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Wednesday, October 19, 2005 | Dan Shea has written a commentary regarding the Chargers in which he first suggests that we should all consider him an objective critic, concerned only with what is best for the community.
Whatever his motivation, my experience with Mr. Shea is that he is a naive apologist who has never encountered a proposal from the Chargers he didn’t embrace and promote.
Having made his case for his objectivity, Mr. Shea then proceeds to attack our new City Attorney, Mike Aguirre. Shea takes 10 of Mr. Aguirre’s quotes and uses his critique of those quotes to mount a defense of the Chargers’ proposal for tearing down Qualcomm Stadium to clear the way for a massive private development of the site paid for by a gift of land and development rights from, naturally, taxpayers to the Chargers.
I respond below to each of the 10 points made by Mr. Shea.
1. Shea quotes Aguirre as saying, “The Chargers not getting a development partner is a PR stunt.” Utilizing a standard rhetorical technique of attacking the messenger in order to ignore the message, Shea excoriates Aguirre for a variety of failures and then concludes without the slightest substantiation that the Chargers’ failure to find a development partner is not a “stunt,” but a “fact.”
I have no idea what information Shea is privy to in his dealings with the Chargers, but the public record is quite obviously devoid of any objective information regarding efforts by the Chargers to find a development partner.
The critical point is that the Chargers have failed to make the slightest effort to actually obtain any development entitlements. For well over a year the Chargers have, of course, publicly touted a purported development plan, but a plan so unrealistic that it has never passed the “laugh test” at City Hall.
The essence of the plan is that the City will give 60 acres to the Chargers, coupled with development rights that create a net market value to the benefit of the Chargers of a billion dollars or more.
So, the Chargers have supposedly been soliciting development partners, trying to sell the prospective partners on the concept that the City will be making a billion-dollar gift to the partnership. Then, of course, the Chargers are compelled to start talking about the horrendous implementing the purported development plan after this gift has been made.
The bottom line is that Mike Aguirre was far too kind in his remarks. It isn’t the failure to get a development partner that is a Chargers’ PR stunt. The entire Chargers’ proposal is a PR stunt.
2. Shea excoriates Mike Aguirre for saying, “The contract makes it mandatory that the Chargers put something on the 2006 ballot.” Yet, Mike is correct in that putting the issue on the 2006 ballot is, of course, the practical reality of the contract provisions. If the Chargers wait to 2007, the team is looking at a special election that could cost millions to hold. Key terms of the contract end in 2008, so it makes little sense to wait until then.
The real problem for the Chargers is that the team has nothing to place on the ballot in 2006 beyond a proposal that so far fails, as pointed out already, the laugh test. Again, to the casual observer it can sound as though the Chargers have a plan. The devil, as is often the case, is in the details; and none of them make the slightest sense.
3. Shea is angered by Mike Aguirre’s claim that “The ticket guaranty still exists.” This assertion seems to give Shea quite a belly laugh, but the matter isn’t so funny if you are a San Diego taxpayer. The painful and all too valid point that Mike is making is that the city merely converted the ticket guarantee into a permanent rent reduction. The ticket guarantee was costing us about $5 million annually, but was due to terminate with the first two exhibition games played in 2007. Now, what we have is a contract in which the Chargers’ rent has been reduced by some $5 million or more each year, rent that would have continued through 2020 under the terms of the prior contract.
So, what we San Diegans have been victimized by is another PR stunt. The people were told by Mayor Murphy and the Chargers that the ticket guarantee was eliminated. What wasn’t made clear was the substitution of a rent reduction at a cost to the taxpayers in the range of $80 million.
4. Shea takes issue with Aguirre’s claim that “The Chargers want to change the current contract.” Excuse me. The Chargers themselves are telling us that they want a brand new contract, a new deal that would include a gift of a billion dollars of public land and development entitlements, etc., etc. Meanwhile it’s the Chargers, not the city, that has been complaining about putting a measure on the 2006 ballot. Let’s not be naive. If the Chargers sense weakness, the team will propose a more advantageous contract in a heart beat. In that sense Mike Aguirre is the problem since with him as city attorney, the Chargers aren’t sensing weakness, but strength and determination.
