Next week, the mayor’s Chargers stadium task force is expected to end its task forcing and release a plan to pay for a new football facility in Mission Valley.

Stadium Nuts and Bolts logoThese are 10 big questions we’ll be looking for the task force’s plan to answer.

How much public money?

I’m old enough to remember when the only viable political position in San Diego was to pledge no public money for a Chargers stadium.

This was always a lie.

It was always going to take lots of taxpayer dollars to put together a stadium plan. That’s just the way it works if you want to play ball with the NFL.

Throughout this process, the Chargers and the NFL have held firm that they’re only going to contribute $400 million to a stadium, which has been estimated to cost as much as $1.5 billion. Do the math, and that’s a public payout of roughly $1 billion.

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

So what’s the total cost for the stadium and how much are we on the hook for?

Where’s the public money coming from?

A few months ago, the city and county linked arms and said they were going to do this stadium thing together.

This means we should expect the county to put some skin in the game. San Diego State’s football team plays at Qualcomm Stadium now, and the university also could throw in some cash for a new facility.

What’s the breakdown between city money, county money and state money?

What kind of public money is it?

All of it is taxpayer money, sure. But there are lots of different kinds.

The plan could involve what’s known as an enhanced infrastructure financing district, which would formally pledge future tax revenues from surrounding stadium development to the project. Or it could involve a loan from the county to the city. Or it could be straight cash, homey.

The type of public money reveals what we’re potentially giving up in favor of a stadium. If it’s an infrastructure financing district, that means we’ll be building a stadium instead of future parks or fire stations. If it’s cash, that means less money for existing parks and fire stations. And if the county’s contribution is a loan the city has to repay with interest, then that’s not much of a contribution at all. City taxpayers would be ultimately picking up a much higher burden.

What’s the city budget on the hook for?

When the plan is announced, you will hear politicians and task force members say something like “no general fund money” or “no new general fund money” will be spent on the stadium.

This, too, will be a lie.

The general fund is the part of the city’s budget that pays for police, fire and other day-to-day concerns. The “no new general fund money” pledge will be said if the financial plan includes roughly $12 million a year in general fund money. This is the amount the city currently spends to subsidize Qualcomm Stadium each year, and the task force might want to redirect that cash to a new facility.

The “no general fund money” pledge will be trumpeted if the city is relying on future tax revenue from development to pay for the stadium. This ignores two things. First, if the city decided to turn Qualcomm Stadium over to development and not build a stadium, all the future tax money would go to police, fire, parks and other general fund concerns. And it ignores that the city’s day-to-day budget will likely be the backstop if certain revenue projections fail to materialize.

Consider what happened at Petco Park. The city is now spending millions of dollars a year from the general fund to run the facility even though city leaders promised that wouldn’t happen.

How much development?

It seems certain that the financial plan will involve some level of development in what’s now the stadium’s giant parking lot. New development means new tax dollars that could help pay for the stadium without having to raise taxes.

More new development, of course, means more money. But in April when a city councilman unveiled a plan that relied on lots of development, the task force shot it down as being too dense. Mission Valley has a ton of new projects already on the table.

The NFL has also said any plan that relies on development is a non-starter because it will take too long to happen. The task force has tried to tamp down those concerns, but the amount of new development will be key to the plan’s viability to the public and to the team.

Where’s the private money coming from and who’s getting it?

The 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara cost much less in public money than many others. That’s because the plan relied on significant private financing from fans in the form of personal seat licenses and from a big naming rights deal from jean giant Levi’s.

No one expects Santa Clara’s level of private money here, but those revenue sources should account for something.

A local think tank estimated the San Diego market could support $100 million to $150 million from people buying seat licenses, essentially the right to buy tickets. How much a naming deal could contribute matters, too. The region’s biggest company, Qualcomm, doesn’t appear to have any interest in a new stadium.

The Chargers also have made noise that personal seat licenses, naming rights and other private dollars should count toward the team’s contribution to the new stadium.

How all this is sorted out matters greatly to what the public will have to spend.

