Right after Councilmen David Alvarez and Todd Gloria sent a memo Monday insisting to the mayor that his Citizens Stadium Advisory Group actually offer some kind of a way for citizens to provide input, Jan Goldsmith, the city attorney, sent out a press release of his own.

Scott Lewis on Politics LogoGoldsmith explained that it was perfectly fine for the group to meet in secret and not be required to disclose any of its financial interests. It was just offering advice to the mayor and had no actual city role. Just some of the mayor’s buds.

Let the man talk to his buds, am I right?

But then Goldsmith inadvertently offered another reason the mayor should have made his citizens group open to the citizens.

“Because this group is not a City entity,” Goldsmith wrote, “our office is not authorized under the City Charter section 40 to provide legal advice … to the group or any of its members.”

Got that? This group is supposed to figure out the best proposal for a $1 billion public-private partnership between the Chargers and the city and it is not allowed to get advice from the city’s lawyers.

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

I guess that might give it a better chance of actually getting a good deal done, am I right?

I kid.

This is the problem with the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group not actually being official. It means it technically cannot have any more access to city resources or information than you and I have.

And that’s too bad. In 2004, I sat through many hours of testimony and discussion at the city of San Diego’s Pension Reform Committee.

The experience was invaluable, if boring at times.

One by one, experts testified — methodically explaining what caused the city to give employees such great pension benefits and what had led it to not set aside the funds to pay for them.

The question the committee had was simple: Why is the city going to have to pay so much to a pension fund that used to be so much easier to maintain and what should we do about it?

Some of their answers turned into city laws.

It was productive. I referred to its documents, to its testimony and its reports hundreds of times. The city had a shared, accepted set of facts.

Later, another group, the Mayor’s Citizen Task Force on the San Diego Convention Center Project, hashed out the need for a new Convention Center expansion. It, too, met in public. The experts it brought in, the documents it produced were also beneficial. Crucially, records from both those groups are still available. Advocates for the Convention Center expansion still refer to them.

I didn’t agree with the panel’s conclusion necessarily. But it was a valuable experience.

It was when they took that issue to the back room and hashed out a potential financing scheme that it went off the rails. A small group, working in private, put together a plan to pay for it. The City Council signed off and, oh shoot, it all turned out to be illegal.

You need lawyers. The pension group benefited immensely from a city attorney sitting there the whole time, helping it manage the maze of rules. Its proposed laws passed.

Presumably, this new stadium group, which includes some serious brains, needs so many months to work — it’s not supposed to produce a report until fall — because it too will request analysis and testimony. Like the Pension Reform Committee, it will probably gather mountains of material. That’s information we probably could all use to help us evaluate a potential investment in a new stadium.

And yet, it will not be public. And none of that analysis will come from the city.

When we revealed this Friday, a gaggle of lobbyists, flacks and even other journalists wondered what the big deal was.

Of course the public will be able to provide input on a stadium financing plan, they said. It’s called the ballot, dude.

OK. But if I show up at home with mortgage docs and tell my wife to either sign them so we can buy a house or not, I can’t meaningfully say she had any input on the deal. Now the mayor is trying to reassure us that this is just Part One. Part Two will be the grand public process.

Why wait another seven months for that?

If you really want a deal to get done, this seems like a miscalculation. The group the mayor has impaneled is comprised of very intelligent people. Why not give them the benefits of official status? They should be able to call an attorney. They should be able to summon city employees who can offer insights.

Sure, they might have to deal with people like me watching them. They might have to listen to members of the public.

What, is that too hard? Will that take too long? If you’re pledging to do it eventually, all the more reason to start now.

There is a giant gulf between what the public wants (a new stadium!) and what they want to sacrifice (nothing!).

If that gap is to be bridged — and that’s a big if — the mayor and his buds will need to weave a new story.

Instead of starting that process, though, he’s locking it in a back room to ferment.

We’re left to hope that whatever brew emerges is something we can swallow.

    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Government, Must Reads, News, Politics, Quest, Scott Lewis on Politics, Share

    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 scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    Craig Carter
    Craig Carter subscriber

    The name says it all. The home ground of Manchester United, Old Trafford is one of the oldest and most fabled sports arenas in the world. Many famous players and key events in English and world football have graced its pitch. Built in 1910, it has become one of the most advanced and appealing stadiums in the world.

    Last time I was in the Q it was a fine venue to sit for 4 hours! Bathrooms could use some work but far better than porta potties used at Torrey Pines this weekend!

