Photo by Sam Hodgson
The site of a proposed Chargers stadium development in downtown San Diego.
A few years ago, I spent the first weeks of the New Year writing up the stories I was going to watch for that year. Here we are again. These are the Top 12 stories I think you should pay attention to in 2012.
In coming weeks, the window will once again open — the Chargers will be contractually allowed to leave San Diego provided they pay the city a hefty fee.
It’s unlikely they’ll slip out of the window this year, though. The mayor and others are pushing for a November 2012 vote on a stadium proposal.
What will that proposal be?
If the Chargers have their way, it will look like this:
I. A downtown stadium with a retractable roof.
II. The roof allows for the closing of both the Sports Arena and Qualcomm Stadium: Because there will be a stadium downtown that can handle professional football, concerts and maybe even college basketball’s Final Four, those two existing facilities become superfluous. The valuable city-owned land they sit on becomes marketable.
III. Sell or develop those sites, use money to fund a downtown stadium: Even with a giant fuel plume complicating development at the Mission Valley site, the land is still valuable. I bet someone can make it work.
IV. The NFL and Chargers kick in some bucks: The NFL recently revived its stadium loan program, which could provide up to $200 million for a new stadium, the team told U-T San Diego.
The problem, though, is that all this still is not enough money. That’s why we haven’t seen a plan yet. The hunt for cash is on and they’re tracking the taxpayer.
City Councilman Carl DeMaio, running for mayor, actually has one of the most liberal and specific positions on taxpayer funding for the Chargers. The “public-private partnership” he says is needed to fund a new stadium should not involve the taxpayers any more than the current deal already does.
What he’s referring to is the simple fact that, every year, the city loses money operating and maintaining Qualcomm Stadium — at least $12 million a year. Former Council President Scott Peters was the first person I heard to take this position: Close Qualcomm, save that money and apply it to a bond payment for a new stadium.
DeMaio supports that level of taxpayer support for a new stadium.
Last week, DeMaio and many other conservative leaders began wailing at the loss of redevelopment — a program that allowed neighborhoods to keep their property taxes and invest them in building projects. It was a program made possible by funding from the state.
When the news broke, I made a point on Twitter that if conservatives wanted to keep building things like stadiums on the public dime, they would need to support higher taxes for those projects. Jon Fleischman, the publisher of the very popular conservative blog FlashReport, surprised me with this response:
“Breaking: If you want to build stadiums on taxpayer dime, you are NOT a conservative,” he wrote.
Ouch! Stop the presses! FlashReport doesn’t think DeMaio’s a conservative!
Don’t worry, DeMaio supporters, he is not getting outflanked on the right by his two Republican rivals, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. They both support something “creative” that will likely land at the same level of public support or higher.
Regardless, with the state Supreme Court killing redevelopment, it’s hard to fathom where city leaders think they could find this much money without raising taxes.
That brings us to the idea that maybe they will try to just raise taxes.
Other cities — like Denver and Arlington, Texas — built their stadiums with tax hikes that needed less than 60 percent of the vote.
Here, a tax would need two-thirds of the vote.
So does that mean the Chargers are just gone? I don’t know. Here’s what to watch for this year:
I. A Regional Issue? The only government in town with any success getting two-thirds of the vote for a tax hike recently is the San Diego Association of Governments. In 2004, it passed a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation needs. Mayor Jerry Sanders keeps talking about the stadium as a regional issue; perhaps he gets this agency to lead the charge? It could do a giant infrastructure tax for many projects across the region, which maybe covers part of the cost of a stadium.
II. Selling Shares in the Team? The most conservative take on public funding is arguably coming from liberal Congressman Bob Filner. He suggested the Chargers should give taxpayers part ownership of the team if we invest so much in their facility.
Here’s my latest explainer on that. The Chargers could also try to follow the Green Bay Packers, which are making its rivals jealous as it rakes in cash selling ownership shares in the team.
The death of redevelopment is helping people warm up to the idea, including the spokesman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. I’ve had conservatives and liberals, football fans and non-fans and many others respond positively to the thread.
The two ideas are the only ways I’ve seen that directly address the city’s angst about investing in the Chargers.
III. The Convadium! The Chargers recently tried to fatally wound the effort to expand the Convention Center. The team joined the hotel workers union in saying the hotel-room tax hike planned for the expansion is illegal.
The team wants to redirect the money and energy being spent on the Convention Center expansion to a roofed stadium. After all, can’t you handle some of that convention business with a nearby stadium?
The Chargers’ challenge to the Convention Center appeared to be waning until just this Sunday. That’s when the U-T signaled it might weigh in on the Chargers’ side:
(Mayor Jerry) Sanders also faces huge fights over how to expand the waterfront convention center and build a new downtown stadium for the Chargers — two projects he sees as necessarily separate but which Chargers ownership and others say ought to be linked. In coming weeks, the U-T editorial board will endorse a plan we think offers the most long-term promise not just for the stadium and convention center but for the entire downtown waterfront, as well as for taxpayers and the regional community.
That the paper brought up the Chargers’ vision and then said that it will endorse “a plan” for them both indicates support for the Convadium.
And it’s the Convention Center that we’ll pick up next in the 12 for ’12 rundown of stories to watch.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of voiceofsandiego.org. Please contact me if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
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