Who’s responsible for the stadium’s upkeep and who gets the money from its events?

Right now, the city pays to run the stadium. It also gets money from events at the stadium. It costs the city a lot more to run Qualcomm than it’s getting back from events.

A task force member has already said the city will be on the hook for operating and maintaining a new stadium, something it hasn’t done a good job of at the existing one.

The city could try to get a portion of that back through the Chargers’ rent and other events. But it’s unlikely these will cover the costs. And the Chargers might want event revenue, too.

What’s in the fine print?

The city’s past stadium deals have included all sorts of clauses that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. We’re probably not at the point where we’re talking about contracts, but anything resembling a formal deal could have hidden costs for the public.

Are we having a vote? When?

Every politician in San Diego for time immemorial has pledged to have a public vote on any stadium deal. Depending on the details of the plan the task force releases, a vote might even be required by law.

But the NFL has said recently that the city’s timeline for a vote won’t work. The league could be making a decision on relocation to Los Angeles as soon as the end of the year. So June 2016, the next scheduled election, could be too late.

Will the task force propose a vote next June? Or a special election sooner? Or go so far as to say no vote at all?

What are we giving up by building a stadium?

City leaders are going to try to pretend that a new stadium won’t cost us a dime. It will. And spending money on a stadium means we won’t be spending it elsewhere, on more library hours or police and fire services.

There’s also a cost in terms of opportunities. A public vote on a stadium could crowd out other public votes that would involve taxpayer dollars for services. The stadium has already sucked up lots of attention. A long-discussed ballot measure for November 2016 to upgrade the city’s rotting infrastructure, for instance, is withering away with inaction.

    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Land Use

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

    Jay Byrd
    Jay Byrd

    Just saw the latest newscast.  It would be funny if it was not so sad.  They showed a crowd (maybe 30 people) rallying for a new stadium.  It appeared to me that most of them, like me, could not afford a Sunday at the stadium for the family.  But they support the new stadium, unlike me. 

    Then the kicker.  a list of points on the proposal.  They included:

    No taxes so the city does not need a 2/3 vote.

    Paid for by city and county money.

    WHAT????? WHOA!!!!!!!  Hold on. Where does city and county money come from?  Trees? Does the city have a job and earn wages??

    Are we supposed to be that brain-dead not to figure it out?  Guess so.

    This is just another way for the city so-called leaders (who are being led around by the nose by the owners of the Chargers) to bypass the obvious. People want better roads and other infrastructure than a mediocre football team.  Otherwise, they would not insult us by taking away the vote.  Shame on them for publicly flipping us off.

    Go Chargers---and take the mediocre Padres with you. If there is room on the bus, take the Mayor with you. 

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Jay Byrd This plan is as realistic as the convention center expansion.  That didn't require a vote either.

    Cory Briggs must be salivating at the chance to block this in court.  CSAG clearly didn't read the law on the sale of land.  It's not legal to sell the land without a vote, regardless of acreage in the transaction, if the entire city owned contiguous parcel is over 80 acres.

    The existing liability ends in 2020, this new spending is a new liability which will require a tax increase.

    Founder subscriber

    Imagine our elected Leaders giving away yet another Billion Dollars (which after inflation and loan charges will probably be at least 2 Billion Dollars) so that San Diego can retain a professional football team that will making only themselves big bucks, is no longer acceptable at a time that our City cannot afford to fix our public swimming pools, pave our roads, install needed streetlights and do all the other things that a well run City should already be doing. 

    To even consider funding this Charger is a "hint" that BIG Money is behind this effort, which means that this will be proposal will shoved down the throats of all of us that cannot afford to even attend a current Chargers game.

    Getting Ex-Mayor Sanders to "host" the Charger Deal is yet another way our elected Leaders are trying to shield themselves from stepping up give their opinions about spending yet more public money to GIFT the Chargers and their Owners with a few more Billion tax payer dollars.

    I hope the issue is required to have a public vote, since our elected Officials will surly yield to voting for the issue because of the GIANT donations they will receive from the Chargers, who will see the money as a necessary expense, which they will surely recoup, while publicly crying the blues.

