Mayor Kevin Faulconer – and City Council if it approves his plan Tuesday – will take two major steps in this long-running performance art piece about the future of football in San Diego.

First, they will take real estate development on the Qualcomm Stadium site off the table as a way to help pay for a new stadium. That’s a significant development. And second, they’re about to spend real money — which could be used for any number of city needs — on a questionable environmental study that the Chargers actively oppose.

Let’s get into both of these:

Real estate development will be off the table for stadium finance plan.

The City Council is being asked to approve money for an environmental impact report to replace Qualcomm Stadium with a new stadium on the northeast corner of the current lot.

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Building condos, offices, hotels or something alongside the stadium has been a part of every vision to pay for a new stadium in that area for the last 15 years.

Though they’ve soured on it now, the Mission Valley site was attractive to the Chargers in the past because of the land around it. It has long been thought that the city’s land around the stadium could be sold or developed, giving the city a windfall that could pay for the stadium.

A land development deal on the Mission Valley stadium site made up $225 million of the $1.1 billion the mayor’s task force said would be needed to fund a facility.

After Tuesday, though, it won’t be something the city can easily pursue. If the Council decides only to study the environmental impact of a new stadium on the site, and not other development, the city will have to come up with another plan to pay for the stadium.

California law requires people who are building things to study not only the projects they plan to build but also to reasonably foreseeable expansions or additions. If they don’t do this, and they later announce plans for condos or development on the side of the stadium, they will very vulnerable to a lawsuit alleging they piecemealed the environmental study to make sure it was easy to approve.

The mayor’s office doesn’t disagree. It has simply dropped the idea that real estate development around the new stadium will help pay for the new stadium.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s spokesman, Craig Gustafson, told me in an email that the mayor’s task force (otherwise known as the Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group, or CSAG) did recommend ancillary development but it was just that: a recommendation.

“The City/County plan does not rely on ancillary development for a stadium to be financed,” Gustafson wrote. “The plan the City/County team is developing is based on negotiations and discussions with the Chargers and the NFL.”

He would not share details of that plan. Those, for now, are for the NFL’s eyes only.

The mayor’s team will present to the NFL on Aug. 10.

A key part of the show, apparently, is the effort to counter the Chargers’ message that the city simply cannot overcome hurdles posed by California’s environmental laws.

The city, led by Faulconer and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, have insisted that’s not true. And now they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

This dog and pony show is getting expensive.

Goldsmith, months ago, warned an environmental impact review of the stadium site would take well over a year.

That timeframe has changed, the mayor’s office claims, because they have decided to only study replacing the stadium – not any related real estate development, as we just reviewed.

The company set to benefit most from a new stadium this is meant to deliver – the Chargers – is not only not helping with the cost, but is actively opposing the study.

It’s so rushed and vulnerable to litigation, Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani says, the team won’t touch this “misbegotten scheme.”

“The fact that there is vigorous debate would in and of itself say to any private business: Don’t take this enormous risk of being tied up in court for years on the feeble side of a legal case, unless you have no other choice. The Chargers have other choices,” he said in an email.

Thus, even though the Chargers actively oppose it, taxpayers are about to fork over $2.1 million to a firm, Aecom, to study the impact of replacing the stadium.

The mayor’s office says we’re not losing anything spending that money. We got the cash from the state as a reimbursement for state mandates like the Brown Act — a law that ensures public officials do certain business in public — and which cost cities money to carry out. Now that the state is doing better, it’s started to reimburse cities for mandates like that.

The mayor wouldn’t elaborate on what specifically the state was reimbursing us for. Regardless, it’s now general fund money we could use for anything else. We could fund a couple more two-person fire crews. Or, if we wanted to keep the money in planning needs, we could put the money toward updating community plans. Faulconer himself has cited outdated community plans as a cause of the affordable housing crisis in San Diego.

In fact, $2.1 million is more than the consultant costs to update the community plans for Ocean Beach, Grantville, San Ysidro and Midway/Old Town. Those plans will define growth in their neighborhoods for decades. Yet this planning splurge for one limited area around Qualcomm Stadium will do little but set the terms for litigation.

The city is trying to call the Chargers’ bluff in front of the team’s peers.

