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Chargers Make Unofficial Promises to Barrio Logan, Logan Heights

In a letter obtained by Voice of San Diego, Chargers owner Dean Spanos pledged to labor unions to establish a community land trust for neighborhoods that would most likely see increased property values and gentrification.

It's just a letter for now, with no binding significance. Councilman David Alvarez, who represents the area, did not find it compelling.

The Chargers told local unions they will pump money into efforts to keep land values low and fight gentrification near their new home if they win their bid to build a new $1.8 billion downtown convadium.

In an Aug. 9 letter obtained by Voice of San Diego, Chargers owner Dean Spanos told the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council that the team would help establish a community land trust for Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights and other neighborhoods that would most likely see increased property values that could displace current residents if the stadium was built.

The community land trust would be a nonprofit corporation that could purchase and develop land to benefit the neighborhood’s existing residents. Traditionally, land trusts buy land near new projects so nearby development can’t increase property values and risk pushing working-class families out of the neighborhood.

Carol Kim, director of community engagement at the trade council, says the land trust would be controlled by a newly formed community development corporation, a nonprofit group that reinvests in underserved communities.

She said there have been only informal discussions of who would run the corporation, but the understanding is community members would drive the selection process. The details wouldn’t be decided until after the vote, Kim said, but the Chargers would likely supply the trust with funds that range “in the millions.”

“Moving forward, we’re going to convene groups of stakeholders to really start looking at these things,” she said. “We’ll be saying, ‘Look, should this pass in November, and this becomes a much more real thing for these neighborhoods, what has to happen next? What are the bottom lines for the community?’”

“We would be working with the community hand in hand, and the city and the Chargers, and have those conversations in a responsible way,” she said.

The unofficial gesture – it is not mentioned anywhere in the Chargers’ 119-page master description of their initiative – comes after local residents bristled at their lack of involvement in the Chargers’ plans.

“The community was saying, ‘Why haven’t we been part of the conversation? Why have you not engaged with us?’” said David Alvarez, a City Council member whose district includes Barrio Logan and Sherman Heights. “There’s a lot of skepticism by San Diegans, period.”

Alvarez opposes the initiative, now known as Measure C.

The letter, however, shines more light on what the Chargers might offer if it passes. The Chargers had already been working closely with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella group of construction unions, on a labor agreement for building the joint stadium-convention center annex. That accord, known as a project labor agreement, would require unions to guarantee not to strike and it would require contractors to hire workers through the union halls or pay into union benefit programs.

The team would not be able to unilaterally impose the deal on the city if the convadium is constructed but could certainly advocate for it.

The announcement of that agreement provoked criticism from some contractor groups hostile to labor deals like it and it has helped fuel some Republican Party opposition to the measure.

The separate letter to assuage concerns in Barrio Logan and Logan heights promises programs to help local job-seekers get access to construction jobs on the stadium. It also mentions hiring from local labor pools to staff the stadium and convention center’s day-to-day operations, and making sure workers at Qualcomm Stadium can transfer over to the complex if it goes live. The convadium could be open as soon as 2022.

Murtaza Baxamusa, who works for the trade coalition and teaches at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, said the council would like to mirror what Los Angeles did with the Staples Center complex in 2001. That project was hailed as a national model for city and public cooperation, as activists, community leaders, private developers and government were all given a chair at the development’s table.

“Ordinary residents came with their problems, like ‘I don’t have a good paying job in this area’ or ‘I don’t have a good place to park and I get tickets all the time,’” he said, describing the way those negotiations played out. “They were directly heard by the project developers, not just a few times like the traditional planning process, but in a way that said their problems were now the developers’ problems to solve.”

The Chargers’ meetings with residents’ groups earlier this year didn’t go well. Residents raised concerns ranging from cost-of-living increases to homeless encampments getting pushed further into neighborhoods on the cusp of downtown, Kim said.

But Baxamusa acknowledges the community benefit agreement wouldn’t work “like a magic wand.”

“Some of the city planning processes have already failed the [San Diego] communities we’re talking about, and those communities do not have a voice, whether or not the stadium is built in downtown,” he said.

Barrio Logan, for example, is split by three highways and rests right on the rim of the San Diego Naval Base, giving it one of the starkest air pollution profiles in San Diego. Zoning laws allow housing to be located next door to metal and chemical supply companies.

Kim says people fail to realize that these planning legacies, and housing affordability in downtown neighborhoods, are ongoing issues that the city is better poised to address.

“I have to remind folks a lot of the time that the Chargers’ organization is a business that runs a football team,” she said. “They’re not a nonprofit, not an urban planning group, not a civic group, so to expect them to come in with content expertise and ready-made solutions — it’s not necessarily fair.”

The city has remained tight-lipped about the project. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has yet to take a stance, citing issue with the team’s request to raise the local hotel tax from 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent to fund $350 million of the project. The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on how the city would handle issues in nearby neighborhoods if Measure C passes.

Alvarez says he’s already seen the letter and its rough blueprint of a community plan. His issue is that it’s too little, too late.

“I’m not sure the best way to address these community concerns is after the fact,” he said.

His constituents are skeptical of the project, he said, because the Chargers weren’t forthright with their plans when they first pursued putting a behemoth project in their backyard.

He said he wants to see decisive, legally binding language that will hold the team and the city accountable for mitigating the impacts neighborhoods might face.

“It’s one thing to have requirements that are legal, and it’s another to make promises,” he said. “Whether it’s Sherman Heights or Logan Heights, these neighborhoods have already had their share of promises left unfulfilled.”

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