Why the Mayor's Stadium Task Force Should Have Been Public - Voice of San Diego

Chargers Stadium UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Why the Mayor's Stadium Task Force Should Have Been Public

There’s a big gulf between what citizens want and what they’re willing to give. Hiding for six months doesn’t help bridge it.

Right after Councilmen David Alvarez and Todd Gloria sent a memo Monday insisting to the mayor that his Citizens Stadium Advisory Group actually offer some kind of a way for citizens to provide input, Jan Goldsmith, the city attorney, sent out a press release of his own.

Scott Lewis on Politics LogoGoldsmith explained that it was perfectly fine for the group to meet in secret and not be required to disclose any of its financial interests. It was just offering advice to the mayor and had no actual city role. Just some of the mayor’s buds.

Let the man talk to his buds, am I right?

But then Goldsmith inadvertently offered another reason the mayor should have made his citizens group open to the citizens.

“Because this group is not a City entity,” Goldsmith wrote, “our office is not authorized under the City Charter section 40 to provide legal advice … to the group or any of its members.”

Got that? This group is supposed to figure out the best proposal for a $1 billion public-private partnership between the Chargers and the city and it is not allowed to get advice from the city’s lawyers.

I guess that might give it a better chance of actually getting a good deal done, am I right?

I kid.

This is the problem with the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group not actually being official. It means it technically cannot have any more access to city resources or information than you and I have.

And that’s too bad. In 2004, I sat through many hours of testimony and discussion at the city of San Diego’s Pension Reform Committee.

The experience was invaluable, if boring at times.

One by one, experts testified — methodically explaining what caused the city to give employees such great pension benefits and what had led it to not set aside the funds to pay for them.

The question the committee had was simple: Why is the city going to have to pay so much to a pension fund that used to be so much easier to maintain and what should we do about it?

Some of their answers turned into city laws.

It was productive. I referred to its documents, to its testimony and its reports hundreds of times. The city had a shared, accepted set of facts.

Later, another group, the Mayor’s Citizen Task Force on the San Diego Convention Center Project, hashed out the need for a new Convention Center expansion. It, too, met in public. The experts it brought in, the documents it produced were also beneficial. Crucially, records from both those groups are still available. Advocates for the Convention Center expansion still refer to them.

I didn’t agree with the panel’s conclusion necessarily. But it was a valuable experience.

It was when they took that issue to the back room and hashed out a potential financing scheme that it went off the rails. A small group, working in private, put together a plan to pay for it. The City Council signed off and, oh shoot, it all turned out to be illegal.

You need lawyers. The pension group benefited immensely from a city attorney sitting there the whole time, helping it manage the maze of rules. Its proposed laws passed.

Presumably, this new stadium group, which includes some serious brains, needs so many months to work — it’s not supposed to produce a report until fall — because it too will request analysis and testimony. Like the Pension Reform Committee, it will probably gather mountains of material. That’s information we probably could all use to help us evaluate a potential investment in a new stadium.

And yet, it will not be public. And none of that analysis will come from the city.

When we revealed this Friday, a gaggle of lobbyists, flacks and even other journalists wondered what the big deal was.

Of course the public will be able to provide input on a stadium financing plan, they said. It’s called the ballot, dude.

OK. But if I show up at home with mortgage docs and tell my wife to either sign them so we can buy a house or not, I can’t meaningfully say she had any input on the deal. Now the mayor is trying to reassure us that this is just Part One. Part Two will be the grand public process.

Why wait another seven months for that?

If you really want a deal to get done, this seems like a miscalculation. The group the mayor has impaneled is comprised of very intelligent people. Why not give them the benefits of official status? They should be able to call an attorney. They should be able to summon city employees who can offer insights.

Sure, they might have to deal with people like me watching them. They might have to listen to members of the public.

What, is that too hard? Will that take too long? If you’re pledging to do it eventually, all the more reason to start now.

There is a giant gulf between what the public wants (a new stadium!) and what they want to sacrifice (nothing!).

If that gap is to be bridged — and that’s a big if — the mayor and his buds will need to weave a new story.

Instead of starting that process, though, he’s locking it in a back room to ferment.

We’re left to hope that whatever brew emerges is something we can swallow.

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