First things first: The only thing that actually happened in the stadium saga Tuesday was that the Chargers announced they are supporting the so-called Citizen’s Plan for San Diego, the hotel-room tax hike and land-use plan put together by attorney Cory Briggs and JMI Realty.

But that’s a big deal!

Refresh your understanding of the genius (and problems) in the plan here. It’s something that has unexpectedly united the former head of downtown redevelopment, Fred Maas with longtime civic activist Donna Frye, Briggs and former Padres owner John Moores.

This new alliance is about to face off with Mayor Kevin Faulconer and whatever network he assembles.

Or will it?

Here are some things to know:

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

The mayor and Chargers are now openly fighting.

For a couple weeks, there has been a sort of cold war going on under the surface, as the mayor pushed the Chargers to go with his Mission Valley plan for a new stadium and the team made it clear it still preferred downtown.

It came out in this piece from Liam Dillon. The mayor’s chief of staff, Stephen Puetz, not one to speak on the record to reporters much, threw shade at the plan to pay for a downtown stadium that was created by a respected stadium guru the city has itself used.

Puetz said the plan was not reputable. He said it would require voter approval at a two-thirds threshold, which he claimed would be impossible.

The mayor had said he was open to a downtown stadium. But he clearly opposed what was the only plan for a downtown stadium.

More interesting now is to see if the mayor follows through on his pledge from January’s State of the City speech. In that address, Faulconer said he would put on the ballot a plan to expand the Convention Center on its current plot. It would be a tax increase that would require a two-thirds vote.

Somehow that two-thirds vote is not an impossible threshold.

If the mayor follows through with that for the June ballot (it would be crazy to see all these on the November ballot) then he will be literally trying to kill the Chargers plan.

This, only a few weeks after they were all smiles when the team was sent back to negotiate with San Diego and it was a new day.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson
East Village proposed stadium site.

Will the Citizens Plan require a two-thirds vote?

That’s the big question. In their response to the Chargers’ announcement, Faulconer and County Supervisor Ron Roberts say it can’t pass voter approval.

“But it is abundantly clear that a ballot measure that raises taxes for a stadium must be approved by two-thirds of San Diego’s voters,” their statement reads.

It’s not abundantly clear. It’s the law.

What’s not clear exactly is whether that law applies here.

Here’s the deal: In California, tax hikes that fund a specific purpose, like, say, a new Convention Center, require the support of two-thirds of voters to be implemented.

If you want a tax hike that just generally gives the money to government, it only requires a simple majority of voters.

The Citizens Plan is a tax hike — an increase to the transient occupancy tax. The city levies a 10.5 percent tax on hotel room bills. The initiative would raise that to 15.5 percent. The money goes to city. And that should mean it only requires a simple majority of voter support to implement.

But …

The initiative also allows hotels to deduct the tax down from 15.5 percent tax when they send the money to the city. If hotels invest in tourism marketing, they can cut the levy down 2 percent.

If they invest in an annex to the Convention Center, they can cut it another 2 percent. It’s a bit more complicated than that but basically that’s how it works.

Briggs and supporters say these investments are completely voluntary. They’re just offers on the table. If they aren’t used, the full 15.5 percent is charged and the money goes to city. But this is untested. If someone challenges it in court, they’ll have to prove it was a shady way to earmark what the tax would pay for — triggering the two-thirds requirement.

The Chargers have obviously decided it’s worth the bet. It will be interesting to see who stands up to make this argument. The city attorney has been silent.

Someone may argue that the money is obviously going to fund a stadium. But that’s why the Chargers and JMI Realty — the main company supporting an annex to the Convention Center — will argue that there is actually no public money going to a stadium.

They’ll say that the public money, through this tax-deduction mechanism in the Citizens Plan, will pay for the Convention Center annex. That will merely, sort of, hold up the stadium, which will cost about the same amount the Chargers, the NFL and their corporate sponsors might be willing to pay.

Photo by Scott Lewis
Photo by Scott Lewis
Measure D was put forward in part by San Diegans for Open Government: Pedro Quiroz Jr., Donna Frye, Richard Lawrence and Cory Briggs (top right).

