No Public Money! And Everything Else in the Way of a New Chargers Stadium - Voice of San Diego

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No Public Money! And Everything Else in the Way of a New Chargers Stadium

Now that Measure C has been decided, those hoping to keep the Chargers in San Diego will have to craft a new proposal. Here are the four things that anyone hoping to put a deal together will have to grapple with.

Chris Cate was the most vocal City Council member to oppose the Chargers’ Measure C. And the Chargers reciprocated with attacks of their own on him.

So he regularly found himself on the defensive about what he would support in its place.

He could have said it’s not his job to come up with a stadium plan, but he didn’t want that. He wanted to reassure fans that he wanted the team to stay.

I asked him several times whether he would have supported the mayor’s plan from 2015 that envisioned a new stadium arising adjacent to Qualcomm Stadium.

In September, he finally said definitively he would not support it.

Many of the people who supported the Chargers’ Measure C were open that they made the decision merely to support the team – to demonstrate that San Diego supported football and, if the proposal lost, as it looked like it would, support here would be strong and they could work something new out.

The whole thing was just a grand display, then, to make Chargers owner Dean Spanos feel good. Now we can get to business.

But what does that look like?

The Chargers will stay quiet for the next several months and finish out the football season. Then Spanos has another decision to make in January. Either he will choose to move the team and get busy selling tickets to fans in the L.A. area, or he will let another year slip on that option.

He can break the team’s lease with San Diego between February and May, but if he leaves, he’ll do it as soon as possible to begin setting up in Los Angeles.

So here are the four things that anyone hoping to put a new deal together will have to grapple with.

Another Huge Timeline Problem

The next election isn’t until 2018. Already, there is talk of putting a measure on the ballot either then or even earlier, in 2017, to raise the hotel-room tax and support an expansion of the Convention Center at its existing location.

The Chargers did do a tremendous amount of research, and they know their only chance to get voters to approve a tax for a stadium is with some kind of groundswell of low-information voters. That’s not going to happen in a special election in 2017, and it would be pretty hard to muster in a more conservative showing in 2018.

If the Chargers were to decide to wait until 2018 for just the chance at getting a new stadium, it seems like that would require they simply drop the pretense that they could move to Inglewood. Or at least they would have to recast it as something they could easily do at any time into perpetuity. Either way, the power of the threat to move would be emptied of whatever significance it had left.

Still No Answer on How to Pay for It

The mayor’s previous plan was to ask the public to approve $200 million from the city’s general fund and $150 million from the county’s general fund to pay for a new stadium in Mission Valley.

But one of the key arguments against Measure C was that it might, might, expose the general fund to risk.

When Cate admitted he would not have supported the mayor’s plan, I asked him why.

“I have a little bit of an issue with the general fund,” he said.

No kidding. If Measure C supporters were surprised by the power of that argument, just wait until it’s perfectly framed as literally taking money from other city needs.

That’s why a solid majority of the City Council and Council member-elects are against it. Barbara Bry, the incoming councilwoman for the district that includes La Jolla, Carmel Valley and University City, has said many times that she could not support a measure that included any public money for the Chargers stadium.

Then there’s the county. Supervisor Ron Roberts floated his plan to have the county invest unilaterally, and never once demonstrated he had the votes to pull it off.

Finally, would that even be enough? Perhaps Spanos will open up his wallet more but when Faulconer and Roberts asked him to consider Mission Valley, he said they’d need to put $200 million more into the deal. It’s just that expensive, he said, and they would need it to be a secure source of revenue, like a hotel-room tax hike.

Thus, it would need two-thirds vote and, yep, that’s no small row any year, let alone an off-year election or midterm.

Where Would it Go?

The Chargers focused on downtown because they wanted that certainty of how to pay for it. They believed combining the long-standing desire among many boosters for a convention center with their own plans would justify an investment of hotel-room tax dollars.

Downtown, however, is not only much more expensive than Mission Valley, it is much more contentious. The opposition to Measure C would not have been nearly as diverse and fired up were it not for the architects and neighbors who cared about that section of East Village.

I’m not sure a Mission Valley proposal would have passed, but it seems like it would have gotten a lot closer to 50 percent. After all, if the reason to put it downtown was to make an argument that it was partly a convention center as well, and if the reason to do that was to make the hotel tax more attractive to hotel owners, well, that seems to have not worked out. The hotel owners opposed Measure C. Thus, they could have tried for a smaller hotel-room tax for a cheaper, less controversial project in Mission Valley.

They proved the mayor would end up coming on board so …

The point is, siting the stadium isn’t as difficult as the other problems.

The Morality

Chargers fans and sports radio bros need to deal with the simple fact that a lot of San Diegans find it repulsive to subsidize professional football to such a degree with public funds. If we had a factory in town where all the employees came limping out each week with lacerated kidneys, torn groins, broken limbs and head injuries that were proven to make them depressed and perhaps suicidal later in life, we would probably send inspectors to that factory.

Pro football, though, gets a pass. And that might be OK. The argument is that this is what the players sign up for so we can absolve ourselves of the guilt while we watch them crush one another’s limbs.

We’re not just being asked to allow it, though, but to actively invest in it. The Chargers have proudly admitted something very interesting about why they need a public subsidy to build a stadium. In other big cities, NFL teams are able to sell personal seat licenses to such a degree that they can pay for the stadium themselves. That’s what’s happening in Inglewood.

But the Chargers can’t sell those licenses here. The market is just not there. Thus, taxpayers have to do it. It’d be like Dunkin Donuts saying it can’t sell enough donuts here, so we have to build them a factory if we want them to stay in town.

It’s a fine thing to ask but it appears that the public is turning against them, especially in California, where small tax increases like the ones that built stadiums in Denver, Arlington, Texas, and other cities require two-thirds votes.

It’s not just the morality of the injuries. It’s also the lack of caring of taxpayers to get anything in return. In Las Vegas, billionaire Sheldon Adelson has pledged up to $650 million to help the Raiders build a new stadium. Now, however, he’s playing hardball. It’s not hard to guess that what he wants in return is equity – a stake – in the ownership of the Raiders.

This is hilarious to me because taxpayers have now pledged far more to support the Raiders stadium. And nobody is negotiating on their behalf for equity in the team.

The point is that these concerns are being popularized like never before, whether via HBO or online.

The NFL and the Chargers have to confront them directly if they really do want to build a stadium in San Diego.

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