But to do it, it is forsaking one of the main ideas for funding the stadium, and it’s putting $2.1 million into the betting kitty.

We’re asked to hope it doesn’t lose.


    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Land Use, Must Reads, News

    Written by Scott Lewis

    I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

    ZachW subscriber

    Faulconer is failing and still nobody running against him? This is ridiculous. He's been a horrible mayor, he's throwing public money down the toilet, he's not transparent. But yet he's running unopposed. What does he have to do to persuade people to run against him, put some women in a playful "headlock" and ask them to remove their panties!?

    tzen subscriber

    A simple typo...exhorting becomes extorting.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    San Diego City Council republicans decided to throw away more of our money. The vote passed 6-3, with all 3 no votes coming from Dems.

    When will ignorant republicans wake up to the fact that "fiscal conservatism" is a lie. This is another example of "rob from the poor and give to the rich" Republican politics. Filthy Filner, the "mayoral molester"feels up a few women and R's go crazy, Kevin "the financial rapist" Faulconer screws San Diegans again and they will say nothing.

    Stay classy San Diego.

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    @David Benz David most Republican politicians are simply not fiscal conservatives period.  They are lackeys to their corporate overlords. Their job is to give public money to the people who help them get elected. That is all they are there to do.  That is all they can do.  That is why they are in public office.  They are there to steal and rob the public coffers.  That is it. 

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber


    Thanks for clearly explaining the piecemeal planning prohibitions in CEQA. If the mayor and city attorney are really serious about dropping the proposal to sell and develop city water department owned land around the stadium as a key element of the project financing plan, it would be very useful if they came clean now about what alternative funding sources they propose to tap to

    offset that shortfall.  If they are scheming to put one past the voters and the NFL, and try to revive the land sale and development proposal as a funding source sometime next spring, they're driving the stadium train right off a legal cliff. Hopefully they will be held accountable by the voters if that happens.

    msginsd subscriber

    @Don Wood  The thing is, Bad Hair Guy probably gave advice that he’ll be able to successfully litigate any challenge when the condos and the offices show up later.  No problem.  Just ignore what he said a few months ago about the EIR taking a long time.  And hey, why not?  Doesn’t matter that his office will lose yet again.  By the time lawsuits show up, he’ll be moving on to a new job with some large developer or hotelier, having been termed out.  And anyway, litigation means work for the lawyers.  The City Attorney office works, outside legal consultants work, Cory Briggs works, everybody gets paid.  Except us taxpayers.  We get reamed.

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    There’s no balance in the debate. 

    Both the politicians and the media are focused on what the Chargers want, not what the people want.  As a result, neither is carrying a flag for the majority of San Diegans -- who are against public funding.  And neither will until a movement exists to force them to pay attention.

    How to do you start a movement?  You mount an advertising campaign.  A campaign will draw media coverage, ensure opposition voices get heard and turn political heads.

    How do you fund a campaign without an existing political infrastructure?  You do what the opera did.  Start with seed money from some rich folks and then advertise for donations from the people.    

    The stadium controversy presents a perfect subject from which to build a broadly supported people-based campaign because it’s not about party politics.  It’s about San Diegans deciding what they want their city to stand for, one way or another. 

    Creating the campaign only requires tapping into the broad and deep distrust that already exists among most San Diegans for the ideas, motives and integrity of their political and downtown business leaders.  

    It will immediately shift the debate.  

    lorisaldana subscriber

    While the concerns over financing and an EIR are valid and important, the most persistent problem in this whole debate is the refusal of the Mayor's office to answer questions and provide a detailed financial plan to San Diegans. As John Oliver pointed out in "Last Week Tonight," during his smart take down of professional sports in general: professional teams' claims that not sharing financials and opening the account books because of "tradition" is absurd- but they are private businesses, and retain that right.

    On the other hand: Use of public lands and funds require public review. It's a basic concept of Open Government that the Mayor's office is conveniently ignoring.

    We saw how violations of this basic premise plays out fifteen years ago, when the City Council approved PetCo park bonds without a proper financial audit. It resulted in FBI raids of Council offices, an SEC investigation, and legal bills paid by taxpayers. Ultimately, it contributed to the destruction of the city's financial ratings, and inability to access bonds for financing infrastructure repairs.

