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Stadium Saga About to Get Expensive with Big City Bet

The City Council is being asked to spend $2.1 million to study the impact of replacing the stadium. It's money that could go to other city planning needs, including updating many of the city's old community plans.

If approved, the move would also essentially take real estate development off the table as a way to help pay for a new stadium.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer – and City Council if it approves his plan Tuesday – will take two major steps in this long-running performance art piece about the future of football in San Diego.

First, they will take real estate development on the Qualcomm Stadium site off the table as a way to help pay for a new stadium. That’s a significant development. And second, they’re about to spend real money — which could be used for any number of city needs — on a questionable environmental study that the Chargers actively oppose.

Let’s get into both of these:

Real estate development will be off the table for stadium finance plan.

The City Council is being asked to approve money for an environmental impact report to replace Qualcomm Stadium with a new stadium on the northeast corner of the current lot.

Building condos, offices, hotels or something alongside the stadium has been a part of every vision to pay for a new stadium in that area for the last 15 years.

Though they’ve soured on it now, the Mission Valley site was attractive to the Chargers in the past because of the land around it. It has long been thought that the city’s land around the stadium could be sold or developed, giving the city a windfall that could pay for the stadium.

A land development deal on the Mission Valley stadium site made up $225 million of the $1.1 billion the mayor’s task force said would be needed to fund a facility.

After Tuesday, though, it won’t be something the city can easily pursue. If the Council decides only to study the environmental impact of a new stadium on the site, and not other development, the city will have to come up with another plan to pay for the stadium.

California law requires people who are building things to study not only the projects they plan to build but also to reasonably foreseeable expansions or additions. If they don’t do this, and they later announce plans for condos or development on the side of the stadium, they will very vulnerable to a lawsuit alleging they piecemealed the environmental study to make sure it was easy to approve.

The mayor’s office doesn’t disagree. It has simply dropped the idea that real estate development around the new stadium will help pay for the new stadium.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s spokesman, Craig Gustafson, told me in an email that the mayor’s task force (otherwise known as the Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group, or CSAG) did recommend ancillary development but it was just that: a recommendation.

“The City/County plan does not rely on ancillary development for a stadium to be financed,” Gustafson wrote. “The plan the City/County team is developing is based on negotiations and discussions with the Chargers and the NFL.”

He would not share details of that plan. Those, for now, are for the NFL’s eyes only.

The mayor’s team will present to the NFL on Aug. 10.

A key part of the show, apparently, is the effort to counter the Chargers’ message that the city simply cannot overcome hurdles posed by California’s environmental laws.

The city, led by Faulconer and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, have insisted that’s not true. And now they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

This dog and pony show is getting expensive.

Goldsmith, months ago, warned an environmental impact review of the stadium site would take well over a year.

That timeframe has changed, the mayor’s office claims, because they have decided to only study replacing the stadium – not any related real estate development, as we just reviewed.

The company set to benefit most from a new stadium this is meant to deliver – the Chargers – is not only not helping with the cost, but is actively opposing the study.

It’s so rushed and vulnerable to litigation, Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani says, the team won’t touch this “misbegotten scheme.”

“The fact that there is vigorous debate would in and of itself say to any private business: Don’t take this enormous risk of being tied up in court for years on the feeble side of a legal case, unless you have no other choice. The Chargers have other choices,” he said in an email.

Thus, even though the Chargers actively oppose it, taxpayers are about to fork over $2.1 million to a firm, Aecom, to study the impact of replacing the stadium.

The mayor’s office says we’re not losing anything spending that money. We got the cash from the state as a reimbursement for state mandates like the Brown Act — a law that ensures public officials do certain business in public — and which cost cities money to carry out. Now that the state is doing better, it’s started to reimburse cities for mandates like that.

The mayor wouldn’t elaborate on what specifically the state was reimbursing us for. Regardless, it’s now general fund money we could use for anything else. We could fund a couple more two-person fire crews. Or, if we wanted to keep the money in planning needs, we could put the money toward updating community plans. Faulconer himself has cited outdated community plans as a cause of the affordable housing crisis in San Diego.

In fact, $2.1 million is more than the consultant costs to update the community plans for Ocean Beach, Grantville, San Ysidro and Midway/Old Town. Those plans will define growth in their neighborhoods for decades. Yet this planning splurge for one limited area around Qualcomm Stadium will do little but set the terms for litigation.

The city is trying to call the Chargers’ bluff in front of the team’s peers.

But to do it, it is forsaking one of the main ideas for funding the stadium, and it’s putting $2.1 million into the betting kitty.

We’re asked to hope it doesn’t lose.

 

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