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Things seemed to be falling into a place for a downtown convadium. Then the Chargers released their funding plan, and local politicos didn't have a kind word to say about it.
This story has been updated.
The Chargers’ plan to finance a convadium took a beating from San Diego politicos on Wednesday.
In the hours after the team announced its rushed scheme to push a hotel-room tax hike to help bankroll a $1.8 billion convadium, city leaders and aspiring ones almost universally panned it or avoided publicly supporting it.
The 110-page plan details how the tax increase will cover over $1 billion in public costs for the project: $350 million for the football stadium, $600 million for the convention center and $200 million to acquire the land.
The Chargers and NFL would cover $650 million of the stadium costs, $350 million from the Chargers and another $300 million from the NFL.
We asked each of the city’s elected leaders and major candidates for their take on the team’s proposal. Not a single one was ready to back the Chargers’ initiative.
They really don’t seem to like it. At all.
Things had been steadily moving in the Chargers favor. MTS is ready to negotiate over relocating the bus yard that’s where the stadium is going to go. A court ruling made it possible the initiative will need just a bare majority voter approval. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce warmed to the convadium concept.
But the reaction from the city’s political class was swift and unequivocal.
There are some recurring concerns.
This city’s got lots of other needs, those politicians said, and the Chargers are just one constituent hoping for city help – and they’re looking for lots of it.
Then there were the concerns about the Chargers’ proposal to push the hotel tax from 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent, a spike several worried could make San Diego less competitive on the convention and tourism scene.
The so-called Citizen’s Plan, authored by environmental attorney Cory Briggs, got lots of mentions, too. A handful of politicos told us that arrangement – which also relies on a hotel tax hike – could help with other things on the city’s wish list. For example, those crumbling streets and sidewalks.
Multiple folks also said they’d need more time to look over the plan before declaring themselves supporters or foes. It is, after all, 110 pages long.
City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who now represents the district that includes La Jolla and University City, was one of them.
“I look forward to reading it when I receive a copy,” she said.
Lightner’s husband, who’s now vying for his wife’s seat, was ready to chat.
“As for the latest Charger convadium plan’s price tag of $350 million in “tourist” tax dollars, past performance suggests that this is just a “down payment” that will fund yet another joint power authority bureaucracy that will continue to suck money from the City’s General Fund for decades to come,” Bruce Lightner wrote in an email. “Emergency tax increase anyone!?”
(Bruce, kindly share your copy with the City Council president.)
Here’s a roundup of the politicos’ comments that made it in by our deadline:
Mayor Kevin Faulconer: “After more than a decade, the Chargers are putting forward a plan of their own and San Diegans may finally have the ultimate say on a new stadium in November. The convention center element makes this proposal more than a stadium and the long-term future of San Diego’s tourism economy is now intertwined in this plan. As always, my top priorities are to protect jobs, protect taxpayers and do what’s right for all San Diegans. I will evaluate the proposal’s details through that lens.”
Mayoral candidate Ed Harris: “The Chargers propose spending over $90 million per year of our tax money to subsidize a stadium, and the mayor’s only comment is ‘Get back to me later on this, but my top priority is protecting taxpayers?’ Faulconer’s original stadium plan was a $350 million taxpayer giveaway. But now he says he wants to protect taxpayers? Where’s Kevin? Once again, the mayor is leading from behind.”
Mayoral candidate Lori Saldaña: “Lori Saldaña is supporting The Citizens Plan and opposed to public funds for building a stadium for a private company that may leave at any time,” spokesman Michael Kreizenbeck said.
City Attorney candidate Gil Cabrera: “I am going to be carefully reviewing the distinction between where public money goes v. private money and make sure the taxpayers are adequately protected as well as language related to cost overruns and operating/maintenance costs going forward. I can see disagreements over what portion of the construction constitutes “Convention Center Expansion/Stadium Integration” which is what public money would go to — again, I am still reviewing the initiative language to see how well defined these issues are.”
City Attorney candidate Rafael Castellanos: “I am glad the Chargers have now stepped forward and offered their version of a downtown stadium project. However we still don’t know what the stadium would look like and, in light of the recent Court of Appeal decision in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland, how many votes it will take for the project to be approved in November. (…)Until we have more information it would not be prudent to comment further.”
Cit Attorney candidate Mara Elliott: “It’s the City Attorney’s job to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure the city’s money is spent wisely. I’m not at all convinced that spending millions on a stadium is wise. Given the urgent unmet needs in our communities, I am skeptical that a sports stadium should be first in line for city resources. I also have deep concerns that taxpayers are not adequately protected under the Chargers plan and will end up footing a bigger bill than advertised.”
City Attorney candidate Robert Hickey: “This is a serious issue, and I’m going to read the full 110 pages before commenting.”