    Sound familiar? Are we headed in that direction again, even as the City tries to recover from the PetCo fiasco?

    It appears Faulconer is continuing another San Diego tradition: engaging in the "deny, delay, deceive" model that his predecessor decried during a "State of the City" speech- yet did nothing about, and in fact elevated to new heights. (E.g., Balboa Park Centennial planning committee) Unfortunately, simply naming a problem does little to solve it, or end the practice.

    Basically- in any major plan on public lands, the city is required to allow residents to fully evaluate it, and have a say in spending mlillions on a limited and potentially worthless EIR. A City Council hearing is insufficient. Community meetings and publicly accessible documents are in order, at the least.

    Moreover, the Mayor's office needs to open their books on their stadium proposal. And let's hope it does not require yet another lawsuit to compel this review. That would a wasted expenditure of public dollars and time, as well as money.

    Better yet: avoid the need for an EIR reimbursement from the state altogether, by recognizing this "stadium chase" is a losing game for taxpayers. Bid the Chargers farewell, and consider other proposals from SDSU etc. on ways to "monetize" a stadium that residents originally paid for so long ago, and still retain control over.

    To direct the Mayor's office to continue this quest, with no public oversight, is Faulconer's Folly.

    In the end, he will more more roundly, and justifiably, criticized for keeping these financial details secrets, than for losing the Chargers to Los Angeles.

    msginsd subscriber

    @lorisaldana All this assumes that they actually have a plan beyond "ready, fire, aim".  I think they're making it up as they go.  That's pretty much SOP for the city.

    Sam Ward
    Sam Ward subscribermember

    Here are a handful of ways that this $2.1 million can be better spent:

    1.  Break it into quarters and use those quarters to fill in potholes around the city.

    2.  Break it into $5 bills and use it as wall paper for low income housing.

    3.  Distribute sheets of currency to downtown workers and residents so that they can cover up the piles of (mostly) human feces on our streets.

    4.  Use wadded up bills to plug holes in broker water mains.

    6.  Save the money until winter and then burn it to provide a source of heat for the homeless.

    7.  Hire comedians to write jokes that San Diego isn't the butt of .

    bgetzel subscriber

    Yes, this is a ridiculous waste of money, but it also has political consequences that no one has mentioned yet. As it stands now, Faulconer would have a cake walk in winning the mayoral election. He appears to be popular and he has never stuck his knock out on anything controversial. However, his proposal to spend big bucks on this "misbegotten" venture could put him out to pasture, especially if a worthy (who?) opponent makes an issue of it.  

    hockeysuit subscriber

    @bgetzel @lorisaldana  Agreed!  From a cakewalk to the quicksand of a publicly financed stadium proposal that keeps getting murkier.  Does Faulconer not realize how public sentiment has shifted?

    Oh, and the John Oliver piece was awesome.  Great timing, too.

    lorisaldana subscriber

    Agreed it's ridiculous. And it's not simply the misspent money- voters have tolerated much worse in San Diego over the past 15 years.

    It's the ongoing pattern of deception Faulconer and previous Mayors and their staff continue to use, to avoid pubic oversight during the process of financing major public projects.

    bcat subscriber

    It is time to recall our politicians.  The State of California recalled Gray Davis for merely a "lack of faith".  In this case, both the Mayor and the City Council are wasting OUR money.

    What force on this planet is going to bring the Chargers to a stadium in San Diego?  There is only one force:  OUR money.

    I already cannot afford to take my family to an NFL game.  Why would I want "naming rights" to the Chargers paid for with my tax dollars.  In the end, is a stadium anything more than this?

    RECALL our politicians before they waste more of OUR money!