    VOSD needs to step up and provide a much better public forum on this DEAL if they want to retain any credibility, since doing tiny news updates/blurbs only serves to make it easier for the Chargers to push their DEAL upon San Diego voters that will hear little to nothing about the deal, other than GO Chargers.

    If VOSD does provide a great forum then GO AWAY Chargers will become clear message that San Diego will no longer dump more Billions of Dollars of taxpayers  money into the pockets of the Charger Owners. 

    $D Chargers: Want a New $tadium?

    YOU Pay For It Yourself...

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    I do not understand this fixation with pay to view sports stadiums.  Other cities need diversions like team sport stadiums to give their life meaning and value for an hour or two, but not San Diego.  I went to big 10 school but not for its football and I moved to San Diego for the joy of its climate and natural features.

    Those that have such a shallow life and need voyeur sports should relocate to those towns where the focus is bleachers and beer.

    mapu chou
    mapu chou subscriber

    interesting all the BS in politics, Republicans takes money cutting worker pensions and benefits because of deficits. But don't blink to take money from workers and create deficits to give the rich more. It is truly Robin Hood in reverse

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    I for one DON’T want to play ball with the NFL.  Their position is not as strong as they would like everyone to believe.  The tobacco industry thought they had contained the financial damage with a global “settlement”, but soon discovered how creative lawyers can be when they stand to make big bucks.  The same thing is going to happen to the NFL with the head injuries issue.  The NFL claim to being the king of pro sports rests on much shakier ground than they admit.  They are obviously running scared over their public image with the ridiculous fines, suspensions and draft pick forfeitures they are trying to impose on New England to “protect the integrity of the game” from soft footballs.  What integrity?  It’s a league full of thugs who beat up fans, wives and friends, and sometimes even shoot people.  Anyone else tired of this ridiculous "draft" drama?

    There are allegedly three teams just dying to relocate to L A.  How much of this is attempted leverage with their home markets?  This is particularly true with the Chargers, who really do want to stay here if they can get a good enough deal.  That’s the trouble.  Despite the condition of the current stadium, they have such a good deal that the city PAYS THE CHARGERS for the privilege of letting them play here, and they scoop up a big slice of available revenue streams including parking, concessions, paraphernalia sales, even special events they have no connection to, plus getting paid for seats that don’t even exist!  How do you better THAT?

    Think about that one again.  The Chargers are supposedly paying rent, but when the books are closed each year instead of getting rent from the team the city writes the Chargers a check!  This is not a business I want to be in, with all the risks to the city including maintenance, security, insurance, you name it, and the city not getting a damn dime for it’s efforts.

    Who needs this nonsense? Make them a lowball offer, with the team and “the league” sharing most of the risks and maintenance costs, watch them squeal and maybe we’ll get lucky and have them eventually leave.  One thing we know for sure:  We wouldn’t be losing a competent franchise.  They not only can’t win big games, they can’t fill the stadium without a big share of their fans coming from out of the area.  And on top of all this incompetence, about every two months some "suit" from NFL HQ blows into town to insult the citizenry.  Screw 'em!

    Jonathon Donahue
    Jonathon Donahue

    Stadium users should pay for it. If 200,000 or so people go there in any year, each could pay what, $7,000? to cover the construction cost. Actually, less, maybe $5,000, since the football team and the Aztecs and concert promoters would have to pay too. Or, since many of those people go more than once, maybe a $1,000 per-game charge would work out. 

    As for the other 2 million of us who do not go to the stadium, no. You can play your football games on a sound stage in Hollywood, and dub in the crowd, like in the Gladiators movie, along with appropriate still shots and video clips to make it look like it's in San Diego. 

    What should the city do to help the Chargers? Beyond donating some land nobody wants, I would say nothing. The games do not bring in any tourists, besides the occasional Raiders fans. Maintaining the stadium costs us money. There is no educational value. 

