Couple of follow-ups on this Chargers discussion and the related little drama developing over the potential reappointment of Stephen Cushman to an unprecedented third term on the Port Commission:

  • Reader FB writes in with a question I think I can answer:

This is a simple question that I have never heard asked. Instead of giving the acreage at Qualcomm that the Chargers initially asked for, why not lease them the property?

The answer, first of all, is easy. The Chargers wanted 60 acres of land so that the team could sell it as condos. Nobody wants to buy a condo on rented land. But there’s a bigger issue here to deal with.

FB makes a common error we should do our best to put to rest: he assumes it was the city of San Diego that was unwilling to do the deal with the Chargers. A lot of people still argue for the Qualcomm deal as if they were trying to persuade the city to go with it. FB‘s proposal would make it even more palatable to the city.

But that was never the problem. As I wrote almost a year ago, the deal that the Chargers proposed was a great one. Phenomenal.

The problem wasn’t that the city was unwilling to give the real estate away. I frankly think that had the Chargers stuck with that deal, it would have gone through. But remember, it was the Chargers who backed out of it.

Why? Because it was based on the idea that they would build 6,000 condos on that land and sell them for enough of a profit to cover the cost of the stadium and then some. Yes, that was 6,000 condos.

With the declining housing market, they couldn’t find an investment partner willing to take that bet. So they backed away.

There was also the concern that the city of San Diego wasn’t showing signs of coming out of its crisis and City Attorney Mike Aguirre wasn’t getting along with them. These two realities would pose obstacles to the Chargers. But, above all other factors, the Chargers and their development partners made a decision based on economics.

I have no question in my mind about that. If this deal would have made money, it would be going through right now.

  • Now, the Chargers are looking elsewhere for a new stadium. They have apparently alerted Mayor Jerry Sanders that all they really want from the city of San Diego anymore is one simple thing: that he support the reappointment of Stephen Cushman to an unprecedented third term on the port commission.

Over the last few days, I have collected yet another batch of vehement endorsements of Cushman. The Environmental Health Coalition sent a letter that says, among other things:

Commission Cushman’s accomplishments while serving on the Port are many and include critical environmental protection issues. He has strongly supported clean up of San Diego Bay; posting of bay piers to notify fishers of the risks of consuming contaminated fish; establishment of an environmental fund; and development of a Clean Ports Plan to address diesel emission impacts on adjacent residential communities.

And some perspective about the Port Commission from political consultant Jack Monger:

There are few places that I can think of where you work harder for 20-30 hours per week, for no pay. The junkets that used to be the great draw for the job are now few, far between and offer very little or no time for play.

If on the other hand you were thinking that the job is a plum because of the stature given to Port Commissioners, I might have to agree with that. Within certain circles, Port Commissioners are given very special treatment. And you do receive a lot of attention from Port Staff, and your own parking place when you do go to work

In 20 years, I haven’t seen a better or more active Port Commissioner than Steve Cushman. He has done an excellent job in most respects, and if a highly qualified replacement cannot be found, it would be best for San Diego if Cushman were reappointed.

So there’s the Environmental Health Coalition, a progressive group, and Monger, a conservative Republican.

  • With that, then, comes a question I fielded from a friend this morning. And it’s had me thinking all day. What’s the argument against letting Cushman serve another term? All the mayor and I and others, including the Union-Tribune editorial board, have brought up is the policy and precedent that port commissioners only serve two terms. Cushman’s two are up so someone new should join that board.

Shouldn’t the argument be more substantial? Why is the mayor against having Cushman serve another term? Is he that much of a stickler for policies or is there more?

Of course there’s more.

Most of it seems to circle around Cushman’s shepherding of the Gaylord Convention center project in the works for the Chula Vista bayfront.

This is seen, by boosters of the city of San Diego’s own Convention Center, as a big and potentially detrimental deal to the city. The mayor believes that Cushman is not representing the city of San Diego in this deal. What’s more, there is a belief that Cushman doesn’t represent the city of San Diego in most deals – yet, he is the city of San Diego’s representative on the port. The term, I believe, that city insiders use for these type of port commissioners is that they “go native.”

See, the port commission is made up of seven members. One from Imperial Beach, one from Chula Vista, one from Coronado, one from National City and the final three from the city of San Diego. The ones from the smaller city seem to recognize that they represent those cities and declare that. But the knock against Cushman is that he sees himself as a port commissioner first and not as a representative of the city.

I don’t know if that’s true, I’m just trying to put down what is the general impression.

Couple that with the rumor that this new Gaylord facility will be a union shop, and you understand the passionate support Cushman has gotten from organized labor.


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