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In his State of the City Speech, the mayor said he was putting a Convention Center plan on the ballot. If he aims for the June ballot and wins, it would kill a downtown stadium idea the Chargers have floated before. If he does not, the mayor will likely have to wait until 2018 to follow through on the pledge made just a couple weeks ago.
The Chargers have decided not to move to Los Angeles this year. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said repeatedly he is open to any option the Chargers may want to pursue to build a stadium and stay in San Diego.
But that might not be true for much longer.
The mayor also wants to expand the Convention Center on its current footprint, and a new deadline to do that is fast approaching. If he and the City Council push it forward, it would close off a downtown option the Chargers previously floated and that some fans and boosters say is still the team’s preferred plan.
In his recent State of the City speech, Faulconer made a bold pledge about pursuing a Convention Center expansion along the waterfront that slipped under the radar a bit.
“And we will put a legally defensible plan on the ballot to finance this project,” he said.
This sentence is packed with significance. It means either he is going to follow through on his idea to seek approval from two-thirds of voters for a hotel-room tax hike to expand the Convention Center along the waterfront or that some other unknown financing plan will emerge. Courts threw out a previous attempt to do that because the city tried to raise the hotel-room tax without a vote of the people.
Either way, it will go to the ballot. And that plan is a direct affront to the plan the Chargers once advocated to build a separate annex to the Convention Center and link it to a new stadium — one subsidizing the other.
If the mayor wants to get a plan on the June ballot, the City Council will have to agree to put it there by March 10 — with preparations beginning several weeks earlier.
That means now.
Crucially, the mayor stopped short of saying that he was committed to getting the Convention Center measure on the June or November ballot — or even later. His spokesman, Craig Gustafson gave me this comment:
“There are many factors involved with deciding when to place an item on the ballot, one of which is other items that may appear on the same ballot. Expanding the convention center is a major priority, and we will bring it forward for a vote when we believe it has the best chance of being approved by the electorate,” Gustafson said.
It is highly unlikely, however, city officials would choose the November ballot because of a competing measure sponsored by attorney Cory Briggs with financial support from JMI Realty and John Moores. That measure also seeks to raise the hotel-room tax and provide an alternative route to financing a Convention Center expansion. But it would prohibit constructing the expansion along the waterfront and encourage it at a separate site, which could support a stadium as well.
Supporters of that plan have until May to collect the required signatures and say they’re confident it will qualify for the November ballot.
Thus, if the mayor misses the upcoming June deadline and avoids November 2016, his pledge to get his preferred expansion on the ballot would likely have to wait until 2018.
In other words, the mayor has a huge decision to make right now.
If the Chargers indicate they want to pursue a downtown stadium like the one they’ve sought in the past, the mayor will have to scrap this barely month-old pledge to put a contiguous Convention Center expansion on the ballot — or at least put it on hiatus indefinitely.
The Chargers’ special counsel and spokesman, Mark Fabiani, declined to comment.