City Attorney candidate Bryan Pease: “I’m generally opposed to any taxpayer funding for a new stadium. However, if a county bond that would be repaid can be used in a way that benefits the taxpayers, I would recommend that option to the client (the city). Ultimately it would be up to the mayor and the council.”
City Council President Sherri Lightner: “I look forward to reading it when I receive a copy.”
District 1 City Council candidate Barbara Bry: “I oppose using public funds to build a stadium for the Chargers. I previously opposed the Mayor’s $2.1 million expenditure of our tax dollars for a useless stadium EIR. These funds should have gone directly to our neighborhoods for repairing our potholes and other neighborhood infrastructure projects, reducing our traffic, protecting our oceans and beaches and improving public safety services.”
District 1 City Council candidate Ray Ellis: “We must put the priorities of our 1.4 million residents ahead of the interests of billionaires seeking taxpayer subsidies. I do not support using public money for a Chargers stadium, especially while our City struggles to maintain our roads and staff our police department.”
District 1 City Council candidate Bruce Lightner: “I am not against public-private partnerships, but such associations only make sense if the public nets real benefits from their investment – benefits in terms of well-paying jobs, economic growth, quality of life and/or essential infrastructure. A long-term investment of our dwindling real and potential tax revenues in a high-tech sports stadium is like taking out a 30-year mortgage to buy a motorhome.”
City Councilman Todd Gloria: “After briefly reviewing the document, I have many questions about how this plan will impact the City and its residents. Like every taxpayer, I look forward to hearing from the team’s owner how the details of this deal advance the public’s interests. Ultimately, professional football is a private business and voters should consider the Chargers’ stadium plan accordingly.”
District 3 City Council candidate Anthony Bernal: “I commend the Chargers and Spanos family for developing a formal proposal. However it’s not in the best interest of the vast majority of San Diegans or neighborhoods. If they collect the amount of signatures required to place it on the November ballot, I’d vote “no” on this Citizen Initiative.”
District 3 City Council candidate Chris Ward: “I think it continues to be a bad deal for taxpayers. The idea that we are going to be tapping into additional (transient occupancy taxes) is trying to tap into new sources of public financing.”
Councilman Mark Kersey: Through a spokeswoman, Kersey said he’d like to “do a more thorough analysis of the plan” before commenting.
District 5 City Council candidate Frank Tsimboukakis: “I don’t know how many people notice but the cost of that Charger stadium has ballooned from $1.1 billion to $1.8 billlion. I oppose it for that and many reasons.”
Councilman Chris Cate: “Counting on a significant tax increase to fund the construction of this plan, while also reducing marketing and promotional investments, will affect our ability to compete with other markets for tourists and conventions. Realistically, as the third largest source of revenue for our City, any potential negative impact to this funding source, no matter how minimal, could impact our ability to pay for police services or pave our streets.”
Councilman Scott Sherman: “Once again, it appears the Chargers have chosen the path of most resistance. At first glance, I am not encouraged.”
District 7 City Council candidate Justin DeCesare: “I support the original “Citizen’s Plan” as released by Donna Frye and others because the money that would be raised by an increase in the transient occupancy tax would go towards the dire infrastructure crisis we are facing in San Diego. Our tax dollars don’t need to be spent on a new stadium downtown, or in a veiled attempt to bring in more residential development in Mission Valley.”
Councilman David Alvarez: “A financing plan written by Goldman Sachs will not put the public first. It will put Goldman Sachs first. (…) I urge San Diego’s Mayor, hotel industry, and voters to approach the Goldman Sachs Plan with great caution, and support the Citizens Plan instead.”
Councilwoman Marti Emerald: “I would prefer voters support our firehouse bond. That needs two-thirds voter support, too.”
District 9 City Council candidate Ricardo Flores: “I would love a new stadium but Spanos needs to pay for it.”
District 9 City Council candidate Georgette Gomez: “I oppose the Chargers downtown stadium plan which would dedicate millions of taxpayer dollars for a stadium while urgent neighborhood needs go unmet. Raising taxes to fund a billion dollar stadium is nothing short of a taxpayer rip-off, and I reiterate my pledge: #NotOneDime of our tax dollars for a stadium. The lack of environmental compliance in the plan is also very troublesome and unacceptable.”
District 9 City Council candidate Sara Saez: “As a candidate knocking on doors in the community, there is overwhelming consensus that absolutely no public money should be used on a NFL stadium. I’m on the side of our residents. There are too many critical needs in District 9 and throughout the City that funding should be going toward.”
Clarification: A previous version of this story referred to the cost of a $1.8 billion stadium before describing the specific costs of each part of the project. The entire project, including both a stadium and a convention center facility, is anticipated to cost $1.8 billion; the stadium alone is expected to cost $1 billion, the convention center portion is expected to cost $600 million and land for the joint facility would cost $200 million.