    Actually, there is no value at all to having a pro football team in San Diego. What do we get for those millions.. sorry, more than a billion, which is 1000 million ... what do we get? A lousy 8 home games a year, and some underpaid anexoretic Charger Girls? Boy, if there ever was a business that should be offshored to India, this is it. Bollywood, meet the NFL!

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @Jonathon Donahue Bottom line: the citizens advisory group is made up of some volunteers with very little experience in stadium financing. Therefore, whatever their recommendation be is only of ornamental value and of zero substantive basis. It's totally absurd to think that some volunteer amateurs would bind the city towards financing a new stadium. Their recommendation would only begin a new phase of stadium discussions; that's all.

    Founder subscriber

    @Dean Plassaras @Jonathon Donahue

    This is nothing more than the first hint of what a deal might look like.

    In Auto SALES, it is called the Presumptive Close, where the customer is presumed to be buying a vehicle, they just need to decide on which color.

    This and many other deal proposals will be used to keep the idea in the publics awareness, as elected Officials continue to shy away from "Just Saying NO", while happily accepting Charger donations "to keep an open mind".

    Gregory May
    Gregory May subscriber

    Maybe if we had a winning team, I can see spending a little money on them... but what have they done for us lately?  

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    We have the greatest Zoo in the world because of an 80 year public subsidy at $12 million / year. If we want the greatest stadium in the world.we are.just have to get our priorities right.

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @john stump This a complete nonsense argument. SD has the greatest zoo in the world because of climate and land assemblage. Other cities could not find the space or the climate to do the same. In business we call this a competitive advantage.

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    Bottom line: the owner has no real relocation options. As a result he would be forced to accept any deal SD would be kind enough to offer.

    And the best deal in my opinion SD must offer  is a 100% private renovation of the Q following the Dolphins model:

    bgetzel subscriber

    @Dean Plassaras Bravo, Dean. A Qualcomm renovation would be the best deal for the public. We should not be taken-in by the Charger ownership - they have no options. The City must negotiate from a position of strength, and not cower. Finally, if we live in a free market economy, why should cities bail-out sports team ownerships, because they cannot control their costs and still want to make millions each year?

    Founder subscriber

    @Dean Plassaras

    The problem is who at the City can we trust to "Bargain" for us when most are already bending over backwards to make nice with the Chargers?

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    One more thing the Chargers are not going anywhere because their best chance at getting the $billion in public funds will come from the stupid taxpayers of San Diego.  And I certainly don't see Spanos moving the team outside of the state.  

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @Phillip Franklin There is no way to give public funds to an NFL owner in California. In other mickey mouse places like Texas maybe. In California, no.

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    The people in San Diego are quite stupid and the politicians know this.  Keep in mind that the Spanos family have been the largest contributors to the Republican party in California.  Spanos wants his payoff and feels the politicians owe him at least a billion dollars in public money.  My guess is most likely he will get it by hook or crook.  He's not satisfied with the millions of dollars he already takes from the city.  He wants the billion dollar stadium plus he wants the city to continually to subsidize him.  And that is what this has always been.

    There's really nothing else to discuss.  The City of San Diego is like a victim of a robbery who is trying to negotiate with the robber as to what denomination of the bills he should pay the robber.

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @Phillip Franklin As it turns out SD has been pretty smart so far and has learned from the mistakes of previous horrible deals with the NFL team. 

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    @Dean Plassaras @Phillip Franklin Smart?  In what way?  Right now the public is subsidizing Spanos to the tune of million$ each and every year.  Spanos has offered absolutely nothing in return except more whining about if he doesn't get at least a billion in tax payer dollars he will leave.  If this city were smart in their dealings with this selfish Spanos family they would just tell him good bye.  The problem is he won't leave.  He's like a bad spoiled child in their 30's who won't leave his parents nice home where he contributes nothing, pays no rent and eats all the food and doesn't clean up his room or the mess he makes in the house.

    Spanos has become an unwelcome guest in this city.  Nothing more than parasite leech who demands more and more from the tax payers.  He is the worst owner in the NFL in that regard.  Let them move to LA and bunk up with the Raiders.  However I doubt very seriously that would ever happen.  Then the Spanos family might have to kick in some money.  That they will never do.  