    The oldest continuously operating sports arena in the world is also one of the largest, with a capacity of over 100,000. Built in 1854, it has grown into an enormous spectacle, hosting events for one of the fasting growing sports in the world. It also boasts the world record for the highest light towers in a sports arena.

    The Superdome and Silverdome was both built in the 70's so why is one still hosting Super Bowls?

    The thing is it's just not the Cowboys' owners state-of-the-art AT&T Stadium that is stealing the Superdome's thunder. Newer stadiums, with all the bells and whistles, are competing for sporting events New Orleans used to have little competition for.

    So even with a new stadium your pot of gold will be far fetched to say the least! Good Luck.

    Mike subscriber

    Backroom deal to build a new convention center without voter input.

    Police camera footage blocked from public view.

    Closed door stadium discussions.

    Why would anyone ever be skeptical about the government?

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    I may be naive, (correction, I usually am) but I'm not too worried about the private meetings.  I would think that between and now and the fall there will be so many rumors about what the panel is discussing and public comment will necessarily follow.  Also Voice of SD and other news outlets will hopefully be able to get leaks from panel members.  It may be intended to be a secret process to allow for the free flow of ideas, but sooner or later, someone will talk and the matter will be out in the open. I do think the Chargers current "proposal", really isn't, but is instead their "final offer".

    Echo5Juliet subscribermember

    A project of this scale should be public and open. When locations were being sought for what eventually became Petco Park there were accusations of insider real estate speculation, gifts, etc. Some of which forced then councilwoman Stallings to resign. There is far more on the table than just the public funds spent on a stadium. Any place that is proposed will become very valuable real estate for the stadium location as well as the bevy of businesses that want to be located nearby. If there is any process that should have lots of bleach and sunlight from the onset, this is one of them.

    Personally I don't see a stadium making past the ballot box, that is unless Spanos fields a high cost dream team in 2015 for the sole intent of a SB run to ignite voter emotions. 

    Much of this Stadium Advisory Group may just be kabuki theater to deflect the blame of the Chargers departure to L.A. away from the Mayor and City Hall.

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Echo5Juliet There's a hard salary cap in the NFL so Dean wont be fielding a dream team.  There is also a salary floor, which is 89% of the cap.  Spanos spends up near the cap but he and his player personnel team aren't smart enough to build a super bowl contender.

    We don't have to worry about the "pump and dump" scenario.

    NFL CBA "In each period, teams are required to spend up to 89% of the salary cap with a guaranteed league-wide spending amount reaching 95%. The consequences for non-compliance? The league/clubs must pay the difference to the players."

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Unlike you, I didn’t sit through endless meetings of the Pension Reform Committee, which was undoubtedly attended almost entirely by people who knew something about the very arcane subject of public pensions.  However,  I have sat in a lot of council meetings during “Public Comment”, and most of the comments are by uninformed kooks just wanting an audience for their latest gripe.  You decide which setting would be more like this one.

    I was encouraged to read that both David Alvarez, the mayor’s opponent in the last election, and Todd Gloria, his likely opponent in the next one, are venting their spleens about the process.  Not “inclusive”, not “diverse enough”, yatta, yatta.  This tells me Faulconer is on to something.  He has probably concluded that the voters have by and large already made up their minds on the Chargers, and it will be a a simple matter of how much “public investment” is involved and where the stadium, if built, will be located as to how they vote.  Opportunity to vent on the topic will change few minds.

    And remember, it will be impossible to present something to the public that the Chargers don’t endorse, so there’s a lot of work to be done before a public vote.  No way will the vote be conducted in anticipation of a favorable Chargers’ position afterward.

    My personal opinion is that the Chargers‘ organization is terminally inept, living in a dream world that may have existed twenty years ago when politicians would quake at the prospect of being forever labeled as the guy who lost the team, and would agree to anything to keep the team happy.  That’s not happening here, simply because Faulconer knows the public is unlikely to buy pie in the sky and may well reject any proposal the team supports.  I think he’s simply fulfilling what he considers his obligation to give it a try.  The one thing I would dearly love to see is for the mayor to lay down a marker with the county that any public subsidy must be at least matched 50/50 by county residents, just to see the Board of Supervisors' reaction.

    I really don’t see how public participation at this point is productive. 

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw I agree, this is just a big show and I'd bet Dean has already negotiated a spot in Stan Kroenke's Inglewood stadium.

