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Friday, December 09, 2005 | An arbitrator ruled Thursday that the city of San Diego owes the Chargers $1.5 million for seats that were removed from Qualcomm Stadium to accommodate disabled individuals in 2002. Going forward, the ruling could also lower the team’s rent by $500,000, or about 20 percent.

After disabled rights activists sued the city over accessibility at Qualcomm, the city agreed in 2001 to indemnify the Chargers for any revenue lost because of seat removal and obstructed views. The city and the team settled with the activists and retrofitted the stadium to comply a year later.

Arbitrator Gerald J. Lewis decided that the city, the owner of the stadium, was obligated to make the stadium compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act when the stadium was renovated in 1997.

The city will now be forced to pay the Chargers reparations for every game in which more than 90 percent of tickets are sold.

The ruling comes at an awkward time for both parties. The city, already locked in a tense fiscal crisis, continues to trim its everyday services to residents as it attempts to manage a deep pension deficit and the effects of a suspended credit rating.

The team is gearing up to ask voters for 60 acres of public land to use towards an extensive development project and a new football stadium. It is already managing the fallout of previous contracts with the city that were thought to be lopsided in its favor.

“The insatiable appetite of the Chargers ownership for taxpayer dollars has again been demonstrated,” said City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

The team’s special counsel, Mark Fabiani, issued the following written statement:

“Mike Aguirre will say and do anything to drive the Chargers out of San Diego – including violating confidentiality agreements and misstating facts. Today’s press conference is just another in Aguirre’s endless series of self-serving camera grabs and is the latest proof that Aguirre will stop at nothing until the Chargers are forced to leave town.”

He didn’t answer specific questions. Fabiani cited a confidentially agreement when refusing to comment on a Voice of San Diego story on the issue last month.

The team had originally sought $2.5 million from the team in its original complaint. The team claimed it was entitled to lost ticket and concession revenue for every one of the approximately 4,000 seats that were removed or obstructed by the retrofit.

The city argued that many of the seats would have gone unsold anyway because many of the games were not sold out. Deputy City Attorney Andrew Jones argued that if the Chargers did prevail, the damages should be calculated on a game-by-game basis to account for attendance fluctuations.

In the end, the arbitrator ruled that the Chargers could have reasonably accepted to sell tickets for the lost seats if attendance for the game reached 90 percent capacity.

Aguirre called the new revelation “a reverse ticket guarantee.” The team formerly had a clause in its contract that called for the city to purchase from the team any unsold tickets – a stipulation that had cost the city $36 million since the mid-1990s.

“In the beginning, they made money if they didn’t sell out. Now they’re making money if they do sell out,” Aguirre said.

If the Chargers sell out every game in a season, Aguirre and Jones estimated the city will owe the team $500,000. That sum, in effect, will be subtracted from the team’s annual rent.

It had not been determined if the $1.5 million award would be paid in a lump sum or subtracted from the team’s rent payment this year.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly at

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