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    I'm a football fan. I'm not a "bailout fan". The City of San Diego, and, that is, the people, the voters, the Charger fans would be paying, essentially, for a new brick and mortar location for a business. We've lived through many bailouts: Chrysler, GM, banks, et al. And, many of those businesses paid back the people(the government). The Chargers are not in need of a bailout. The Chargers and by extension the Spanos family are very much the picture of profitability. And, so is the NFL. Yes, the Padres and the Chargers are iconic features of San Diego and the landscape. But, the only people to benefit from a new $billion stadium would be the Chargers, the NFL, and the Spanos that order. We are out, by and large, of the big "recession" so we cannot justify a new stadium to create jobs. The unemployment rate is lower now than before 2008. The Chargers have, in not so many words, indicated by deed, that they would be interested in leaving San Diego. This is just a veiled threat to motivate our public leaders to "cave" and buy them a new stadium. Would you have the people pay WalMart for a new ginormous mega store? No. The bottom line is that the Spanos famiily, the Chargers business, and the NFL are flush with loot and could easily purchase a new stadium. So, what if the Chargers leave? There are teams that would beg to move here. The Orange County, San Diego County, Imperial County , and Baja/TJ metroplex are a huge media focal point and market and growing.

    Oh, I like taxes. I don't mind paying taxes if they help maintain and improve my city, San Diego. I don't want my taxes to pay for the infrastructure for a personal business venture. Especially, if the business can easily afford to pay for the venture. The Chargers do not need venture capital or loans or money from the City of  San Diego general fund. 

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    Foulconer is a moron.  Any city council member who approves this idiotic waste of money needs to be voted out of office.

    ZachW subscriber

    Sorry, I saw someone below already linked to this after I posted it. I'll leave it up anyway because it's hilarious and ACCURATE enough to be on here twice!!


    I could bore everyone with my opinion, but John Oliver sums it up much better and much more entertainingly - must see:

    dave stutz
    dave stutz subscribermember

    the sad thing is I don't think they know they are being played by the 1%

    tarfu7 subscribermember

    A City official told the Union-Tribute (link below) that - aside from 60 consultant staff - a total of 30 City staff would be assigned to this EIR. THIRTY people from City staff! That necessarily will occupy a lot of resources in the Planning and/or Development Services Departments for the next few months. 

    What's the cost of those City resources? Not just in terms of labor cost, but also further delays to projects and community plans? And that's above and beyond the $2.1 million paid to consultants.


    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    For a detailed summary of just how much city staff-time (money) will be spent on this, see page 3 of the IBA Report.   At the web page, go down to "Recent Reports" and click on the first one, Report #15-28.

    That money will be part of the $2.1 million to be paid to AECOM (from the $2.2 million from the State), circling back to the City to reimburse staff time.

    Sunny Day
    Sunny Day

    Yay! San Diego is once again the butt of the late night comedian's jokes. But it is time to heed the wisdom of the joker and stop spending taxpayer money on a for profit organization that refuses to open its books and already drains millions of dollars from this City every year. Tell it like it is John Oliver:

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    The stadium issue has become an obsession to both the mayor and city attorney.  Wanting 2.1 billion dollars for an expedited EIR for a project that has not been agreed upon is lunacy.  The notion that ancillary development around the stadium should not be looked at to help finance the stadium contradicts everything the city (and the Chargers) have been saying for years.  I don't know where the council is going on this but hopefully they will put a stop to this nonsense immediately.

    Oh, and I see the stadium is going to be built on the northeast corner of the site?  Isn't that the area closest to the tank farms across Friars Road?  Brilliant!

    Cory Briggs
    Cory Briggs subscribermember

    This quote is either bat-sh!t crazy or a flat-out lie or deserving of this century's prize for naiveté/incompetence or proof of a City-Chargers conspiracy to screw the taxpayers (the last of which I tend to doubt with regard to the conspiracy (but not the screwing)): "The City/County plan does not rely on ancillary development for a stadium to be financed."  I hope the readers appreciate what a bombshell the quote is.

    Where o where, our all-knowing and all-powerful City and County leaders, are we going to get in excess of $1 billion to pay for this preposterous stadium makeover if not from ancillary development?  Please tell me you have been squirreling away what has now become an impressive cash cache.  (And if you have, why in heaven's name would you spend it on a stadium?)

    If John Oliver's recent bit about stadium give-aways wasn't embarrassing enough for America's Finest City, this quote surely is. 

    Bob Gardner
    Bob Gardner subscriber

    Another example of politicians pouring taxpayer money down the proverbial hole.  Methinks it is time for a law that anyone who wants to run for elected office must run a business for a minimum of 20 years. Career politicians only know how to waste money.