Blaming Fabiani for the Chargers Mess Misses the Point

Chargers Stadium

Fabiani Is Right, a Stadium Would Be Hard to Build Here

At the forum this week, Councilman Scott Sherman said that in 14 years of the Chargers working on getting something done, there’s been only one constant in the failure: Mark Fabiani. Thus, Fabiani must be to blame for what’s happening. There has been, of course, another constant: Dean Spanos.

The other day, San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman was on the Mighty 1090 sports radio. The host asked him to give San Diego fans some hope the Chargers will stay.

“I really think at the end of the day, the NFL is going to say, ‘You know what? San Diego is a good market. They have good loyal fans. They have a committed leadership in place with a plan that is ready to go,'” Sherman said.

Sherman was describing Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s vision. Faulconer believes the offer he’s circulating to NFL team owners will convince them they should spurn their brother, Dean Spanos, owner of the Chargers, and send him home, hat in hand, to work with the city of San Diego.

Sherman said there was just one problem: Mark Fabiani, special counsel to Spanos and the Chargers.

“The only thing that’s getting in the way of this whole thing is Mr. Fabiani. If they were to get rid of him, and come back to the table, I think we could get a deal that would work out very well for everybody,” he said.

He reiterated something similar, to big applause, at the forum the NFL held Wednesday night at the Spreckels Theater downtown.

At the forum, Sherman said that in 14 years of the Chargers working on getting something done, there’s been only one constant in the failure: Fabiani. Thus, perhaps Fabiani is to blame for what’s happening.

There has been, of course, another constant: Spanos.

I’m not sure why Sherman is reluctant to criticize Spanos.

Step back and consider what’s going on here. It is not as simple as some wily, white-haired Fabiani messing with what would otherwise be a wonderful partnership between the mayor and Spanos.

Fans are getting their “It’s a business” moment.

NFL players always talk about the times when the realities of their job security becomes clear – “It’s a business” has become shorthand for the moment when they must reconcile the sport they’ve loved with the ruthlessness of the business that funds it.

The NFL team relocation process is that moment for fans. Unlike with players, however, it doesn’t happen often enough to become something we are accustomed to.

What happened Wednesday night was just a giant group-therapy gathering – a chance for the most passionate fans to grapple with the fact that the team manipulated them and is now going through the process of discarding them.

At the very least, Fabiani has avoided offering any false hope.

We need to watch out for that. Tony Manolatos agrees. The mayor’s surrogate on Chargers issues warned of false hope in a long memo about the problem with Cory Briggs’ initiative for a hotel-room tax hike downtown.

“What I dislike most about Mr. Briggs’ plan is that it will give some fans false hope, and the fans don’t deserve that after everything the team has put them through this year,” he wrote.

As far as questionable hope goes, though, is anyone in town offering more of it than Faulconer?

“We’ve said all along we’ll meet any deadline. We will overcome any hurdle,” Faulconer said on another show Wednesday.

He’s the one trying to convince fans that the NFL owners will put Spanos in his place – force him back to San Diego, chagrined, apologetic even. Maybe – just maybe! – they’ll make him fire Fabiani too!

But how realistic is the mayor’s vision?

Fabiani’s basic argument is two-fold: That there’s a very good chance voters will reject the mayor’s stadium plan, which includes $350 million in city and county general tax dollars, and that it might be scuttled by California environmental laws.

Thus, they are not willing to give up the race to Los Angeles with those risks. If they lose the race, or if they cared about San Diego like the fans care about them, they might be willing to put that aside. But they don’t.

It’s best for fans to come to terms with that. Like an offensive lineman with too many concussions, the league is done with you. You couldn’t get them the taxpayer checks fast enough.

Fabiani is right about the difficulty in pulling off a stadium. Set aside the wonky, complex dispute about the environmental clearance to build the stadium, it is still far from clear that voters would rubber-stamp such an investment in a new stadium.

The mayor need look no further than his friend, Ray Ellis, the Republican running for City Council in the biggest local race of 2016. If Ellis wins, he will swing the balance of power at City Hall toward the mayor.

But in an interview with me this week, Ellis said it was a mistake for the mayor and City Council to spend $2.1 million on a rushed environmental impact report for the stadium.

The mayor’s plan hinges on it. Thus, his plan is a mistake.

Ellis said as he goes door to door in the district – which includes Carmel Valley and La Jolla – he’s heard a lot of antipathy about money to subsidize professional football.

“There is not an appetite to support an organization like the Chargers right now,” he said.

If the mayor can’t even get Ellis on board with his plan, it does not bode well for his efforts to convince the NFL owners. Even the mayor’s own poll showed a new stadium only garnered a bare majority support – support that grows as he explains it, but would erode as opponents pan it.

I think we could all admit that a vote on this much taxpayer investment in a new stadium would be difficult at best.

The mayor is offering his own healthy share of questionable hope.

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