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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | When Dick Murphy and Casey Gwinn would pontificate to a trusting public that “the Chargers have a contract to 2020 and we are going to hold them to it,” they generated their 10-second sound bites for the nightly news as defenders of our rights as a city. The problem was that they didn’t tell the whole truth. I personally found their misrepresentations reprehensible and engaged in an endeavor to correct the public record, and protect the city from making another Roque de la Fuente-size mistake.
Now, our new City Attorney Mike Aguirre, following in the footsteps of some who have gone before him, has essentially said “the Chargers have a contract and we need to hold them to it.” He sounds just as forceful in his determination to defend the rights of the city. But Mike is making the same mistake as his predecessors: He isn’t dealing with the facts.
For the record, I supported Mike Aguirre for City Attorney because I thought he would help expose bad political behavior at City Hall. I believe he has put a spotlight on issues that have been hidden from the public for years. However, facts and truth still matter, on every issue, and Mike needs to be held accountable for what he says.
When I challenged Murphy on the Charger issue, I got my first real lesson in San Diego politics: “It’s not about the truth, stupid.” Instead, it is all about political gain at taxpayer expense. The problem was that once I learned the politicians were willing to egregiously mislead the public on the facts on one issue (the Chargers did have a contract to 2020, but it was not explained to the public that the team had six legal “out” clauses, making the 2020 number a farce), I began to explore how else the politicians were willing to mislead the public. We now see clearly the answer to that question.
I am not claiming that Mike is doing this on every issue, but, when he makes statements publicly that are incorrect, it needs to be pointed out so the trusting public in San Diego doesn’t once again go down this “political” path. Let’s just deal with the facts, indisputable facts, not “political facts.”
In a combination of discussions and a press conference last week,
1. “The Chargers not getting a development partner is a PR stunt.”
2. “The contract makes it mandatory that the Chargers put something on the 2006 ballot.”
3. “The ticket guaranty still exists.”
4. “The Chargers want to change the current contract.”
5. “The Chargers want an extension.”
6. “The team could be pitching a hypothetical deal to possible partners where the city sells bonds for the $175 million in traffic improvement infrastructure instead of the cost being picked up by the developers.”
7. “The team should look for no sympathy from a struggling city. The Chargers are coming to us and saying ‘give us more’.”
8. “Whether or not they get a partner or not, that’s called the economic risk of the free-market system. That’s their problem, that’s not the city’s problem.”
9. “It is not wise for a group of individuals, who have no legal connection to the Chargers, that I know of, to try to play, to take it upon themselves, to act as if they are somehow legally empowered to do this.”
10. Other concerned citizens and I are all “masquerading like, you know, community leaders.”
Here are the facts, point by point:
1. This “PR allegation” comes from someone who just called a press conference to pontificate on something he clearly has not studied. Has he had any discussion with the Chargers? Has he discussed the matter with the City Council? Has he read the new lease between the Chargers and the city?
What, then, is the PR stunt? Making it clear that potential developers for a $3 billion development project have some fear of doing business in San Diego because of an unstable environment? This was no PR stunt, this was a statement of fact. And, if Mike wanted to do his homework, or even have a conversation with someone who has the information, he would find this out.
2. If Mike read the contract, how can he make the claim that the Chargers are required to put something on the ballot? I worked on the contract personally, and it is clear that neither side is “required” to do anything of the sort.
3. The ticket guaranty still exists? This is the most ridiculous of all Mike’s statements. The ticket guaranty is gone. The city no longer purchases tickets each week. Where does this come from?
4. The Chargers have not asked to amend the contract and will not ask the city to amend the contract. This is a business-led initiative (no conspiracy) and is based in simple logic.
The spirit of the new contract was to give “all of us” time to craft a solution to the problem, but, the city has other issues and has elected to act like this one doesn’t exist.
People in the business community have suggested that rather than losing the Chargers as a regional asset, why not allow other municipalities in San Diego County to get a one-year head start at coming up with potential solutions. Would this be a better alternative than doing nothing and waiting for Jan. 1, 2007, when any city in the nation can make a bid for the team?
The choice is simple; wait and do nothing and respond only after another city comes forward with a bid (cost of poker just went up), or work on the issue now and see if we can’t at least keep them as a regional asset.
5. What extension? The contract specifies what happens under all eventualities, and no one has asked for an extension for anything.
6. This is baseless and gratuitous. The Chargers have already made clear that their plan is going to cover the $175 million in infrastructure and traffic improvements. There will be no bond issue request, and, no taxpayer money will be used. Our City Attorney needs to know the facts before making such statements.
7. The Chargers haven’t looked for any sympathy and have asked for nothing “more.” How would Mike know if they are asking for anything if he hasn’t even talked to them? The Chargers are quite clear on the fact that the city has significant problems. That is the very reason they redid the original plan to pay for the $175 million that would be customary for the city to pay for in any development.
8. From a purely business perspective, this is incorrect. And, it calls into question whether my friend Mike understands the “free market system” as it has to interact with our political system. There is enormous financial risk. Politicians later can, in fact, impact a deal struck today and put a developer at risk. No one with any common sense takes that lightly. This can also have a very big impact on the city no matter how it goes. To say it is not the city’s problem is unfortunate and misleading.
9. No one, that I know of, has ever claimed to represent the Chargers legally or otherwise. If Mike really thinks that has happened, why did he not take an appropriate action to deal with it at that time, either against those individuals, or clarify with the Chargers who is representing them? This is a ridiculous assertion coming from the top legal person in the city. There have always been individuals in the business community who exercise their constitutional rights to opine and try to build a consensus for various initiatives. If it wasn’t for non-political community leaders, which included business and labor together the last time around, our political leadership would have walked the city into another $200 million to $300 million additional problem. If Mike doesn’t like the democratic process, we all have a problem.
10. Here we have someone who has just misrepresented multiple facts to the public, purposely or not, I do not know, but who calls into question the integrity of others. But, when you have little basis in fact, the only other thing to do is to say silly things such as this. Mike believes that he, and only he, is qualified to assess the situation correctly (no matter what the issue), and, if you don’t agree with his view of life, you are involved in a conspiracy against him.
We don’t need more political grandstanding in San Diego. This community does not need more political rhetoric. We have all had enough. This isn’t about taking sides one way or the other. It is about assessing facts correctly, reasonably, and looking for solutions that are intelligent. We can’t make intelligent choices if the only choices we have are from a menu of political hyperbole. How about a menu of “just the facts?” Do we want to solve our problems or forever be calling press conferences (public relation stunts) that further confuse what is really happening? If you are going to do that, at least treat the public with enough courtesy to give them correct and meaningful information.
I applaud Mike for what he has exposed as problems in our city, problems that need immediate attention. However, a spade is a spade, no matter what someone else calls it, and he was wrong in what he said last week.
It is important to hold our politicians to a much higher standard than we have in the past. If we are going to make critical decisions to pull our city out of this quagmire, the quickest way to be effective is to make decisions based on real “facts,” not on the same bad political behavior that got us here in the first place.
Dan Shea is a local businessman who co-founded the Fans, Taxpayers and Business Alliance to sort through the embittered relationship between the city of San Diego and the San Diego Chargers.