Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007 | In mid-September, city and county officials joined in front of the County Administration Building to announce their intention to study the possibility of forming a joint government agency.
They said the joint venture would boost them in the push for a new Chargers stadium, allowing them to jointly work on stadium construction, taxation and redevelopment.
County officials described it as a historic sign of unity between the two governments. But the Chargers lambasted it for excluding National City and Chula Vista, the two cities that had concrete stadium sites at the time.
Within days, the proposal had evaporated. And in the five months since, the county has done or said little publicly. While those involved on both sides of the Chargers’ push say the county will eventually have a role to play, they say it doesn’t yet.
Two consultants the county hired in October have billed $89,813, but it’s unclear what they’ve done aside from meeting once with supervisors and researching how a sales tax or car rental tax could help finance stadium construction. The Chargers have openly shunned the idea of asking for a tax increase, instead hoping to finance the stadium with related development and perhaps the contribution of public land.
“Our role as a county at best is to help facilitate and work with any city in the region that’s interested in working with the Chargers,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.
The county has met with cities involved in the Chargers stadium search, but its consultants have not. The county has offered the consultants’ services to the three cities. Neither consultant returned a call for comment.
Invoices from the two businesses — Manhattan Beach-based Barrett Sports Group and Los Angeles law firm Nixon Peabody — show that the two companies have billed the county for 180 hours of work. But their invoices, which require a detailed description of services provided, were redacted. County Counsel John Sansone said the deleted entries contained legally privileged information. While Dan Barrett is not serving as an attorney, Sansone said, “his descriptions involve entries that concern County Counsel’s requests for his services.”
So it remains unclear what the county’s role has been in the last five months, a timeframe in which the Chargers have been critical of the county for diverting attention from legitimate stadium proposals. Team spokesman Mark Fabiani said September’s joint city-county press conference had solely been an attempt to get media attention and had damaged the team’s relationship with Chula Vista and National City, the Chargers’ suitors who were excluded from the event.
“Obviously when the press conference is called on a Thursday and you find out about it on a Thursday morning, you wonder what happened with a breakdown in communication,” said Chris Zapata, National City’s city manager. “We got over it very quickly.”
Jim Waring, the city of San Diego’s deputy chief operating officer for land use and economic development, said the September press conference had served a purpose, even if discussions about the joint government agency quieted soon after.
“The effort that was made by the mayor and Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob accomplished what they wanted to accomplish — to say publicly that the county cared and would be part of a solution,” Waring said. “It opened up good dialogue between the city and the county. There was never any reason to formalize the [joint venture], because there wasn’t a specific project.”
Such a venture could still be completed and could include other cities, mayoral spokesman Fred Sainz said.
Fabiani also said he was discouraged by Jacob’s continuing support for building a new stadium at the current site — an idea the team has dismissed as unrealistic. Jacob has proposed building a regional sports complex at the Qualcomm Stadium site with a sports arena, youth ball fields and football stadium. But without an NHL or NBA team anchoring the arena, Fabiani said, the proposal is not serious.
“In theory, it’s a great idea,” Fabiani said. “In practice, it’s a huge diversion from reality. Despite numerous requests from us, Supervisor Jacob has never once indicated how such a plan would be paid for. … But nonetheless that idea is being promoted as if it were a real idea.”
Jacob, who serves with Roberts on a county Chargers subcommittee, said she has supported the Qualcomm site because supporting infrastructure such as the trolley line is already in place. She said all stadium options need to remain open.
“A lot of ideas have been [offered],” she said. “That idea I threw out to business leaders, to the Chargers and other folks, too. There was a lot of positive response to that. Any and all options need to be on the table. If you’re looking for a real solution and you want to keep the Chargers in San Diego County, one of those options will come to fruition.”
Jacob’s ideas have focused on Qualcomm Stadium. She said she and Roberts had discussed purchasing the stadium site or part of the land there from the city of San Diego, but the city, which owns the stadium, was not interested. Jacob also proposed building a new stadium at Qualcomm, while using land in National City to build the supporting mixed-use development the Chargers seek. Former National City Mayor Nick Inzunza “did not respond” when Jacob shared her proposal, Zapata said.
While critical of Jacob, Fabiani praised Roberts, whose spokesman did not return a call for comment.
“[Roberts] has a background as an architect,” Fabiani said. “He really sees the potential of some of these sites to turn them into something more than a stadium site. We learned something every time we meet with him. The overall effort, so far, hasn’t really paid off.”
Fabiani and Zapata both said the county would have a significant role to play in the future. The county could provide support for creating a redevelopment zone, Fabiani said, or low-interest construction financing.
Zapata said the county would be vital to a National City stadium proposal, by helping find land the Chargers could develop in other cities.
“Certainly they have the ability to bring other players in the region together,” Zapata said. “We always saw them as an integral part to a solution to us.”