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @Phillip Franklin @Dean Plassaras Philip, forget what the owner wants or doesn't want. Reality is as follows: the owner stays here regardless. This does not mean you have to offer him any deal. It simply means you have to train him to accept the city's demands as well as getting him used to the way things are. However, wishing the owner away to LA it can't be done. It's the most naive thing to believe that by denying the owner any deal you are driving him to LA. That's not true. SD is stuck with the owner until his replacement is found.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Phillip Franklin  - Only an idiot thinks giving away $12 mil to $15 million in taxpayers funds every year to the Spanos family is "smart".

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    Agree with all but let me add an 11th.  How are the risks apportioned?  These deals are typically 30 year plans. Stuff happens. Things change.  The key is who is at risk for what changes? 

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @Erik Bruvold Stephen Ross ( a fellow with 7 times the Spanos net worth) and owner of the Miami Dolphins has invented the solution already. He is renovating the old SunLife stadium ( a dual purpose stadium like the Q) with $400 Mil. of his own money based on a formula of sharing future events revenue with the city of Miami.The deal is costing zero to the tax payer and it happens to be a formula that all NFL owners need to get used to because quite frankly no US city has $1.5 Bil. to spare for a modern NFL stadium. So, the case of SD boils down to how soon the owner has to abide by this new reality.

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    @Dean Plassaras @Erik Bruvold The Spanos family will never kick in any money on that kind of deal.  They want their contribution to come from naming rights, PSL's and the NFL and at least a billion of tax payer money any which way they can get it.  That has always been their basic demand.  

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Great summary; great questions!

    However, I don't like - or agree with - your simple acceptance of public money being fait accompli. Just because the task force says it, doesn't mean it'll actually happen.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    @michael-leonard  The task force is not going to proclaim that a stadium can be built without public funds and that the private sector can finance the whole thing.  What they have been spending all their time on is what public sources of money can be used to pay for at least half, and more likely, more than half of the total cost. I agree with you that public money won't necessarily be used, but that means there will be no stadium.  It all depends on if you want a stadium.  If you do, public money will be involved, and involved in a big way.

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @David Crossley @michael-leonard David you need to leave the owner's frame of mind at the door.

    The reality is the owner has zero relocation options. Therefore his choices boil down to the following two:

    1. Option 1 - continue to play at the Q until the city decides to maintain it properly.

    2. Option 2 - Use $500 Mil split between the NFL and himself and pay for a private renovation of the Q so that he maintains maximum control of new revenue streams. It happens to be the only option that makes financial/economic sense.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    It might make sense, but you and I both know that's not going to happen.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Of course the task force plan will include public funds; that's why Faulconer created it. And no public money = no stadium, well yeah. I can live with it.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Dean Plassaras @David Crossley  --It's not up to me (or any other voter) yet..  If you know this city, you know this--if the Chargers stay, it will eventually be in a new stadium.  There will not be a remodel of Qualcomm, as the Chargers don't want it, the NFL doesn't want it, and I really don't think the city does either.

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @David Crossley @Dean Plassaras It's not a matter of want. It's a simple matter of who pays for it.

    Forget about the owner. He only has one choice: stay. The rest is a contrived story about what he wants. Who cares what he wants? All we care is what leverage does he have. Answer: zero leverage.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Dean Plassaras @David Crossley  --This is where we disagree and always will.  The Q will not be renovated.  If a new stadium is built, it will be built next to the existing structure.  If not, with the help of the NFL, the Chargers will move--but I still think they could end up in San Antonio.  They can play in the Alamodome until a new stadium is constructed, and San Antonio (allegedly) already has a site picked for a new stadium. 

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    @David Crossley @Dean Plassaras San Antonio it is then, because SD will never deliver a new stadium. It's absurd to believe that the NFL could score in California. CA is out of the NFL's league or perhaps better said the NFL is not in CA's league. It has zero influence in CA cities.