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Monday, June 9, 2008 | Almost five months have passed since Mark Fabiani, the San Diego Chargers’ special counsel, briefed the Chula Vista City Council on the team’s stadium search.
In the months since the council passed a nonbinding resolution urging the team to stay in San Diego County, little has happened. The search has entered stasis, slowly plodding along without obvious signs of progress.
“I haven’t seen any lights on in that house for two or three months,” said Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda.
Since talking face-to-face with Chula Vista’s council in January, the Chargers have laid low. The team has undertaken a financial study of the team’s options in Chula Vista, hoping to determine how a stadium would be paid for. That won’t be finished until late summer.
And Dean Spanos, the team’s president, has acknowledged talking to Edward Roski Jr., a family friend and developer who in April proposed an $800 million football stadium complex to be built in the Los Angeles suburbs.
But for a five-year effort that often sees a flurry of activity punctuated by long lulls, one of the quiet times has settled in. Fabiani described the effort to finance a new stadium as being in a “holding pattern,” saying he felt frustrated at the position as the NFL’s season draws closer.
“I wish I had better news to report,” he said. “Going into the season you’d like to have people feeling it’s moving along, but it is what it is.”
Since beginning a stadium search outside the city of San Diego in 2006, the team has eliminated concepts in Oceanside and National City. Fabiani describes the team’s current focus on two Chula Vista sites as being the last realistic options for a new stadium in San Diego County. The team is considering two potential sites, one inland and one at the bay front, which the team prefers.
The bay-front site has major hurdles. The team is eyeing land currently occupied by the South Bay Power Plant, which cannot be torn down until new electricity sources are tapped. State regulators require its power to guarantee regional reliability.
At the same time, Chula Vista city officials have been singularly focused not on the Chargers, but on advancing Gaylord Entertainment’s bay-front hotel and convention center project. And the Chargers’ lead city cheerleader, Councilman John McCann, has been running for the state Assembly. McCann, who advanced last Tuesday to the November election, did not return calls for comment.
When the Roski proposal emerged in April, it gave the Chargers what they have lacked recently: A viable alternative outside San Diego. While the team agreed to focus its stadium-search efforts locally, no outside cities publicly voiced an interest, save for Las Vegas.
Spanos’ main conversation with Roski took place in April, Fabiani said, when the billionaire developer — the country’s 195th richest man, according to Forbes — announced plans to build a football stadium and mixed-use development in the City of Industry, a suburb east of Los Angeles.
The two have talked since then, Fabiani said, and the team has been exposed to the idea as it has been circulated around the NFL.
While the two men have talked, Fabiani said the team was not threatening to leave for Los Angeles. “He’s explained it to us, we’ve listened and we’ve said that we are still focused in San Diego County,” Fabiani said. “We are going to continue our efforts here.”
Fabiani said Roski’s idea should be taken seriously, but acknowledged that stadium proposals have come and gone in Los Angeles without getting traction. “There’ve been a lot of ideas that have popped up and never panned out,” Fabiani said.
That’s also been true of the Chargers’ search in the city of San Diego. The team has blamed a combination of financing problems — it wanted to build 6,000 condos in Mission Valley — and City Attorney Mike Aguirre for the dissolution of a stadium proposal in San Diego.
Two public officials following the Chargers’ search said they believed the team was trying to stay in the background while San Diego went through election season, as a way to keep the stadium search from becoming an election issue.
“I think everything’s predicated around the election,” Castaneda said. “You’ll have four new council members and perhaps a new city attorney. And at that point, does (Mayor Jerry) Sanders change his mind about the redevelopment of Qualcomm?”
The answer, so far, is no. Sanders said after his Tuesday reelection that having a second term in office would not change his stance on the Chargers’ search. He said he is too busy to deal with it at the city of San Diego, but is encouraging efforts in Chula Vista.
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who has long advocated for a new stadium at the existing Qualcomm site, questioned whether the Chargers would again revisit the location if Aguirre is ousted by Superior Court Judge Jan Goldsmith in their November runoff.
“I truly believe the Chargers are not interested in doing business with the city because of Aguirre,” she said. “If that changes and Chula Vista falls through, maybe there’s an opportunity to do something and maybe the mayor would become interested in doing something.”
Fabiani, though, downplayed any effect that a shifting political dynamic at City Hall would have on the search. He said the fundamental problem of the Qualcomm site is its lack of space to accommodate the development that would be needed to offset a stadium’s $1.3 billion price tag.
“That problem exists no matter who the mayor is, no matter who the city attorney is. There’s just no solution for it,” he said. “No matter what happens, the numbers problem is going to be an impenetrable problem for the Qualcomm site.”