What now?

The big question that remains, aside from whether the mayor will pursue the competing vision and tax hike for the Convention Center, is whether the Chargers will pursue an initiative on top of the Citizens Plan — or complementary to it, I should say.

In other words, will voters have to approve both the Citizens Plan and a stadium plan?

The Chargers’ special counsel, Mark Fabiani, said it was unclear.

“We are still evaluating the various options and working closely in doing so with Frye/Briggs coalition and with JMI. At this point I can’t answer your question,” he wrote in an email.

But in one of his multiple radio appearances, Maas implied there would be an initiative that more clearly laid out the stadium design and other issues.

So stay tuned.

Not a lot actually happened Tuesday except that an unprecedented coalition of big shots, a reviled (but often successful) public interest lawyer and a longtime community activist politicians have joined with the former owner of the Padres and his allies to challenge the mayor and existing downtown power structure in a fascinating way.

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

    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.

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    The headline for this story should read…

    “Hoteliers Declare War on Resident Tax Payers.  Faulconer Hired to Lead the Fight.”

    This is because the real story here is the difference between Faulconer’s Plan and the Citizens Plan.

    Faulconer’s Plan uses your tax money to finance expansion of the convention center and make a $350 million contribution to a new football stadium, if built in Mission Valley.  

    At the same time, it ensures the hoteliers maintain control over tourist tax money.  The money they currently collect solely to promote their industry for their private gain.

    The Citizens Plan does exactly the opposite. 

    It uses tourist tax money, not your money, to finance expansion of the convention center and make a public contribution to a stadium, if built downtown.  It takes control of tourist taxes away from the hoteliers and gives it to the City Council, who can use it for parks and potholes, in addition to a convention center and football stadium.

    Faulconer doesn’t want you to realize you’re paying when it comes to his plan.  The reason is because his friends the hoteliers want to keep their control over tourist tax dollars for their own selfish and greedy needs. And they want you to pay for their convention center.  Both save them money, leading to more private  profit.

    Focusing on the Chargers makes for boozy journalism but it hardly tells San Diegans what’s really going on.

    ZachW subscriber

    Thank you for calling it the "so-called" citizens plan- I hate the way Brigg's uses words like that to act like he maneuvers under populist mandate. He doesn't. He's being paid off by JMI for this crap. He should t be allowed to call it the "citizens plan" until we see if the citizens actually support it. And what happened to Donna Frye?? She's gone mad. She could have thrown her hat in the race for mayor and actually done something good for our city, but instead she's soiling her once stellar and credible reputation by hitching herself to the Brigg's-JMI stadium development scam. I've honestly lost all respect for her and, as a one time supporter, would never vote for her for anything again. I thought she was better than the political charlatans SD is famous for, but she's proving she's just like them. I hope her, Briggs and JMI celebrate with champagne and beluga caviar if they win and are allowed to ruin downtown San Diego.

    johnpurlia subscriber

    The biggest problem I see with the Chargers' plan is that it doesn't really address the needs of all parties. While the plan offers the convention center more space, it shrugs off the need for additional contiguous space — something the convention center requires to compete with other convention destinations. Worse, if the TOT is increased to levels equitable to other tourist destinations, the convention center becomes greatly disadvantaged, as criteria for choosing convention destinations begin to level off w/o San Diego gaining some advantage over their competitors. Those who book large conventions look at all kinds of factors: contiguous space, meeting rooms, beds, TOT, climate, etc... San Diego has been successful to this point by being very competitive in these areas. That equation is changing as other convention destinations in the west (Anaheim, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix) increase their available space, though often with higher TOT. If the TOT becomes equal, but the available space does not, it's unlikely that large events will choose San Diego when they can go to Anaheim or LA.

    The point, here, is that the Chargers and their partners (and the city, as well) have to be more active in addressing the needs of the convention center. They can't just say, "hey, here's more space, it may not be the space you want, but I'm sure you can convince potential clients that it's somehow better that taking their event to Las Vegas."

