Saturday, April 22, 2006 | Saying he is occupied by the larger concerns of the city’s financial struggles, Mayor Jerry Sanders announced Friday his intention to allow the Chargers to discuss stadium deals with other cities inside San Diego County.

Council President Scott Peters promptly said he would schedule the item for vote May 1, at which time the City Council will be asked to modify the Chargers’ Qualcomm Stadium lease. An amended lease would give other parties in the county a head start in stadium talks, as cities across the country can begin courting the team Jan. 1 under its current contract.

“I want to make sure that we have an opportunity to keep them in the county and the only way I can give us the best shot of doing that is by releasing them from the terms of their lease agreement for the rest of this year to look inside the county,” Sanders said.

The team first made its desires for a new stadium known in 2002 and has alternately been involved in task force proceedings, lawsuits or stadium negotiations since then. It was assumed the team would put a new stadium initiative on the ballot in November, but the team announced three months ago that it was unable to find a development partner for its ambitious condo and stadium plan.

In the last two years, parties from Chula Vista, National City and Oceanside have expressed interest in talking with the Chargers, but team officials say they have immediately rebuffed any offers in order to comply with their contract.

Two county supervisors, Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob, have also taken an interest in the stadium ordeal.

“Our goal has always been to keep the team in the San Diego area and if we get the chance from the City Council to begin discus in the county area, we will do so immediately,” said Mark Fabiani, the team’s special advisor.

“We don’t know what’s out there. We have been prohibited from talking, so it’s all speculation right now about what might be available.”

It is expected that groups from cities such as Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Antonio will show interest in the Chargers in 2007 when the lease allows such negotiations. The team can relocate as soon as 2008 under the terms of the current contract and would have to pay off about $60 million in the city’s stadium debt should it leave.

“The real question in everyone’s mind is going to be is it possible to get something done in the seven months remaining before Jan. 1, 2007?” said Mitch Mitchell, director of governmental relations for San Diego Gas & Electric, who has been involved as a go-between with the team and city.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported Friday that the National Football League eventually wants two teams in the Los Angeles area.

Sanders said he thought the Chargers were “absolutely committed to staying in San Diego.”

City Attorney Mike Aguirre said he agreed with allowing the team to negotiate within the county, but said a copy of the amendment he received Friday evening removed a clause originally contemplated that would’ve forced the team to keep the name “San Diego Chargers” should it relocate within the county.

“I’m disappointed in that considering everything we’ve given them,” Aguirre said.

He also criticized the process, saying the City Attorney’s Office was not involved in the final negotiations.

“These are fundamental violations of the rights of voters to choose their city attorney. What it shows is that people are more concerned in getting the opinions they want to hear and serving special interests than hearing what the city attorney says,” Aguirre said.

In his announcement Friday, Sanders said the city’s pension and financial problems are too time-consuming and important for him to dedicate sufficient time to the Chargers issue.

“I don’t think it would be prudent or honest for me to go out to taxpayers and say we can’t resurface our roadways but we’re going to build a new stadium,” Sanders said.

However, it’s been clear since the Chargers scrapped their initiative plan in January that a deal between the city and the team would be unlikely.

The Chargers had hoped to build a new, $450 million state-of-the-art stadium on the Qualcomm site alongside a massive condo and mixed-use development project that would fund the stadium and other infrastructure improvements. The team was asking the city to give it 60 acres of the 166 acre stadium site on which it would’ve constructed 6,000 condos.

The team blamed the city’s financial woes and the behavior of Aguirre for driving away potential development partners, but also admitted that some builders were pessimistic about planning 6,000 condos in Mission Valley with the looming uncertainty of the local housing market.

All told, the development project would’ve cost $800 million and only a very select few builders had the financial wherewithal to complete the project.

When the team announced in January that they wouldn’t go ahead with the November ballot initiative, Councilman Jim Madaffer suggested allowing the team to talk with other cities within the county in order to give them a jump on national competition.

“Everybody involved in this situation have been puzzled that this proposed amendment change didn’t occur sooner, we’re really unsure what stopped it from happening in January,” Mitchell said.

Sanders said he has been busy putting together his office, a financial recovery plan and the fiscal year 2007 budget, which he unveiled last week. The city simply doesn’t have resources to work with the Chargers right now, Sanders said, though he didn’t say talks with the team were completely finished.

John McCann, a Chula Vista councilman, said he will contact the Chargers if the council agrees to Sanders’ contract amendment. He said there is plenty of private, undeveloped land that is currently being master-planned in Chula Vista that will be accompanied by sufficient infrastructure and transportation.

“We’ve been waiting to see if the city of San Diego would allow other cities to talk, so this really would be the first step,” McCann said.

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