Monday, Sept. 11, 2006 | A couple of months ago, I put forward what I thought was a good idea: Let’s decide once and for all, as a community, how much we value the Chargers.

Assuming we can find a reasonable place to put a new stadium (and I believe they have honed in on one), I proposed a simple next step: residents should have the chance to decide whether to pay some kind of extra tax to build said stadium.

Like I said, I thought it was a good idea: for one thing, it brought everything above the table. Here’s the stadium proposal, here’s how we plan to pay for it, now decide, San Diego, whether you want to really pay for it or not.

This would give Chargers critics their chance, once and for all, to prove that taxpayers do not want to subsidize football stadiums. It would give supporters and fans the chance to prove that taxpayers do.

I think it still makes total sense. But local leaders appear to have summarily rejected the idea – if it ever even lodged in their brains at all.

That’s fine. But I’m not going to shut up.

Let’s see where we are right now: Mayor Jerry Sanders took a good look at the Chargers issue, decided he did not want to deal with it and punted it to an eager team of bureaucrats that includes some county officials and various others from surrounding cities. The most able and assertive of these officials appears to be Chris Zapata, the city manager of National City.

Zapata has somehow convinced the Unified Port District not to immediately reject his inchoate proposal to put the stadium somewhere on National City’s bayside holdings. Not losing in this bid is a win itself. A couple of years ago, port officials sent a similar proposal away with its tail between its legs.

The National City proposal seems to make more sense than its most prominent rival: an effort by Chula Vista officials to put the new stadium far to the east. A stadium near the bay would be more accessible. Period.

This is a totally shameless bit of speculation but I have no qualms about laying it out there: I predict that National City’s proposal will come out of this as the one the Chargers support.

But I don’t really care about the site.

What I care about is that we change, once and forever, the way these deals proceed from that point.

Last week, I made fun of the news that representatives of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. had decided to help lead us through this pesky little municipal issue. I’ve never been very impressed with that agency’s particular leadership qualities and my tongue was firmly planted in my cheek when I expressed joy that they had taken on this challenge.

But they did announce in an article in the Union-Tribune that they had toured the Denver Broncos’ Invesco Field at Mile High and had spent some time learning how Colorado got that one done.

Hopefully they didn’t just gawk at the architecture and really thought about what Colorado did. The state formed a joint powers authority that included much of the urban area not just in Denver, but in surrounding cities as well. Then it asked voters in this megapolis whether they wanted to pay a 1-cent tax on every $10 of retail goods they purchased until the stadium was paid off.

If this National City plan does go forward – and no matter how much stadium critics hate it, a stadium proposal will come forward at some point – then I propose we set up a joint powers authority that includes all the members of the port district: the cities of San Diego, National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and Coronado. The residents of each of these cities should be offered a vote: Do you support imposing a similar sales tax in all of these cities to help fund the construction of a new stadium.

Why do this?

Couple of reasons:

  • First, stadiums are not free.
    Talk survives about some sort of deal in which a local government would give the Chargers’ owners – Alex and Dean Spanos – a bunch of land somewhere. In exchange for that gift, the Spanos’ would just build the new stadium on their own dime.

I don’t see how this is OK. National City has no land to give. The city of San Diego, the county of San Diego and Chula Vista all have big and growing deficits in their employee pension systems. It’s hard to see how they can just pass out assets to wealthy developers instead of infusing those assets into these slipping funds. The last thing someone with massive credit card debt should do is give away their possessions to a family friend – that is, unless, of course, they’re going bankrupt and they want their friends to have the assets before their lenders seize them.

That’s a subject for another day.

They already had a land-swap deal like this set up for Mission Valley. It didn’t work. Not just because the city of San Diego is teetering on bankruptcy but mostly because it didn’t add up. The city might have given the Chargers a bunch of acres of land in Mission Valley, but the Chargers found out that building 6,000 new condos in that horrible planning disaster of a neighborhood wouldn’t be a good business move. If that plan would have been economically feasible, trust me, they would have pushed for it.

  • Second, stadiums are not free.
    Even if a city were to work out some kind of questionable land swap with the football team, costly infrastructure must be built to support a new stadium. Again, the only proposal that seemed to make sense for Mission Valley had the city of San Diego paying for at least part of the new construction by building sewers, roads and cleaning up a toxic mess to support a new stadium.
  • Third, stadiums are not free.
    If Chargers fans really want a new stadium, they need to lead the way to pay for one. Putting an idea like mine onto a ballot would allow fans to prove that taxpayer funds rightly should pay for new stadiums. If they can’t do that, they’ll have to deal with the fact that their neighbors don’t like football as much as they do.

In the next several months, a proposal will emerge. God help us if our oligarchs come out of the backrooms with some kind of scheme that involves the words “bonds.” If they say that taxpayers won’t have to pay for the construction of the new stadium, make them prove it.

If they say something like “taxpayers won’t pay for the new stadium, the revenue generated by the new stadium will,” then throw a tomato at them.

Please contact Scott Lewis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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