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    @johnpurlia Another point is that in order to attract conventions to town, discounts on convention center rent and room rates are offered to convention planners for the bigger events which, in turn, reduces the amount of income to the center and lowers the amount of actual tax collected.

    Ben Adams
    Ben Adams

    Comic-Con issued a statement that they aren't interested in an off site convention center expansion and no other large convention is going to come to San Diego to split their convention between two buildings 10 blocks apart while limited to the scheduling whims of the NFL.  This is an all time dumb idea even for San Diego.

    ZachW subscriber

    I've heard Donna Frye and Charger's representatives both misleading people saying this would "save comic con"

    I think we know what the real CON is here

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    If the other major hotel owners decide to join the Citizen's Plan initiative coalition, look for the mayor and Roberts to jump on the bandwagon. If they insist on turning this into a political and legal battle between Mayor Falcouner and Jan Goldsmith on one

    side and Steve Peace, Cory Briggs, the Chargers and many of the big hotel owners, my money is on Peace and Briggs.

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons subscribermember

    Richard Lawrence has been a prominent African American and advocate for everyday San Diegans for a very long time.  I'm glad to see his involvement with this group and eager to better understand the contours of the Citizens' Plan before a vote comes.  

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Let’s understand a few more things:

    1.  Dean Spanos sudden discovery of his undying love for San  Diego is about as believable as Donald Trump’s comb-over.  Spanos finally came to the realization that the L.A. plan was actually quite risky for him, because he would have to develop a currently non-existent fan base in L.A. in order to sell seats, a lot of work he’s not used to.  The L.A. mayor’s advice to “stay put” seemed a warning shot that he wouldn’t be getting any favors from that city.

    2.  It’s still all about the money.  Apparently unnoticed, except in the U-T this morning, is the claim that Ron Roberts advised the team that the millions he and the mayor “pledged” were not available for a downtown site, only at the Mission Valley location.  If true, this is a healthy development for taxpayers on it’s face, but if you think the cabal being created plans to totally privately finance any development downtown, you believe in the “warmth” of Ted Cruz’ smile.

    3.  Remember who is involved here .  First, there’s Fred Maas, “Mr. Redevelopment”, who is nothing if not adept at somehow getting the public to pay for private properties downtown.  And, of course there’s John Moores who was handed, at fire sale rates, huge amounts of very valuable property downtown and left the city with a ballpark that drains $11 mil annually out the General Fund to keep up with debt service on Petco Park.  Moores has since made a lot of money developing property he acquired in the Petco con.  And, of course, the  Chargers have a history of being quite clever, when push comes to shove, at extracting large amounts of public funds for their benefit.  Voter beware!  The devil will be in complex details, unless this clever group figures out a way to avoid a public vote.

    4.  Does the potential alliance of Donna Frye/Corey Briggs and Moores/Maas/Spanos sound to you like a workable deal?  More like a Clinton/Rubio ticket, I’d say. The only thing you can be certain of is that Scott and his crew are looking forward to the juicy stories that are going to surface as this dance progresses.  If the mayor and the Chargers are now “openly fighting”, that may be a positive thing.  It means Faulconer realizes that the Chargers are neither indispensable to the city nor to his personal political future.  The Chargers are now hardly the local equivalent of Social Security as a “third rail” for politicians.  

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    @Bill Bradshaw  "Donald Trump’s comb-over," "the “warmth” of Ted Cruz’ smile," "Clinton/Rubio ticket" . . . Let me guess, you wish Barack Obama could have a third term! I feel the same way! :)

    ZachW subscriber

    Exactly. I'm scratching my head trying to figure out why she's diving off this cliff.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    @Bit-watcher @Robert Cohen @Bill Bradshaw My guess is that she is supporting the Citizen's Plan because from what I understand it will include a provision for extensive park land along the SD River at the Qualcomm site.  If she can get a big park out of the deal then she may feel that other aspects of the plan or that the potential for public funding of a stadium, which she has opposed in the past, is worthwhile.

    charles weir
    charles weir

    @Bill Bradshaw Trump doesnt have a comb-over. It's a rug, just like Jan Goldsmith has one. Both of their rugs are as ugly as all get out.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    I again predict that:

    A) the initiative is too complex; people will not vote for something they cannot understand, and

    B) even if it were approved, court challenges sure to follow assure that it will not be implemented.

