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Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008 | The Chargers may be well known in the NFL these days as having a, let’s say, confident way of talking. A Denver newspaper recently noted that though the team is talking an inordinate amount of smack, it has actually backed it up.
But as the football team heads to New England, its overseers continue to monitor things in the South Bay. The players may be full of trash talk, but the guys in suits are being quite polite with South Bay officials who hold the team’s new stadium hopes in their hands.
I talked to Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani, who wanted to clarify the most recent news that emerged in the team’s push to put together a proposal for a stadium on the Chula Vista Bay Front. The other day, the Union-Tribune reported that the Chargers wanted the Chula Vista City Council to “consent” to the team proceeding with a financial analysis — a look at just how much a new stadium with bay views would cost.
I, and others, took that word — “consent” — to mean a vote. After all, how could the City Council consent to anything without a vote?
Fabiani said there was a way. The team had no need for a vote, he said. On Tuesday, the team is making a presentation to the City Council. All it wants to do is make the presentation and watch how it’s received.
Fabiani had told the U-T that whether or not the team got its “consent” would give the Chargers a “hint” about the city’s commitment to this idea.
Fabiani said what he meant wasn’t that he would take a hint from how the City Council voted, but from how the City Council reacted in public: what kind of questions they asked, what kind of things they said and what kind of body language they sent out. In other words, if the City Council scowled and shouted at Fabiani, he’d take that as a hint.
As would anyone, I suppose.
Fabiani said he didn’t expect any scowling and shouting from the City Council.
“Our impression after talking to them individually is that the majority of them remain open minded and they have a lot of good questions about the project and they’re willing to listen to whatever answers we provide,” Fabiani said.
Which brings up another question: If the Chargers have talked to the City Council members individually and if they’ve gotten good vibes, what more of a hint did they need?
Maybe they did want a vote. But last week Mayor Cheryl Cox put the kibosh on that idea telling me she had no intention of getting her colleagues on the City Council to vote on the Chargers’ desires.
Cox is interested in the stadium, but she’s more interested in Gaylord Entertainment’s proposed resort and convention center. And there is at least enough of a concern that the two don’t quite mix yet. Gaylord and the stadium may someday be neighbors there on the bay front but Chula Vista and the port of San Diego only want to plan now for Gaylord. If they start to seriously consider a new stadium, then they’d be forced to redraw all of the crucial environmental reviews they’ve been laboring over for some time now.
But what is it the Chargers really want right now from Chula Vista?
Fabiani said the next steps in developing a stadium are simple. First: There’s a big power plant right smack dab in the middle of the only really plausible plot on which the Chargers could build a new football fortress. The Chargers would like to do some investigating to get a clear idea of the likelihood of this plant coming down. Lots of people have been talking a good game about tearing down the eyesore, but talk is, truly, cheap. Tearing down a power plant and ensuring that we have an adequate replacement is not.
The Chargers’ owners Alex and Dean Spanos also want to know how big the gap is between how much a stadium will cost to build ($1 billion at least) and how much they can put up both out of their own pockets and out of the profits of a related development.
This is most likely where a government would come in. Other places in the country do what’s logical at this juncture: They call a vote and ask residents if they want to pay a fee or levy a tax on things like rental cars.
But here, you’d need a two-thirds vote to get something like that passed.
Anyway, the Chargers want to put all these numbers onto paper. You can’t ask for money until you know how much you want.
Mayor Cox told me that the Chargers are welcome to go ahead and spend their own money to find these things out.
The Chargers are politely not pushing the matter. And everyone’s waiting for Gaylord to emerge from its secret discussions with the port and announce some kind of new deal to get the project back on track.
On the sidelines sits the labor unions. Labor has enough power to kill Gaylord’s plans — if not on the local level, on the state level through the California Coastal Commission. Labor union leaders do not like Gaylord.
But they do like the Chargers.
What if the Chargers were to take over development of the bay-front convention center and resort as a financing tool for the new stadium?
What would labor think of that?
“Any proposal that protects the workforce, the environment and provides for living wages would be intriguing to us,” said Lorena Gonzalez, the newly appointed secretary-treasurer of the San Diego – Imperial Counties Labor Council.
And would the Chargers be the kind of developer that could produce such a proposal?
Gonzalez said that the Chargers have historically worked well with unions.
Right now, the Chargers are being polite. They are mindful that Cox and other Chula Vistans can’t see a financial future without Gaylord in the picture. On Tuesday, they’ll make their presentation and move on to the next step.
But the longer Gaylord delays and the more the Chargers win, the more traction ideas like this will start to gain.