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Stop Saying the Chargers Stadium Study Didn’t Cost Money

City leaders’ explanation that the $2 million it’s spending on a stadium review came from “new” or “unexpected” money is a red herring. The city could have used it on anything. It decided to spend it on the stadium.

Politicians are fond of telling people that things don’t cost real money when they actually do. San Diego’s most recent example came during last week’s City Council decision to spend $2 million on an environmental review for a possible new Chargers stadium.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Council members sought to blunt any wariness over the price tag for the review – which the team not only doesn’t want, but is actively undermining – by repeating that the $2 million price tag wasn’t a big deal.

“It’s a new revenue source for unrestricted use that was not budgeted for in the FY16 budget,” Faulconer’s spokesman Matt Awbrey told us. “There will be no service-level reductions as a result of using these funds.”

Councilwoman Myrtle Cole repeated the line last week in a KPBS interview, calling the $2 million spent on the stadium study “unanticipated” and emphasizing that it wouldn’t subtract from city services.

That explanation’s a red herring. The $2 million is simply $2 million. The city could have used it on anything it wanted. And it decided to spend it on the stadium.

Faulconer, Cole and others point to the source of the money, a convoluted repayment of cash from the state that city leaders hadn’t expected to get back.

But even if the money is the municipal equivalent of finding a $20 bill in your pocket, city leaders chose to spend it on, to keep the metaphor going, a bunch of lottery tickets instead of dinner.

We hear all the time about how the city doesn’t have enough money to pay for things. Here are a few things that could be funded with $2 million:

Three new two-person fire crews, which are reducing response times in needy neighborhoods

Four additional hours a week at every branch library in the city for a year

Three additional hours a week at every recreation center in the city for a year

A new neighborhood development blueprint, known as a community plan update

Multiple public restrooms in neighborhoods with large homeless populations

I could keep going. But the point is this: Things cost money. And when you buy one thing, it means you can’t buy something else. Remember this when city leaders try to pretend otherwise.

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