    ZachW subscriber

    I'm no fan of Carl DeMaio, but he's promised to sue if this thing takes shape. I will support him 100% if he does that. I'm a liberal who has long respected Donna Frye and reviled Mr DeMaio, but roles are reversed now and on this particular issue DeMaio has it right and Donna is completely incorrect

    ZachW subscriber

    Fair enough, but she's not backing away from it and appears to be doubling down on it. I would be willing to hear her reasoning, so far the only thing I've heard is that the plan might somehow open up the possibility of a park along the riverfront in MV. I'm all for that, but I think the Brigg's plan has far too many negatives to support it for that simple trade-off

    michael-leonard subscriber

    While I basically agree, I think you are being a bit too simplistic. 

    Donna Frye is a part of San Diegans for Open Government and supported the original Briggs plan as such. But, now that the originally-simple plan has grown much more complex, and some of the power players are also lining up behind it, I don't think she should be held to account for it. It's Briggs, Moores and the Chargers' plan now.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    I haven't seen any recent comments by Frye, but there's plenty of time before election day to shake-out the details of her support or lack of it.

    And... in any case, I still stand by my prediction.

    Ben Adams
    Ben Adams

    @michael-leonard The Briggs plan was a scam from the beginning.  The initiative hasn't changed drastically it's just now being exposed as the horribly flawed legislation that's a give away to Briggs' special interest backers.

    William Charles
    William Charles

    The Chargers can get lost... go to LA and take Donna Frye with you!

    bgetzel subscriber

    Interesting choice by Spanos. Let's say the innitiative passes. Undoubtedly, someone is going to sue to stop it being fufilled. In so doing, the Chargers would not be able to meet the January, 2017 deadline to say whether they want to join Kronke in L.A.  I believe that they could have another year extension on that, but by then the Rams would have built their fan base over 2 seasons , and the success of another team joining them at that point is dubious. So it seems that Spanos is betting the house on San Diego, with the Mayor made to be an adversary! Very strange.

    Brian Edmonston
    Brian Edmonston

    There are far too many hurdles for this to pass, and football is not a city sport - only 8-10 games per year!  Facilitiy will sit idle most of the time.

    Too bad. Mission Valley was a great location.   Most other stadiums are located at least an hour outside the city. 

    I won't be supporting this proposal.  I wish the Chargers would just leave so we can work on getting another team with more reasonable expectations.  

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    The beginning of the end of Barrio Logan.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    @Desde la Logan Don't know if it means the end to Barrio Logan but an opportunity to connect Barrio Logan to the East Village would seem to be lost if the stadium gets built there.  Stadiums are huge buildings and just like the I-5 cut off Barrio Logan from the rest of downtown, a hulking, bulk of a building will add to the walling off effect.  

    Joshua Brant
    Joshua Brant subscriber

    @Robert Cohen @Desde la Logan I completely agree, Robert. The Barrio would surely get bombarded with traffic on game days and some parking lots for the stadium could even end up in the barrio. But, this stadium (plus basement convention center) would definitely act as a large physical barrier and retardant against the convergence of East Village and Barrio Logan. 

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    Public subsidies for new stadia in California are a thing of the past. Getting involved in extreme subsidy intrigue games gets you nothing when all scores are finally settled. Someone should tell Spanos to get used to it and stop terrorizing San Diego with Taliban tactics.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    The mayor is headed toward a showdown where he will piss of either his big hotel owner contributors or the Chargers and all their fans in San Diego. Let's see which master he decides to serve.

    Mr. Roboto
    Mr. Roboto subscriber

    When you lose your lawsuits against the city far more often than you win, do you really get to be described as "often successful"?