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The Road to a Stadium Vote in December Is Pretty Sketchy

The mayor and co. made a bold move in announcing they could, if the Chargers wanted, call a special election on the stadium issue for Dec. 15. But let's be clear: They don't want to have a vote in December. They merely said they could do it.

County supervisors are noncommittal about forfeiting county voters' right to weigh in on stadium financing. Environmental and land questions loom.

The Gang of Three – the mayor, city attorney and County Supervisor Ron Roberts – had precisely one audience in mind for their announcement that they could, if they had to, put together a special election for December: the NFL.

Several weeks ago, I did an analysis concluding that the Chargers were committed to winning a spot in Los Angeles. If the NFL was going to let one or two teams go to L.A., the Chargers wanted to be one of them.

Thus the message from the team and NFL has been that San Diego can’t get anything done in time to change that. Recall that the NFL’s vice president, Eric Grubman, told the mayor’s task force that they were too slow for a couple reasons: Their vision would have to wait for a vote, and it would have to go through too many approvals for nearby condo development needed to finance the thing.

This is the storyline that Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Roberts sought to disrupt Monday.

We absolutely can have a vote in time, they said.

They proclaimed that they could, if the Chargers wanted, call a special election in the city for Dec. 15. The county, they said, would forfeit its commitment to holding a vote of the countywide electorate.

The purpose was clear: to force the NFL to hesitate. After all, how could the league’s owners make any decision about the Chargers moving to Los Angeles if San Diego is going to move mountains to have a vote? And how could it let the Chargers move in January after that vote if it has a positive result?

It was a bold move by the mayor and his pals. But let’s be clear: They don’t want to have a vote in December. They aren’t “aiming for” a vote in December.

They merely said they could do it. That’s all they would say. And they did that just to rebut the Chargers’ point that they can’t.

For the first time in a long time, they put the Chargers’ Mark Fabiani on his heels. Now he’s grappling with their contention and poking holes in it.

If the Gang of Three is to prevail, they’ll want to prove they can do what they say they can do. Because there are holes.

First among them is the environmental review. It was the city attorney himself who, a few months ago, raised the problem of timeline and environmental review. The city could not, he wrote, commit to a site for a stadium without studying alternatives.

The California Environmental Quality Act would require the city to analyze all kinds of other possibilities for the facility, disclose the environmental effects of the preferred site and explain why it is preferable in spite of them.

At the time, the city attorney said this would take a year or more. How are they planning to comply so quickly?

The city could have decided that a new stadium does not need an environmental review. The land is zoned for a stadium, so just build a new one.

Or maybe they think the California Legislature will give them an exemption. After all, the speaker of the Assembly is a loyal San Diegan and has committed to helping a stadium go through.

We don’t give companies that hire lots of people exemptions from environmental laws but for football, tell those tree huggers to get out of the way.

When we asked the city’s hired negotiator what they would do, Christopher Melvin of law firm Nixon Peabody, said, “That’s something that the attorneys will be discussing in terms of complying with environmental law and that’s an important part of the discussion.”

Uh, OK, thanks.

Unfortunately, the city attorney is also refusing to answer questions about how this could get done so fast.

Then the question is about what the vote will be on – how detailed will the city be able to get on a deal thrown together by September? One of the options the city attorney might choose is that the ballot language be so vague that it won’t trigger environmental review concerns.

If that’s the case, then how much of the plan’s finances could the city outline? Most visions of a new stadium in Mission Valley include related land sales or development to fund it. If the ballot language asks voters to sign off on those land sales or development, then it will likely provoke the need to – yep – study the environmental impact of those decisions.

Are they going to put 75 acres of land up for sale in Mission Valley? How will they know they can raise enough money for the stadium from that? What happens if they don’t? If they do, why wouldn’t that money go to the city’s water department?

And then there’s the county. The plan announced Monday would have residents of the city, not the county, voting on whatever plan comes up. Ironically, though, the county is the one that currently requires a vote if it is to participate in helping fund a stadium.

Thus, the Board of Supervisors would have to vote to change that rule. Obviously Roberts is one of the three votes needed. We called Supervisor Greg Cox to see where he stood:

“I cannot comment yet on a countywide vote until I know what recommendations will be coming to the Board of Supervisors regarding the County’s participation in any deal to keep the Chargers in town,” he said in a written statement.

The other Roberts, Dave Roberts, was not on board. Spokesman Adam Kaye sent back this statement: “Supervisor Dave Roberts has gone on record in the past that he would not support using County funds for a stadium without a county-wide vote.”

The other supervisors were noncommittal.

So this will also have to be settled, ostensibly, before the City Council approves a vote September.

There’s always the possibility the December vote would be extremely vague – something like “Do you support the construction of a new stadium in San Diego with $600 million in public funds?”

That, however, would contradict Faulconer’s commitment that voters get to approve a fully fleshed deal.

“I’m very confident that when we sit down, we can put together a plan and a package that I think does make sense. And I think voters should and will have the final say,” he said on NPR.

The Gang of Three is telling us that all these questions can be answered. They just don’t want to prove it right now.

Except that proving it — at least to the NFL — is the whole point.

Maya Srikrishnan contributed to this report.

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