected by Kinder Morgan and their monitoring wells, without any independent verification. And Kinder Morgan has been using a million gallons of water a day from the city's aquifer -- at no charge, no less, in this drought -- to flush the plume.

    Don't you think that the city should have its own monitoring wells?

    And I've heard the fumes emanating from the ground level of Qualcomm Stadium are truly noxious.  I wouldn't trust Kinder Morgan's assertions without independent verification.

    Edward Moretti
    Edward Moretti

    Thank you Nicole. I believe you just undid every single claim made in this article. I would be happy but this just might have proved my theory that the City's proposal for a new stadium in Mission Valley is not feasible. And that means that our Chargers are as good as gone.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Nicole Larson  --The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board would seem to disagree with the now outdated Grand Jury report.

    Edward Moretti
    Edward Moretti

    Well, I for one am one happy camper. This means that if the CSAG comes up with a reasonable and legal financing plan for a new San Diego multi-purpose stadium in Mission Valley then the Chargers will be happy to go full steam ahead with their plan. Of course, since it has now been proved without a shadow of a doubt that the Qualcomm site will not have to go through any pesky studies or lengthy cleanup process I'm sure the City will assure the Chargers that if they do in fact find anything to cleanup that the City will pay for it. That shouldn't be a problem since there's nothing to clean up anyway except for the possible cleanup of the groundwater aquifer that would cost $256 million for "unrelated construction work on the site" although I assume it would tie up related construction work on the site. Of course, this article doesn't really go into the details of that scenario so I can't comment on that. Hopefully, this also means that those $250 million in savings that Adam Day touted as the main reason for picking Mission Valley aren't tacked on to the construction costs of the new stadium if the City's case is thrown out of appellate court since the two are completely separate issues.

    I'm also sure that now that we have all this evidence presented by these multiple experts that they will be ready to present these findings to the likes of Attorneys Corey Briggs and Mike Aguirre and make the likely hood of them tying up the stadium in red tape for years to come an impossibility. 

    Don't get me wrong.  I actually love the fact that there is actually a newspaper in town that is actually practicing the art of investigative reporting. I think that this will actually lead to a better deal between the City and the Chargers. However, you are only doing half your job. While Mark Fabiani has been his usual bull in a china shop self, spouting all sorts of rhetoric no matter the validity of it,  the Mayor, the City Council and the people who represent the Convention Center have also been claiming equally ridiculous things . My personal favorite was somebody from the Convention Center stating on the Scott and BR Show that if the stadium were built downtown that the Center would only be able to book weddings for six months out of the year. 

    Worse was the information contained in the press release from Council Members Alvarez and Gloria on Feb. 24. Everything in that memo was taken as gospel. Where was your investigative reporting then? Why no uproar that the memo seemed to take the hoteliers wishes as priority #1? Why no questioning of the timelines and costs of a downtown stadium ? Why no examination of the letter from MTS CEO Jablonski and all it claimed? 

    Investigative reporting is only investigative reporting when you do your due diligence to both sides of the story. 

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Edward Moretti The "Convadium" would limit convention center bookings for 6 months of the year because the Chargers demand scheduling priority from the beginning of preseason through the potential playoffs.  The NFL schedule is released in late April while conventions are booked up to years in advance. This is a real issue and the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission has faced this exact problem for the last 20 years.

    Sorry the facts don't fit your agenda.

    Edward Moretti
    Edward Moretti

    Yet the Indianapolis Convention Center is across the street from Colts Stadium and they have no problems whatsoever. These things work out when all parties work together instead of looking out for their own personal interests instead of the common good.

    Edward Moretti
    Edward Moretti

    And BTW-my only agenda, if you can call it that, is hoping that we replace the Q with a new stadium. If one side is always vilified while the other is treated with kid gloves they are doing us, the taxpayers and residents of San Diego a disservice.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Edward Moretti None of your opinions are based in fact, that's a huge problem for you and every other stadium proponent.  Claiming the Q's luxury suites are "like prison cells" and your inability to comprehend the scheduling problems of a shared "Convadium" proves that you can't be taken seriously.

    Edward Moretti
    Edward Moretti

    The Chargers plan is completely similar to the one in Indianapolis. Just look at scenario E in the JMI drawings. The new expansion to the convention center and the stadium are, just like in Indianapolis, separated by a street.

    And, if you have the time, read Nicole's comment from above. It includes a PDF from the County that basically disproves this entire article and proves my "ignorant" rantings pretty spot on.

    Edward Moretti
    Edward Moretti

    @David Benz @Edward Moretti Although you are absolutely right while I was wrong about them being one building, one look at that schematic and the artist's rendering shows that there is more than enough room to separate the two (that's what's great about a design-you can always re-design it before actually construct it).

    And BTW- it's people like the Mayor and the City Council who nearly bankrupted the City not people like me.

    Edward Moretti
    Edward Moretti

    @David Benz @Edward Moretti  You are again right. None of my assumptions were based on fact. They were only assumptions made on my half baked intuition. However, Nicole's post above goes along way in proving that most of my assumptions are true. Or are you now going to say that you believe Kinder Morgan's statements more than the County Grand Jury's statements. Who's agenda is wrong now?

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Edward Moretti You clearly do not understand the concept of a shared space.  You can't have a convention in the same building that's hosting a football game.  You also can't book any convention that would use the "Convadium" while it is reserved for the Chargers and that's from the beginning of preseason through the playoffs.

    The Indy situation is not comparable, they are 2 separate venues.  Every one of your posts are flat out ignorant.  For once think before you post and do some research for a change.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Edward Moretti It's my understanding that some agency will require soil testing before any construction is permitted.  I don't know what they will find so I'm not going to make wild arsed assumptions.  You should do the same.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Edward Moretti WRONG.  Once again you are making stuff up.

    The main exhibit hall and its necessary support, mechanical, and loading areas are the same footprint area of the stadium(see pg. 32 of the pdf).  There is no room to separate the two buildings which is precisely why JMI stacked them on top of each other.

    Sadly it is clear you will say anything, no matter how wrong, to push your agenda.  This is ridiculous.

    C J
    C J subscriber

    I think a link from two years ago would have to be updated to current information for me to put any merit into it. Also, the City/Mayor and Chargers will always have their own agendas. It is up to the citizens to do their due diligence and take either's comments with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, most people believe what they want and do not look for facts unless they back their agenda. That is why we have so many people against a new stadium and keeping our team here. Its sad...

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    These determinations cannot possibly be true. I base my assertion on the well accepted fact that the NFL never obfuscates for the advantage of team owners. They love us all and want us to be happy.