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How to Know Right Away if the Chargers Negotiations Are Real

The city attorney dropped something so hot on the Chargers and mayor he won't let us see it. And the mayor's allies are trying to prove the Chargers do not have logical, good-faith expectations but we can meet them anyway.

In late April, right after an NFL executive came to San Diego and warned the mayor’s stadium task force that it was headed in the wrong direction, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith sent an email to the mayor, the mayor’s chief of staff and the Chargers’ Mark Fabiani.

Fabiani responded to the email, as did Stephen Puetz, the mayor’s chief of staff.

Stadium Nuts and Bolts logoWhatever Goldsmith wrote — or whatever was said in response to him — is apparently so toxic and disruptive to the mayor’s strategy in dealing with the Chargers that the city is taking extraordinary measures to keep it confidential.

The documents are public records. Goldsmith said he’ll release them — just not now. He has personally handled official correspondence with me and our attorney denying the request for the documents. Usually that is someone else’s job. He has not cited any of the many exemptions in the public records law except a “catch-all” that essentially, he says, gives him the power to withhold public documents if he thinks their exposure will do too much damage to the city.

“Given the complicated circumstances surrounding the stadium issue, including competing sites in Los Angeles, the NFL’s involvement and the desire to facilitate business-like negotiations, the Mayor’s office and our office believe that the type of communications involved in your request should remain confidential at this point,” Goldsmith wrote to me May 6.

In our exchange, Goldsmith has made it clear that the information in his email would potentially derail the hopes of keeping the Chargers in San Diego if it were made public.

This is bizarre for many reasons — not the least of which is that the Chargers were included in the exchange. Thus, the mayor and city attorney are not worried about the Chargers seeing something they are discussing.

They’re worried about the public seeing it.

Negotiations should be private. But these weren’t negotiations. The mayor said several times negotiations would not begin until after the task force report came out and they had their experts in place.

The first session of negotiations are set for Tuesday, June 2. Representatives of the county will join Goldsmith, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and an array of consultants. On the other side of the table, though, there’s no indication Chargers owner Dean Spanos will have anyone else with him but longtime advocate Fabiani.

Fabiani would only tell me that the team has a range of experts who were able to help them get permits for their Carson plans.

“And we are prepared to devote them, as necessary and appropriate, to the process in San Diego as we move forward,” he wrote in an email.

Chargers fans can’t look at all this very optimistically.

We haven’t seen anything from the Chargers that demonstrates they support the framework for negotiations set up by the mayor’s task force. They have no problems indicating support for a plan in Carson.

You might say they’re just generating leverage and don’t have any realistic option in the Los Angeles area. This is the contention of Erik Bruvold, president of the National University System Institute for Policy Research.

But what could they be pushing so hard for? They can still negotiate hard without completely dismissing the mayor’s idea. The team can’t realistically think taxpayers would go for a much larger public investment than what’s outlined in the task force report. Even that level is offensive to many folks who are worried about major issues in the city and its infrastructure. Not long until people wonder what else we could buy with $225 million from selling a parking lot in Mission Valley.

Only 45 percent of respondents to a U-T/10News poll said they thought it was very important for the team to stay in San Diego. More respondents opposed the financing part of the task force’s plan than supported it (a healthy group were honest enough to admit they didn’t know it well enough to say).

Still, the city could pull off a deal like this if boosters had time and funding for a good strategy and a movement. Unfortunately for those boosters who stand ready to help, the Chargers would have to be part of them. The team would probably, in fact, have to pay for movement itself. They’d have to want it.

Can someone show me anything that indicates they do?

On the mayor’s side, there are two separate public relations campaigns going on. One is an energetic effort to prove that he has been on the ball with this and if the team leaves, it’s not because he did not have an option for them that the NFL supports.

The other effort is to prove the Chargers have not been sincere about this and they are not participating in good faith. Tony Manolatos, the spokesman of the mayor’s task force, has made this point.

It was also the take I got from Ryan Clumpner, executive director of the Lincoln Club of San Diego, the conservative political action committee that helped elect the mayor.

I asked Clumpner whether he thought the team was trying to stay.

“Every action they’ve taken, in my mind, has looked like they want to leave,” he said.

On the effort to prove the mayor’s plan is viable and could be pulled off swiftly is Adam Day, the task force chairman.

He has not let up. Day and Manolatos sent us a letter this week taking issue with my observation that the sale of city land in Mission Valley would have to be contingent on a zoning change. That was in the letter the task force cited justifying its valuation of the land.

But in the letter, that’s not an issue.

“San Diego State University could buy this land, un-entitled. The university is two trolley stops away and is interested in acquiring nearby land needed to grow beyond its land-locked campus,” Manolatos wrote.

OK, but selling $225 million of land to the state university is also not something you do very quickly.

This is where the mayor’s two messages collide. You can’t both prove that the Chargers are setting an impossible deadline for the city to meet AND that the city can meet the deadline.

You should probably just go with the message that they’re setting an impossible deadline.

Spanos is worried about Los Angeles. It doesn’t look like he wants to let it slip away without a fight.

Perhaps the Chargers will throw our high-priced consultants a bone. They might say, look, Los Angeles has not worked out for many years. What’s one more year? Maybe the other owners will put Los Angeles on the backburner once again.

It would be a pat on our collective head and a soft encouragement to keep trying to make them happy.

Fortunately, I think we’ll know a lot this coming week.

The mayor’s representatives could emerge from the negotiation and say one thing unequivocally: “The Chargers engaged in the framework we’ve discussed about a new stadium in Mission Valley.”

That’s not giving anything away. It would be easy to say if it were true. And it would change everything. If they said that, I think we might be heading toward a big campaign for a stadium.

If they can’t even say that, I think we have all the proof we need that the team’s message to San Diego’s pricey negotiators was a simple one: Sorry guys, we’re just not into this.

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