5. Shea seems dumbfounded by Aguirre’s claim that “The Chargers want an extension.” Shea tells us that no extension has been requested, so what could Aguirre be thinking? Only a naive apologist wouldn’t understand that the Chargers are right now probing the city for a soft spot.
6. Shea takes great offense at Aguirre’s claim that “The team could be pitching a hypothetical deal to possible partners where the city sells bonds for the $175 million in traffic improvement infrastructure instead of the cost being picked up by the developers.” Shea asserts that Aguirre in making this claim ignores the fact that the Chargers have agreed to pick up infrastructure improvement costs. But, of course, the Chargers have agreed to nothing as the Chargers have, instead, simply been making proposals. Right now, one of the proposals is that if the city gives the Chargers $1 billion in land and development rights, the Chargers will spend some of that billion dollars on a number of things, but always leaving the Chargers with a huge net amounting to hundreds of millions in the team owners’ pockets.
The bottom line is that no proposal by the Chargers has ever had the team paying for anything. Every cost always has come out of the proceeds of selling off the gift from the city of our land coupled with development rights.
7. Shea takes offense at another Aguirre remark: “The team should look for no sympathy from a struggling city. The Chargers are coming to us and saying ‘give us more’.” Yet, Mike Aguirre’s characterization is absolutely correct. After all, the record of the Chargers’ relationship with the city is objectively reprehensible. Only the naive would fail to understand that the Chargers have been floating trial balloons in an attempt to figure out just when and how the city should be approached to sweeten the pot for the Chargers. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
8. Shea challenges Aguirre’s claim that “Whether or not they get a partner or not, that’s called the economic risk of the free-market system. That’s their problem, that’s not the city’s problem.” Mike is correct. It is the Chargers, not the city, that seeks a new stadium and a gift of land and development rights. Right now the city has a 160-acre sports park with a great stadium that has well served, and will continue to well serve, the needs of fans. If the Chargers don’t need to have the site covered with asphalt for parking, eventually much of it could be converted to playing fields and a recreational river park. It’s only the Chargers and a few of their fans that claim otherwise. So, Mr. Shea is again wrong, and Mr. Aguirre is right.
9 and 10. Mr. Shea takes offense at two additional remarks by the City Attorney: (a) “It is not wise for a group of individuals, who have no legal connection to the Chargers, that I know of, to try to play, to take it upon themselves, to act as if they are somehow legally empowered to do this.” (b) Other concerned citizens and Mr. Shea are all “masquerading like, you know, community leaders.”
Mr. Shea admits, of course, that he has no legal authority to speak for the Chargers. Apparently he takes offense that his analysis of the Chargers’ positions on various issues isn’t being taken seriously by Mike Aguirre, and that Aguirre isn’t acknowledging that Mr. Shea should be given a leading role in brokering the relationship between the City and the Chargers.
This criticism is just plain silly. Why should Mike Aguirre give any particular credence to Mr. Shea or his ideas over those of any other citizen following this issue? The answer is obvious. Moreover, while Mr. Shea pleads again and again for just the facts and nothing but the facts, Mr. Shea’s apparent naiveté suggests that his offer of leadership should be rejected by Mr. Aguirre and every other city official.
Starting in 1995, the San Diego Chargers led our city into a series of fiscally disastrous contracts with the Chargers, with the San Diego International Sports Council, and with the Padres. In great part all of our city’s current woes can be traced back to 1995.
Mr. Shea would have us close our collective eyes to this history and embrace whatever new fiscal folly the Chargers would foist upon us. Thankfully, the people of San Diego have awakened over the last few years to the various evils visited upon our city as a consequence of failing to defend ourselves against the unfettered and insatiable greed of special interests. Again, thankfully, that new awareness and new wariness translated into the election of Mike Aguirre as city attorney.
Mr. Shea apparently didn’t comprehend just what Mike Aguirre would bring to the table when elected. That’s Mr. Shea’s problem. A problem, fortunately, that isn’t going away any time in the near future.
Bruce Henderson is a former San Diego City Councilman and member of the Mayor’s Chargers Task Force.