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Thursday, March 23, 2006 | In a little more than nine months we will know two things about the San Diego Chargers: a) whether A.J. Smith was right to leave all the team’s promising talent in the hands of young quarterback Philip Rivers and b) the kind of offer other cities in the country are willing to give the team to lure it away from San Diego.

We can’t do anything about Philip Rivers. As much as football fans would like to believe that we’re a part of the team we support. We say things like “we intercepted a pass” when we describe something the team actually did on the field. We don’t like to think we’re merely passive observers – that all we can do is yell.

On the other question, however – the one about whether the Chargers stay or go – fans have a little more say. At least as voters we can yell at our elected officials and it’s their job, supposedly, to respond.

It’s time to yell. Because in nine months the team will be allowed to start hearing offers from other cities all around the country. And nothing is happening here. The way things stand now, the Chargers will leave. That may be OK to some local leaders. After all, people like former Mayor Susan Golding worked hard to keep the Chargers happy. History doesn’t look so kindly on Ms. Golding’s administration.

There is nothing happening right now to keep the Chargers from doing anything but wait for offers from other cities. Not a single thing is moving forward – except a ticking clock. There is no proposal for a stadium. There is nothing being debated. For the first time in the seemingly interminable crisis about whether the Chargers may leave or stay, there is not even a single point of contention right now.

Because there’s nothing to contend. It’s not just the fault of local elected leaders. The team hasn’t really done anything since its proposal for Mission Valley died.

For years, the Chargers had been selling the concept of a new stadium in Mission Valley that would be surrounded by condominiums – the sales of which would pay for the whole deal. As we explained months ago, the project didn’t necessarily die because of the city’s current financial and political crisis, but rather because of the current glut of condominiums for sale in San Diego. See, with so many condos in the region for sale, the price of them will go down. The Chargers appeared to have trouble finding a developer and partner who wanted to build 6,000 condos in that environment.

So we have a situation here: The Chargers say they want a new stadium or they will leave. There is no plan for a new stadium right now. And in nine months the Chargers will be able to talk to cities around the country.

That’s the key. That nine months is all the leverage local fans have left. Until then, every time a city like Los Angeles or Portland or Tuscaloosa or even Oceanside makes an overture toward the Chargers the team is forced to send them a letter saying “Thanks, but we’re not allowed to talk to you.”

If fans want to keep the Chargers within a comfortable driving distance, they should urge the city of San Diego to allow the team to talk with other cities within the county right now. In that way, a place like Chula Vista or National City can get the jump on planning and courting the team.

Fans win because the team may get a new stadium in the San Diego region and has no excuse not to stay here for football eternity (which is essentially the couple decades that pass before an owner gets bored with his new stadium).

The city of San Diego wins because if the Chargers leave, the team will have to pay off debt the city owes on Qualcomm Stadium. The city can tear down Qualcomm Stadium, unleash the plume of toxic crap underneath it, clean it all up once and for all and turn the area into something nice for an otherwise horrid Mission Valley.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders may have a good reason for not, yet, addressing the Chargers issue with any kind of depth. He’s been a busy guy. And yet, that’s another reason for him to come out in support of allowing the Chargers to talk to some other cities: It would show leadership on his part without him having to really do anything.

It’d take 10 minutes. Here, I’ll write the speech, save him a minute or two:

“The City Council should let the Chargers talk to other cities in the county about maybe moving there.”

But right now city officials are merely sitting on their hands or making non-committal statements about other pressing issues. Meanwhile, as Philip Rivers masters the playbook, the clock continues to tick. And if we let it run out, Chula Vista may be forced to compete for the team with Los Angeles.

Not that I don’t think Chula Vista officials could pull it off. But I have not heard a single reason why we shouldn’t give them and San Diego’s other neighbors at least a head start.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice’s commentary section. Please contact him directly at

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