    You don't choose the most impossible unwanted "convadium" plan if you are seriously looking for a solution in San Diego.  That's a CYA move by Spanos if there ever was one,  "we really tried and we wanted to stay in San Diego but..."

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw  Dean has been riding coattails his entire life, hopping on Kroenke's project would just be another example of Dean doing what he does best.

    Rachel Laing
    Rachel Laing subscribermember

    Regarding the stance I took in the Twitter conversation linked to here ... To be very clear, I don't see the process rolling out as you do. If, in fact, the plan were for the mayor to take the product of the CSAG and put it directly onto the ballot, I would favor the whole thing be done in publicly noticed meetings. However, that isn't the process. 

    My understanding is that this group is going to huddle and come up with recommendations, based on what they collectively know about finance, real estate, sports facility transactions and working with NFL teams, and they're going to use that knowledge to come up with a list of recommendations for the mayor. The mayor will then use these recommendations as he sees fit to draw up a proposal, which he will discuss with the Chargers and present to the public (not necessarily in that order). At the point of presentation of a proposal, any San Diegan will be able to learn about it and comment on it through the myriad forums now available to anyone with a computer or phone. Perhaps the mayor will even hold public meetings to obtain feedback on the proposal from the public.

    Then, a ballot measure for the funding will have to go to the voters, which means it will go to the City Council, which will be able to avail itself of the knowledge of the Independent Budget Analyst and the City Attorney as they prepare for a hearing. During that preparation, they will probably get many phone calls and emails from the public weighing in with their thoughts. The ballot measure might also go through the committee process. Finally, there will be a hearing that San Diegans can attend and make their thoughts known.

    In short, I believe the benefits of candor during the meetings of the mayor's team of technical advisors are great, and in no way will the public be denied ample opportunity to learn about and provide input on what ultimately goes on the ballot, if anything does. 

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    To me this is immaterial. Ultimately, whatever they come up will become very public and succeed or fail on its merits. When you consider the fact that there has been so much inertia on this issue for so long, it would be nice to have an ultimate, proposed solution, no matter where from. Then we can review it, comment, vote, and get it over with.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Chris Brewster  --And if the task force does finish their "work" by this fall, it would give the electorate roughly one year to discuss the proposal.  That should be plenty long enough.

    bgetzel subscriber

    I believe that the Brown Act (a.k.a. "Open Meetings Law") allows for an official body of the city (which, right, now, the Stadium Advisory Committee" is not) to meet in closed session if it is either discussing personnel decisions or real estate negotiations. Given that, why can't the Committee be designated an official city body, hold closed sessions and get City Attorney input? 

    Secondly, the stadium matter is a real estate negotiation. When a group meets on such matters it is reasonable to assume that delicate discussions will ensue regarding the positions and personalities of the protagonists. Without addressing the human element associated with the matter, the Committee could not be effective. But who on the Committee would want to make statements about Dean Spanos, Mark Fabiani, the Mayor, etc. in public?You cannot have a broad,  honest discussion in public. That said, the public should be allowed in prior to the final formulation of the Committee's proposal. Using Scott Lewis's example, like the husband showing the wife the narrowed down housing choices, prior to making an offer on the house and signing the loan docs.

    Jan Goldsmith
    Jan Goldsmith subscribermember


    I did not say it was "perfectly fine". I said it was perfectly legal. The difference is the reason you and I have not been able to communicate for 6 years.

    My best,

    Jan Goldsmith

    Geoff Page
    Geoff Page subscribermember

    @Jan Goldsmith Is there a transcript of this conversation?  Or are we to decide who is the most credible?  You definitely would not win that test. 

    Frohman subscriber

    @Jan Goldsmith 

    “Because this group is not a City entity,” Goldsmith wrote, “our office is not authorized under the City Charter section 40 to provide legal advice … to the group or any of its members.”

    Got that? This group is supposed to figure out the best proposal for a $1 billion public-private partnership between the Chargers and the city and it is not allowed to get advice from the city’s lawyers."

    Seems to me that the City Attorney and Scott Lewis are advocating for the same thing...transparency and accountability. 

    David Benz
    David Benz subscriber

    Why isn't there an option to change the color of the text on VOSD?  Afraid Jan might try to throw us all in jail?

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    The value of transparency cannot be overstated.

    The lack of it certainly doesn't help the citys credibility problem

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    If you have real proof the public wants a new stadium, please print it.I’m talking real proof, not those bogus polls taken by the UT among their readers.